I applaud the North America Telugu Society (NATS) and the Greater Washington Telugu Cultural Society (GWTCS) for hosting the South Asian Youth Symposium at the White House today. I can’t thank both the organizations enough for working closely with the South Asian American youth, and guiding and mentoring them.
Referring to a dark and desperate period a hundred years ago, legendary Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote:
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Unfortunately, conditions in many parts of the world, including large parts of South Asia, are no different today. Yeats would have said the same thing had he been alive now. It breaks my heart seeing the youth, who are misled and ideologically brainwashed, engaged in violence and destruction. Which is why the efforts of NATS and GWTCS directed toward guiding and mentoring the South Asian American youth are especially praiseworthy.
Thank you for inviting me to share my story and to offer advice to the hundreds of youths who are attending today’s symposium on the pages of this souvenir.
Let me begin by borrowing a line from Woody Allen who said: “90% of life is just showing up.” I became successful by concentrating on the other 10%. That 10% was:
Getting a good education
Doing my apprenticeship
Becoming an entrepreneur and willing to take risk
Building a strong and talented team who shared my values and vision
Moving on to other things
I came to the United States from India during my formative years. I got my masters and bachelors in computer science at the University of Colorado. That gave me the knowledge I needed to go into business.
always wanted to start my own business but I knew that I needed experience first. So, I worked with two major information technology firms in the Washington, DC, area for 10 years. That gave me the skills and real world grounding that I needed to be a business owner.
Then, in 1994, I purchased the QSS Group for $45,000. Within 13 years, along with my management team, we took that firm from a workforce of 1 employee to more than 2,000 employees and approximately $300 million in revenue.
The team of talented managers was central to everything. Success in business is a team sport. So, when people ask me how I became successful, it was not me but we who made it happen.
Finally, I sold my company to Perot Systems in 2007. That sale allowed me to establish a private foundation that supports educational, cultural and artistic causes in the United States and around the world. I am focusing today on sharing and giving back. In many ways the process of sharing and giving back is more rewarding than any of the money that I have earned throughout my business carrier.
I engage in philanthropy because we want to help others and to help others help themselves.
Americans from all walks of life and income levels are extraordinarily generous in this regard. They dig deep to assist those in need both in the United States and around the world. I give because I believe firmly in what President John Fitzgerald Kennedy said : “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
This belief also comes from my family background and my faith. I have been fortunate in my business career and with the help of my business associates have achieved financial success. I accomplished this with the assistance of many others- family, business associates and friends. I do not really look at my contribution as philanthropy but rather as a repayment of a loan and an investment.
My parents taught me to treat people in the way you are being treated. Give dignity and respect to others. Do what you can do to serve your community. These were core values established in me as a youth. They are guiding principles.
I feel it is my responsibility to give back. I don’t see this just as a charitable act. I see it as investment in individuals and their future. Through my investments in education, the arts and other areas, I hope that I am creating the philanthropists of tomorrow.
My fondest hope and expectation is in the future there will be persons whom I made investment will make similar investment in others. When that happens, it will make my investments sustainable.
One of our criteria for investing is enabling and empowering people by giving them a helping hand and a hand up rather than a handout.
We support numerous charities and are involved with many organizations both here in the United States and India.
Education and promotion of the art are two of the areas our foundation is involved. We believe these two are critical areas that can make a positive difference in the lives of individuals, the nature of society, and the direction of the world.
We invest in education and promotion of the arts because these are two of those critical areas. I refer them as pivot points –areas that can be leveraged to build a bigger and better future for all.
jEducation is a pivot point because it is the great and powerful equalizer and opportunity creator and bridge to the future. Education is the gift that keeps on giving. Education is the best investment we can make to build next generations of innovators, leaders, and problem solvers.
Education is especially important for those who are economically and socially disadvantaged. Education enables them to obtain the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to achieve their full potential and to move up the ladder of success. If they succeed all of us succeed.
Art is also a pivot point because it educates and advances social causes. Art plays a pivotal role in connecting, inspiring, engaging, educating, communities. Art and culture transcend all boundaries. Art has unifying and healing power. Art brings us joy and insights that are transcendent.
What advice would I give the youth gathered at the White House today?
I am not good in giving advice. It is kind of contrary to upbringing. Nonetheless, let me share some of my thoughts and messages to today’s youths:
Be the best you can be
Exploit your fullest potentials
Get a good education
Stay true to you
Be something special to someone in particular
Be a lifelong learner
Never give up
Create your own legacy
Make it your own journey
Do well but also do good
No hope should be high enough to achieve and no dream should be big enough to achieve, Do not think anything is impossible. Make impossible as possible.
When you are successful provide ladders of opportunity for others to succeed
When you are successful invest in others by sharing and giving back
Dedicate yourselves to draw upon the values, ingenuity, decency, dignity, and spirit that have always defined the greatness of our community
I ask the youth to not forget your heritage and roots. I want you to extend a hand and heart to others who need assistance.
I say to all of you that no country and no race and no religion has monopoly on wisdom. Wisdom belongs to all. I would like to tell you all to work hard and aim high and pursue your dream. I encourage you to become not only leaders for the next generations but also makers of change. You should never be frightened of the future but you need to build your future
We need to commit and dedicate ourselves to be involved in Civic activities. Civic Engagement is the key to promoting education and economic mobility.
Let me explain what I mean by civic engagement. Some times when I say civic engagement people mistakenly think I mean political engagement. Political engagement is a form of civic engagement but just one form.
My definition of civic engagement follows. It is borrowed from a collection of readings titled, Civic Responsibility and Higher Education:
Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.
The Introduction to that collection states:
A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own; such an individual is willing to see the moral and civic dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate.
Civic engagement takes five primary forms:
Individual – being the best one can be and personally responsible for one’s actions
Organizational – contributing to the success of the groups (e.g., business, religion, associations) to which one belongs
Political – participating in those processes that shape the structure and nature of government
Community – collaborating to make the locale and the world in which we live a better place
Social – advocating for justice and equality of treatment and opportunity for all
All of you should be involved in all those forms of civic engagement. You should try to make a positive and meaningful difference through your efforts and activities in your community, this country, and the world.
Finally let me share with you my thoughts on what accomplishments that I consider to be most significant?
Growing my business was an accomplishment, but as with most accomplishments, it was not mine alone. It was a team effort. I believe that many people as they become successful forget that.
I also believe that life is a journey and not a destination and that each of us defines ourselves by what we do throughout that journey. There are accomplishments and setbacks along the way and they are part of the process of “being and becoming”. As such, they all matter at that point in time.
My most significant accomplishment then will be the next one to come on the journey…. and the one after that, and the one after that ……