Proud Punekar: Ketaki DesaiConversations — By Neha K Kulkarni on May 14, 2012 at 1:27 PM
Ketaki Desai a student at Heinz College Carnegie Mellon University along with three others participated in the Hult Global Case Challenge, the world’s largest and most internationally acclaimed case competition featuring thousands of students competing from over 130 countries. Her team won the challenge along with 1 million dollars as the prize money. The Punekar, in conversation with Ketaki Desai as she talks about how the journey began, her experience and what the future hold.
Could you elaborate on the course that you are studying at CMU?
I am pursuing a Masters from the School of Public Policy & Management at Heinz College Carnegie Mellon University. It focuses on international policies, micro and macro economics, social entrepreneurship, organizational management, etc which is especially geared towards the public sector. I also have a PhD in Biomedical Sciences (Cardiovascular Physiology) from Texas A & M University.
The readers would like to know more about Hult Global Case Challenge.
The Hult Global Case Challenge is the world’s largest and most internationally acclaimed case competition featuring thousands of students competing from over 130 countries. USD 1 million in seed capital is made available annually to provide funding to pilot the very best ideas. Hult GCC’s mission is to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing social challenges and encourage breakthrough ideas from college and university students around the world. The 2012 Hult Global Case Challenge will focus
on breaking the cycle of global poverty through developing sustainable solutions that will provide affordable housing, affordable energy, and affordable education to the bottom of the pyramid.
How many students participated in this challenge?
This year over 4000 applicants from top universities across the world competed for a spot on the regional finals held in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai. The finals were held simultaneously on February 25th in all 5 cities, and 18 teams in each track – Education, Energy and Housing. They presented their ideas to help One Laptop Per Child, Solar Aid and Habitat for Humanity, respectively to reach their target goals.
All regional winners were then flown to New York City for the final competition, which was held on April 26, 2012, concluding with an award ceremony at one of New York City’s most prestigious landmarks, the
New York Public Library.
Are the other members of your team studying in the same course? How did the four of you come together?
We were in an Organizational Management Class in Fall 2011 at CMU and Tim, Reggie and Beth were in my class project team. When I heard about the competition and asked them the night before the deadline, they jumped at the opportunity so I sent in an essay for the first round in Nov 2011 and we all got selected. We are all part of the same program.
How did you go about choosing the topic for your case study?
The topic was already given to us based on the tracks but we picked the Education track because of our background and expertise in the field. One Laptop Per Child was the case study for the Education track.
Could you elaborate on your topic?
Based on the experiences of Carnegie Mellon students who worked with One Laptop Per Child in Kigali, Rwanda, as well as discussions with several grassroots volunteers, our team identified three key areas of focus for OLPC moving forward: (1) strategically selecting countries to target, (2) ensuring streamlined laptop deployment, and (3) creating a global brand for the open-source XO software, adding value to the existing hardware.
Our solution incorporates data on basic human needs, as well GDP, to develop a strategy that will allow us to reach countries worldwide. Once on the ground, we will build on established partnerships with non-profits to ensure the communities receiving the laptops feel a strong sense of ownership.
On the software side, we will crowd source educational applications to developers around the world, adding value to the existing programs created by Sugar Labs. Finally, we will create an online community for students to interact globally and rate these applications. This not only advances OLPC’s mission of providing education to the world’s poorest children, but also delivers it to those children in the developed world who will greatly benefit from the XO laptop.
How will your project help children worldwide in terms of education?
Our solution will revolutionize how children worldwide can connect and create an ever-evolving network for education and learning. The computers will supplement teachers’ efforts by encouraging students to actively learn in and out of the classroom, regardless of the technology available to them at home.
Did any personal experience(s) help during the case study? Could you tell us about it?
Winning this competition has validated the choice each of us made to enrol in the Heinz College’s School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University. Every aspect of our education has proven invaluable to our team’s success so far. Our curriculum which includes policy analysis, management, research methods, economics, and information systems, allows us to thoroughly critique our own ideas from the viewpoint of multiple disciplines before sharing them with others. The diversity we encounter every day, whether it is racial, socioeconomic, or based on life experiences of the student populace, allows us to examine any issue from a global perspective; without constraining it with any inherent biases. This is reflected in our team’s makeup for this case challenge, as well.
Personally, I built on my experience from living in India and interacting with the children in my mother’s school. As part of my PhD, I published a paper on creating a novel educational model for undergraduate research, mentoring a team of students which made me realize how much I enjoyed the process. Upon completion of my PhD, I worked for 3 years as a Program Manager for the University of Pittsburgh, leading a team of 7 to build informatics solution for gynecologic research. Every part of my education and experiences played a significant role in helping me approach the problem.
How has the experience? What all has it taught you?
The experience was phenomenal, working for four months, along with taking five graduate courses and participating in several other smaller competitions simultaneously. I have always believed in putting my heart and soul into anything that I take up and work hard without giving up.
In this case, my belief was completely validated. The competition taught me that as a team, we will always have differences of opinion, and the challenge then is to work with those differences as stepping stones to developing an even better solution. Criticism should be taken as a challenge and failure as a learning lesson. You can never go wrong.
How would you be using the prize money of 1 million dollars?
The prize money will be used as seed capital, to start implementing our idea. We will be starting our pilot in Pittsburgh, and then moving on to other cities as well as countries around the world. My entire team is dedicated to the commitment we made of educating millions of children across the world.
You can read the essay that Ketaki wrote for the first round on her blog http://jiivaanubhav.blogspot.in/
The winning team with Bill Clinton