NetIP North America (Network of Indian Professionals) strives to “serve as the unequivocal voice for the South Asian Diaspora by developing and engaging a cohesive network of professionals to benefit the community.”

dare to give back #netipconf2013
“Dare to Give Back” Panel at #netipconf2013 : (from right) Seena Jacob, Bookwallah;
Golda Philip, Hospital for Hope; Neetal Parekh, Innov8Social
[adapted from photos by Kavita T.]

Dare to Be You

One of the manifestations of its mission is the conference held annually at a different compelling metro in North America. The 2013 NetIP conference convened in the heart of downtown San Francisco on Labor Day weekend. The canvassing theme “Dare to Be You,” created a framework broad enough to accommodate a range of topics and bold enough to highlight breakaway paths South Asians are increasingly pursuing.  There were speakers from the CIA, entertainment, entrepreneurship, and even a relationship expert on hand to share what they’ve learned while also showing the potential of unconventional pathways in the process.

NetIP Descends on San Fransisco

Being in the backyard of tech and social innovation, the event also included features cognizant of the SF/Bay Area milieu.
For example, the event hosted its first ever “Fast Pitch” session in which entrepreneurs pitched early-stage startup ideas, and answered tough questions from a panel of experts in hopes of gaining valuable feedback and possible scoring a win on an enticing prize suite of products and services.
Another distinctive feature—which fellow event/conference enthusiasts can appreciate—was the unique pocket-sized program. Measuring just a few inches by a few more inches, the pamphlet could fit in the palm of your hand, in an oversized pocket, and definitely in any size bag or purse.  It was a “fit and light”version of its traditional full-size counterparts—half the calories with the same great taste.

Dare to Give Back

I was honored to join a panel titled “Dare to Give Back” which was designed with the focus of sharing stories of social innovation from those who have launched projects in the field. The panel:
The time slot of Saturday morning at 10:30 AM to noon did a couple of things. It likely dissuaded the faint of heart—whose interest in this topic hasn’t peaked or who didn’t realize there were sessions that started before 1pm on a Saturday. And, it brought together those who were inexplicably compelled by this topic. That latter group made the session an exceptional exercise in sharing, learning, being vulnerable, supporting each other, and generally getting fired up.
In our introductions we learned so much about each other. Not only was Golda working with an amazing team with audacious goals of creating rippling impact in healthcare for hundreds of thousands of villagers, she is also the youngest sister of two college friends who are phenomenal leaders in their own rights. Connecting with her brought back fond memories of undergrad leadership, and her quiet eloquence served to inspire those thinking about giving back in health care capacities in South Asia and beyond.
Seena disarmed the panel, audience, and attending media early in the session. Her vibrancy and honesty about the ups and downs of being a social innovator and nonprofit leader were genuine and uncoated. Bookwallah has maintained its vision of sharing storytelling and books with children in South Asia, but she quickly pointed out how the methods of effecting the vision have pivoted to adapt to actual and unforeseen needs and challenges the project faced. Her story and passion moved members of the audience to find out how they could help. A participant in one of sessions later in the day, wrote her a check on the spot to contribute to her work.
dare to give back #netipconf2013I shared what I have learned in launching a blog on social innovation, understanding the need, setting (and re-calibrating) expectations, and–most importantly–the actionable learnings about legal structure and business models for social innovation and social enterprise.

Power of Sharing

The session went from great to exceptional when we shifted the spotlight from the panel to the audience. With over a dozen audience members and nearly an hour left on the clock we invited attendees to introduce themselves and their ideas for stating a social enterprise, nonprofit, or what drew them to the session.
The responses were remarkable. Not only did we learn that attendees hailed from Washington D.C., New York, the Bay area, and the Midwest—we heard about work they have been doing, resources they have to offer, and the ideas that are just seedlings looking for ways to develop. As each person “pitched” their giving back aspirations, remarkably, everyone in the room conspired on ways to help. Golda, who herself is based in DC, was keen to follow up with the east coasters for a local DC follow-up gathering. Seena offered her organization as a volunteer opportunity for those looking to connect more deeply with projects around literacy.
There were attendees practicing law in one field but trying to find out how to help victims in more impactful ways outside of work hours. Health care professionals voiced interest in volunteering in South Asia in the developing world in new ways. One attendee shared a personal story of attending the session in honor of a dear friend dedicated to service, who passed away suddenly some years back—and how she actively sought ways to honor her friend’s memory.As people felt more comfortable and encouraged, they opened up and said aloud ideas that may have just seemed to be fleeting but whose repetition was cause for notice.

Singing the Body Electric

I remember picking up a Ray Bradbury book called I Sing the Body Electric! at a garage sale as a middle-schooler. I had been so taken by Fahrenheit 451 that any book by the author caught my eye. I can’t honestly remember any of its the short stories—-but the title has stayed with me.

1969 ... 'I Sing the Body Electric' - Ray BradburyWhen you engage in something you are passionate about—be it sports, fashion, art, tech, or service—there is a certain electricity that is generated when you recognize that common passion in others. Even though we had each descended to this session from different parts of the country, with varying levels of experience and interest, and different end goals—our common passion for service and working on ideas bigger than ourselves created an unmistakable melody of positive current.

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