Prarthna Desai is currently pursuing a joint MBA-MPP at Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. At HKS, she is a Research Assistant to Dr. Donald Kaberuka, who is writing a book about his time as President of the African Development Bank.
Prior to graduate school, she worked in global health at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) based in New York and Rwanda. As a Senior Associate on the New Market Opportunities team, Desai worked with donors, manufacturers, and government ministries to explore opportunities to expand CHAI’s reach into new disease areas and technologies beyond of our existing major programs. Before that, she was a management consultant at Bain & Company based in San Francisco.
INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?
Prarthna Desai: I am driven by the belief that health care is a universal right that allows people to live happier, more productive lives. Based on this, I plan to devote my career to finding ways to increase access to health care in developing countries. I love working in this environment because the people are warm, every day is mission-driven, and the rules are still being written. The right combination of public and private sector collaboration can make an impactful difference in saving lives and I am excited to figure out how to make this happen.
PD: I started the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership’s first weekly volunteer initiative at Y2Y Harvard Square, a student-run overnight homeless shelter for youth. Besides offering homeless youth a safe place to stay and nutritious meals, Y2Y also provides coaching and mentoring for youth to create sustainable paths out of homelessness and develop skills for long-term success. We all have the opportunity to be leaders in our communities and I particularly love that Y2Y to empowering people with concrete skills at a grassroots level.
I am also VP of Academic Affairs for Harvard Business School’s Africa Business Club. I like this role because it allows me to source and share knowledge about many business opportunities on the continent. I enjoy connecting students, external speakers, and faculty to raise awareness about working in emerging markets and increase HBS coursework and research focused on Africa.
More informally, I also stay involved with a handful of projects that I led at the Clinton Health Access Initiative. I am happy to keep up to date on how these projects are doing, give input if helpful, and/or make connections to industry experts to make sure my past work has continued impact.
INE: What are your hobbies and interests?
PD: I enjoy running, cooking, and photography in my spare time. I was honored to run the 2015 Boston Marathon in support of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, but I have happily returned to shorter distances just for fun since the race. As for cooking and photography, I am an enthusiastic amateur.
INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field?
PD: I still have lot left to accomplish, but one thing I’ve noticed in multiple jobs and geographies is that experts are not able to communicate well with those outside their field. This leads to gaps in data sharing, and thus decision-making. As an engineer by training, I am very comfortable synthesizing technical information into strategic recommendations. Furthermore, I have searched for opportunities to explore business, philanthropy, and policy around the world. This cross-disciplinary training and mindset has been particularly helpful in coordinating effectively with different stakeholders (ranging from foreign governments to community health workers) to make sure expectations, inputs, and outcomes are aligned on any given project.
INE: Your rare talent?
PD: When I get into a good running groove, I tend “black out” and sometimes run many extra miles without realizing it.
INE: Your favorite books?
PD: ‘We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families’ by Philip Gourevitch, ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote
INE: Your favorite quotes?
PD: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist)
INE: Who inspires you the most?
PD: Without a doubt my mother and father! As I get older, I appreciate their countless sacrifices, professional ambition, and family values more and more. They make raising family, saving lives, and building community look deceivingly easy. They are living examples of having strong work ethic and taught me to be resilient in the face of challenges. They are my role models and constant advisors!
INE: Your core values that you try to live by?
PD: It’s all about determination and commitment.