CAMBRIDGE, MA–On May 30th, Ramakrishna M. Raju became the first Indian American to receive the prestigious Derek Bok Public Service Prize.
This prestigious award is given at Commencement each year and carries a medal, a citation and a cash prize of $3,000. The award recognizes creative initiatives in community service and long-standing records of civic achievement.
The Derek Bok Public Service Prize was instituted in honor of the former President of Harvard University, Derek C. Bok, for his interest in encouraging public service by all Harvard students.
Ramakrishna (Ram) Raju came to the United States from India over two decades ago. In India, Ram earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics & Communications Engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology in Ranchi, India.
Ram was selected by the Rotary International Foundation as an ambassador scholar, and with this scholarship he successfully completed his Master’s Degree in Computer Science from the Pennsylvania State University. Subsequently, he has been working in the high tech industry in the Boston area, with most of his work being in the field of Information Technology Architecture, Design and Planning for the United States Department of Transportation space.
He works for a leading Engineering Services firm in the Cambridge area, and has successfully led several cutting edge modernization projects in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other transportation domains, and has publications to his credit. Ram began his journey at Harvard, with a Master’s degree in Information Management Systems at the Harvard Extension School in 2014, and graduated in May 2019.
In addition to his work and academic pursuits, Ram and his wife founded a non-profit organization, Vision-Aid in 2004 to rehabilitate individuals with significant visual impairments ranging from partial low vision conditions to blindness.
Vision-Aid, which started in Ram’s home town Visakhapatnam in 2004, now runs programs in 10 locations across India and has helped to enable, educate and empower thousands of visually impaired adults and children since its inception. With support from many in the community, it continues to gain momentum, and in the past year alone has added several leading organizations in its service network including the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, the world’s largest eye care system, where underprivileged patients are provided high quality services and devices completely free of cost.
Ram also volunteers his time right here in Boston working with the Boston Accessibility Group to help organize annual conferences on disability and accessibility, and with Our Space, Our Place – a Boston based NGO which helps visually impaired students in Boston public schools, as well as with Inclusive STEM an NGO which empowers visually impaired students succeed in STEM and Computer Science by providing opportunities for advanced training and participation in hackathons. In his free time, he enjoys meditation, gardening and playing the guitar.
This is not the first major award for Vision-Aid. In fact, Vision-Aid was in the news just recently because a panel of 9 judges voted for Ram’s wife, Revathy Ramakrishna as India New England Woman of the Year for 2019.
Vision-Aid is a non-profit organization founded in 2004, a US 501(c) (3) not-for-profit, public charity, based in Lexington, MA, supporting programs that enable, educate and empower the visually impaired. Vision-Aid’s counterpart in India is Vision-Aid Charitable Services Society Visakhapatnam. Vision-Aid’s mission is to identify and enable individuals with vision impairment and empower them with tools, skills and resources to achieve their full potential, and to live with independence and dignity.
Vision-Aid accomplishments include:
- Over 700 blind and low-vision students have gone through computer training classes earning certificates and diploma in computer applications
- Over 900 sighted Teachers taught skills in Access Technologies to enable them to computer train the vision-impaired
- Over 2,500 patients have gone through low-vision screening through our vision screening camps
- Over 5,000 devices (including 1200 low cost electronic assistive devices) have been distributed for the vision-impaired.
- Books and Know-how packages published relating to Management of Vision Impairment, Enabling the Vision Disabled.
- Awards: Vision-Aid’s innovative low-cost assistive devices that received National Level awards, and these include:
Vision-Aid for its work received eight National and International awards that include:
- -NASEOH BJ Modi Award
- -India NGO Award
- -NCPEDP Universalized Award
- -IIT Kharagpur Distinguished Service Award (given to Vision-Aid India President Mr. M.S.Raju)
- -Rockefeller Bellagio Award
- -NASSCOM Finalist Award(s)
- -DSIR TePP Innovator Award
- -DSIR PRISM Innovator Award
- Harvard University Derek Bok Public Service Prize 2019 (given to Vision-Aid founder Ram Raju)
- India New England Woman of the year 2019 Award (given to Vision-Aid’s co-founder- Revathy Ramakrishna)
- In 2018, Vision Aid launched its 32X Digital Magnifier in Indian markets at a fraction of the cost (30%) of comparable devices
- In 2017 , 2018, and 2019 Vision-Aid Co-sponsored inclusive hackathons for the visually impaired – in IIT Madras (2017) and IIIT Bangalore (2018)
- In 2017 and 2018 as part of its advocacy and awareness programs, Vision-Aid co-hosted, “The 2017 Boston Accessibility Conference”.
- Vision-Aid services are offered at India’s (also some of the worlds) largest eye care facilities – including the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai and Sankara Nethralaya in Chennai. More information about Vision-Aid cna be found at www .VisionAid.org.