Dr. Rajiv Shah: The Mission Impossible – Global Leader with IndoGuj Roots

Indians for Collective Action
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ica@icaonline.org, www.icaonline.org
“Development through innovation”
Pravin Sheth

Can you think of a leader who moves in various theatres of the world, negotiating with rulers from the French President Chirac to Pakistan President Asif Zardari? Working with the UN Secretary General to South African President Nelson Mandela? Working in the White House as well as distributing vaccines among the crowd of the poor Africans? The one to whom Bill Gates confides to plan and spend millions of dollars—not for celebration of a personal fete but for distributing them for the welfare of millions of masses!

Janardan Shah, father of Dr. Rajiv Shah recalls: Rajiv nursed tremendous compassion for the underprivileged. He could see, in which direction the little child was moving. Janardanbhai still graphically narrates one experience during their visit of Mysore when Rajiv was just 8 years old. Rajiv saw the magnificent Palace of Mysore. Thereafter, while coming out and coursing through the surroundings of the Palace, he noticed poor people strutting around. Instantly slipped out these words from Rajiv’s lips: “Why the King so rich and the people are are so poor?” Since this event, he has then devoted his life in search of an answer to this question. (He was to present humankind with a set of multifarious policies and projects for the amelioration of poverty and uplift of the marginalized that have support of global leaders in political and economic fields).

Rajiv – while an undergraduate student at University of Michigan, attended a lecture by
Dr. Sudarshan, a reputed doctor who was maintaining a clinic for leprosy and infectious diseases in Karnataka, India… During conversation, Rajiv learnt more on the clinic that was a boon to the underprivileged of that area. Next summer, he volunteered his services to the clinic. Going from house to house, Rajiv visited families in the B.R. Hills of Karnataka, testing for tuberculosis and leprosy. If a patient tested positive, he would explain to the family what was happening and assist the person into nearby clinic for full treatment and nutrition program. Rajiv spent his junior year at the prestigious London School of Economics. During that time, he also worked in British parliament. While at the London School of Economics, he met his future wife, Shivam Mallick Shah, who is a Harvard Graduate and now Director of Education Research and Innovation at the Department of Education. Both Rajiv and Shivam co- founded Project Impact as a way for second generation South Asians to reach out and help less fortunate families. Project Impact’s mission also includes involving moreyoung South Asian in American Political Process.

After his graduation from U OF M, the Shah family visited Mumbai and stayed with Rajiv’s ‘mama’(maternal uncle) in Vasi. Between Mumbai and Vasi, he saw slum dwellers. Says Janardanbhai,” He was deeply moved at the sordid sight of the slum dwellers.”

Rajiv was ‘exceptionally bright’. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Shah earned his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and his Master of Science in health economics at the Wharton School of Business..

He envisioned,” I want to do something, which will have a major impact on the world. You establish so much that it would be considered ‘something different’ “

While at U Penn, he took a year off and served as a Health Care Research and Policy Advisor to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.

Rajiv worked in healthcare consulting at the Wharton Center for applied research. He also worked as an economic analyst at the World Health Organization (WHO), where he helped brief several Latin American governments on how to maintain strong health programs while dealing with their debt crisis.

When he was about to complete his PHD, Bill he joined the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He worked for the Foundation in Washington, DC as a Senior Economist and Senior Healthcare Policy Analys and subsequently joined the Seattle office

“Prevention, not cure is what the afflicted millions in need.” (There is not a single Gates hospital, despite billions of dollars committed to disease control and the like!). They conceived a Global Plan to implement their grand vision that will save more than 5 million African children’ lives over next 10 years and would need $ 4 to 8 billion in the process.

Rajiv worked to develop a project to provide affordable vaccines to Africa and floated bonds for the project. The British Government committed one billion dollars. France and Italy both agreed to commit funding as well. On Sept. 9, 2005, at a press conference in London, finance ministers from U.K., France, Italy, Spain and Sweden committed $4billion to launch the International Finance Facility for Immunization (IFFIM) a new financing mechanism for GAVI.

Revolution for Africa.

While at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rajiv worked on agricultural development. Food security is a vital part of any policy to look after the world’s poor. Rajiv devised a Global Strategic Development Plan to promote the Green Revolution in Africa. A committee of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Rajiv and two prominent African experts oversaw its implementation.

Rajiv also undertook plans to uplift the poor in Bangladesh and popularized micro-finance in developing countries.” All along, he is driven by something really challenging to improve the lives of millions of masses—and he has proved very effective.” Avers his father, “even as a father (of Rajiv), I’m surprised for his readiness to give a lot of sacrifice, including family time.”

He is adventurous, a seasoned climber and fathomed the heights of mountains from Mount Rainer to Mount Blanc. However, he has yet to find time to climb the high Himalayas.

Rajiv thinks India can do well’. It has good opportunities to rise still further up. So far, India has sought proportionately smaller aid from USAID. India can do a lot.

Bill Clinton has involved him in his Global Initiative. For, among many Awards and honors, his award as “Young Global Leader” by the prestigious World Economic Forum at Davos may be mentioned.

In May 2009, President Obama appointed Rajiv to be Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). He was also named the Department’s Chief Scientist. The US Senate unanimously approved Rajiv. With his wife and two children, Rajiv moved to Washington DC. In this capacity, he oversaw the work of about 10,000 people including 200 scientists. Rajiv soon developed and launched National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) allocating $2.5 billion. He hired the world-renowned scientist Robert Beachy to head NIFA.

Just six months into his position at USDA, when President Obama and Hillary Clinton asked him to serve as the Administrator of USAID (U,S. Agency for International Development).

Rajiv again had to go through the Senate confirmation process. At the end, the full Senate unanimously approved him. Rajiv is the youngest head of this agency since its inception by President John Kennedy. As its Administrator, he oversees work of over 9,000 employees spread over 100 countries and a $40 billion budget.

Within five days after he was sworn into office, a massive earthquake hit Haiti. President Obama to lead the US response. ( Rajiv’s speech and Q&A at National press club in July has a lot of good information about what effectiveness of USAID, How Rajiv plans to make this a premier agency, how he plans to deal with corruption in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and many more – etc. It should be on CSPN video library). (Also he had a press conference on 27 – a after he returned from Pakistan. That provides good information about the AID and other information. To day, I received India abroad and it has article on Rajiv stating about his visit to camp in Sindh)

Rajiv still hopes to climb the Himalayas in India. We hope that he still climbs to the pinnacle of of realizing his highest goals, performance, and fulfillment. Indians for Collective Action (www.icaonline.org) is a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit group will honor Dr. Rajiv Shah on October 17 along with Dr. Kiran Bedi at India Community Center in Milpitas.

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