Million Dollar Baby

‘I always aimed high because you only hit the trees if you aim for the stars.

Written by Garima Mishra | Published:May 14, 2012 12:40 am

‘I always aimed high because you only hit the trees if you aim for the stars. If you aim for the tree starting off,you might just hit the ground.’ This has been the philosophy of Pune’s Ketaki Desai who is currently in Pittsburgh (US). When a person grows with this attitude,their laurels don’t leave you too surprised. So when Ketaki recently won the Hult Global Case Challenge,the largest competition in the world on the best case studies held in US,her mother Jayashree Desai,though ecstatic,was somewhere prepared for the good news. Last month,Desai along with her team,won a million dollar for a project on education titled One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). And the prize was handed over by former US President Bill Clinton.

“I was constantly in touch with her. So much so that I almost felt like one of the team members working on the project. Though I was anxious about the result but somewhere in my heart I knew she is going to make it,” says the proud mother,Jayshree Desai,who works as a geography teacher at city’s Bharti Vidya Bhavan.

It was during last November that Ketaki learnt about the Hult Global Case Challenge Competition. Since the subject Public Policy and Management always interested her,she applied along with three Carnegie Mellon University students namely Reggie Cox,Elizabeth Cullinan and Tim Kelly. After finishing junior college from Fergusson College and B.E (mechanical) from MIT College,Ketaki went to Texas for pursuing MS. Before she could complete her MS,she got an opportunity for a PhD in cardiovascular systems. At present,she is doing Public Policy and Management from CMU,Pittsburgh.

Recalling the day of the competition and the results,said Desai in an email interview,“We had really worked hard for several months working for the project. When President Clinton finally announced our win,I was simply elated. I first thanked my brother,father and grandfather,who are all no longer with me and my mother. When I was in high school,my mother was earning Rs 1400 for a family of four. For someone coming from a humble background like ours,the win and the winning prize was completely unbelievable.” At the same time,she adds that she has always dreamed big in life and even if they had not won the competition,the team would have gone ahead and implemented the project as they genuinely believed in its potential.

Praising her daughter,Jayshree says that as a child,Ketaki was always bright though not a bookworm. After my elder son Parimal passed away in the year 2000 and my husband died few years ago,I and Ketaki became the pillars of strength for eachother. “I was surprised to see how responsible she became at such a young age,” adds Jayshree. Though the family was going through a bad time financially,being a bright student,Ketaki received several scholarships and that helped the mother-daughter duo to some extent. The mother adds that it is because of Ketaki’s husband’s extremely supportive nature that Ketaki is able to reach this far in life.

Sharing her future plans,Ketaki added that the prize money will be used as the seed capital to implement the idea of starting a pilot project in Pittsburgh. The team then plans to replicate it in other cities and countries across the world. “My entire team is dedicated to the commitment we made of educating millions of children across the world,” she adds.

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