Humans of YJA

March 7th, 2020

Harsha Nahata

I knew I really liked to write early on. Even in school, writing was something that I always did well with. It was a mix of knowing that maybe a traditional math, science, or STEM path wouldn’t work for me, and having time to “figure it out” has brought me to where I am today - being a journalist. One of the hardest parts of my particular path is that it is often overlooked, and the next step may not always be obvious. It’s a harder path to make tangible. I think something that helped me was knowing even if things were fuzzy, it was still going to be okay. I kept telling myself that, so I could continue on that path and something would sort of work itself out. My parents were pretty patient when it came to my career, although it was really hard at times when people asked what a path in my field looked like or what kind of jobs I may have in five to ten years. I don’t think people realize that it’s a harder question to answer because it’s not something that is cut out, and there are fewer people in our community that have taken this path. So unintentionally, that also created frustration for me at times.

One thing I am very grateful for is that Jainism has always been a constant in my life. When I was younger, my parents would take me to the temple, and I’d attend study class (Pathshala). I think I varied as to how interested or invested I was in it but sensed that I needed to go to the temple. As a result, I’ve always felt very comfortable accessing my faith whenever I needed it. In place of transition or difficulty, it's been easy to seek out a temple - which I am very grateful for. I find them very peaceful; whether it’s a Jain temple, a Hindu temple, a mosque, or a church, I think it’s been beautiful to see a sense of peace in all of that for me. From a young age, Ahimsa is something that you learn more easily in terms of being vegetarian or incorporating different lifestyles. As I got older, more so in college, a lot of the philosophy and the ideas of non-possessiveness or multiplicity of viewpoints were resonating with me at that time and they still resonate with me a lot right now, especially when I think about impact and energy.

One of my favorite things about Jainism is Anekantvad: the multiplicity of viewpoints. I think it’s really cool that my job is to find all the different viewpoints out there and try to give them a platform while trying to find “the viewpoints we don’t hear from” or “the ones we ignore” and share those, as well. I was always drawn to service work, but I think being a journalist or being in media right now is closest to being able to bring my faith into my career. Working as a journalist or in media is focused on storytelling or which stories to prioritize, whose perspectives to hear, and how to make sure different perspectives are accounted for when discussing or writing about a topic or an issue, policy, or event. It’s about not leaning towards one type of person or viewpoint. Over the last couple of years, Jainism has become more relevant for me and I’ve personally felt connected to the faith but now, I feel like I can live it out through my work while making an impact, which is an incredible place to be in.

February 6th, 2020

Kunal Parikh

After I graduated from high school, I went to India and spent time with Jain Maharajsahebs. I asked one of them “if I’m going to be in Sansara, even if just for another 10-15 years, what should my purpose be?” And I remember a Maharajsaheb named Dharmaprem who very clearly told me “your purpose should be to serve others and nothing else.” That was really powerful for me at the time. Because of Jainism and my upbringing, I always wanted to make an impact and help others. I don’t think I felt, “that is my mission or that that was my purpose,” until then. I went to The Ohio State University after I finished high school, and my mission was to determine how best to serve others. I started doing research in a lab on deep brain stimulation and Alzheimer’s treatments, and I was excited to see how research could help me achieve my goal. I was working 60+ hours in the lab and didn’t really care about anything else. I really thought biomedical research was the platform that would best allow me to serve others. During my sophomore year, I learned about a prolific inventor and entrepreneur, Dr. Robert Langer. He gave a webinar on blocking patents that opened my eyes to the other pieces of the puzzle that I needed to understand in order for my research to have a tangible impact on someone’s life. His talk made me interested in policy and entrepreneurship as vehicles for serving others. That led me to work in the Ohio Legislature, where I was excited to see how Republicans and Democrats would come together and develop policies to solve problems for their communities. Unfortunately, at that time, Ohio had an $8 billion budget deficit, and it became clear that budget cuts were going to happen and likely affect the community organizations that were doing great work in Columbus and throughout Ohio. So we started a not-for-profit called Dollars 4 Change to raise money and awareness, and bring volunteers to community organizations that we thought were doing great work. I realized that as we were doing great work in the community, our most impactful accomplishment was leadership development. But in terms of financial impact, I saw inefficiencies in the non-profit model, and became interested in for-profit entrepreneurship as a vehicle for impact. During my senior year at Ohio State, I started my first for-profit company, called Core Quantum Technologies, based on diagnostic technology invented in the lab I was working in. While I was building out that company, I took a class called Personal Creativity & Innovation, where we read the Artist’s Way. The book recommends that as soon as you wake up, you write three pages by hand in a full-sized notebook. You don’t eat or brush your teeth, or do anything until you write those three pages, and that was really powerful for me. The idea is that you write your stream of consciousness, and become aware of your inner thoughts/being. When I first started doing that, it would take me an hour and a half a day. The goal of serving others is really broad and morning pages helped me understand what that actually means to me: what am I specifically passionate about, what gets to me, what problems do I want to solve for humanity? That helped me identify my purpose and mission, which is to create a world where no person is limited by the circumstances of their birth. I quickly realized that a single company wasn’t going to allow me to have that sort of impact I’m currently a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University in the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Ophthalmology. When I first arrived at Johns Hopkins for my Ph.D., I built an incubator for social enterprises called the Social Innovation Lab. There were great technologies and bright, talented individuals in Baltimore and at Johns Hopkins, but they faced challenges realizing the impact of their ideas. We identified promising ideas and technologies and young people who really wanted to have an impact, and helped them build sustainable business models. To date, the Social Innovation Lab has incubated 80+ mission-driven companies in all sorts of areas: education, healthcare, urban development, poverty alleviation, both at home and around the world. All of these experiences have informed and influenced my current work at Johns Hopkins focused on developing and commercializing solutions to unmet needs in ophthalmology that contribute to vision loss and blindness globally. Importantly, we’re doing this in a manner that enables access and affordability in regions where the need is the greatest. In summary, those 10 years after going to India and speaking to Dharmaprem, were really 10 years of iterations to figure out “what is the best vehicle to maximize my impact.” Jainism is my core and has driven what I do and how I do it, and even who I work with and what I work on. The aspect of Jainism that has always stayed with me is Sarvajivaan no Kalyan, and I believe that’s what we should be working towards while in Sansara. We should have that sort of feeling and mission to uplift all living beings, and that’s what I’ve been focused on in my own life to date -- how do I enable that mission with what I am uniquely good at and what I am able to do?