If you were to take the spirit of Duke Kunshan University and put it into one person, you could well end up with Pranav Sridhar.
The 30-year-old was among DKU’s first ever students as part of the Global Learning Semester in 2014, and then returned to take a master’s degree, when he was also class president. More than this though, his journey since leaving DKU has personified the pioneering outlook and desire to change the world for the better that are large parts of the university’s ethos.
“Duke Kunshan offered a very unique, intercultural model of education,” says Sridhar, which has helped to shape the direction of his career. “It was a really fantastic experience, both in terms of the faculty and students, and it definitely opened up how I approach possibilities,” he adds.
Ten years ago, Sridhar was a final year student at Shiv Nadar University in Uttar Pradesh, India, when the opportunity arose to study in China for five months as part of Duke Kunshan’s first Global Learning Semester class. DKU’s Global Learning Semesters offered students an opportunity to take courses across a range of disciplines including global health, evolutionary anthropology and Mandarin Chinese for a single semester, and ran from 2014 to 2017.
Imbued with a sense of adventure, he headed to Kunshan, uncertain of what he was getting into and curious about what lay ahead. What he found at the end of his flight was an educational experience that would help to shape the course of his life’s journey.
“I really enjoyed my classes. I remember them very distinctly, each one of them, and the professors were really committed and excited, very well accomplished of course, but also very effective at communicating the fundamental concepts of their subjects,” he says.
Following his stint on the Global Learning Semester, Sridhar returned to India to complete his undergraduate degree, but it was not to be the end of his Duke Kunshan experience. On graduation, he was offered a scholarship to join the university’s Master of Management Studies program, which meant studying again at the Kunshan campus of DKU, as well as at Duke University in the United States.
During that time, Sridhar took on the role of class president and helped to shape the direction of the university’s development, including pressing for more vegetarian options in the canteen. The university also helped him to build confidence and try new things, he adds, surrounded by supportive peers and faculty.
That attitude was evident, he says, when giving a graduation speech in Chinese he forgot his lines. “My classmates burst into laughter, in a heart-warming and supportive way,” he says. “The thing I feared had happened, and I’d survived, and it wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, it was funny and a fun ice breaking moment.” he adds.
Immediately after graduation he began assisting with a sanitation research project led by professors in India and the United States, before taking up his first full time job with the Institute for Transformative Technologies, a social enterprise aimed at taking technology breakthroughs and changing them into businesses that contribute towards sustainable global development. Sridhar spent three years there as part of the strategy and business team working on primary healthcare, sanitation, and rural electrification projects.
Following that he joined Acumen, a non-profit impact investor focused on tackling global poverty, before moving to 60 Decibels, which uses research and technology to measure social impact for foundations, socially minded investors and non-profit organizations. Having spent over four years at 60 Decibels, Sridhar’s role now focuses on better understanding how clients engage with impact data and on growing the impact measurement movement across Asia and in the financial inclusion and agriculture sectors.
Alongside the day job, Sridhar has also been working to grow OneDay Health, a non-profit organization he co-founded in 2017 with Nicholas Laing, after the two met at the UNLEASH conference in Denmark. OneDay Health employs more than 30 nurses, has served over 150,000 patients since inception and aims to provide primary healthcare to underserved communities across Uganda and beyond.
Looking back now at his time at Duke Kunshan, Sridhar says it was a “beautiful experience”.
“I think there is something very special about this Western education model operating in China,” he adds. “Being able to understand China, not by reading, watching videos, or listening to the media, but by actually living there is an incredible experience,” he says.