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Lokvani talks to Nishith Acharya, CEO of Youth Tech Entrepreneurs

Ranjani Saigal
02/09/2004

Nishith Acharya is the CEO of Youth Tech Entrepreneurs. Prior to joining YTE, Nishith Acharya served as President of the Network of Indian and South Asian Professionals, a national organization representing 50,000 young professionals across North America. During his time at NetSAP, Nishith was able to grow the Boston organization by 300% and develop relationships with many of the top leaders and organizations in the Boston area.

Nishith also spent five years as a Presidential Appointee in the Clinton Administration, where he was the youngest South Asian to be appointed by an American President and among the first appointments made by the White House for the second term. Nishith worked with the Under Secretary of State for the US Agency for International Development, managing communications and outreach for USAID programs in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, as well as an initiative to utilize the Internet to improve international disaster assistance. Prior to that, Nishith worked for Education Secretary Richard Riley on literacy programs and in the White House Advance office. He was also appointed to the Massachusetts Governor's Advisory Commission on Immigrants and Refugees during Governor William Weld' s Administration. He is currently an elected member of the Democratic State Committee .

Nishith has a Master's in Public Administration from George Washington University and a BS in Political Science from Northeastern University.

Lokvani: Could you tell us more about YTE?

Acharya: It stands for Youth Tech Entrepreneurs. It is a technology and entrepreneurship non-profit that manages several programs in high schools across New England and California . This organization was born during the 90’s boom when schools felt the need to foster technology and entrepreneurial skills in high school students particularly for minority students. YTE develops student leaders who use their academic, technology and business skills to build stronger communities.

YTE provides schools and communities with an innovative, curriculum and a project-based approach that equips diverse students with the professional, technical and leadership skills to succeed in tomorrow’s economy. YTE’s coursework, service projects, programs and competitions enable students to identify and address local needs through technology. It has been in existence for five years.

Lokvani: As the CEO of this organization what is your vision YTE?

Acharya: YTE was founded at the time of the Internet boom. Computers and Internet was its primary focus. But I have shifted the focus of this organization away from purely computers and Internet training to technology based problem solving.. The focus of the program is not just to learn Java or Web Design but rather to help students identify problems and select appropriate technology based solution.

Lokvani: What is the matrix for evaluating success on an individual level and at the programmatic level?

Acharya:

  • On the individual level, students are graded based on successful project completion and client satisfaction.
  • On a programmatic level we have been doing several statistical studies to evaluate its success. 75+ school systems have YTE innovative curriculum which is an indication that the teachers in schools feel this is valuable. 98% of YTE's graduates have gone on to college;; over 82% of those students are studying computer science, engineering, and entrepreneurship This is a great achievement. The program has particularly proved very positive for students who don’t succeed in traditional classrooms, or immigrant students who are just learning English.

Lokvani: You do not have a degree in technology and yet you are very passionate about this cause. Why?

Acharya: In 1995 I served in the Clinton Administration as a Presidential Appointee. As part of my duties, I managed public affairs for the Under Secretary of State/USAID and Deputy Administrator of USAID. Responsibilities involved conveying policy with Congress, media and international agencies. It was the time when Internet was becoming very popular. As I learnt more about this technology, I realized the great potential technology had in solving problems. I developed and implemented a strategy to utilize the Internet for international disaster relief efforts.

Working in the position made me realize how central technology has become to our lives. I saw a need for communication between policy makers and technologists for policy. It is often too far behind technology and often policy decisions come too late. I feel in the 21st century, it is important for everyone to have a basic understanding of technology and to understand its value in problem solving. This is focus of YTE.

Lokvani: Other that YTE politics seems to be of great interest to you. You are very active in the Democratic Party? What draws you to them?

Acharya: My father came to Berkley in the 60s. My parents have seen the civil rights movements and the changes in immigration. Democrats have done a lot in both areas and I think this encouraged my family to be a believer in that party.

My interest in politics was fostered by Michael Dukakis who was my professor at Northeastern University and helped me get my job in the Clinton Administration. Personally I feel Democrats more than Republicans are likely to tolerate an Indian face and would have no problem taking in someone with a name like “ Nishith Acharya”.

Traditionally Democrats have been “India Friendly” . Under Democratic regimes top level official have visited India. We do not see that same “India friendliness” under Republican regimens For example I do not see too many contracts for the rebuilding on Iraq going to Indian companies. I also feel Democrats understand that the Government is the only safety net that we have and that concept is essential for progress.

Lokvani: How do you react to Republicans who say the tax cuts will promote businesses and charity giving?

Acharya: Tax cuts for the middle class is very good. It has worked well. But tax cuts for the wealthy is a different story. With two rounds of tax cuts charity giving has not gone up. When I was at a fundraiser for Wesley Clark, we were in a room full of millionaires, many of them corporate executives. When Clark asked about tax cuts their response was “do not give us tax cuts. Instead invest in schools so we get better trained workers for our companies. That is the investment for the future.” While many things can be done by the private sector things like infrastructure and education for everyone can only be done by the government.

Lokvani:You supported Wesley Clark. Why?

The US Army is one of the most diverse institutions in the country. A believe a man who has managed people in the Army understands diversity issues. I also feel that one of the greatest problems facing the United States today is poor relations with other countries. We have to reestablish connections and we have to do it from a position of strength. No one can perceive General Clark as weak. He also believes in investing in education.

I also like Senator Kerry. He has done a lot of good work in the Senate. He has been very supportive of our community. He has come to some of the India Day events organized by IAGB. Even though he has many communities that support him, and have raised more money for him, he still cares for us.

Lokvani: As we go to the polls, what should Indian American voters look for?

Acharya: The best thing for any voter to do is identify their issues and prioritize them. There are several issues that interest Indian Americans

  • Improved Indian- American relations
  • Integrating Indian culture into the mainstream (Ex White House celebration of Diwali)
  • Funding for research on health issue more prevalent in Indian American communities
  • Education
  • More Indian American presence in the government
  • Immigration
I am sure people have other issues. Once you have identified your issues check out candidates’ websites to check their position on the issue. This will help you vote intelligently. I think as Indian Americans we should be actively involved in both parties. Choose your party and candidate based on your issues.

I would really like to urge everyone to be an active participant in the democratic process. We must vote and make our presence felt.

Lokvani: Any thing else you would like to add particularly for the youngsters growing up in the New England area?

Acharya: Stay involved. If you can you should be part of campaigns. You can contribute not just with money. Your time is very valuable as well. In campaigns you may start by doing simple jobs like stuffing envelopes but as you are more involved you get noticed. Hard work gets rewarded.

Lokvani: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

Acharya: Thank you for the opportunity.



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