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Spotlight: Sharath Reddy, '00

India Interests

Courtesy Sharath Reddy

HE’D WALK A MILE: Reddy scouted development projects throughout India—and rode this camel in the Thar Desert, a region known for its handicrafts.

By Corinne Purtill

When Sharath Reddy worked at a high-powered private equity firm in Menlo Park, he would not have dreamed of shouting his frustrations in public. Toiling amid the chaos and traffic and heat of Mumbai’s streets, though, he sometimes lost his cool. His display of emotion drew nary a curious stare before dissipating in the streetscape bustle of India.

Last year Reddy traveled around India to evaluate development projects for two finance ventures based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Intellecap works to support micro-lenders, small firms that offer small loans to villagers for projects that will boost their income. Aavishkaar is a social investment fund active in rural areas.

“Development is a fascinating problem that is—in my view—the most important issue in the world today,” Reddy wrote in an e-mail. “Everything else—terrorism, oppression, disease, hunger—is tied to this. If you raise people’s standard of living, it is amazing how many of these other problems fade.”

Small businesses in India have difficulty gaining access to capital, he said, which is where firms like Aavishkaar step in. Their for-profit investments can launch businesses that provide needed products and employment.

An Aavishkaar client in Chennai (formerly Madras) manufactures a kerosene burner for stoves that is 30 percent more effective than the standard lamp available in the area. After the December 26 tsunami devastated parts of eastern India, the firm, as a government partner in the relief effort, sold thousands of the burners. Another company makes products for milk cooperatives—dispensers, fat-content measuring devices and such. Still another markets indigenous crafts.

Reddy sought this work after he felt his priorities were falling out of order in the world of high finance in the United States. “I think I lost sight of the big things that people need to be happy,” he says.

Although the San Marino, Calif., native had visited India several times (his parents are from the state of Hyderabad), Reddy had felt little connection to his rural relatives’ lives. But the desire to use his finance background for positive change spurred him to leave his Pacific Heights apartment and move to Mumbai, where he knew no one, didn’t speak Hindi, and spent his commute packed on a sweltering train. “Every physical comfort that you think you’ll never be able to live without, you’ll soon be living without” in such a move, Reddy says. But you won’t care, he adds. “Emotional comfort—that’s much more basic and important.”

By fall, Reddy was ready to enroll at Wharton, the business school at the University of Pennsylvania. The experience in India “gave me tons of patience,” he says.


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