Dhruvi Shah has only visited her family’s homeland in India a few times, but it took just one trip for her to realize the widespread malnutrition, hunger, and poverty that exists there. A second trip back a few years later only solidified her fears; time is running out.
“Things just keep getting worse there,” Shah said. “When I went to India in junior high, there were little huts, and people had mud all over their faces. When I went back a few years later, it was almost the same picture, but even worse.”
Shah, now a junior finance major at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business, is using that inspiration to drive her passion for social entrepreneurship. Her ultimate goal is to create a business to help eliminate food waste in places like India. When she studies abroad in Singapore during the Spring 2019 semester, she looks forward to visiting some of the nearby rural villages to better understand their needs.
The Schaumburg native isn’t waiting until then to make her community a better place. She is pursuing her purpose at Gies Business. She quickly connected with Illinois Enactus – a business student organization that creates sustainable solutions for communities in need.
Shah vividly recalls teaching a financial literacy workshop in Champaign on a Saturday morning. She was working closely with a woman from Uganda, who was learning how to fill out tax forms and how immigration laws are impacting her life.
“I remember explaining things to her,” Shah recalled. “At the end we gave her a post-quiz. And she learned so much from just talking to me for 30 minutes. I never realized the impact I could make in her life in such a short time.”
That was the launching point for Shah, who has hosted a community panel called “Community Needs: Change Starts with You.” Shah invited community leaders to speak on important issues occurring within Champaign-Urbana, such as immigration, incarceration, homelessness, and food insecurity. The goal is to find out what they can do to empower others and create sustainable solutions to social problems.
“We have a lot of business model plans,” she said. “Most of our projects derive from business startups. It utilizes our different financial skills like accounting and finance. The education we get at Gies plays a huge role in managing how nonprofits work. In addition to that, we create sustainable solutions. The ability to think about long-term, sustainable growth for different companies is our model.”
Shah says she’s encouraged by those who have come before her: alumni who started down a more conventional career path but have still found a way to make the world a better place.
“Seeing our established alumni making a difference in the world is the most beneficial,” said Shah. “In the classroom you learn the straight finance, straight information technology, but I think talking to alumni who have made a difference is ultimately what’s going to drive us to do exactly what they’re doing.”
Someday Shah hopes to be one of those alumni, who serves as an example to future students.
“I’m from Schaumburg and my parents have provided everything for our family,” she said. “The least I can do is take what I have and give it back.”