Change & Innovation, Peace, Prosperity

Healing a nation through hope and reconciliation

Sri Lanka

Nathan Sivagananathan (Sri Lanka ’14)

As chief growth officer at MAS Holdings, Nathan Sivagananathan is charged with generating new businesses that will be valued at $2 billion goal by 2020. A 2014 Eisenhower Fellow, his goal was to foster small business development in post-civil war Sri Lanka. After his fellowship, Sivagananathan worked with Eisenhower Fellow Harsha de Silva (Sri Lanka ’11) to launch an online platform that connects entrepreneurs with investors. They enlisted investors to provide $5 million to a total of 20 companies.

This year, their goal is to find investors for 25 entrepreneurs, including one company that will employ approximately 4,000 people.  In April, Sivagananathan opened a 70,000 square foot accelerator/incubator that provides 700 seats for entrepreneurs, 300 of which had already been filled prior to the opening of the space. This $3.5 million project will be not just a co-working space, but will include connections to investors, back office and technical support for the daily needs of an entrepreneur. To target parents, particularly women entrepreneurs, the space will be child-friendly and have adequate play areas.

Having lost his sister to cancer, Sivagananathan has been active in raising money for cancer research in Sri Lanka. In 2011, to raise funds for the treatment centers, he launched ‘Trail’, a walk spanning 27 days across the country, which engaged over 200,000 Sri Lankans to develop a cancer hospital in the previously war-torn northern region. The walk, which harnessed the power of social media and crowdfunding, raised over $2.5 million from across the globe. In 2016 he launched Trail – The Walk Back, this time going from north to south, and raising millions to establish the country’s third public cancer facility, which will be completed in 2020.

His vision is to promote “One Sri Lanka”, a country that is not divided by religion or region, but that is united. Listen here to learn more about his next steps to continue the work of reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

nathan sivagananathan

Change & Innovation, Prosperity

Rebuilding through innovation and technology

New Zealand

Wil McLellan (New Zealand ’14)

“…Regardless of the success or failure of individual initiatives, the Eisenhower Fellowship has the opportunity to be a constant global catalyst and enabler for projects that have a positive impact on fostering peace, prosperity and justice.” – Wil McLellan

Wil McLellan, co-founder and director of the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus (EPIC), lost everything in the devastating earthquake that struck New Zealand in 2011. Finding shelter in a tent with his wife Diana, McLellan, with deliberate purpose and intention began to rebuild, not only for himself, but for his community. He co-founded EPIC with his friend Colin Andersen, to house displaced technology companies and help people keep their businesses going and rebuild their livelihoods. As a result of being in the midst of natural disaster relief, McLellan came to his Eisenhower Fellowship with his mind extremely focused on building and running the technology center at home in New Zealand. He was being responsive to the crisis faced by his community.

The exposure to other world-class innovators changed him. He was intuitive enough to realize that the real value in being part of a fellowship program was the brainpower, experience and connections of his peers. He was also humbled and inspired to go home and do more. And that is exactly what he did.

EPIC expanded by creating a satellite technology campus in a rural coastal region of New Zealand in a city called Westport, which has been severely suffering from economic decline due to the closure of mines and major plants. The EPIC Westport project, driven in partnership with a local family that served as the anchor,  created new technology-related jobs in the region, yielding a 300% increase in work in the region’s technology sector from 2015 to 2016. It also prevented the displacement of some businesses and families from Westport to other more centrally located cities in New Zealand. Families were able to remain connected to their homes and long-time communities.

McLellan then harnessed the global power of the Eisenhower Fellowships network by consulting with Arvind Gupta (India ’14) who leads digital citizenship for the entire country of India. The two collaborated to provide insights for the government of New Zealand in the area of expanding access to the internet. The value of leveraging Arvind’s experience and advice between two countries was made possible because of the relationships built through their EF journey.

Active in the field of growth and expansion of technology businesses, McLellan regularly consults with his EF peers from the 2014 Innovation Program, and together they collaborate to build a community of innovators and risk takers.

Change & Innovation

A government evangelist for entrepreneurship

United States

G. Nagesh Rao (USA ’16)

“Small businesses make up the backbone of the global economy, not just the American economy.” — Nagesh Rao

G. Nagesh Rao was the Chief Technologist, Senior Policy Advisor and Geek in Residence at the United States Small Business Administration, and in March 2018 became the Director of Business Technology Solutions (BiTs) at the federal agency. Simply put, that means he is one of the government’s main evangelists and change agents for entrepreneurship in the sciences and technology. Rao’s work has always involved connecting and seeding resources for entrepreneurs and small businesses to catalyze their growth and impact. His fellowship, however, allowed him to bring his work to a global scale. Rao now connects U.S. small businesses through a network of Fellows around the globe, and helps advise tech accelerators and hubs in other countries on best practices and identify collaborative opportunities.

Within government, he has also been able to convince colleagues at the Small Business Administration that by investing in businesses outside of the U.S., there is a greater chance of creating peace in regions where normally humanitarian aid was the sole source of investment. Rao brokered an experimental effort between SBA and the United States Agency for International Development to ensure that small business and economic development, through the recently launched Small Business Applied Research Pilot Program (SBAR) was a focus of their investments overseas. That is in keeping with the ethos of Eisenhower Fellowships: peace in a region requires more than humanitarian aid. It also requires the creation of economic opportunities for people to thrive.

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Video Interview with Nagesh Rao

children in India
Change & Innovation, Prosperity

Joining forces to end hunger


“How can we steer technology in a way that it benefits society and the environment?”  —Sanjay Podder (India ’17)

“No child will be deprived of education because of hunger.”Shridhar Venkat (India ’14)


Sanjay Podder is the managing director of Accenture Labs in Bangalore, India, where he is focused on solving complex social problems through the use of technology.

Shridhar Venkat is a global leader in social enterprise and scalable nonprofit development whose organization, the Akshaya Patra Foundation, feeds 1.6 million children per day in 13,500 schools across 12 states in India. It is the world’s largest school meal program.

What do these two leaders from different sectors have in common? Their love for humanity, and for making the world a better place; qualities and values that were affirmed and nurtured while on their Eisenhower Fellowship journeys. The two met in Philadelphia while studying at Wharton School of Business in an advanced management program. They began collaborating shortly after that. Venkat came back to Philadelphia and became an Eisenhower Fellow, and then Podder did the same.

While on fellowship, Podder explored the roles of large businesses in bringing about artificial intelligence — the fourth industrial revolution– and how to cooperate with other stakeholders to scale technology’s positive impact. He hopes that Accenture Labs can serve as a think tank for “Tech4Good,” whereby Accenture helps to solve some of mankind’s thorniest problems with technology. After fellowship, he committed to advise clients not only on what technologies exist and how to use them, but how Accenture can connect technology to the right stakeholders for cooperation and success. Within a few short months of returning home to India, he reconnected with Eisenhower Fellow Shridhar Venkat (India, ’14) and the two began a project that would greatly impact their corner of the world.

Venkat’s fellowship, as part of EF’s 2014 Innovation Program, was focused on helping him to design a scalable business model that would enable the NGO he leads to grow in a sustainable way. The fellowship allowed him to test and validate his business model, including the development of a for-profit social enterprise that is used to support the costs of his school meal program. Immediately after his fellowship, he implemented this for-profit social enterprise, which only took 15 months to become profitable, allowing Akshaya Patra to feed more children.

Venkat’s business model has only gotten better through the innovation that Podder introduced to him and the foundation. Featured in the Huffington Post, the partners tested the use of blockchain technology to improve the efficiency of the foundation’s food service operations, reducing waste and increasing output. Watch them explain their collaboration here.

Prior to developing this project with Podder, Venkat’s future goals for himself and the foundation were to see that Akshaya Patra become a leader in sharing its learnings to NGOs all over the world. He hoped to involve other Eisenhower Fellows as facilitators and mentors to share Akshaya Patra’s successful methods on social enterprise scaling and sustainability.

Watch their video interviews here:

Video Interview with Shridhar Venkat

Video Interview with Sanjay Podder

Change & Innovation, Prosperity

Creating cities of the future

Spain, Indonesia

Alfonso Vegara (Spain ’87) and Bambang Brodjonegoro (Indonesia ’02)

 “I went from theory to practice, and from local to global.”  —Alfonso Vegara (Spain ’87)

Alfonso Vegara (Spain ’87), calls himself an architect who builds the cities of the future. His motivation for his work is that he believes the key challenges of humanity can be addressed at the scale of the city. Solutions for challenges such as social integration, climate change and job creation can all be faced through urban design and planning. After his fellowship, he went on to found Fundacion Metropoli, an international center of excellence dedicated to research, design, and innovation in cities around the world.

Vegara’s fellowship experience took his work from “theory to practice” and from “local to global,” building on his connections and relationships with the Fellows in his program from 1987 to develop new partnerships with 25 countries where his fellow Fellows lived. He contacted every one of them shortly after the completion of his fellowship to begin developing relationships with their respective governments. Thirty years after his Eisenhower Fellowship, Alfonso Vegara is still traveling all over the world designing sustainable models for major metropolitan cities, including his latest project in 10 new sustainable and ethically developed tourist attractions throughout Indonesia – a project that involves partnering with another Eisenhower Fellow, Bambang Brodjonegoro (Indonesia ’02), the national director of planning for the Republic of Indonesia.

Brodjonegoro, prior to this most recent role, was formerly the minister of finance for Indonesia. His training in both urban planning and economics makes him a perfect partner for working with Vegara. Vegara and Brodjonegoro discovered one another through a global conference that Eisenhower Fellowships hosted in Spain in the fall of 2017, where another Indonesian Fellow made an introduction for the pair.

Read here for more details on the Indonesian development project.


Video Interview with Alfonso Vegara