Chandrika Tandon: Connection, coordination and curiosity key to solving global problems

Chandrika Tandon (left), in conversation with Safe Water Network's Venky Raghavendra at the virtual youth convening.
Chandrika Tandon (left), in conversation with Safe Water Network’s Venky Raghavendra at the virtual youth convening.

More than 200 organizations and young leaders from over 30 countries attend Safe Water Network’s youth convening.

Indian American philanthropist, entrepreneur and Grammy-nominated artist Chanrika Tandon has urged the young generation to make the planet “a lot better than it is today” by addressing some of the most intractable challenges of our time.

Delivering the closing remarks at the “Virtual Youth Convening on Water, Sustainable Living and Communities,” hosted by the New York-based Safe Water Network, Tandon stressed the need to have scale in tackling global challenges.

Tandon, who currently serves as the Chair of NYU Tandon School of Engineering, said the three so-called “Cs”—“connection,” “coordination” and “curiosity” — are central to addressing global challenges such as water scarcity.

Elaborating on connection, she said that we have to connect the dots. For instance, she pointed out that there are many elements to water problem, among them, economic, social, behavioral and technological, and the “dots have to be connected.”

Tandon cited Covid, which “has brought a lot of problems,” as an example of bringing the world together.

“Extraordinarily open source work is happening. A lot of best practices are happening,” she said.

Speaking of coordination, she said the word, though it sounds so “trite,” “means so much.”

“The world needs to come together” to solve the problem. She cited polio as an example of global coordination paying rich dividends.

Tandon, a former McKinsey partner who has experience in the worlds of business, development, livelihood and arts, said the gift of curiosity is the greatest gift.

“Curiosity is not only about things. Curiosity is also about people,” she told hundreds of young change makers who attended the virtual event. “Ask questions about why and ask questions about why not?”

“You are all powerful,” she told the attendees. “Whatever positions you are in, you have an opportunity. The voices you have in this incredibly conscious generation. Have an opportunity to really come together, to think beyond your own little spheres. The net and the whole technological underpinnings we have allowed you to access a world that I couldn’t … 50 years ago. The world is truly open to you. I hope you will really make the planet a lot better than it is today.”

Tandon praised the Safe Water Network for doing “a fantastic job” to solving one of “the most important challenges of our time.”

Safe Water Network, a New York-based nonprofit, enables access to hundreds of communities in India and Ghana, working closely with respective governments to serve undeserved communities. It continues to deliver water to communities despite the constraints posed by Covid-19 as the need is utmost now.

Earlier, the opening keynote was delivered by former USAID Administrator and President of Rockefeller Foundation Rajiv Shah.

In discussion with Abigail Osei, Director of Program and Grants Administration at The Starr Foundation, Shah spoke on the importance of the equity.

“We have to make sure this recovery has equity at its core and its heart,” he said. “That means investing in the United States, in minority populations that have been put down for too long. It means investing in global emerging markets, in lower income communities, and in women and girls specifically, which have been the engines of poverty reduction, of growth, of childhood education, of lower total fertility rates.”

Joining Tandon and Shah, global influencers and speakers included UNICEF Special Representative for Young People Ravi Venkatesan, Raj Kumar, president and editor-in-chief of Devex, and Kurt Soderlund, CEO of Safe Water Network.

“I think that the defining skill for success in the 21st century is… the ability to solve problems and lead change,” said Venkatesan. Even before Covid, the world was going through extraordinary change and “what Covid has done is to come in and amplify so many of these trends,” he said.

These changes impact everyone, especially young people, he said. The current education system is incapable of preparing the youth to meet new challenges and we need a whole new paradigm of leadership, Venkatesan added.

The event had a significant global outreach, connecting more than 600 registrants coming from 41 countries and 138 organizations. The event was held in collaboration with Devex, the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Better India, among others.

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