Millennium Fellow leveraging emerging tech to advance the SDGs: An interview with Sarosh Nagar
Updated: Mar 1
Class of 2022 Millennium Fellow Sarosh Nagar is an Emerging Technologist leveraging tech for social benefit. He founded his Millennium Fellowship project "Emerging Technologists Initiative" as a research based, moonshot organisation that helps organisations explore how they can use technology for powerful social ends. Sarosh spoke with us extensively about young people's belief in emerging technologies, the implication of AI, Biotech, and more, and the how the Millennium Fellowship shaped his journey as a technologist.
Sarosh thank you for spending time with us today. Could you just begin with the typical interview question; Who is Sarosh Nagar? Where do you go to school? And what things do you care about?
"Sure thing. So my name is Sarosh Nagar, a Junior at Harvard University where I double major in chemistry and economics, with a minor in government. I am also a Millennium Fellow from the Class of 2022. I'm deeply passionate about how we leverage emerging technologies, that is things like artificial intelligence, biotechnology and more to solve real-world global problems. I have a particular interest in SDG. 9, which deals with innovation, industry, and infrastructure. I want to explore how those technologies and the broader emerging tech space influences implementation of the SDGs and, how the space can be harnessed to speed up and ensure SDGs are implemented in a more efficient and equitable manner."
Amazing! How did you get into the social impact and social leadership space and what does this works mean to you?
"There was no one isolated incident that uniquely set me on the path I am on today. Rather, it was a confluence of factors that led me here. First and foremost, my parents, both Indian immigrants, came to America in search of the elusive "American Dream." As a child, I heard countless stories of their upbringing and the difficult conditions they faced. These stories not only grounded me, but also instilled a strong sense of empathy within me for those less fortunate. I often pondered ways in which we could bridge the gaps in wealth, technology, and power distribution to benefit society more effectively.
During my younger years, I suffered from frequent bouts of illness, including a severe and prolonged bacterial infection that required me to take strong antibiotics for an extended period of time. This period of my life was challenging, but it also fueled my interest in finding ways to help those who were less fortunate.
These experiences have shaped my belief that we must be there for one another, especially those who are struggling. It is this belief that drives my passion for social impact work."
Wonderful. I believe there is a pressing need to ensure we harness emerging tech for social benefit. Why did you choose to focus your work on emerging technologists and how important do you think that work is?
"Here's a great way to think about it: When we reflect on the history of human civilization, it becomes apparent that technology's primary objective has always been to improve the quality of human life. Take agriculture, for example. In its early days, farming relied on manual labor and basic tools to plow fields and sow seeds. Unfortunately, natural disasters such as droughts and floods posed significant challenges for farmers, often resulting in crop failure and famine. In response, humans developed ingenious solutions, such as dams and aqueducts, to mitigate the risks and improve the efficiency of cultivation. These innovations not only ensured the survival of small-scale farming communities but also contributed to the overall welfare of societies.
Today, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to revolutionize education and address some of the greatest obstacles faced by learners worldwide, particularly in developing countries. By effectively automating and improving educational services, millions of students could gain access to quality learning resources that were once out of reach. In this sense, technology continues to be a force for good, offering solutions to longstanding challenges and empowering people to lead better, more fulfilling lives."
That's brilliant. Please tell us about your project 'Emerging Technology Initiaitive'.
"The Emerging Technology Initiative (ETI) is an organization built on the mantra ‘Let's leverage the emerging technologies for powerful social ends’. We run on a research model, whereby we’re leveraging different SDGs, recruiting students who have different technical familiarities, and bringing them together to handle projects that tackle the SDGs and do socially impactful work, for Governments, nonprofits and other groups.
ETI started as a Millennium Fellowship project during my time as a Fellow, and I'm happy to share it has now morphed into a full organisation.
Modelled loosely like Google's Project 'X', our mission is to support inventors and innovators in creating groundbreaking solutions to the world's most pressing problems. We operate in a model similar to that of a moonshot factory, bringing together technologists and interdisciplinary teams of students to tackle complex challenges through original research, device building, and invention. One of our current projects is a collaboration with the Instituto da Opportundade Social in Brazil. Our team of young technologists is conducting original research on AI education, seeking to understand the most effective teaching methods and strategies. Through close collaboration with students, professors, and other stakeholders, we are helping design a unique curriculum that will help unlock the potential of AI education in Brazil.
We're currently working with seven partners across five continents, including Millennium Fellowship alumnus Jeremiah Thoronka in West Africa who is leveraging tech through his energy startup 'Optim Energy', providing clean power to thousands of Sierra Leonians. We're able to solve relevant social problems uniquely, by leveraging research-driven innovation and giving our partners real-world takeaways."
Despite their obvious utilities, there are real concerns about the potential negative implications of emerging technologies. For example, fears that AI may automate away people's jobs or fuel cheating in the classroom. How are you thinking about these challenges at ETI as you leverage emerging tech for good?
"It's always worth remembering that technology itself is merely a tool, neither inherently good nor bad. The critical question is how do we choose to wield it?
Even as we embrace emerging tech, we must create the societal structures that ensure their ethical, moral, and sustainable use.
For ETI we also want to ensure that the consequences of our research and it's human impact are never too far away from us. We constantly meet with partners to share progress and receive feedback. So, importantly, our work is constantly shaped by the insights and lived experiences of those on the frontlines of social change."
Awesome. Of course your organisation began as a Millennium Fellowship project and has now grown exponentially. As you think about the future, what does success look like to you in the short, medium and long term?
"My personal philosophy is that no problem is insurmountable with the right mix of planning, team, and passion. For me long term success means global reach and impact. We hope to collaborate with more partners, engage a larger pool of students, and undertake more projects that will have a transformative impact on the lives of people worldwide. Central to this will be securing the necessary resources and funding to develop innovative devices, inventions, and solutions, making ETI a true Moonshot organization.
In the medium term, we aim to diversify our teams by integrating students with a wide range of technical skills and specific passions for intersectional issues where a multitude of expertise can come together to tackle complex problems. In the short term, we of course hope to deliver valuable and meaningful solutions to our current partners."
That's absolutely brilliant. I wish you all the best. What did being part of the Millennium Fellowship mean for you, and how did it contribute to your own personal development?
"I have immense, tremendous gratitude to the Fellowship for all it taught me, and for making ETI possible. In addition to introducing me to an incredible cohort of like-minded peers at Harvard, the Millennium Fellowship has opened my life to countless opportunities. I was selected as part of the UN Millennium fellowship delegation to the transforming Education Summit at the United Nations Headquarters. This was deeply transformational for me. I had multiple high-level meetings, interacted with education stakeholders from around the world, and had a chance to pick the brains of other brilliant young leaders.
The Millennium Fellowship has also taught me a lot about the best ways to run a social impact-focused project, put me in touch with the right people, and brought me in community with young people who also have good ideas to discuss, debate, collaborate and succeed.
Lastly, MCN Executive Director Sam has not only been a dear friend but also a significant mentor to me. His extensive knowledge gained from building MCN and the Millennium Fellowship has been immeasurably valuable. Sam consistently made time to speak, offering meaningful support to me and many other young people. He helped me navigate through important questions like ‘How do we expand here? What do you do to get there? What's the right way to do this?’ I will always be thankful for this community. "
Connect with Sarosh on LinkedIn.