This column continues to highlight South Asians whose achievements, awards, and laurels have added to the community’s wealth of talent. Here is a brief roundup of a few more go-getters who give an inspiring start to the new year.
It may be wonderful to emulate one’s role model, but it can be quite another thing to actually be one. Rajiv Vinnakota was awarded the first Viswa Jyothi role model award instituted by North South Foundation, IL.


Vinnakota’s achievement: The Princeton graduate threw away a cushy job at Mercer Management Consulting and decided to commit himself to the cause of education in inner city communities. Teaming up with Eric Adler, he set up a free boarding charter school for high-risk children coming from high crime-ridden areas of Washington, DC. The school, called SEED school, is run by the SEED Foundation of which Vinnakota is chairman and CEO. Currently, the school has 230 students attending grades 7-11, who otherwise would not have had an opportunity at education.

“There is a need to identify Americans of Indian origin, who can be role models to the younger children in the community,” states a press release from the North South foundation. Hence, excellence in human values was one of the key criteria for the award. Other criteria included solving persistent and intractable social problems neglected for long periods of time, and the implementation of creative, practical solutions.

Vinnakota’s work and dedication graced all requirements for the award. His extraordinary accomplishments didn’t go unnoticed at his alma mater either. In the year 2003, Princeton University selected him as a trustee. At age 32, he is the youngest such appointee in the university’s 230-year history.