Barnali Dash ’15 a Finalist in Business Competition

By Suk-Lin Zhou ‘14

Fall semester had barely begun when Barnali Dash '15 received news from the 2011-2012 INDIAFRICA Business Venture Competition that her proposal for improving health care in underprivileged areas of India had qualified her as one of 50 out of 154 qualified contestants to advance to the next round of judging.

Soon after, she was chosen as one of the top 18 contestants — and then as one of the top nine; the latter earned her an invitation to present her healthcare proposal in Lagos, Nigeria, as part of the final judging.

The INDIAFRICA Business Venture Competition presents an opportunity for youth to share entrepreneurial proposals that address developmental challenges in both India and Africa. Initially launched in Nigeria in 2011 at the Lagos Business School, the contest is organized by IdeaWorks and India’s Public Diplomacy Division and Ministry of External Affairs. Dash first read about this competition in a newspaper and decided to participate last spring.

“Business has always been a grand plan in my life, and I decided to try my best. I have never taken a formal business class before, but I read whatever material I could find during my research and applied what I had learned in my previous business competition experience,” she said.

Born and raised in Orissa, India, Dash completed her secondary schooling in Germany. There she was involved with the American-German business club, where she was able to participate in competitions that exposed her to the skills needed for designing and writing business models. For the INDIAFRICA Business Venture competition, her business model focused on the healthcare systems of under-privileged regions of India.

“Since I have spent a lot of time in Orissa, and I know about the flaws in the healthcare system there, I know what changes I want to see, and I know what is feasible,” she said.

Dash designed her proposal to make healthcare more efficient and free of corruption, calling for user-friendly, data-based interfaces that can be utilized by doctors and patients, allowing both parties to easily access information regarding treatment, care, and service. Through her business model, Dash hopes that patients will learn to recognize the symptoms of their own illness and be empowered to decide for themselves what level of care they need. She also hopes doctors will be able to access and utilize medical journals that are normally not affordable, enabling them to keep their practices up to date.

Although Dash received an invitation to present her plan in Lagos, she was not able to clear visa hurdles and meet vaccination requirements in time to physically participate. Instead, she presented her business model over Skype on September 25.

“While there is an upside to technology, there are also downsides. I had never before in my life given a presentation of this kind, so I had no expectation of the technical and communication challenges I would have to face within the ten minutes allotted for my presentation,” she said. “Despite all of these challenges, I am very happy that I could finish the race, even though I could not be present in Lagos to officially compete for the top three finalist spots."

Dash is also very grateful for the help she received while awaiting to give her presentation.

"This has been made possible by the whole IdeaWorks team, especially Amit Shahi, the CEO and co-founder, who went out of their way to include me in the final judging. I greatly appreciate their dedication to making this an enriching experience for all contestants and their respect for every contestant’s individual needs. This gesture really was important to me, as I wanted to be in the competition until the end,” she said.

With the competition over, Dash has already begun to explore her interest in the macroeconomic aspect of finance and banking. Last month, with sponsorship by the MHC Career Development Center, she was able to participate in an intensive Wall Street Boot Camp held at Smith College.