Darwin College by Sir Cam
The joy and power of camaraderie - Vinayak Dalmia
Vinayak Dalmia (Darwin 2006) explains how he was inspired through his studies at Cambridge to find a solution to some of India’s healthcare needs. This lead to the development of an 'Uber-like' ambulance app.
Cambridge taught me about the joy and the power of camaraderie. Although my studies were challenging, I soon realised I wasn't alone. In tackling common problems, I found lifelong friendships.
It had been a long-held aspiration of mine to study at the University of Cambridge. I was unsuccessful in my application to do undergraduate studies, but was awarded a scholarship to do a master’s degree – a lesson in perseverance.
Those were times of despair. The financial markets as we knew them had crashed all around us. Mumbai, my country’s great melting pot, was still reeling from terrorist attacks.
At the more hopeful end of the spectrum, Barack Hussein Obama had been sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America – the first African-American to hold that office. I was overfed on a diet of Obama and ‘The West Wing’. Optimism was in the air, and it was infectious.
Cambridge taught me to believe in second chances. The University that had turned me down once now embraced me with open arms, and very warmly.
Cambridge taught me humility. I learned to accept that there would be moments when I would find myself alongside smarter, better and fitter peers. I learned to be comfortable in my own unique skin, and to develop my own unique skills.
Cambridge taught me the value of intellectual rigour. The long hours and sleepless nights do not just pay off on exam day – they shape you for life. From the time spent in the College library I learned that discipline is gold. To this day, I use the problem-solving and abstract thinking skills I developed while tackling midnight assignments. Cambridge taught me to celebrate curiosity and to pursue a life-long ability to learn – no lesson could be more useful as we usher in what some are calling the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.
Crucially, Cambridge taught me about the joy and the power of camaraderie. Although my studies were challenging, I soon realised I wasn't alone. In tackling common problems, I found lifelong friendships. Some of those friends have since got married or started families; I feel lucky to have remained close to them and to have been a witness to those special moments.
I was apprehensive as I made my way to Cambridge. What should I expect, in this new and different environment, as an Indian overseas? It soon became clear that bigotry and hatred had no place at the University. I was made to feel at home.
I was taught by some of the sharpest minds on the planet (with some of whom I remain in contact). The Judge Business School, the Faculty of Economics, and even the Computer Laboratory – all were open to me. A brilliant and generous computer scientist (Professor Jon Crowcroft) supervised my thesis. I was awarded research funding. I came to understand that Cambridge is vibrant because it recognises and rewards individual enterprise. This crucial lesson would embolden me to launch my own internet business when I returned to India.
Making it count
The dreamlike beauty of the city, the Colleges and the river was obvious. For me, however, it was the intangible experiences at Cambridge that shaped my character most profoundly.
Cambridge taught me gratitude. I knew that for each one of us that made it in to Cambridge, there were many other deserving ones who didn’t. Life can be random, chaotic and unpredictable – so when luck strikes, you need to be aware of your blessings. I was one of the lucky ones. Now, the onus is on me to make my good fortune count – and to contribute to the world.
The use of technology to enhance productivity is nothing short of magic. I have witnessed that closely - as an entrepreneur, investor and policy maker.
Reasons to be optimistic
One of the ways in which I am trying to make a difference is by applying my skills to India’s healthcare needs. I incubated a digital health start-up, AMBER. Inspired by the thought ‘if you can do this for cabs, why not for ambulances?’, AMBER has set out to change how Indians seek medical assistance by applying Uber-like principles. In an emergency, the app enables patients to call an ambulance and identify their closest emergency room. Hospitals are also supported because the app notifies them when a patient is on their way. It also works in non-emergency situations, acting as a health monitor and pill reminder tool too.
The world has changed dramatically since 2009. Some changes are reasons to rejoice and some to be worried about. But that's the nature of human progress - messy and with creases. I keep reminding myself of the lessons learnt on campus. There are reasons to be optimistic and there is plenty of work left to be done. University may be over but the 'school of life' is not.
Vinayak has an MPhil in Finance and attended Darwin College. He is is currently an Internet Entrepreneur at hiamber.com - a cloud based health company in India. He has previously worked for the Government of India. Vinayak writes regularly for the World Economic Forum and Quartz. Besides technology, his interests lie in public office / politics and the law.
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This article has been written by Vinayak Dalmia and the opinions expressed are those of the author.