You may have seen IOP fellow Sonal R. Shah around campus at Harvard sporting events as she indulges her passion for all things athletic. But you can also join Shah in another setting this semester; every Thursday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. her study group meets in room L166 at the IOP.
Shah says that the IOP fellowship came at exactly the right moment in her professional life. "It was perfect timing because I really wanted to take some time off and figure out what I was going to do next, but at the same time stay connected," she said.
While Shah may be unsure of where she is headed after this semester, her previous list of jobs is full of well-known names and accomplishments. Born in Mumbai, India and raised in Houston, Texas, Shah received her masters in Economics from Duke University and then headed to Washington D.C. where she worked for the Treasury Department under the Clinton administration, doing work that took her all over the world.
In 1995, after bombing had devastated Sarajevo, Shah worked with the treasury there to create a central banking system for the region. Through working in Sarajevo and dealing with conflict, Shah learned the importance of compromise and bringing together a group to solve problems. "You couldn't go into a post-conflict situation and pick winners. You had to bring everyone to the table to figure out solutions," she said.
In 2002, after working in government for seven years, Shah decided to pursue a different path. She founded the non-profit Indicorps with her brother and sister.
"It's basically a peace corps for Indians with the idea that if you wanted to understand your identity as a diaspora, the best way to do it is through service," she said.
Shah's passion for creating change would later land her in jobs at Goldman Sachs, Google, and the Technology, Innovation, Government Reform group of President Obama's Transition Board.
Her experiences in other countries and her jobs in both the public and private sectors taught her to think about global issues and interactions with a new perspective.
"Both at the corporate level and the non-profit level, we think globally," she said.
In her study group, "Social Innovation: Impact on Politics," Shah focuses on the politics of technology, the use of technology in elections, and how technology can be harnessed to encourage greater participation in the governing process itself.
"I think that democracy is much bigger than an election. It has to be very much about people participating in a process," Shah said.
As part of her study group, Shah will discuss the 2012 election, which she believes poses a clear difference in terms of the two possible outcomes.
"There's a very clear difference in my mind as to what vision you want from this election. Do you think that the government has a role to play that can do good? I do."