Dhruv Impacts His Community in India

Applying the Decision Skills Learned through DEF

It must be an Indian system. I have always seen people in my country simmer over decisions, be it as crucial as choosing a new government or as simple as choosing the next meal. I too was at a vital crossroad – as an active volunteer for six years with an NGO called Project Chirag, I was struggling with crucial decisions in relation to growth and expansion. I therefore chose to attend the DEF summer high school course on Decision Making and Leadership at Stanford.


Project Chirag is a youth driven initiative to install solar power in Indian villages, which have no access to electricity. Indifference and inequality are starkly visible in the villagers’ lives. At dusk, their homes are dark; the only light is the tiny kerosene lamp whose potent fumes choke the air and the lungs of the people breathing it. I care because I want to make a social change. I find it inhumane that villagers have no access to basic commodities like electricity, education and sanitation and I work with the clear motive to help develop the rural regions of my nation. I believe that my actions may not be noticed, but they will make a difference.


As the senior youth ambassador for Project Chirag, I wanted to challenge myself, to step out of the comfort zone and cause a viral awareness. The DEF material was my constant guide and inspiration. I actively worked on using the puzzles and team building skills to create a more inclusive sense of volunteering and donation. The course gave me the confidence to speak with school management and convince them to adopt villages.  In the art of negotiation taught to me at the course, one of the negotiation tricks I used while visiting publicly listed companies was to quote a much higher price than required, and it actually worked. But the biggest decision I took was to install solar units in the very challenging state of Assam. It was challenging for me, and I used the material we learned at the DEF course to increase my chances of making a well-informed decision. I plotted a decision chain to organize my thoughts and identify the weak links, if any. I finally decided to travel to Assam and light up the 10,000th light -- in retrospect a decision well taken.


Beyond Project Chirag, I gained a wonderful opportunity to present my learning of the DEF course. At an IIT geared engineering school, I was invited to present the tools to sharpen decision-making skills for the future engineers of tomorrow. With Chris’s mentorship, in 45 minutes the class was introduced to decision chain, decision tree, basics on the game theory, and the importance of negotiation. While sharing my experiences with them, it occurred to me that the Indian orthodox system of education does not allow a teacher to utilize the audiovisual and kinesthetic tools so integral in teaching, and therefore my efforts were highly rewarding.


Since the students were inclined towards engineering, they enjoyed the mathematics behind the decision trees, especially when the problems got trickier and involved the clairvoyance. Moreover, the activity of negotiation (when there is one seller and buyer for a jacket) was really interactive and helped the students understand the importance of negotiation in our daily lives. The activity on choosing which option a group of film makers should take during the time of floods was a great hit, and encouraged animated discussion among engineers who thought it was going to be just another boring lecture! I felt like a super-star that day as students hovered around me eager to voice their thoughts. To this day I still receive calls and mail from them highlighting the way they have encapsulated the module in their small and large decisions.


I always found it a bit cliché when my friends would remark on a transformative journey in a short span of time, but ironically, it hit the truth for me as well in those twenty one days, because my life has changed. The knowledge gained during the course has helped me to take several personal decisions, none of which I have regretted. The biggest and best decision was the fact that I was extremely sure I wished to apply to the United States for further education, and– I did not need to draw a decision tree for that! I chose the IB curriculum in senior school to gain international exposure, and challenge myself in a rigorous course as well.


A decision is no longer a chance or luck for me, it has become a probability. I like to define decision-making in terms of mathematics, giving it an absolute figure. Each decision of mine relies less on chance because I rely on the course materials of the decision chain to identify any weak links. Every morning, my colourful markers and I canvas out a new decision tree on my white-board. It indeed is my awakening cup of latte.