Freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

Imagine a world where possibilities are limitless; you have all that you need to pursue your dream and follow your inner callings as much as you desire. Many years ago, I found such a place; I was privileged to work where I had all the freedom and liberty to pursue my dream. It was an organization founded by my teenage hero, a supremely charitable person, a person whose charitable acts have come under scrutiny during the last few weeks.

When Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and moved to Albuquerque to establish Microsoft, he had a vision - the PC would become a window to everything people were interested in and everything we needed to know. While working at Microsoft in 2008, I came into contact with a young man, Uttam Teron, who with less than $2 in his pocket dreamed of a school in his village where no children had access to education. Uttam was a tenacious young man who used to email me the activities of the school on a daily basis. One day I asked if he could record them and send me the video footage. Uttam agreed even though it was an arduous task. It was the pre cellphone era; he had to record the video with his camcorder, carry it on his bicycle from his village all the way the city center Computer Caffe and then using a Windows Computer upload them to me. He often had to wait long hours over slow internet, but he followed this routine religiously non-stop. After three months of hard work and coordination, I was able to put the contents, images, and videos in one place and then unveiled the website of the school . The website revealed Uttam story and opened his school to the whole world. People from all walks of life across India and even from the USA, Europe , the Gulf countries and Australia responded generously to his effort and contributed the much needed financial support. Uttam, thus was able to pay the teacher’s salary as well as meals and boarding expenses for the poorest students. The school established with four tribal students in a cowshed grew to a full-fledged institution with over five hundred students. For me it was a revelation –Bill Gate’s computers gave individuals like Uttam the freedom to challenge the status quo. Instead of focusing on what the world lacked, we could focus on what the world could become. I began to see possibilities, endless possibilities– it was freedom unimaginable.

At Microsoft my primary job responsibility was Software, but I had the liberty to pursue my passions – learning the Microsoft Audio video Multimedia, joining the public speaking Toastmasters club, and building my career with the Microsoft mentorship program. My mentor at Microsoft was George Vanderburg. Over five years working at Microsoft, he became a friend, philosopher and guide. I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from people like George who cared enough to tell me the things that I needed to hear at a crucial juncture.

As the school Parijat Academy established by Uttam became well known, it was visited by teaching interns from across the world. They were mostly college students who would come and stay at the school campus. While visiting Parijat during our vacation to India I met such an intern from the USA. A 19-year-old female, she had traveled all the way from Baltimore. Though she couldn’t speak the local language, she made her classroom lively through a lot of interactive assignments; I was amazed. But then I also found that there was not a proper facility for these guest teachers. They were staying in makeshift accommodations often without running water or electricity. I thought, could there be a full-fledged accommodation with an attached bathroom, running water, 24-7 electricity with Internet connection for these visiting student-teachers ? I discussed this with Uttam and when I returned back to the US, I began pursuing my goal – to build a guest house for the visiting interns at Parijat Academy.

However, I soon realized raising money for the guest house was not easy. The construction of a permanent structure required thousands of dollars, and there was no way this huge sum could be raised with donations alone. One day, I talked with my mentor George who was showing genuine interest in my work for the Parijat Academy. George listened patiently and said – “You are doing a commendable job - why don’t you ask Bill Gates ?” What George alluded to and what I didn’t know till then was that Microsoft had a unique program - every employee who volunteered for a nonprofit could earn $17 per hour for that nonprofit. When George told me about this program I was simply blown away. I realized that Bill Gates had given me the wings to pursue my dream.

I had been spending 8 hours on average every week for the school creating the website, running the campaign and conducting meetings for our nonprofit. I quickly did a math; I had spent close to 200 hours and when matched with the $17 per hour contribution from Microsoft, there would be enough money for the construction of the guest house. I decided to apply. I diligently compiled the details against each hour I had worked and then submitted my application to the Microsoft Employee Giving program. In less than a month I received a long distance call from Uttam. “Brother”, he said , “ the guest house construction has started - someone from Microsoft donated the remaining money needed.” The turn of events rendered me speechless. It was so quick, seamless, and pleasant that I felt as if a magician had heard me and fulfilled it. I marveled at the sheer beauty of the program and the mission and vision of Bill Gates.

Some people see potential everywhere. Others just sit back, watch, and criticize. Four decades ago, when the world’s first microcomputer was unveiled, petty people saw it and said “Oh, that machine – it is so loud, and it will make us lazy and fat and will take our jobs away.” A young man, a Harvard dropout, saw it and thought otherwise “Oh, that machine – it is fantastic, and it will make us creative and it will potentially create many jobs.” Seeing an opportunity, that young man worked day and night to write the software for that machine and the world’s first personal computer was born. Bill Gates made Computers available for everyone and today we have the freedom to follow our dreams. Unknown to many, and to most of the critics, he also created a world where employees can make a lot of wishes – his own and those of others come true. It’s a world that never existed before – a world with endless possibilities, a world filled with opportunities and a world where people have so much freedom and liberty to pursue their dreams and happiness.

YouTube Video link to the Speech

District 25 Newsletter: Bill Gates, Toastmasters, and the Pursuit of Happiness