From true grit to being the change: The Journey of Kunal Sood
Kunal Sood is an exemplary model of where the western value of true grit meets the eastern ideal of being the change. Having lived across the world from New Zealand to New York. What exactly does it take to be a change-maker in our world? Is it skill? Luck? Hard work? Is it a combination of the three? Or is there an indefinite ‘X-factor’ that lies deep within those who truly embody this vision. In many cases, the latter proves to be true. It is a distinct trait that lies deep beneath the surface, but is present within all of our world’s most respected leaders, luminaries and visionaries; those who are committed to driving our humanity toward a brighter, more sustainable tomorrow.To Kunal Sood – Associate Dean at WOXSEN School of Business – that ‘X-factor’ translates into one finite word; grit. He implores everyone to “Never give up, and never give in; to keep pushing boundaries. And when you hit a wall, to seek the people who will help you break them down in order to achieve your goal[s].”
Throughout the entirety of his adolescence, Kunal was persistently told what he would not accomplish. He was told he would never graduate high school and as a teenager who was unhealthily obese, Kunal’s elders said he would never live past twenty-one. But in a society as rigid and ‘by the book’ as his native India, he refused to lie down and except the fate that had been set in front of him. Instead, he carved his own trail toward a relentless pursuit of success.
That was decades ago; and now Kunal, the boy in school who was always asking the ‘why?’ in a land [India] focusing more on the ‘how?’ has silenced the critics en route to his journey. He has grown into a true game-changer; one who has contributed to, and worked alongside the most progressive minds, helping to grow the most successful platforms in existence today.
These accomplishments have been completed within a vast array of mediums, including the acquisition of a plethora of degrees from the most prestigious academic institutions in the world such as Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and UPENN, to name a few. Yet, when discussing his education and upbringing, Kunal is not shy to admit that he does not consider himself to be a true academic. He never acknowledges himself as the smartest fellow in the room, but rather the most persistent. In his own words, “Persistence will always trump talent, if you have enough in you,” a sentiment Kunal has embodied throughout the ups and downs of his fruitful life.
It is this drive and unrelenting motivation to break down the barriers that are set before him that make Kunal the luminary he is across the variety of platforms he drives forward into thriving success. Whether it is his involvement within the blossoming fields of Global Health and Positive Psychology- a movement that he has studied and been involved with for the past decade. Or his vital role as Executive Producer and Co-curator of the unprecedented TEDxUNPlaza event this past September, Kunal’s presence is one that is impossible to ignore, and consistently respected.
Regardless of his laundry list of accomplishments, degrees, and successful ventures, Kunal remains grounded; pledging that he is a mere player amongst a team of all-stars. In his mind, “a small group of dedicated people is what can change the world. Once we all realize ‘it is not my show, but our show,’ the limits toward which we strive for dissolve.” Such is the philosophy Kunal carries with him everyday as he works tirelessly to surround himself with the smartest, most dedicated, passionate and skilled individuals. He does this because he knows they are the ones who will in turn elevate his own energy, and will drive forward the truly sustainable social change he wishes to create.
Throughout the days, weeks, and months leading up to the heralded TEDxUNPlaza event, Kunal put absolutely everything he had on the table, expecting nearly nothing in return; personifying the event’s profound theme of ‘BRAVE: United in Action’. In response to his approach to leading the charge on this landmark event that took place at the United Nations Headquarters about a month back, Kunal gave this insightful sentiment about his takeaways proceeding the event:
“Let go and do not let yourself be attached to the fruits of your endeavor. Be altruistic. The ability to be a giver is one that is so powerful. If you come from a place of giving as opposed to taking, you will, in the end, be the one that creates the legacy of your lifetime.”
That legacy Kunal alludes to was cemented after the completion of what will surely evolve into a flagship event at the United Nations Plaza; culminating into his addressing of the UN General Assembly the following week. An honor a rare few can say has become a reality for them in their lifetimes. Within the TEDx community – a platform, while exploding across the globe, is still in its infancy at just 5 years of practical age – Kunal is viewed as one of its most appreciated associates. Yet, he remains humble, constantly hailing the team over himself in all his undertakings.
This inspiring sense of humility and appreciation for those he is fortunate to be surrounded by took root during Kunal’s experience working on the ground within the slums of Mumbai years ago. When reflecting on this journey – one in which he was a lead investigator and scientist for a research project in collaboration with Harvard and UCSF – Kunal stressed that his initial thoughts on how to address the mass amounts of suffering and disease were completely flipped in their head upon his arrival. As a native to India with no shortage of personal connections more than capable of helping in a tangible way, Kunal was under the impression that he would be ‘saving grace’ of the area. However, after realizing the little amount of time at his disposal, an alternative route was taken; one that caused him to “get out of his Ivory Tower and ‘empty his cup’,” in order to absorb everything possible.
In an area where families of four are lucky to live in a space of 200 square feet and have adequate access to clean water, this proved to be a transformative experience; one rooted in servant-leadership and its ability to inspire true change within a community. Through this experience, Kunal learned what it meant to truly be a man of service, how to open his heart, and not come from a grandiose place to ‘change the world.’ Instead, he obtained the knowledge and value of being engaged with the community to enable the most authentic understanding and witness suffering without the subjective judgment that so often clouds the research of many.
In relation to a project such as his work in Mumbai, Kunal learned that, “you haven’t been sent to save the day, you’ve been sent to do your service. It’s not about me, but about the community.” In relation to the future of Global Health, specifically in Mumbai, he believes, “The turning point will come when we are able to give voices to those living in the slums and study their principles of resiliency; empowering them toward how they make this happen on their own can bring a new light for them to take care of themselves. We must empower them not as inhabitants of the slums, but embrace them as human beings than can embrace change.”
Throughout the entirety of Kunal’s journey, leaving home at just fourteen years of age for supposedly greener pastures of Singapore, New Zealand, and eventually the United States, he never strayed from the path he wanted for his own life. No matter how many rejection letters were sent his way, challenges set before him, or crossroads forcing a change of course, his direction remained true, leading him to the status he has made for himself today.
This unabashed experience is exactly with he brings to the table as an addition to the growing team at the WOXSEN School of Business, an institution that is transforming the traditional perception of B-school. Kunal views WOXSEN as a chance to, “disrupt the education model and create the first school that encompasses the true DNA of an entrepreneur.” Drawing inspiration from all the entrepreneurial hubs around the world, and bringing them into the space WOXSEN is creating.
When considering the more traditional institutions throughout the sector, Kunal has noticed a growing trend of becoming more of a party than a true education. As a result, this is causing a growing contagion of an, ‘I went to _______’ complex seeping into this generation’s graduates. As he stated, “the biggest disease plaguing these big schools is that they all have been established with the same ‘too big to fail’ mentality. This is something we hope not to engrain into our students, but instead to instill within them a sense of conscious capitalism and mindful leadership.”Too often in today’s society, the actual education obtained from attending a prestigious institution has become secondary to the potential network that B-Schools enables and the sense of an ‘elite society’ that goes along with it. This concept is one that Kunal intends to steer WOXSEN away from, with a culture that will aim to address the ‘drop-out syndrome’, while still instilling the mindsets of the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of our world to create the next generation of world leaders.
There is no doubt that as WOXSEN continues to expand following its recent launch and constructing its premier on-site campus experience in Hyderabad that its role within the entrepreneurial education will be a large one. With its initial programming, aiming to formulate a new generation of entrepreneurs, leaders, game-changers, and visionaries will be one to surely keep an eye on as the institution works to complete the construction of its first campus in Hyderabad, India. It should not come as a surprise if Kunal remains at the epicenter of the institutions development, brining things back full circle to his homeland of India.
To know more about Kunal’s “Be the Change” initiative, you can watch his TedXUNPlaza video here.