Rishi Jaitly had just been elected to the board of trustees of his alma mater Princeton University when he was asked to deliver the closing prayer at an upcoming board meeting. After reciting his prepared invocation, another administrator leaned towards him.
“We don’t need technologists at Google anymore,” said Eric Schmidt, the tech giant’s then-CEO. “We need more people like you.”
And in that time, nearly two decades ago, the career trajectory of a history major evolved from advocacy in education reform to leadership in global technology.
Schmidt convinced Jaitly to join Google as a communications assistant and speechwriter, and Jaitly quickly rose to lead public policy and partnerships for Google and YouTube in India and South Asia. Years later, he was Twitter’s first employee in mainland Asia, where he helped lead the company’s expansion into Asia Pacific, the Middle East and North Africa as Vice President. .
Now he will bring his humanistic outlook and technological background to Virginia Tech. In August, Jaitly will join the Center for Humanities as a Distinguished Fellow and the Academy for Transdisciplinary Studies as a practicing professor and leader in the field of digital transformation and scholarly collaboration.
“At a time when concerns about the ethics and human impact of technology reign supreme, Rishi Jaitly is a brilliant addition to our faculty,” said Laura Belmonte, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Humanities, which houses both the center and the Academy. “His deep understanding of Big Tech, combined with a keen awareness of how technology can both advance and jeopardize human rights, is a perfect fit for the college’s multiple initiatives that explore the intersections of technology and the liberal arts.”
As an undergraduate, Jaitly said he discovered the power of the humanities and the field of history in particular.
“Engaging in the humanities during higher education was, at first, an act of faith,” he said. “I had grown up envisioning a career in the sciences, but it was the humanities – and their wide variety of disciplines, which provide insight into human character and civilization – that enthused me day after day. And so, with a concentration in history and a certificate in American studies, I paid attention to Princeton’s emphasis on growing an intellectual life that felt true to me and to my spirit, confident that it would would prepare for all known and unknown to come. What started as a leap of faith eventually became a labor of love.
Learning to think, communicate and act with clarity and determination – skills he developed while pursuing his studies – enabled his meteoric rise in technology. But he said his career still seemed incomplete and lacking the sort of multiplicity of pursuits that the humanities had also taught him to cultivate.
“I was and am proud of my work at Google and Twitter, but I also, and I think primarily, felt a call to public service,” he said.
Between his stints at Google and Twitter, Jaitly co-founded Michigan Corps, an online service platform for Michigan residents to give back to their home state no matter where they live. Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s founding of the Peace Corps in Michigan in 1960, the Michigan Corps has been helping students generate ideas for community change since 2010, connected local entrepreneurs to global resources, and increased entrepreneurial capacity. social issues in public policy.
Jaitly’s other entrepreneurial and executive civic experiences have spanned a range of sectors. He served as Commissioner of Higher Education in New Jersey, Director of the Knight Foundation, and Chief Strategy Officer of the nonprofit College Summit (now Peer Forward) which partners with low-income high schools and their students to increase university enrollment rates. .
He also co-founded Kiva Detroit, the nation’s first online peer-to-peer microlending initiative, and helped co-create the BMe Community, now the nation’s largest digital storytelling and leadership network for men and women. black boys.
Leaving Twitter six years ago, Jaitly co-founded Times Bridge, an investment and partnership firm whose mission is to help the world’s best ideas grow internationally and in India in particular, “from west to east and global north to global south,” Jaitly said.
The company is part of The Times Group, India’s oldest media company and largest digital company, and has a portfolio that includes Airbnb, Canva, Coursera, Girl Effect, Headspace, Malaria No More, Niantic, Stack Overflow, Wattpad and Uber, among others. In recognition of his two decades of leadership in technology, culminating with Times Bridge, Jaitly was named one of the world’s top 100 technology changemakers by Rest of the World, an international nonprofit journalism organization.
While leading as a technology entrepreneur and leader, Jaitly has simultaneously lent his voice and perspective over the years to the humanities, with a particular focus on evangelizing the role of the humanities in education, culture and civic life.
“Over the past decade in particular, I have come to appreciate the role the humanities have played in my career, and so advocating with and for leading organizations in the field has become increasingly important to me,” did he declare.
His advocacy has led him to serve on the boards of the National Humanities Center; PRX, a public media company specializing in audio journalism and storytelling; and Virginia Humanities, the Commonwealth Humanities Council.
It was through Virginia Humanities that Jaitly met board member Sylvester Johnson, who is director of the Center for Humanities at Virginia Tech. The two realized that they shared a passion for the interaction between technology and the humanities.
“Rishi is one of our country’s most dedicated humanities advocates,” said Johnson, who is also associate vice provost for humanities at Virginia Tech and executive director of Tech for Humanity, a nationwide initiative. of the university that adopts comprehensive and human-centered technological approaches. . “His immense knowledge and comprehensive understanding of the human condition will transform student learning, our research and our programming. It is inspiring and exciting to see how Rishi is creating more avenues for humanists to participate in directing and shaping our technological society.
Jaitly said he is looking forward to his new role at Virginia Tech.
“To be a creator and convener around new knowledge, to be a teacher and mentor to the next generation of leaders in all sectors, and to represent a public institution engaged at the meeting point between disciplines in an ever-changing world technological evolution, I can’t imagine a more perfect backdrop than Virginia Tech,” he said.
Her role within the Academy of Transdisciplinary Studies will allow her to work in several disciplines. The academy’s space for digital transformation and scientific collaboration will be an incubator for research, education and popularization.
“Rishi Jaitly has the credentials, the connections, and especially the contagious enthusiasm to manage and advance these collaborations as we create program offerings and research projects that challenge traditional disciplinary boundaries and benefit our students, faculty, and external constituencies,” said Carlos Evia, Partner. Dean for Transdisciplinary Initiatives at the College of Liberal Arts and Humanities.
Jaitly said his path prepared him well for Virginia Tech.
“While my journey from Princeton to Virginia Tech, with lots of gaps, may seem full of zigs and zags, I felt a guideline and a compass throughout, which is the place,” Jaitly said. “More than anything, I am captivated by the opportunities to lead locally, on the spot, and to empower people in new ways to see, engage and engage with places, including leveraging the potential of platforms technologies and the people in charge of their management.”
This compass has led him to maintain ties with Princeton, where he currently serves as chairman of its alumni association’s communications and technology committee.
“I began my journey of higher education at Princeton, whose motto is ‘Serving the Nation and Serving Humanity,'” Jaitly said. “And I’m going back to graduate school at Virginia Tech, whose motto is Ut Prosim (That I can serve). These calls to serve move me in more ways than one, and I feel like I’m coming full circle – and coming home.
Written byPaula Byron