Giving back to the community in his home country India has been a priority for the last 20 years for Nikunj Jhaveri, a successful self-made entrepreneur, founder and chairman of a large group of IT companies. Becoming the first member of the Ashoka Support Network (ASN) in India marks a new milestone in his philanthropist career, as Nikunj is set not only to support Fellows in their journey towards impact at scale but to learn from them and bring in new members to this global network.  

“I think the spark was the fact that Ashoka is working with very good social entrepreneurs  who are thinking at system-level change”, says Nikunj, chairman of the Systems Plus Group, which he set up when he was studying chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay and today employs more than 1,000 people and provides IT solutions to clients in over 40 countries around the world. 

“Where I am in my philanthropist journey at this point, it's not about just touching one or two people, I've done that in the past. It's about how you can help to maximize impact by working with the system, working with the government, working collaboratively with organizations to create that change”, highlights the 62-year-old who was invited by Dasra* to attend the Ashoka Huddle in Bangalore in September 2023. 

“Hopefully the ASN in India can become a network of people focusing on change at a scale, something that not everyone else is doing. We need to learn from Fellows in India and around the world. "I think collaboration, knowledge sharing with Fellows and with other members of the Ashoka Support Network across the world, is what excites me the most”, sums up Nikunj. “It's interesting to see how the Indian diaspora can get connected to India and Ashoka, because Ashoka works across the world and is also well known in the US.” 

Nikunj’s 20-year-old career in the social sector  

For more than two decades, Nikunj has worked with a wide range of organizations in the social sector providing practical and innovative insights from the corporate world. Currently, he's either a trustee or member of the advisory board of several NGOs such as Pride India, Accesslife Foundation, Mantra4Change (founded by the Ashoka Fellow Khushboo Awasthi), Lion Tarachand Bapa Hospital, Involve Learning Solutions, Universe Simplified, Kshamata, SVRR, Foster & Forge, The Circle and 40 Reasons to Smile.  

“I started writing checks, but I come from a Gujarati community in India, most famous for being businessmen. They want to make sure they get maximum bang for their buck”, recalls Nikunj. “This made me think, so I started to spend more time with the organizations I was funding. Then I started seeing the smiles on people's faces, to see the impact that the money was making. I started working in villages, in education, and different healthcare initiatives. This was fantastic. That´s how I got hooked on the idea of spending time with different organizations”. 

The reasons for joining the ASN 

Nikunj's decision to join the Ashoka Support Network (ASN) was driven by his goal to deepen his knowledge and experience in the livelihood sector. He believes that reversing the migration flow from rural to urban areas in India would improve living standards in villages.   

“I feel livelihood is an area where I'm not strong on right now. I'm looking into Fellows in India who aim to work on livelihood at scale. For me, the true test of a good livelihood program would be to demonstrate that reverse migration from the cities back to the villages results in prosperity in the villages. So, there are good outcomes, there is adequate livelihood in the villages for them to want to come back. That's one thing, but when the villages start improving, education starts improving, automatically there is a demand for better schools”, points out Nikunj. 

“We also change and improve the lives of the people who come from the villages and live in big cities like Mumbai, they live in such hostile environments where they're just trying to make ends meet to send some money back home. And my thinking is, if we can somehow demonstrate that it's better not to leave the village, stay in the village and create role models who come back and create a business or jobs for themselves in their villages, even with farming and make it very profitable.” 

Nikunj is excited about the learning journey that Ashoka will organize for him and other members of the ASN (ASNers), to learn about some of these issues and potential solutions from Ashoka Fellows. As a philanthropist, he wants to deepen his understanding of issues that are important and are often overlooked by the funders, to be more impactful with his “time, talent and treasure”.   

Nikunj is also looking forward to his involvement in the ASN to share insights from India, learn from fellow members worldwide, and continue expanding the network's reach. 

Since becoming the first Indian ASNer in November 2023, Nikunj has been actively bringing his personal and professional network into Ashoka. He is confident he will contribute to making ASN India a thriving, large network of committed members.  He´s very well positioned to do that, as he´s gained a reputation as a thoughtful, diligent and committed philanthropist among his friends and acquaintances.  “What happens is that people know that I'm giving my money and spending time on various causes. This way, it is easy for them to just piggyback on me and on the causes I am supporting”, reflects Nikunj, who believes being part of the Rotary Club of Queens Necklace (Mumbai) and the District 3141 team has allowed him to bring many other philanthropists to support the social organizations he works with. 

To expand the ASN in India, he hopes that ASN members worldwide can assist by engaging their Indian partners involved in local businesses and directing them to Ashoka Fellows. 

“My message to our ASNers is: Come here, see what we have. It is an awesome country, we're doing some fantastic stuff, but also come and see how you could participate in the India story,” concludes Nikunj. 


*Dasra is a leading nonprofit systems orchestrator working with diverse stakeholders across the social impact ecosystem of India.