For more than three decades, Bhagwati “B.P.” Agrawal, Ph.D., was a leader in the communications revolution, spearheading research and development at Fortune 100 companies including General Dynamics, ITT-Alcatel, GTE/Verizon and Hughes Network Systems before launching his own companies. He received more than 10 patents for telecommunications innovations that today are industry standards. He abruptly left the corporate world behind fifteen years ago to focus on a new mission – helping others.
B.P. wanted to make a lasting difference in the world, and he started with a basic human need – water. In many parts of his native India, safe drinking water is increasingly scarce. Some women and girls spend each day trekking miles to and from the nearest wells. To develop a self-perpetuating solution, Agrawal founded a social enterprise, Sustainable Innovations.
When B.P. was nine or 10, he went with his mother to fetch water at the village well. An elderly aunt asked him to pull up a few buckets for her, and B.P.’s mother saw him roll his eyes. She pulled him close and told him, “Even a stray dog fills her tummy, but a man will feed someone else’s tummy.”
It wasn’t until the early 2000s, when B.P. was looking to launch a new venture, that he remembered his mother’s sage adage. He decided to devote the rest of his life to fighting the water crisis in his homeland.
Today, Aakash Ganga (Ah-kosh Gun-guh) – or River from the Sky – provides clean water to 12,000 people in seven villages. The women and girls are now free to pursue work or school, and the villagers no longer suffer the ill effects of drinking contaminated water.
B.P.’s innovative solution uses existing rooftops to build infrastructure for catching rainwater during the monsoon season and funnels it through pipes to covered underground cisterns.
Villagers with large roofs lease the space for rain harvesting and get their own household reservoirs. Half of each home’s catch goes into the home’s reservoir, and half goes to a community reservoir to supply poorer villagers. Part of the community supply also irrigates a large garden, the produce of which is sold to generate revenue for system maintenance.
Aakash Ganga works, in part, because B.P. understands sustainability must be holistic. Nothing will last if it’s economically and environmentally sustainable but not culturally, institutionally and politically sustainable. B.P. respects local customs and local values, and he finds ways to incorporate them so that the villagers feel pride and ownership.
B.P. was recognized as a 2015 CNN Hero. He received the World Bank Development Marketplace award, the Energy Globe Foundation’s World Award, AARP’s Purpose Prize and the Lemelson-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sustainability Award, which included $100,000 for funding Aakash Ganga.
Sustainable Innovations also devised an enterprise model for delivering low-cost health care to poor, remote Indian villages while also equipping young women to become entrepreneurs. Arogya (Ah-roe-ghee-a), or Disease Free, relies on a database called HomeTriage that includes dozens of common and preventable illnesses and their symptoms. Young women with at least a high school education are trained to assess patients using HomeTriage and relay their findings to a physician, who reviews it and advises. That program has been in development for several years and will soon launch in a handful of villages.
B.P. was the youngest of seven children born to impoverished parents in Chhapoli (Chha-po-li), India. Teachers played a strong role in shaping B.P. They watched out for him, helped him get desperately needed scholarships and shared words of wisdom that helped guide his choices. He attended the Birla Institute of Technology and Science on a scholarship and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering.
From India, B.P. went to Florida State University to pursue his Ph.D. under professor Vijay Jain. In 1969, the two came to USF – Jain as a professor and B.P. as a doctoral student who relished the academic freedoms and opportunity available at this brand-new school.
Under Dr. Jain, B.P. worked hard – 12 or 13 hours a day – which he really didn’t care for when all his friends were out with their girlfriends. But it helped make him even more committed to excellence and disciplined in pursuing it. His many accomplishments reflect that.
B.P. and his wife, Vimal, a certified public accountant, have been married for 45 years. The couple have three children, Nayna (Na-ya-na), Nilam (Neelam) and Abhinav (A-bhi-nav), and two grandchildren. B.P. hopes that in their lifetimes, Aakash Ganga will ensure everyone in the world has the clean, safe drinking water they need.
The USF Alumni Association’s 2018 Alumni Awards ceremony, during which B.P. was presented with a Distinguished Alumni Award, was held October 18, 2018.