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Partner Q + A: getting to know Praveen Varshney

Posted by SVP Vancouver

To use an old, but apropos cliché, time flies! When we asked Praveen Varshney – entrepreneur and environmental advocate – when he joined SVP Vancouver, he was surprised to realize he’s been a Partner for ten years. SVP has been an important part of his community impact since 2005, and we’re proud to have long-time supporters like Praveen on our team helping to create positive social change, give back in meaningful and powerful ways, and inspire others.

Praveen is passionate about his health, his family and the environment. He’s all about investing in experiences over accumulating material things. He enjoys travelling the world with his wife and two children, and takes at least three trips a year – the next destination being India. Praveen has also contributed to a few books over the years, writing about how to build a personal brand using integrity as the cornerstone. When he’s not travelling, you’ll find Praveen at one of his favourite beaches – Locarno, Spanish Banks and Jericho – where he might be thinking about the next chapter in his own book he’s writing, a life journal for his children called Do You Want an Ordinary Life or an Extraordinary Life?

What path brought you to SVP?

SVP Partner Don Safnuk introduced me to the organization and I’m so glad and appreciative he did. I’d been on a path of giving back – both time and money – for a while and trying to bring that business-like approach to the causes I was working with. For example, at RoomtoRead.org, we talk about “giving people a hand up as opposed to a hand-out” or “teaching them how to fish as opposed to giving them the fish” so our work is more sustainable. The SVP model of applying the brains/human capital to the dollars totally resonated with me.

What inspires you to make a difference?

We are so blessed – way more than most on the planet. I try and have an attitude of gratitude all day long, every day, and teach our two kids the same. And with that, I believe strongly that one of our purposes in life is to be of service to others. Quite frankly – and selfishly – I get such an endorphin high from helping people, whether it’s through mentoring or practicing daily random acts of kindness!

What is your favourite part about being involved in SVP?

Hanging with peeps: a community of similarly like-minded people – smart, caring people with a massive bias towards action versus talk!

What do you think is the biggest barrier to creating social change? 

I think a few things. The feeling that one person can’t make a difference, and that some of the issues seem too large and daunting. But as Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in this world” (I actually have two t-shirts with this quote from We Day!), you just have to start and try. One of the things I’ve learned through experience is there are a lot of well-meaning people out there but they don’t want to lead (don’t have the time, interest, etc.) so if you become the leader, others will follow – you just have to ask and they will join or support your cause or initiative.

What is the most memorable experience you’ve had with SVP so far?

The three years Nick Bedford and I worked together as the Lead Partners on Learning Disabilities Association of BC. We coached them to win a $100,000 grant with a 180 degree turn in their presentation and plan, totally transforming their thinking and model of helping more kids through our various ideas, mentoring and contacts.

What social issue are you most passionate about?  

Currently, it’s the environment, specifically excess waste – especially plastic. I started a Facebook group called Down to the Last Straw to educate people around the issue and provide practical suggestions on how to make a difference. One example is when you go to a bar or restaurant, tell the server WHEN you order your drink to not bring you a straw. I’m also passionate about the food industry. In North America it’s leading to many health issues (like heart disease and diabetes) in kids, at a younger age than ever before. Through investments in for-food causes, we’re educating people about proper food, nutrition and diet and providing the best food choices for them. Two examples of these causes are qoola.com and feedingchange.me.  Through Feeding Change, I’m proud to say that since Jan 2015 we’ve provided 8,000 LOCAL kids breakfast through a portion of our profits.

Which non-profit organization do you wish everyone knew about?

I’d love to share two, one that I joined in the early days, oneprosper.org, and one I co-founded last year, instrumentsbeyondborders.org (one of the groups we work with closely is recent SVP graduate Investee St. James Music Academy). With OneProsper, we work with the poorest farmers in the driest areas of India by providing $550 drip irrigation kits which helps increase yields and thereby incomes and also conserves the precious, scarce resource of water. Instruments Beyond Borders delivers musical instruments to youth orchestras in disadvantaged communities at home and abroad.

Who is your hero? 

My Father. He came from India in 1967 from very humble beginnings as a student with $500 on a UBC scholarship. He actually worked as a busboy in the UBC cafeteria to save enough money to bring me, my younger brother and mother to join him from India. He’s built a wonderful career and life for his family, become well known and respected, especially in the Indian community. Another interesting fact was he became the very first Indian to get his C.A. in BC.

What are you known for professionally? What do you have a knack for?  

I absolutely love being an entrepreneur and working with other entrepreneurs. Being a start-up growth guy, it’s fun to be part of a team, to build and grow a company, create jobs, tax revenues, and wealth for investors and ourselves. The last number of years I’ve had a particular focus on social or impact investing (cleantech, organic food, etc.). Some of our very cool new projects are gkupcoffee.com and mygreenspace.ca.

I would say my ability to build relationships and a global network of contacts and resources to draw upon to make things happen. I have a genuine interest in people and their well-being, I get to know them at depth and generate trust quickly, and make “deposits” in the relationship by practicing “how can I help” as opposed to WIFM (“what’s in it for me”).