A childhood experience inspired Ashutosh Pathak, an Indian native and senior director of North America Medical Affairs in oncology at Teva Pharmaceuticals, to do what he could to change the inequities he was confronted with.
One day when he was about eight, the maidservant who cleaned his house and washed the eating utensils was unwell and sent her daughter instead. When his elder sister happened to walk into the kitchen, Pathak says, “When they looked at each other they were shocked, and the girl was so embarrassed—they were classmates in their college! Our maidservant was washing utensils in people’s houses so her daughter could go to college.”
That was one moment when he decided he would do something when he grew up, especially for the women’s empowerment. “I wanted that no girl in the world should face this kind of embarrassment or wash utensils to survive for education,” he says.
In 2011, he founded the Princeton Foundation for Peace and Learning, or PF Plus, which his wife, Raminder Pathak, chairs, and their first project was to sponsor Indian girls “from underprivileged strata of society” to complete their college education. Currently more than 70 of these young women—high school dropouts who weren’t going to college for financial reasons—have graduated, with some pursuing doctorates and others professional careers.
They did this via partnering, a tool that is essential to their foundation’s work. They linked up with his sister’s alma mater in Varanasi, which established a committee to select the students (so that the foundation would have no say), and the foundation provided funding.
On first read, the foundation’s mission—cultivating an educated and healthy humanity for a peaceful world in three areas: education, healthcare, and world peace—seems unreachable by such a small foundation. But planning structures drawn from Pathak’s experience in the corporate world and partnering with other organizations is leading to important actions on the ground.
One comes under the healthcare banner, a Health & Wellness Conference chaired by Raminder Pathak, Saturday, Oct. 28, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Hopewell Valley Central High School. The conference will feature experts speaking on three health epidemics affecting Americans today: sleep deprivation and its important contributor, sleep apnea; obesity, including what is termed “normal weight obesity,” characterized by a normal body-mass index but high body fat; and the prescription drug epidemic, which kills more teens than heroin and cocaine combined.
The conference agenda is available at pfplus.org by clicking on Upcoming Event and then Agenda.
Citing a recent survey that places the United States last in healthcare among all the developed nations, Pathak says, “Millions of people are dying of these epidemics and people don’t care. They don’t want to learn and are more content with blaming the healthcare and hospital systems.”
They ignore the fact, he says, “that 90 percent of prescription drug addiction starts as teenagers, and when they hear about sleep apnea, they are thinking snoring is a nuisance—people don’t realize it is killing them slowly and can lead to many health problems.”
‘There is a disconnect between what is happening and what people know.’
The conference is also addressing another aspect of healthcare that needs improvement. “The traditional system for transmitting new knowledge no longer keeps pace with scientific advances.,” Pathak says.
“Both of us are physicians,” Pathak says. “We know there have been so many advances in biomedical fields, but both of us feel so much less trickles down to the community. There is a disconnect between what is happening and what people know.”
A corollary to these knowledge gaps, Pathak suggests, is that to bring together necessary knowledge to treat a case can require multiple specialists.
He raises the example of his older son, Ameyavikram, who has sleep apnea. A local dentist suggested that pulling several teeth would resolve the apnea, but later a specialist at Harvard told them that pulling crowded teeth was contraindicated for sleep apnea and was going to make it worse.
“Local physicians, even though they might be good at their own knowledge, with these problems it is good to have a multipronged, multidisciplinary approach. Many doctors need to come to work on one single topic,” Pathak says.
To make headway on the three hidden epidemics will require, first of all, widespread knowledge of their existence. “All are complex problems that will need a lot of attention and understanding from global leaders,” Pathak says. “Unless we come down and the community knows the real problem and how to tackle it, it will not happen.”
To the foundation’s work, Pathak brings his knowledge of corporate processes. Philanthropic organizations often lack the business acumen and business precision to do things efficiently, Pathak says. “Princeton Foundation is bringing the best of both worlds together.”
The first step, at what he calls the “fuzzy front end,” is that “we have a vision but we do not know what we are going to do … then slowly there is more granularity.” This is true of not only of a product launch but also important life decisions like choosing a profession.
“When I was in elementary school, I knew I would be a doctor, and I went into medicine. There I identified that I did not want to be a surgeon—I wanted to be a doctor, then an oncologist, and then a focus on lung cancer,” he says.
Strategy development follows, then tactical plans and resource assessment, and finally project launch. At the foundation, Pathak says, they are at the stage of developing tactical plans and resource assessment.
To make a dent in the issue of women’s illiteracy requires an understanding that this issue, like all social problems, is complex. “If a girl doesn’t go to college, it’s not simply because of financial reasons,” he says. Girls in Indian villages may stay home, for example, because they don’t have sanitary pads. Or, families may not want their girls to get educated, even if they have the money.
After a situation analysis and identification of root causes, the next step is to identify what work other organizations are doing on the same problem and what gaps in service exist—so as not to duplicate the work of others. Next requires an analysis of the foundation’s resources and a search for partnerships with others who have “capability and resources” and then to establish collective action platforms.
Having gone through this planning cycle, the foundation has developed strategic relationships with various organizations and foundations, including multiple partnerships with Columbia Business School, where Pathak earned an M.B.A. in 2015.
Under the guidance of Sandra Navalli, director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, students will work on specific independent study projects, providing strategic analyses of areas of interest to the foundation.
Jack McGourty, director of community and global entrepreneurship, will be teaching an online entrepreneurship course, and, Pathak says, “we will be sponsoring girls all over the world to take the course.” In the future they hope to also establish business incubators internationally where any girl whose proposal for either a for-profit or nonprofit venture is approved will get full support, guidance, and mentorship.
At the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton the foundation has established an endowed membership in the name of foundation, and the first professor expected to join studies world peace. Other partners are KREDDHA-International Peace Council for States, Peoples & Minorities, and Mitzvah Circle Foundation, which supports people through tragedy and crisis by providing for individualized material needs.
The foundation is also supporting specific projects proposed by other groups and individuals. One is a request by founder, president, and CEO of Village Health Works, Deogratias Niyizonkiza, who after completing part of his medical school training, fled from Burundi to New York. After experiencing homelessness and illness, he eventually graduated from Columbia University and Dartmouth Medical School. Another organization Global Caregivers in Tanzania is looking for help establishing a hospital.
The Pathaks’ older son, Ameyavikram, has established a Young Ambassadors club for the foundation at Hopewell Valley Central High School, where he is a junior. The 25 to 30 volunteers are working on the foundation’s three visionary areas—education, healthcare, and world peace—and working with worthwhile organizations to volunteer andraise funds, and they are also spreading awareness about the foundation’s vision. Their younger son, Adityavikram, is in eighth grade at Timberlane Middle School.
Raminder Pathak’s father, who was in the Indian air force, died at 27 in a car accident when she was three months old. Her mother, who worked in defense in the Indian army as a civilian, singlehandedly brought up her and her older brother.
Ashutosh Pathak’s father was selected to be a senior officer in the Government of India while still an undergraduate. While working he earned a master’s, Ph.D., and doctor of letters in economics and then an L.L.B. He later earned two degrees in Indian literature. After retirement, he was appointed as the senior economic advisor to the Government of India.
His mother retired as a professor of History from Banaras Hindu University (BHU), of which his great-grandfather, Sir Sundar Lal, was the first president. Lal was knighted by the queen of Britain and also served as Justice of the state where Pathak grew up.
‘We bridge the gap, once a drug is approved, between R&D and commercialization.’
Both Ashutosh and Raminder Pathak were selected to start medical school immediately after high school, and they met during residencies at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. Ashutosh did a Ph.D. in oncology in addition to his M.D, and after his residency he did a fellowship at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
Pathak then moved into the pharmaceutical industry, first in early drug development at Bristol-Myers Squibb. After four years he moved to Teva Pharmaceuticals, where he is senior director of North America Medical Affairs in oncology.
“We bridge the gap, once a drug is approved, between R&D and commercialization,” he says.
Raminder Pathak is an internist who works on oncology drugs. She has been at Bristol Myers-Squibb for almost seven years and is currently working on immune-oncology in the pharmacovigilance department.
The foundation is also meeting with staff of the Clinton Health Access Initiative to streamline a supply of high quality medicines to underdeveloped nations who “currently receive medicines but their quality is poor and questionable,” Pathak says. “Our foundation is working with them because I am in the pharmaceutical industry and my company is the biggest in the world for generic medicines.”
The second prong of this initiative involves support for telemedicine through Project ECHO, where expert teams use videoconferencing to train healthcare providers and to conduct virtual clinics with community providers who are not well trained to help them diagnose and treat patients. Together, Pathak says, these two prongs “will establish high-quality healthcare in the areas of need around the world.”