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Mukesh Prasad completed his PhD in applied (social) economics from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in 2012. After the graduation ceremony, he slipped a little note into his supervisor’s hand. The note read “I shall not remain insignificant”.
    
Thanks to an Australian Government bursary, his graduation had come two years earlier than planned, which was to complete the doctorate by the age of 45 years. However, the quest to become significant had started much earlier.
 
As Mukesh explained, he was born almost blind and cannot remember what the world looked like, until complex  surgeries restored his vision when he was eight years old.
 
“The surgeries were phenomenally successful but my corrective “coke bottle” glasses presented a challenge,” Mukesh recalled.

As Mukesh explained, many people who could make a difference in his life turned their backs on him because they did not want to have anything to do with "the boy who couldn’t see”.
 
The irony was not lost on Mukesh and it took years - and the unwavering support of many beautiful people, as he described them - to realise that he had got it all wrong.

Mukesh was brutally honest about this self-awareness: “it was like finding out that fire burns my finger when I understood the limitations were theirs and not mine”.
 
There was no stopping after this realisation and Mukesh secured one of only three national scholarships and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in English and History from the University of the South Pacific (USP) in 1991.

The choice of majors was driven by his desire to become a high school teacher and make a difference in the lives of physically and mentally disadvantaged students; something that he could not get himself. In a strange twist of fate, the dream came true when he was posted to his former high school.
 
"My experience as a teacher was both healing and transformative," Mukesh said. “It was healing because it helped me to move forward with confidence and it was transformative because I could do for my students what my teachers failed to do for me."

Mukesh did. He created a simple educational resource that lifted the average pass rate in his classes to over 90 percent; an amazing feat because a majority of his students were children of poor rice farmers. The resource even helped one of his students to score the highest mark in the Year 12 national examination, beating every student from every school in the country that year.

“The success was astonishing because all I did was to make learning interesting and meaningful to my students but particularly those who would otherwise fall through the cracks,” Mukesh said. “These students were not ‘write-offs’ as I was labeled by my teachers; they just needed someone to believe in them.”
 
In 1994, Mukesh returned to USP on the prestigious Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship to pursue postgraduate studies. He graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) and Master of Arts (MA) in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Interestingly, he became the first Development Studies student to complete his thesis in “record time”.
 
The choice of majors, this time around, was motivated by a desire to make a difference in the wider world and Mukesh ended up working in a major foreign government embassy in Suva.
 
“The diplomatic experience was surreal,” Mukesh explained, “because it was about power and strategic interests. You get a close glimpse of why there is so much inequality in the world.”
 
Mukesh migrated to Australia in 2000 and joined the private sector as a social policy researcher in the not-for-profit community clubs industry. In this role, he provided expert policy advice and training to managers and directors on a range of matters such as risk management, legal compliance, social responsibility and good governance.
 
“I impacted the lives of millions of people who visited these venues to connect with friends and enjoy sporting and other forms of recreational activities and that was quite fascinating,” Mukesh said.
 
Unsurprisingly, Mukesh chose to complete his PhD in the field of applied social economics to better understand how social enterprises build and sustain social capital or the sense of trust and connectedness in the community.
 
The doctoral research earned him the membership of the oldest and most prestigious honour society, Golden Key, which admits members by invitation. Mukesh credited his research skills to his experience at USP.
 
“My research skills were honed at USP,” Mukesh explained. “It was in those formative years that I built my capacity as a researcher. I just fell in love with what I was doing and decided it would make a good career.”
 
Interestingly, good research skills have helped Mukesh to also achieve his lifelong dream of becoming a writer. In his short stories, Mukesh draws inspiration from the rapidly changing scenery of life to make his readers laugh, cry and, most importantly, enjoy the stories. In Mukesh’s writing, the language is simple and direct. It is a minimalist style that has had maximum reader effect.
 
Mukesh left the private sector in 2016 to pursue another frontier of his career: data and analytics. His joined the federal government and also started teaching in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at an international university. While inherently different, both roles have given him the scope and space to make some amazing contributions, given his knowledge, skills and, most importantly, life experience.
 
“I don’t know when my quest to become significant had turned into a quest to become meaningful but these two roles come very close to it,” Mukesh explained. “They give me the opportunity to pay it forward with a profound sense of gratitude.”

Life is relatively simple. If you have gone through the doorway of opportunity, then it is incumbent on you to keep the door open for others to follow because someone held the door open for you. So do your part and the universe has an uncanny way to make the rest happen. What are you waiting for: Take a chance. Test yourself. Touch a life.  

 “When I look at my two little boys, I often wonder what more life has in store for me,” Mukesh said, “but I know that tomorrow is another chance to let go of what I can’t control and make a difference in the little ways that I can.”



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