St. Olaf Magazine | Spring/Summer 2021

Apoorva Pasricha ’14 is solving problems at the intersection of the public, private, and social sectors.

Apoorva Pasricha ’14, photographed in San Francisco by Frederic Neema/Polaris

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and schools transitioned to online learning, the city of San José, California — like many cities around the nation — quickly realized the inequities around access and connectivity as it was faced with the challenge of getting digital devices into the hands of kids at home.

Luckily, the City of San José Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation (MOTI) already had Apoorva Pasricha ’14 on staff. As a Harvard Business School Leadership Fellow and the city’s Deputy Director of Technology & Innovation, Pasricha operationalized San José’s digital inclusion initiative, closing the digital divide for 4,000 households by allocating over $1 million in grants to community groups serving low-income residents who lack Internet access, digital devices, and digital literacy. Pasricha fundraised the money for those grants in a few short months, developed a framework for distributing the funds, and oversaw the launch of the initiative’s online portal. Key to her work was engaging and collaborating with partners and multiple stakeholders across the public, private, and social sectors.

Says Pasricha, “I believe in the power of working together across sectors, as I don’t think any one group has the resources or comprehensive expertise to develop solutions to our world’s biggest problems.” This approach makes her a tri-sector athlete, a term used to describe someone who can assess, understand, and engage the needs, aspirations, and incentives of people in all three sectors.

Pasricha’s work on the digital inclusion initiative teed up her work in solving San José’s remote school digital divide. She pivoted to building relationships that would result in providing students with reliable, quality laptops. Through the Digital Inclusion Fund, she established a unique partnership model for MOTI with Revivn (a certified public benefit hardware refurbisher), the Santa Clara County Office of Education, and the California Emerging Technology Fund. Pasricha used the partnership to create new revenue for the city, which ultimately reduced the number of students in San José without computing devices during the pandemic.

When I’m asked to work on a problem that’s ambiguous, my first instinct is to identify what principles we want to use to solve it. That stems from bringing people together around a shared vision, which I feel confident doing because St. Olaf enabled me to see equal value across different disciplines.

“We need to understand challenges from all perspectives, as well as understand what motivates each stakeholder,” Pasricha says. “Some of the most powerful initiatives I’ve worked on have been collaborations between businesses, the government, and nonprofit organizations.” While at MOTI, she launched an AI-powered chatbot to 1.2 million San José residents to help them access city services via either the Internet or text messaging, which was of utmost importance during COVID-19 shelter-at-home orders.

Pasricha currently is an operations and infrastructure manager at Zoox, an Amazon subsidiary that will soon bring robo-taxis to cities.

“I’m a tech optimist and believe that technology can be a force for good,” she says.

Pasricha credits St. Olaf with teaching her “to think through issues in a holistic manner,” she says. She excelled at the college, graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. degree in economics and political science, with a concentration in media studies. She spent a year studying development economics at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and participated in St. Olaf’s Mayo Innovation Scholars program. She applied her classroom knowledge during internships at Twin Cities Public Television, the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, and the Minnesota Department of Health.

After graduating from St. Olaf, Pasricha spent two years as an analyst at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, managing $1.5 billion in investable assets, improving client onboarding processes, and initiating a recruiting effort that diversified the company’s workforce. She then worked to digitize the state government of Massachusetts as an operations and strategy associate in the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security, also known as MassIT. Pasricha collaborated with the executive director to build the business case for the governor to centralize technology infrastructure in the state, better enabling the delivery of digital services. She also led the team responsible for reforming the state’s technology talent hiring process, resulting in great accountability, streamlined hiring practices, and taxpayer savings. Their work was codified into law.

“My biggest takeaway from J.P. Morgan and MassIT was understanding how data and numbers build narratives. In order for me to impact organizations at a systems level, I needed to know who the stakeholders were within the system, what their needs and motivations were, and how I could unite them over a shared vision,” she says.

While earning an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, Pasricha was a summer associate in strategy and business development with Sidewalk Labs & Intersection Co., a Google urban innovation company that is leveraging technology to make cities more sustainable and affordable. “Sidewalk got me thinking about how technology impacts a city from the perspective of its residents,” Pasricha says, noting that her time there opened her eyes to the need to build technological solutions that engage everyone, not just wealthy communities. “A city’s vulnerable communities can’t be an afterthought,” she says.

Pasricha’s passion for entrepreneurship — building solutions that tackle problems from multiple perspectives and engage partners across different sectors — has informed each of the transitions throughout her career, she says, and it’s what excites her most about her new role at Zoox.

“The way goods and services move about is an operational challenge that cities face,” Pasricha says. “I’m inspired to be a part of providing affordable, lasting solutions to that challenge.”

Her liberal arts background at St. Olaf also informs how she approaches problem solving. “When I’m asked to work on a problem that’s ambiguous, my first instinct is to identify what principles we want to use to solve it,” Pasricha says. “That stems from bringing people together around a shared vision, which I feel confident doing because St. Olaf enabled me to see equal value across different disciplines.”