Recently I caught up with impact investor and social innovation expert Kunal Sood, who shared in a conversation with me his unique background and perspective on why he does the work he does in the world and what inspired him to go into the world of social impact and purpose driven innovation.
Sood grew up with a myriad of problems as a child that included learning disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD and being obese, but that didn’t stop him from achieving his goals in life. Sood learned very early on that persistence and grit can often, if not always, conquer talent and that his education and real-world apprenticeship would be the secret to unlocking his own potential as an exponential entrepreneur. Today the United Nations special envoy Jeffery Sachs, iconic thought leaders like Peter Diamandis and legendary investors Tim Draper keynote his flagship summits in the General Assembly Hall of the UN with up to 1,500 delegates attending.
What makes Sood extraordinary is his vision and steadfast commitment to “Transforming the World” by leveraging innovation, entrepreneurship, and exponential technologies like the blockchain and drones, he is committed to a life of service and massive transformational purpose. Be it working with people in the trenches or world leaders at the top of the pyramid, Sood’s simple and powerful mandate is that he rolls up his sleeves and works endlessly to achieve this goal.
Sood comes from a family of entrepreneurs and business leaders, including his father who developed a successful manufacturing business in the automobile and earth moving sectors in India with 2,000 employees, many of them female; and Sood’s brother who continues the family tradition at India Forge, while operating an early stage venture fund in India to support high tech startups.
As a leader, Sood constantly pushes himself to apply what he learned at the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management out on the field. His efforts in doing so have paid off as he is the recipient of many prestigious field fellowships such as being selected for the Harvard-PUKAR Global Health Research Fellowship in 2010, CCARE Fellow at Stanford in 2013, and Singularity University’s Field Innovation Fellowship in 2014, where Sood investigated the real-world application of exponential technologies to positively effect change in those special populations that need it most, by activating bystanders into everyday heroes. Sood’s exponential mindset makes him an extraordinary citizen of the world.
Most recently, Sood’s company Novus partnered with the Office of the UN Secretary General and the SDG Action Campaign to stage a High-Level Event on Innovation and Technology on September 18, 2017, for the UN Global Goals during the UN General Assembly Week. This meeting engaged technology luminaries including the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, and CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, with incredible heads of state including the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, as well as Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman Mozilla (Firefox), Sunil Bharti Mittal, Founder and Chair of Bharti Enterprises, and Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia and WikiTribune.
As an extraordinary citizen of the world, the impact of Sood’s contributions as a social entrepreneur have been recognized with several prestigious honors and Awards. The most recent being on October 7, 2017, Sood was honored with the RoundGlass Samsara Lifetime Achievement Award alongside global leaders including Polar Explorer Robert Swan and honorable President Anote Tong of Kiribati, at a ceremony hosted at the Vidhana Soudha Legislative Parliament of India in Bangalore.
So, what exactly differentiates Sood’s summits from the countless others?
Sood acknowledges It’s his training. He has been trained by some of the world’s best to be where he is and do what he does. Sood’s endeavors in the past include serving as the Curator and Executive Producer of TEDxUNPlaza. As a TED resident and graduate of the Graduate Studies, now called the Global Solutions Program at Singularity University. He has been rigorously trained to set the bar high and achieve the impossible. Sood has proven this time and again by working and partnering with blue chip organizations across both public and private sectors which include the Harvard University, UN, White House, Tencent Holdings, Google and SAP.
“I believe we live in a time where we can unlock our exponential potential by building humanities greatest character strengths and virtues. The key to solving our global grand challenges lay at the intersection of leveraging innovation and entrepreneurship in ways that make the world’s biggest problems our greatest opportunities. Of course, capital, good governance, effective execution, along with the ability to mobilize human and financial resources all play their part; however, without moral courage, absolute compassion and effective altruism, humanity will never really reach its full potential. So we must focus on building these traits in order to achieve this vision” Says Sood.
Sood uses his deep mastery in the fields of social impact, innovation, and experience design and along with his laser like business acumen to create the conditions for his ideas to actually move into action. He see’s his life’s calling being a curator of the future. From working with underserved populations in the slums of Mumbai to partnering with the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, he always has an unwavering commitment to making a positive difference that he believes is critical in order for society to flourish. He is also champion of women’s empowerment serving on the board of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day where he is Chairman if the WED Fellows Program.
Sood drew the world’s attention last year on July 17th in 2016 after curating the world’s first Novus Summit at the United Nations General Assembly. This gathering engaged exponential leaders from all around the world to make innovation front and center as a mandate at the UNGA to help achieve the UN Global Goals. He brought in thought leaders from the public and private sector to highlight the dire need for accelerating the use of exponential technologies to solve some of world’s most urgent and pressing challenges. “Novus is a platform where science, innovation and technology unites humanity to transform our world, we do this through showcasing incredible work being done out in the world to address many of the world’s most pressing challenges.” Says Sood.
Pioneers like Peter Diamandis hailed the Novus Summit as one of the most extraordinary experiences he had keynoted. Other stalwarts that headlined the high-level gathering were Dr. Martin Seligman founder of the field of Positive Psychology, Maye Musk, Supermodel, and dietician (Elon Musk’s Mother), and Anousheh Ansari the first space explorer. All of who said it was an amazing vision and mission worth pursuing. Numerous delegates exclaimed how the experience changed their lives inspiring them to take action in their own way to have a positive impact. Since then Sood has embarked on continuing his lifelong calling to change the world by bringing more disruptive innovators to the UN to champion and support the 17 UN Global Goals.
On May 17th 2017, Sood served as the Executive Producer hosted by the UNGA for the first-ever SDG Innovation event in Partnership with the Office of the President of the General Assembly. H.E. Peter Thomson, former PGA of the UN headlined this event along with Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed. Sood is a great believer in supporting role models and said“ having personal heroes of mine like Astro Teller from Google X and Peter Diamandis come to the UN only reinforces how important it is that we begin to work on solving these global grand challenges as a united collective”.
According to Sood being part entrepreneur and part humanitarian focused on having global impact is not an easy task as it requires constant calibration and a great deal of resilience out in the field. In order to do this effectively he has developed a life-long love for learning earning five masters degrees. An M.A., and MS.c., in Psychology and Global Health Sciences from the University of California San Francisco. He then completed his M.B.A., from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and if that wasn’t enough he did another dual-degree in Positive Psychology and Organizational Dynamics earning the M.A.PP. and M.Phil., at the University of Pennsylvania. All of these he believes weave together to equip him to serve something that is larger than himself. Clearly this definitely qualifies Sood to be an expert in his chosen field of dreams to achieve and create massive transformative impact in the world.
Here and now, Sood is deeply passionate about transforming the lives of a billion people in the world in his lifetime using innovation and entrepreneurship along with the power of true stories that inspire, connect and turn ideas into real world impact. His company X Impact Group is his latest endeavour focused on exponential leadership and technological innovation through an impact investment vehicle. While he continues to manage Novus and other social impact ventures, Sood mainly supports purpose driven innovation and media initiatives that are focused on solving the world’s most important problems. Sood is based in New York City, and splits his time between the Bay Area, Los Angeles and India. He is the genius behind all these extraordinary, ambitious, and infectiously optimistic visions for a better world and future.