August 13, 2013

Sustaining a Healthy Future for India

Dr. Vijay Chariar wears many hats. He is a husband, proud father, innovator, professor, and always and forever a Fulbrighter. The Fulbright Visiting Scholar alumnus from Delhi, India spent a semester at Arizona State University (ASU) in the fall of 2012 demonstrating how he is using innovation and technology to tackle U.S. foreign policy priorities like Climate Change; and the pressing urban development issues of water sanitation and sustainability in his home of Delhi, India.

Although Dr. Chariar has returned to India, his work and collaboration with ASU continues. In the spring of 2013, Dr. Chariar gave lectures to 16 U.S. master/PhD students at ASU and his 100 IIT Delhi students through Skype for a Global Classroom project developed by Dr. Chariar and ASU professors. 

“We took on joint student projects where groups of students from both countries worked on the same problems of water and waste in India’s urban areas,” says Dr. Chariar.

The Indian students uploaded videos on YouTube of the water challenges they continue to face. The U.S. and Indian students then worked together to find solutions to these challenges and came up with 25 different projects.

“They exchanged research questions and developed solutions towards sustainability transitions,” says Dr. Chariar. “I have been working for many years but international collaborations have never been very important to me. But it has been astounding that I can contribute to teaching at ASU and at the same time enrich my university back home.”

Because Dr. Chariar is passionate about sustainable design and his research largely based in ecological sanitation, green building materials, and green housing, he has developed a low cost waterless toilet—a massively innovative solution to India’s massive sanitation problem.

What we are trying to promote is sustainable sanitation,” explains Dr. Chariar. “Water contamination affects the health of the people. By providing waterless urinals and dry toilets we are providing access to sanitation and not creating other sanitation problems by polluting the water.”

Dr. Chariar is now establishing a start-up to market his waterless toilet and credits the Fulbright program for the knowledge and courage to do so.

“When I came to Fulbright I was reluctant to enter my product into the market,” says Dr. Chariar. “But during my experience at Arizona State I saw many students and faculty taking their products to market. It inspired me to push this product more and be more entrepreneurial. I saw the product development cycles here and that was very inspiring. So it caused me to lose my inhibitions about taking these products to market.”

With a new found entrepreneurial spirit, Dr. Chariar is also working on a National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) project promoting social entrepreneurship in curriculum at ASU and IIT-Delhi.  NCII and ASU have contributed funds totaling $45,000 toward this project.

“It has been a two way learning experience,” says Dr. Chariar of his time as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar. “This global partnership is very empowering for me and our students. We have been looking up to the whole entrepreneurship movement and we feel much more excited about social entrepreneurship now.”

“Lots of collaborations have happened. This program encourages so much openness. People are so curious to learn about other cultures and political systems, conflict resolution, ecology, and sustainability. It has been very enriching, very exciting.”