[ INTERVIEW: PURTI BALI ]
Purti Bali, President of NetSAP
Network of South Asian Professionals (NetSAP) is a key organization in the NRI community, offering opportunities for South Asians to network, develop professional relationships and contacts, as well as friendships. Here follows an interview with Purti Bali, President of NetSAP DC in which she discusses how she became President of Net- SAP DC, the reason behind the creation of NetSAP, events NetSAP organizes and more.
How did you become involved with Net- SAP?
I became a member and a board member first. Let me backtrack a bit. Every year there’s a national conference for NetSAP and NetID. The national conference was held in Miami in 2007 and one of my good friends from college was on the planning committee. I went to the national conference in Miami and when I got back I was excited about NetSAP and decided to get involved at a local level. So, in 2008 I became Director of Special Events for NetSAP. In 2009 I was the national liaison for NetSAP DC. All the chapters have criteria that we need to fulfill on a North American level to maintain chapter status, so a national liaison updates the North American board about what we are doing, the chapter’s progress and events we are doing. This year I decided to be president and move to bigger things. I have already invested 2 years into the organization. I’m actually the youngest board member. I’m only 24. And even though there are more experienced people on the board than me it seems to work well (laughs).
Tell us a bit about your college education and background.
I grew up in New Jersey and went to college in DC. I went to American University and did my undergraduate degree in international studies with a focus on international communications and South Asia. My region of focus in South Asia was India and the study required us to learn more about the region so I went to India as it’s the biggest country in that region. I went there and studied for six months at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. I speak Hindi fluently but wanted to learn to read and write, so I got a tutor to help me with that. Now, I’m a project manager on a contract for Health and Human Services.
How many members does Net- SAP DC have?
NetSAP DC membership is from December to January each year. At the end of 2009 we had about 320 members. There is a renewal process each year for membership and we have promotions throughout the year. On our listserve we have about 7,000 people who get information on a weekly basis through our mailing list. We have chapters in Canada and all over the United States. There are about 24 chapters. And more information is available on NetIT.org and NetSAP.org. Every year some of our membership stays consistent but there are always a lot of new faces as well at events. DC is a moving city, lots—lots of people come here to study or to work as a consultant for a few months. So, as membership changes we cater to what the members want every year. The purpose of creating NetSAP was to cater to South Asians generally between their 20s and 30s so they can network professionally and form friendships.
How have you seen the organization evolve?
The size and diversity of events have changed. Earlier there were mainly young couples and people with 2-3 children. Now we have more younger and single people as members.
Tell us a bit about some of the events NetSAP DC organizes.
Every year we have professional, political, cultural and community service events. We’re trying to make the political event more popular. Like you’d think it would already be really popular since we’re in DC. We have a book club event, which is very popular and self-sufficient. South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival (SALTAF) is NetSAP’s and we host the event with Smithsonian Institution each year. We have speed dating event quarterly, which has become popular as there is no other speed-dating event for South Asians in the region. We try not to do anything specific to one religion but we’re trying a holy event this time because we thought it would be a fun event. Events really depend on our members—we try to cater to the members we have at any particular time. We plan four big events on a quarterly basis. The third Thursday of every month we have our networking Happy Hour. The second Saturday of every other month we do our social service all over DC, not just for the South Asian community. And we have our political chai chat every quarter. Last time the topic was education in the United States and how the U.S. is far behind in international ranking and even behind some third world countries. We do our cultural book club monthly and the books are on a South Asian topic or by a South Asian author. All the speakers for SALTAF come from the book club. We also try to do different things like the holy event and we’re going to do something like a cherry blossom event and charity gala event. And there’s the South Asian-American conference in Seattle, which is exciting. We try to have events that touch on different aspects of our members’ lives.
There are lots of organizations in the United States, which cater to NRIs. What sets NetSAP apart?
What is unique about NetSAP is that there is no solely social element. It’s purely professional. Our bylaws require that no event can be purely social. So you won’t see us throwing a party at nightclub. The Third Thursday Happy Hour is a big event each month, but it’s not purely social. We invite other professional organizations to network with NetSAP or we’ll have a business card swap. There is always a professional element and something to do with networking. Other organizations tend to be totally political or cultural or social. NetSAP DC is totally professional and the type of people we attract are in big cities—the cream of the crop, up and coming people. We cater to people in their 20s and 30s who are not in school and are not married but are somewhere in between and the relationships you form in this period last for life.
[ BY AMANDA SODHI ]