Vilas Dhar has forged his own path in order to fully integrate his passions with his skills by being willing to defy expectations and taking risks. Dhar left the successful law firm he founded with his brother when it didn’t make financial or career sense because breaking the rules allowed him to create a whole new lifestyle that people don’t really understand.
It doesn’t bother Dhar that his everyday work does not exactly fit a job title because he wouldn’t be able to accomplish everything he wants to without deviating from typical career paths. Although Dhar no longer practices law, he still advises governments and large development institutions on social change. Dhar also is the Gleitsman Fellow in Leadership at Harvard University’s Center for Public Leadership. There, he “[looks] at the systematic levers that [one] can pull to create more equal and democratic institutions.” In addition to that, Dhar works as a philanthropist, funding collaboration programs between nonprofits. Two hundred and fifty days of his year are spent outside of the United States working with people and often in a “developing world context.”
Dhar would not be where he is today without taking the risks that have launched him from one successful engagement to another. One thing Dhar suggests is avoiding the wisdom that “you can only stick to one career,” because “it’s okay to make changes that aren’t socially comfortable.” Every risk he has made is “grounded in the idea that [he] wants to be more effective at creating a better world.”
Dhar did not always have this clear vision of what he wanted to do during his time as a student at Uni High. If you asked what plans Dhar had for the future on his last day of high school, he probably would have told you that he wanted to be deeply involved in technology. He knew he had a social conscience but didn’t know what it meant to integrate his passions with his skills. One of the most powerful lessons Dhar learned was that “You can be good at something but it can be unfulfilling until you apply it to something that you care about.” Uni gave him the fundamental grounding in critical thinking and skill sets that would be extremely beneficial in the future. Dhar also views Uni as a safe place where it’s okay to question things because he was always a bit of a rabble-rouser himself. High school gave him confidence in his own curiosity, so he could continue to question things and go against the grain in the future.
It was during college at the University of Illinois when Dhar merged his interest in technology with that idea of wanting to further social change in the world. At the U of I, he studied computer science and bioengineering while working on an artificial intelligence project at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). That’s when he realized he wanted to seriously pursue a career in technology because it could be used as a tool to change people’s lives. Since everyone has interests, he believes that everyone should be pursuing possibilities towards those interests that they’re the most passionate about, because “if your motivations are right, the outcomes kind of follow.”
Currently, Dhar has no set plans for the future other than “living a life that is based on principles of creating a better world that is grounded in human dignity and justice.” He plans on continuing to live life by seizing the opportunities that come up and experiencing the world for what it is. Most importantly, Dhar will never stop taking risks, saying that “there are structures and institutions to push you in a certain way, and the best thing you can do is to always question if that is aligned with your passion … because if it’s not, you should feel free to break the rules.”