My year helping India - and honoring a family legacy
GoogleServe is our annual company-wide volunteering campaign that takes place every June. In the spirit of celebrating our Googlers that dedicate time to volunteer, this month, we will feature inspiring stories from Googlers across the world as they share how they are helping their local communities. This week, we shine a spotlight on Suresh Vedula who has been volunteering for the last six months as a Google.org Fellow.
Most Googlers are driven by a sense of purpose — it’s one of the things we have in common, no matter where we’re from or what role we hold. But where that drive comes from is unique to each of us. In my case, I always come back to the legacy of my grandfather.
What I learned from my grandfather
My father grew up in an agricultural town in India where many families own just one hectare (around two and a half acres) of land — barely enough to earn a living as a farmer. Year after year, I saw the tireless labor that my grandfather dedicated to his farm, and how factors like weather or pest infestation could wipe out entire seasons’ worth of crops and the income that was expected to come along with it.
Like many farmers, he was community-spirited, always thinking of ways to help other farmers and the people around him. When he passed away, my father wanted to carry that spirit forward, so we donated the land from his farm to the government, which built a community school in his memory. I saw how it was possible for my dad to make a difference, and I believed I could make a difference, too.
Bust statue of my grandfather outside the community school
The Google.org Fellowship
Traveling back to my grandfather’s village, I often thought about how technology might have helped solve some of the basic problems that he and other rural farmers faced every day. So I jumped at the chance to put some of my ideas into action by joining the Google.org Fellowship program — a program that matches Google employees with organizations in need for up to six months of full-time pro bono work on technical projects.
The nonprofit I helped support, Wadhwani AI, was developing an AI-based offline app to classify and count local pests— backed by a $2 million USD grant from Google.org through the Google AI Impact Challenge. The goal was to make pesticide use more efficient and improve yield for smallholder farmers in India. Wadhwani AI was the first organization in Asia Pacific to welcome a group of Google.org Fellows, and we worked across multiple teams to strengthen their AI model. We also helped them conduct research for users of their app, so farmers could get more accurate and timely information.
Wadhwani’s AI-powered pest management system app
Resilience in the face of crisis
As the first waves of COVID-19 hit India, we moved all of Wadhwani’s work online. We conducted our research virtually and met with farmers over video calls. We listened and watched as they faced the pandemic with the same resilience and bravery they bring to every challenge that comes their way. One farmer explained how his crop had been destroyed, threatening his family’s entire livelihood, but was stoic enough to say, “I look forward to next season.”
Conducting our interviews with the farmers online
The farmers were always thinking of one another. When they had a piece of information about a tactic that worked to save their crops they would share it right away.
While my time as a Google.org Fellows has wrapped up, I will continue as a volunteer with the Wadhwani AI team in my personal time. Much like the example of my grandfather before them, the spirit I witnessed from the farmers will continue to motivate me to do more for the community in a small but meaningful way.