Posted: July 4, 2011 in Icons, The NamoLeague Times
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Sam Pitroda, the name can be better justified by the telephones that we use easily all across India. He is the man behind the telecom revolution in India and specifically, the omnipresent, yellow-signed Public Call Offices (PCO) that quickly brought cheap and easy domestic and international public telephones all over the country. Sam Pitroda has spent four decades in the world of telecommunications helping bridge the global communication divide. Through his efforts, he has brought telephones to some of the world’s previously isolated regions. In this field, Sam’s emphasis was on accessibility rather than density.

Satyanarayan Gangaram Pitroda, better known as Dr. Sam Pitroda, was born on 4th May, 1942 in India in the village of Titilagarh, Orissa. He is an inventor, entrepreneur and policymaker. Currently (since October 2009), he is the advisor to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovations and looks into creating information infrastructure for enhancing delivery of services to the citizens in various areas and will also be working on creating a roadmap for a ‘Decade of Innovation’ in India.

Sam’s parents hailed from Gujarat and had migrated to Orissa. They were deeply attached to Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy. Sam Pitroda and his brother were sent to Gujarat to imbibe Gandhian philosophy. Sam completed his schooling from Vallabh Vidyanagar in Gujarat and completed his Masters in Physics and Electronics from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara. Thereafter he went to the US and did his Masters in electrical engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Since 1964, Sam has mainly put up at Chicago with his wife and two children.

While the best brains of the world were busy solving problems of the rich, Sam took up a mission for the masses of a developing country that would not count for much in the world economy. Sam dreamt a dream of fixing one of the many problems that plagued India – an infrastructure of 2 million telephones for a population of 750 million was woefully inadequate – and he resolved to solve this.

Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s Sam Pitroda was involved in cutting edge technology research work in telecommunications. He is widely regarded as one of the earliest pioneers of hand-held computing because of his invention of the Electronic Diary in 1975. In 1974, Sam Pitroda founded a company, Wescom Switching which was one of the first digital switching companies in the world. Wescom was eventually acquired by Rockwell International, where Pitroda became the Vice President.

To fix India’s problem that troubled him, he sought an appointment with the then PM Indira Gandhi for a year and it took another year for her to get convinced that Sam’s was indeed a selfless motive. When Sam was asked to quote his terms, he responded with a budget of 36 million rupees and 36 months to show his work, and an annual salary of 1 rupee for the next decade. Thus was conceived the Center for Development of Telecommunications (C-DOT) in 1984, that would eventually lay the foundation to make India the software hub that it is today. In 1987, he became advisor to Mrs. Gandhi’s successor, Rajiv Gandhi and was responsible for shaping India’s foreign and domestic telecommunications policies. He headed six technology missions related to telecommunications, water, literacy, immunization, dairy and oilseeds. He is also the founder and first chairman of India’s Telecom Commission.

Sam’s professional career has been divided between the three continents of North America, Asia and Europe. He has served as Chairman of the National Knowledge Commission (2005–2008), a high-level advisory body to the Prime Minister of India, set up to give policy recommendations for improving knowledge related institutions and infrastructure in the country. Also, his strategy of using telecommunications in nation building has been internationally acclaimed. Sam is also the Chairman and CEO of World-Tel Limited, an International Telecom Union (ITU) initiative. Along with this, he is the Chairman and Founder of Sevend high-technology. Sam Pitroda is also the founding Chairman of a non-profit Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions in India. As a result of his pioneering works, Sam holds more than 100 key technology patents and has lectured extensively on Telecom, Technology and Development, in almost all parts of the world.

Sam is also the founder & CEO of C-SAM Inc. The company maintains its headquarters in Chicago with offices in London, Tokyo, Mumbai and Vadodara. C-SAM has developed an m-Commerce application by the name OneWallet. Sam also serves as a director on the board of Jet Airways and has also served as an advisor to the United Nations in 1992.

In July 2009, the Government of India invited Sam Pitroda to head an expert committee on ICT in Railways. The latest contribution of Sam was when in August 2010; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved the setting up of a National Innovation Council, with special focus on micro, small and medium enterprises for 2010-20.

The secret of Sam’s success is that he believes that working from the top down was essential for a country like India with its 400 million illiterate citizens. When your mission is to make a difference to the world rather than make a personal gain, you can draw courage from outside as everyone seeks to help you achieve that mission.

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