Collaborative Doers for Humanity

Usha R. Balakrishnan

Founder, CEO, and Board Chair, CARTHA

Iowa City, Iowa, USA

Usha defines “Socialization of Aspirations” as her life purpose drawing on her twin mottos: “Pre-Pairing Minds To Create Chance!” and “Aspire Before You Expire!” Much of her professional work as well as personal life has been enriched by the fact that she loves people and enjoys figuring out new ways to connect with different types of people. She grew up in India (New Delhi and Mumbai) and moved to the United States in 1985 after an arranged marriage at age 20. Finding herself in a new environment with near-zero contacts, her cross-cultural journeys as a diaspora woman, wife, and mother have taught her much about human relationships at many levels. Today, her network of contacts and friendships have blossomed beyond belief, and she remains always motivated by the opportunity to design partnerships for business development and team-building strategies that promote thoughtfulness and diversity in leadership and governance.

Usha’s professional pursuits today have been shaped by hundreds of people whom she has had the good fortune to meet during her numerous speaking engagements globally, including as a grantee of three major philanthropic foundations (The Rockefeller Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) in 2004-2006 following her work as the founder of a collegial network called Technology Managers for Global Health. Prior to acquainting herself with global health-related realms, Usha enjoyed a highly productive and successful 15-year career at the University of Iowa (UI) directing corporate partnerships and managing inventions and patent licensing functions. Her deal-making talents and patent management efforts in the 1990s were instrumental in eventually producing the highest-earning portfolio in the history of the University of Iowa Research Foundation. Her passionate vision and ventures as Director of Corporate Partnerships—an academic "matchmaker" administrator—were featured in the University of Iowa President's 2002 Annual Report under the title Establishing a network of partnerships for a community that ranges far beyond the borders of the campus/The work of a matchmaker: Collaborations build economic and social capital.

Usha is now a life-long volunteer for CARTHA, an educational 501c3 nonprofit she founded in 2006. As if to embrace all of humanity through a confluence of her personal and professional aspirations, Usha coined the acronym for CARTHA (meaning "doer" in Sanskrit) by conjoining the words Collaborative Arts in Research Translation for Human Advancement. Dedicated to cultivating Collaborative Doers for Humanity who bridge technological and social innovations to advance glocal good, CARTHA designs and sponsors academic-practitioner Fellowships and intergenerational Glocalizers focused on Social Innovation, Diaspora Givers, and Healthfulness.

In addition to her volunteer role at CARTHA, Usha chooses to work with and advise entrepreneurs in order to find new ways to address the constant-yet-particular challenges of "humanity-centered business incubation." In 2016, Usha established a new Agency Endowment Fund--the CARTHA Fund to support Partnerships in Social Innovation--at the Community Foundation of Johnson County-Iowa to mark CARTHA's 10th anniversary while also honoring the memory of her (late) Dad, G.R. Moorti, on his 90th birth anniversary.

Usha has served on numerous civic boards and committees including the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); the Council on Foundations-Community Foundations Leadership Team; the Community Foundation of Johnson County (Iowa); the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council's Program Committee; the development committee of the Iowa Women's Foundation; the founding committee of the Iowa Global Council-Iowa City Area Association of Realtors; the Iowa Economic Development Board; the Iowa Biotechnology Association board; and the Iowa Business Council Deputies Committee. Usha served as the 2016-2017 President of the Iowa City Noon Rotary Club.

Usha received a BCom from Bombay University in 1985 and an MBA from the University of Iowa in 1988.

Usha lives in Iowa City with her husband, Ramji (an Accounting Professor at the University of Iowa) and they have two adult children, Vasu and Uma, who live in New York City and Pittsburgh respectively.

In her spare time, Usha writes poetry for daily stress-relief and these poems thus typically reflect blended meanings derived from actual life experience.  Her poems titled Healing in a Thousand Ways (2011); Rejuvenation (2013); and Wisdom Steps Up (2016) were selected and published by the Iowa City Poetry in Public Project. Usha's writing titled "Daily Times for a Happy Life" was featured in 2012 in "How to be Happy," a book compiled by Penfield Books. Usha was also one of 9 featured speakers at the 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes event in 2017.

Usha is also formally trained in South Indian Carnatic vocal music and performs song medleys including Hindi Bollywood film songs as well as Sanskrit chants at local events and family gatherings. To explore and understand the profound possibilities of self-healing triggers and mutual healthfulness attainable through the live sharing of vocal music, Usha renders brief, live performances of ancient verses to soothe friends having illnesses or recovering from surgery. She has also taught highly-popular Healthful Cooking with Mindful Singing classes at a local grocery to share some basics of South Indian Vegetarian Culinary Styles while also encouraging experimentation with cooking in low-stress settings. 

If you are intrigued by CARTHA's work, please do not hesitate to contact Usha.

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85 Leamer Court, Iowa City, IA 52246, USA