Born to celebrate life dreaming shamelessly, hoping foolishly, believing relentlessly…” This is the first sentence in Sai Prasad Vishwanathan’s resume. Get to know him better and it’s evident that Prasad lives by every word mentioned there.

Born with a congenital deformity which has left him wheelchair bound, this management student at the Indian School of Business (ISB), has never allowed his physical condition to limit his dreams. Not even when he decided to skydive from a height of 14,000 feet. “I wanted to do something special for my mother on her birthday. And I thought, why not skydiving to really make it large?” he says.

So, two years ago, he headed for the US, rented a plane for $300 and took the plunge. “The freefall lasted nine minutes,” recollects Prasad. And the experience? “There was no time to react to anything,” says Prasad, who did his MS in engineering from Wisconsin University and graduated from the Hyderabad-based Chaitanya Bharathi Institute of Technology (CBIT). He worked for Infosys before enrolling for the management module at ISB.

Prasad, who clearly spends most of his time with his laptop that’s worn out on the edges, is the founder member of Sahasra, a nonprofit organisation set up to provide scholarships to needy students. He, along with four other friends — Ajay (also from ISB), Sindhura, Prema Shruti and Vinay, students of CBIT — conducts seminars at colleges. The funds collected are used for students in need.

Prasad recollects the time after graduation when he had admission letters from top US universities for MS but no money. He didn’t have a scholarship then and his father,

S Vishwanthan’s, who was a Railways’ employee, earned less than Rs 3 lakh per annum. Prasad then decided to raise funds for his higher education by organising a seminar at a nominal fee in his college. “I was confident that students would support my effort as I had admission letters from universities and had also secured placement,” he recalls.

Now, the seminars that Sahasra conducts cover placement activity, GRE, GMAT and MS studies and more. The group collects Rs 100 from each participant and on an average, 300 students participate in each seminar. In the end, they manage to get about Rs 30,000 from each college. This is given to needy students, identified by the peer group, and the participants on the same day itself. The group has so far collected Rs 3 lakh and supported 25 students. This would be scaled up with more colleges allowing them to organise the talks, says Prasad who plans to make these seminars an annual affair in each college for the new batch. ISB is also guiding Sahasra in refining this business model to reach out to more students.

Only last week, Prasad received the Helen Keller-Role Model Person of the year award for 2010 from the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People. He is also the recipient of CavinKare Ability Mastery Award for Excellence in 2009.

Prasad says he rejected admission to an IIT because it offered him a seat on the basis of his physical condition and not on merit. Sympathy does not help the disabled, opportunities do,” he says.

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