Ronil Awalegaonkar

Hometown: Chicago, IL
College/University Attending: Columbia University
Year In School When Selected: Third Year
Program of Study: Major: Financial Economics, Concentration: Mathematics


For most of my life, I’ve lived in Chicago and have witnessed first-hand the impact of access to technology and education. In high school, I collaborated with Congressman Danny K. Davis and his staff to establish technology literacy programs. With that learning, I created a non-profit and fundraised from corporate sponsors to teach technology to Chicago’s underserved students. The work I did with my non-profit organization demonstrated to me how a business, and more importantly finance, can generate social impact.

As such, I am deeply passionate about sustainable investing and its potential to drive positive change in the world. So far, at Columbia University, I joined Scholars of Finance, an organization committed to inspiring character and integrity in the finance leaders of tomorrow. At the national level, I worked to build a $50M fund that invests in emerging, diverse fund managers. Furthermore, I am the Chief Sustainability Officer for Morningside Investments, a student-run investment fund. Additionally, I am the incoming President of Columbia University Impact Investing Network (CUIIN), where I lead an executive board to teach ESG principles and impact investing to undergraduate students.

Lastly, a few fun facts about me: I am an avid golfer, speed Rubik’s cuber, and New York Times Mini Crossword expert!

Summary of New Ideas proposal:

My New Ideas proposal is titled “Bridging the Digital Divide in Chicago Public Schools: A Blueprint for Corporate Social Responsibility in the Tech Industry”.

The productivity and competency of a society depend on the quality of the practiced educational and literacy systems. However, with pandemics and natural disasters occurring, the case may be different. The recent COVID-19 pandemic in the international community has and continues to affect every economic sector negatively. In the United States, for instance, it has created a digital divide between students. As a focus area, Chicago Public Schools have had problems concerning how students interact with the digitization of the education system, as some lack the opportunities and access to technology. This problem is because most families in Chicago have differences in their access to the internet and access to technological devices. COVID-19’s effects still place some unprecedented challenges. The situation continues to invite more considerations by education enthusiasts, businesses, and the government on how to best facilitate positive learning outcomes even when students remain at home or in hybrid settings. The focus of my proposal is to first introduce the problem of the widening digital divide in the Chicago Public Schools and then suggest a comprehensive business solution to this problem.

With my researched data and recommendations, the hope is that it becomes easier for the Chicago Public Schools to deal with the issue of ensuring equality and equity in education, which then becomes the foundation of the education sector in Chicago. The creation of an inclusive digital educational framework is instrumental in reducing gaps in the digital divide between privileged and underserved students in Chicago. With the 21st century attracting digitization of the education sector, policymakers, venture capitalists, and education professionals in Chicago should concern themselves with the issue of the “digital divide” and how it affects learning.

What does the New Ideas Competition mean to you?

The New Ideas competition is an invaluable platform to elevate crucial business ideas. Within the context of my proposal, this competition has allowed me to communicate my passion for tackling digital inequities, promoting diversity, and developing a long-term model for educational advancement.

By bridging policy, finance, education, and technology, I hope to inspire financiers, educators, politicians, and everyone in between to focus their attention on how we can narrow the digital divide that plagues many urban communities around the United States. My proposal aims to be a catalyst for positive change through ongoing evaluation, feedback, and cooperation—not just in Chicago but also as a model for similar projects around the country.

This vision would not have been possible without the New Ideas competition and the help of Fuqua, where I was able to receive mentorship and entrepreneurial motivation.

Advice for new applicants:

My biggest piece of advice is to follow your passion. Don’t submit a proposal that you don’t have a vested interest in or a proposal that you think the committee would like to see. Each person has a unique set of experiences, a unique mission statement, a unique perspective on how we can better the world through dialogue and business. Dig deep into what you stand for, what you’ve done to show that, and how your proposal can meaningfully achieve your goals while making a tangible impact.