Being named one of the Top 10 College Women in the United States by Glamour Magazine has the potential to go to someone’s head. When you ask CAS senior Mansi Prakash about it, though, she smiles and blushes.
“Every time someone mentions that I want to crawl under the table,” Prakash said.
The cause of her embarrassment is Brighter Today, a nonprofit organization she founded in March 2014 that partners with Philips Lighting to distribute inexpensive, energy efficient light bulbs to impoverished villages in India.
Brighter Today has now distributed over 500 CFL bulbs in India, serving 5,400 people, and it’s still expanding. After attending the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference and starting a fellowship with the mentorship group Resolution Project, Prakash has established funding resources and connections that are allowing Brighter Today to expand into Ghana and other African countries in the near future. She also received $20,000 in additional funding from her Glamour Magazine award.
Prakash was born in India but moved around because of her father’s job as a transportation engineer. After living in India and Bangladesh, her family settled in the Philippines where Prakash stayed until her high school graduation. Growing up in three different countries, Prakash observed firsthand the hardships of living in an impoverished community.
“The poverty here [in the United States] is very different from the poverty there,” Prakash said. “You see it with your eyes, growing up you see it every day so it grew normal to me. People here weren’t aware of that, when I’d have conversations with people, they’d be very surprised.”
In 2010, Prakash installed CFL light bulbs in 12 households in Behlana Village, India. When she came to NYU she wanted to take this initial idea further, using her new resources and connections to make a social impact on her home country India. Four years later, she found that 80 percent of the village was still using her light bulbs.
“The families who used it were saving a lot of money, and they were telling people who lived around them, their family members,” Prakash said. “It became a spillover effect, because the bulbs save 80 percent of the electricity bill and can be used for a longer time.”
Now, Prakash takes trips every winter and summer break to the villages where the light bulbs have been installed. The long-term effects can’t be measured yet, but on her visits Prakash hears stories that exemplify why she founded the organization and keep her motivated.
“A lot of kids did not have any light to read or write to do their homework, they would use the street lamps or candles,” Prakash said. “What I noticed when I went back was that people remembered me. They would say things like ‘Now my child can do their homework properly and can go to college, we can improve our standard of living.’”
Prakash is the first person to say that she could not have done this all alone. It’s through the partnerships she’s built at NYU and Philips, along with those in India, that she’s been able to turn her idea into reality.
“Brighter Today was Mansi’s brainchild, but she has no ego about it,” said Helen Goldberg, her primary mentor at the Resolution Project. “Mansi is always widening the tent — she is hungry for partners, advisers, supporters, because she knows together they’re more effective than she can be alone.”
Prakash’s easygoing yet driven nature makes her approachable. Her peers know that they can use her as a sounding board for ideas.
“With Mansi’s success, down-to-earth personality and willingness to support others, she is a student that inspires those around her each and every day,” said Samir Goel, another fellow in the Resolution Project. “Her impact spreads far beyond the campus.”
Even with all her impressive achievements, Prakash is more likely to discuss her favorite TV show “Friends” or her impressive baking skills than her accomplishments with Brighter Today.
“She holds herself at the same level as all her peers and will rarely talk about her accomplishments without prodding.” Goel said. “Many people achieve success, but few are able to do so while remaining true to themselves the way Mansi has.”
After she graduates, Prakash plans to expand Brighter Today to Ghana with Clean Water for Everyone, a nonprofit that provides access to clean water. She is also developing a portable solar-powered device that can provide light for people who do not have access to electricity.
“Something as simple as a bulb can make someone’s life completely different,” Prakash said.