Population Health

January 18, 2023

Spotlight: Akhtar Badshah’s passion for social impact

Image of Akhtar BadshahA chance encounter nearly 20 years ago sparked what has become Akhtar Badshah’s passion for the topics of social impact, social innovation and social entrepreneurship.

Now a lecturer at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, Badshah’s first passion was architecture. He spent his formative professional years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), first to earn his Master of Science in Architecture Studies and Ph.D. in Environmental Studies, and then as an instructor of architecture.

Badshah’s interest in social impact was first piqued when he moved to Seattle in 1998 with his wife, who had taken a job at Microsoft. He had already been viewing with concern the growing digital divide as technological advancements were escalating at a quick pace. A chance encounter with Craig Smith, who founded Digital Partners Foundation to focus on uplifting, funding and supporting entrepreneurs across the world who were using technology to empower people in an entrepreneurial way, led Badshah to pivot the direction of his career by joining and eventually running the Foundation.

In 2004, Badshah moved to Microsoft where he spent 10 years as the senior director of citizenship and public affairs. In this role, he led Microsoft’s philanthropic efforts by managing the company’s community investments and employee giving program. He was instrumental in launching both Unlimited Potential and Youth Spark, the company’s focus to bring digital technology to underserved communities and youth all over the world.

Badshah recently published a book, Purpose Mindset: How Microsoft Inspires Employees and Alumni to Change the World, which tells the story of how Microsoft launched, nurtured and continues to foster a corporate culture of giving amongst its employees.

“My goal [in writing this book] is to get every single person in the world to move beyond a growth mindset to crafting a purpose statement for themselves,” he said. “Purpose is the why. The why you want to exist, and how you can channel it to make a positive impact on society.”

In 2015, Badshah received an offer to teach at the University of Washington, a role in which he continues today. He is currently a distinguished practitioner and lecturer at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, and also adjunct faculty at the UW Bothell School of Business and a faculty advisor at the START Center in the Department of Global Health.

“I’m kind of this free flower who teaches whatever I want to teach,” he shared “It’s become space where I thrive.”

Badshah has been a partner to the Population Health Initiative since 2018. He first got connected to the initiative through a colleague who asked to collaborate on building the initiative’s Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship program. The summer fellowship is open to current UW graduate students interested in learning how best to deploy social enterprise models for innovations developed by University of Washington researchers.

Badshah also has received research funding from the initiative through a COVID-19 economic recovery grant for his project, “Restart Washington Safely.” The goal of the project was to design and implement effective, science-based statewide strategies to safely restart Washington state’s economy.

“There is an opportunity for students at the university, through the Population Health Initiative, to think of a holistic picture of humankind and the planet that we serve,” he said. “How do we shift the narrative from ‘profit’ to ‘planet, people, profit’?”

Beyond teaching and research, Badshah also maintains an active consulting practice outside of the UW. He is the Chief Catalyst at Catalytic Innovators Group, where he advises organizations and individuals to catalyze their strategy focused on social and philanthropic investments.

When asked to reflect on some of his most impactful moments at the UW, Badshah said teaching Honors students has been a highlight.

“It’s astounding to see how purposeful students are, and my interactions with these young minds have been dynamic and gives me hope,” he said. “They don’t just take whatever I tell them at face value they question; they challenge, and it’s nice to see that UW has a student body that is constantly challenging the status quo.”