First-Year Student Tackles 14 SDGs With Her Nonprofit Organization

Esha Venkat, a first-year Public Policy student, started the nonprofit NEST4US to make service fun, accessible, and inclusive. Eight years and 7,000 volunteers later, these values keep her passionate about the program.

Growing up in Northern Virginia, Esha loved volunteering with her older sister, Shreyaa.

"We had so much fun giving back together that we wanted to create a space where other friends and families could experience that same joy," Esha said.

So, at ages 10 and 13, the girls started their own organization.

Esha and her sister serving food at a soup kitchen

Esha Venkat, left, and her sister Shreyaa

Growing Around the SDGs

NEST4US began with Nest Nurtures, a program that takes excess food from restaurants, schools, and community centers and redistributes it to shelters and food banks.

Over time, Esha and Shreyaa added four more initiatives: Nest Tutors, for peer-to-peer academic support and mentorship; Nest Buddies, to provide birthday gifts and parties for children; Nest Kares, focusing on random acts of kindness; and Nest Inspires, which offers leadership training around issues such as gender inequality, climate action, and economic growth. The organization has worked with over 7,000 volunteers in 30 different countries.

"We wanted to create multiple programs with different initiatives so people can get involved in what speaks to them," Esha said. "Everything really aligned with the UN SDG framework because there's so much variety in it. So we have a dual approach of awareness and action that enables people to learn about the SDGs and then through our programs — whichever one they want to pick — to actually go out and make a difference."

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are "urgent call for action" to all countries to improve health, education, and other quality-of-life indicators while reducing poverty and inequality. 

Esha packing food at a volunteer event

Taking on Challenges

Of course, tackling the world's biggest problems doesn't always come easy, and growing NEST4US into the organization it is today came with its fair share of challenges.

"We were extremely young, so you can imagine how a lot of these older, more established organizations looked at us like, 'They're just kids. What are they going to do?'" Esha said. "Along with that, we experienced a lot of discrimination based on our race, and gender, and all these different things — we were a minority in a lot of aspects."

Proving the naysayers wrong was a motivating factor, Esha said, as well as changing the narrative. She and Shreyaa put the word "kindness" in their mission statement because they don't want the volunteers at NEST4US to experience the same hardships they did. Instead, they strive to create an inclusive, safe space — a home nest for their community — where anyone can give back and have fun.

"We've been able to get people as young as four and as old as 70s and 80s to work together towards the SDGs, which we think is just so cool," Esha said. "Seeing that come together makes all of it worth it."

Two photos of Esha and her sister at the UN (left) and with a move-in box (right)

Maintaining Her Passion

It's not easy to balance school, sleep, and a social life at Georgia Tech. Throw in being the co-founder and chief operating officer  of a nonprofit organization, and Esha has a full plate for her first year on campus and away from home.

"But we haven't forgotten why we started NEST4US," she says. "We began with the intention to make service fun and accessible to young people because that was missing in our community. Fast forward eight years to where we are now, and those values haven't changed. We're still looking to create diverse opportunities and partner with people to do the most good we can do and continue that intergenerational, intersectional, intercultural change that we need in the world to achieve the SDGs. It's not possible without that, right?"

Esha and her sister presenting to a group of students in a library

What's next?

Esha says she's excited to see where her Public Policy degree can take her. Although she's only in her first year at Georgia Tech, she envisions a future where she and Shreyaa — who studies Global Health at Georgetown University — use their combined expertise to help develop laws to make sustainable change.

"We do a lot of grassroots, on-the-ground work, but connecting with governments is something we want to get into in the future. So hopefully, my policy work can serve as a bridge," Esha says. "Sometimes people forget a lot of nonprofit work is writing and communicating with people and being able to connect. Those skills and the analytics and problem-solving skills that I'm learning are going to be so helpful to my work in service and my future career."