Position: Distinguished IT Engineer
Location: Bangalore, India
Years at Cisco: 15
As a Distinguished IT Engineer with more than a decade and a half of experience at Cisco, Srikanth Narasimhan has received numerous awards and recognitions – 2015 Top Chief Architect in India; winner of Cisco’s Global Innovation Platform Challenge; finalist for the 2015 Pioneer Award in the Product Innovation category. But his proudest moments come not from a professional achievement or personal accolades, but rather in watching his 19-year-old daughter Sanjna – diagnosed with autism at age 3 – succeed and thrive in the face of her disability.
“We never believed in the stereotypes,”
Srikanth says. “Autism is just a diagnosis – it should not be seen as a label. Every child has a talent, and that talent has to be promoted. We want to convey the message that the world has to go beyond stereotyping and beyond labels.” Srikanth will carry that message and mission with him next summer, when he represents Cisco as a participant in the 2016 Paralympic Torch Relay in Brazil.
“The Paralympic Games are a symbol of courage and inspiration to what is possible,” Srikanth says. “The aesthetics of sports is intangible. Let us change the way we work, live, play and learn for a faster, higher and stronger future!”
Upon receiving Sanjna’s diagnosis many years ago, Srikanth and his wife Jayashree determined to focus on their daughter’s ability rather than her disability. As a child, Sanjna showed an amazing artistic talent, using the various mediums to express herself in ways that she could not always do verbally. With her talent nurtured by the Bangalore International School, and supported by her parents, Sanjna hosted her first solo art exhibition at age 16 with more than 45 paintings and drawings. The show raised more than 40,000 Indian rupees, and the entire proceeds were donated to Sunshine Autism Trust, a local school in Bangalore specializing in children with autism.
As Sanjna’s paintings began to draw notice on a national and international scale, Srikanth and his wife resolved to always use the opportunity and exposure to spread awareness for people with special needs and work towards an equal opportunity world.
“We feel that Sanjna has the opportunity to be an inspirational role model to her peers and show what is possible despite disability and the challenges that autism presents,” Srikanth says. “She has dreams, and we have dreams for her as her parents.”
In 2014, Sanjna received the International Diana Award from the British Prime Minister, given in recognition of young people who are changing the world. Today, Sanjna continues to paint and raise awareness and funds for autism and people with special needs. She recently graduated high school and is now pursuing a bachelor of fine arts degree.
While Sanjna’s achievements are remarkable, her path has not been without incredible challenges along the way. As a young girl, she faced severe food allergies that prevented the family from even eating out at a restaurant. She was ridiculed by her peers at school for her communication difficulties. Her parents eventually decided to homeschool Sanjna to give her the individualized attention she would need.
“At some points,” Srikanth recalls, “it felt like we were climbing Mt. Everest without a map.”
But with an unwavering faith in his daughter and a vision for changing the world, Srikanth is a true definition of a Cisco Olympian. When he accepts the 2016 Paralympic Torch in Brazil with Sanjna looking on, he will do so representing all of the special needs families around the globe.
“Just as [former Cisco CEO] John Chambers showed the world how to change the way we live, play and work with dyslexia, we are trying to change the way we live, play and work with autism,” Srikanth says.
When the family – including 15-year-old Ritu - travels to Brazil next summer, Sanjna will bring with her a painting to donate to the Paralympic Games as a memorial of their experience.
“For a ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ world, we need all kinds of minds,” Srikanth says. “Let us respect the ‘ability’ in disability, strive for the moral beauty and together change the world.”