Last June, 24-year-old Nipun Mehta did the unthinkable. He left his lucrative Silicon Valley job as a software
developer at Sun Microsystems.
In a part of the country where his SUV-driving peers are eating, breathing
and toiling away with a singular goal in mind --the Internet Jackpot-- Mehta gave up his nearly six-figure
paycheck, stock options and the Sun game room to devote himself full time to volunteer work.
What inspired an overachiever to radically switch gears? Well versed in his family's Hindu traditions, Mehta
greatly admires Gandhi, and had this quote tacked to the wall of his Sun office: "You must be the change
you wish to see in the world." After more than three years of looking at it, he finally took the words to
heart. It wasn't an epiphany, he says: "It's hard to pick a moment when it happened. It was gradual.
I started by doing more."
Mehta launched an organization, CharityFocus.org, which provides Web solutions for nonprofit institutions.
"More importantly," he says, "it allows volunteers to increase the compassion in their lives by giving
of themselves." Typically, CharityFocus sends a team of three volunteers (a techie, a liaison, and a
coordinator) to work with a nonprofit to get that group's site up and running. "Nonprofits don't have
the funding for Websites," Mehta says, "because they have so many other things to do. But it's almost
a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma, because if they start using the technology, they'll be so much more
efficient. It's just that initial support that they need. Then it ricochets." So far, more than 350
groups have benefited from the benevolence of www.charityfocus.org, including Leukemia and Lymphoma
Society of America and Airline Ambassadors.
Mehta now lives in a sparse room in his parents' home. He has no furnitute --not even a bed-- only
two meditation cushions, a sleeping bag and two lamps. He works in a makeshift office, where he keeps
his computers. His parents, also proud of his past, display his 50 or so tennis trophies in the living
room. But Mehta tries to live only in the present. He spends his days going to meeting (he sits on
the boards of several nonprofit organizations), responding to emails and working with the nearly 700
volunteers who have responded to the call to serve. In addition to providing Web solutions through
CharityFocus.org, Mehta runs a donation club that anyone can join. Donations are
pooled and then doled out to worthy causes. And he continues to believe that the Web and Internet are
"vital technologies, with the power to be beneficial and helpful." Which is exactly what he wants to
be. He sums up his philosophy this way: "I am dedicated to serving in whichever way manifests itself.
I want that compassion to be there with me wherever I am. 'Spiritual' is sort of a label. It's
really more about self understanding. You have a choice. You can either serve yourself or serve others."