$10 million gift from Saxena family to expand study of South Asia at Brown University

Providence, RI: With a $10 million gift from Parag Saxena and Usha Saxena Brown University will elevate its groundbreaking teaching and research on South Asia and extend its global reach.

During its winter meeting in February, the Corporation of Brown University approved the naming of the Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia in recognition of this generous support.

Formerly known as the Center for Contemporary South Asia, the Saxena Center, housed at the Watson Institute, promotes interdisciplinary research, teaching, and public engagement on key issues of India and the region. The gift will enable the Center to rise to the next level by expanding its footprint in research, teaching, public policy, and programming.

The Center’s current director, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences Ashutosh Varshney, notes that the Center today has four programmatic and research foci: democracy, urban development, pluralism, and inequalities. The gift will make it possible to expand the Center’s offerings, have more ambitious research plans, and send more students for research, language training, and internships in South Asia, while also opening greater residency opportunities for visiting scholars, policymakers, public figures, and artists.

In particular, the gift will increase the number of undergraduate and graduate students the Center sends to India and other parts of South Asia for research and internships, and Varshney hopes to add new institutional linkages to its existing partnerships – with the Centre for Policy Research and the National Council of Applied Economics Research, both in Delhi, and with the Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, in Bangalore.

In addition, the Saxena Center will deepen its relationship with Brown’s School of Public Health, under the leadership of Dean Ashish Jha. Jha’s conviction that the problems of public health are not exclusively the domain of medicine, says Varshney, “made it easy to extend an intellectual arm for collaboration.” The Saxena Center and the School will work together to create academic programs at Brown and forge partnerships with Indian institutions. 

As three-time Brown parents, Parag and Usha Saxena’s affiliation with the University was initially through their children, but during their time at Brown the couple developed a personal relationship with President Emerita Simmons. In 2010, Parag traveled to India with Simmons to introduce her to his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, where he earned a B Tech in chemical engineering. The Saxenas were early supporters of the India Initiative, and their sustained philanthropy has contributed meaningfully to Brown’s India and South Asia programs.

Parag Saxena came to the United States to pursue an MS in chemical engineering and subsequently completed an MBA at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. His business experience spans four decades, with considerable activities and interests in South Asia as well as venture capital in the United States.

The Saxenas are excited about the prospect of furthering the work of the center in South Asia, and hope that their gift will foster discussion and research among policymakers and scholars in the social sciences. But they also hope it will promote scholarship on and appreciation of South Asian literature, culture, and art, about which they are passionate. The Saxenas attribute their support for the Center to their Indian heritage and continued interest in India and South Asia, and to the Center’s potential to influence debate and accelerate the momentum for positive change in the region.

Varshney notes that one of the greatest benefits of the Saxenas’ generous gift is the ability to pivot as world events shift or dialogue and research deepens. “A gift that gives you that freedom is in principle transformational,” he says.

Image courtesy of (Image courtesy: Brown University)

Share this post