Raised in Ahmedabad, India, Nirali Kansara (Class of 2023) studied chemical engineering and finance at BITS Pilani University. Before applying to Darden, Nirali worked for 3 years at J.P. Morgan, Sarona Asset Management, and Proactive for Her. As president of the Darden South Asia Society (DSAS), Nirali shared more about her First Year Darden experience and her hopes for DSAS with the Center for Global Initiatives. In her own words:

1. Tell us about yourself. What brought you to Darden

I was born and brought up in Ahmedabad – India’s first-world heritage city. I was taught to respect the culture and heritage that I grew up with and it has been deeply rooted in the values nurtured in me. I graduated with a dual degree in finance and chemical engineering from BITS Pilani in India. It was my first foray outside of my hometown and where I had the chance to grow and learn from fellow classmates from across the country. Post-graduation, I joined JP Morgan as an Equity Derivatives Structuring analyst in their Mumbai office. I worked in a cross-functional team across the Asia Pacific with colleagues from around the world. I also got to travel to Hong Kong as part of my job, which was the first time I traveled alone outside the country. Coming from a very technical education and professional background, I always knew that I wanted to get a business education. The global exposure I received at JP Morgan pushed me to consider international business programs. Darden stood out as one of the top schools I was considering, due to its case study method, university town setup, and tight-knit community. I was also interested in getting experiential learning in investing. Darden Capital Management, the student-run fund at Darden, was another reason I was interested in the school.

I was supposed to matriculate at Darden in 2020, but COVID-19 derailed a lot of my plans, and I decided to defer my admission. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions I made. I got the chance to work with an early-stage startup in India, Proactive for Her, focusing on women’s health. I also did a pre-MBA internship with a Canadian asset manager, Sarona Asset Management, on their mandate of investing in South and Southeast Asia with an impact and gender-lens investing focus. These experiences helped me add additional breadth to my previous experience, and I was able to secure an internship with Credit Suisse in their healthcare investment banking division.

2. How did you get involved in the Darden South Asia Society (DSAS)? What was your favorite part about DSAS last year?

I first came across the Darden South Asia Society (DSAS) when I was a prospective student. After I received my admit in December 2019, I had the chance to meet one of the members during a meet-and-greet hosted by Darden in Mumbai in January 2020. Even after that, then members of DSAS setup up WhatsApp groups and zoom calls to help us navigate the entire process of relocating from one side of the world to the other. The support from the community was tremendous. Since I arrived in Charlottesville, DSAS has always felt a welcoming place for me. I have always enjoyed being part of all the cultural and business initiatives that the club organized, which helped us engage the broader Darden community with the South Asian diaspora. I volunteered to help organize various events in my FY such as Bollywood dance during GBCC, Diwali, and Darden South Asian Conference.

Nirali Kansara showcases Bollywood Dancing at Darden

My favorite part was celebrating Garba Night last year, which came as a big surprise to me when found out that DSAS was celebrating it at Darden. I grew up celebrating that festival, and have always missed my hometown during this time, and getting to celebrate it here in Charlottesville was very heartwarming. This year we celebrated it as a part of a bigger cold call.

3. Why did you choose to pursue a leadership position in DSAS?

To be completely honest, at first, I had not thought I would pursue any leadership position in my second year. I had done enough of it in my undergrad, and it was not something that I had on my mind then. During my first year, I got involved in DSAS because I really enjoyed being with the community. I often wondered, however, what legacy I would leave behind at Darden. The more I got involved with DSAS, the more I believed that getting a chance to lead the club and promote South Asia at Darden through our academic, cultural, and business initiatives could be one way.

Darden South Asia Society gathered in the Pepsico Forum for a group picture

4. What are your hopes for the Darden South Asia Society going forward?

My hopes for DSAS are twofold. First, to make it a place for international and domestic South Asians to always feel welcomed – a home away from home. I want it to be a medium through which they can showcase their South Asian culture and heritage through the various events organized. Second, to make it an inclusive place not just for South Asians, but for everyone at Darden, including students, faculty, and staff, to learn more about South Asia. We will try our best to move towards this goal, and hopefully set the next board a step further in achieving this.

We have also been trying to collaborate with various clubs at Darden to organize events that bring additionality to the community – be it co-hosting Darden cup cricket with DSA, the first worldwide TNDC with various affinity clubs, Garba cold call with Dance Club, Diwali dinners with HoD, and Ramadan dinners with MEISA. Down the road, we are also planning to host an in-person conference with global speakers from the Asian continent.

5. What advice do you have for future Darden students?

Darden has a work-hard, play-hard culture. While it is academically rigorous, there are more than enough opportunities to engage socially with the community. Prioritization hence becomes very important. My only advice would be to be your authentic and confident self. It might get overwhelming, but the process only makes you stronger. Having a set of people you can rely on, especially your FY learning team, makes it easier and enjoyable.

Nirali Kansara's advice to "engage socially with the community" comes from personal experience

6. Why do you think it’s important for Darden to have an organization like DSAS? How has DSAS impacted the way the Darden community understands South Asian business and culture?

Darden South Asia Society is one of the largest affinity clubs at Darden. The South Asian diaspora forms a big chunk of the international population here. Moreover, the Class of 2023 and Class of 2024 are the largest international cohorts in the history of Darden. Through affinity clubs like DSAS, Darden is able to expose its community to various cultures and businesses from across the world. Through the various cultural (Diwali, Holi, etc), academic (GBCC Globetrotters), and business (Darden South Asia Conference) events, DSAS has engaged the Darden community at large to learn more about South Asia. It also helps to create a welcoming space for South Asians to share their identity and learn from others, making the Darden experience very diverse and inclusive.