Peru Dharani, a Fellow of Cohort 2022 of Belgium’s 40 under 40, wears many hats: a Scientific Scholar, an Innovation Director at Barco, a Belgian citizen, a husband and father, a community leader, and an advocate for social generosity. While spending his childhood on an Indian farm, little did he know these elements would come to define his adulthood. Thanks to a series of scholarships, fellowships and the generosity of many people, Peru embarked on an exceptional journey that led him across the world. Two decades later, he stands with us before the 40u40 Community in Brussels, sharing his life journey at the Cohort 2022 graduation.
Peru’s father was a farmer, and apart from following his father’s footsteps, education was the only alternative for Peru. “I was exceptionally lucky to be curious and good at science and mathematics, and a math teacher along with some others at my school believed I should do something with it, go somewhere with it. Go where?” Peru reflects. The world outside of his village was something he read about in a book, but always felt just out of reach. Nevertheless, at the age of 17, Peru received a scholarship to the state run engineering school far away from his village to study Electronics. He left his farm with a big bag to the capital city of his province that was 500 kms away.
Peru spent the following years pursuing his education while also working on India’s first student satellite project, which started his career in Intel Corporation in India. At approximately the same time, in Brussels, a group of idealists came up with the idea of the “Erasmus Mundus Fellowships” to bring worldwide talent to Europe across all fields of study. This open-ended fellowship was a generous and bold experiment that allowed the fellows to study a master’s degree across several EU countries over a two-year period. As Peru was introduced to the world of photonics research at Intel, driven by his scientific curiosity and the desire to pursue a research education in Photonics, he applied for and obtained this prestigious fellowship that was about to bring him to the heart of Europe. This fellowship and the people he would meet during these two years would profoundly transform his life.
In the summer of 2007, at the age of 23, Peru packed his two bags and set off for Ghent. For the next years, he would travel to various countries and universities, joined by his peers from around the world. His academic journey took him to Ghent University, Vrije University of Brussels, KTH in Sweden, TU Delft in the Netherlands, and University of St Andrews in Scotland. While delving into his studies, one question kept bothering Peru: Why was he, a farm boy from outside Europe being paid a fellowship by the European taxpayer to study under the most talented minds of this continent? Looking for answers, he went to Brussels to meet a European Commission official and asked the same question. The bureaucrat smiled and responded: “Peru, Europe has the reputation of being a dark fortress to the rest of the world, and we want to change it. We want the world to come here, and we want to have the best talents of the world come together in Europe so they can build long lasting connections for the future.”
For Peru, Belgium’s 40 under 40, much like the Olympia Academy of Einstein’s time, serves as a space for individuals to share, inspire, and engage in meaningful conversations. Peru’s story is a beautiful invitation to actively participate in these conversations, to maintain an open-mind and a generous spirit, and to continue contributing their ideas to the world. His journey would have never been possible without the generous acts of so many individuals and social institutions who believed in building a better society for the future.