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Interconnectedness is truly at the heart of what it means to be a sustainable community. That means making smart, collaborative decisions about how we consume energy and create livable communities—now and for the future.

No one knows that better than lifelong urban dweller and environmental engineer Dhruti Patel. After growing up in London and Mumbai, Patel now lives in Chicago, where she is a leader for positive transformative environmental change.

Energy engineer + @GenGProject director empowers volunteers to make impact and connections

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A member of the Illinois chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Emerging Professionals Committee, an energy engineer at Goby LLC, and one of Chicago Scholars’ “35 Under 35,” Patel has long-been committed to environmental causes. However, after her first On the Table hosting experience, she became inspired to work on a grassroots level to create change.

“That’s the biggest plus of On the Table: you feel like you want to give back to your community,” Patel explains. “Through On the Table, you start seeing more opportunities that can have a greater impact outside of the work you do as a professional.”

Attending her first On the Table in 2014, Patel was encouraged to “look at sustainability in a new light,” seeing the importance of interconnectivity between community members as a vital component of making an impact on city building.

“When you’re sitting around a table and conversing about your city, you feel connected to the opposite person, and you don’t want the conversation to stop on that day. You want it to continue. But it’s really hard to have that candid conversation without connecting with a person face to face.”

Members of the GenG collaboratory on stage in March 2015
Dhruti Patel, fourth from left, and the other members of the Generation Green (GenG) collaboratory project during the “Demo Day”.

In the days that followed On the Table, Patel and some fellow guests shared their idea for the Generation Green Project (GenG): an initiative to connect young people with the green technology industry.

The project incorporates three pillars: a classroom curriculum; intensive, hands-on workshops that expose students to career skills; and individual mentorships that help emerging professionals develop opportunities in the industry.

The GenG was so powerful that it was selected as one of the On the Table “collaboratories”: task forces created to develop their outstanding idea from On the Table into action. The groups received design coaching to refine their ideas into sustainable projects, refined them further through feedback from social entrepreneurs and investors as part of a “Demo Day” and presented their projects live on stage as part of Chicago Ideas Week.

“I think everything is connected. One experience does drive another experience. On the Table has impacted how I view volunteering as an experience—not only for yourself, but the people that you hope to impact.”

Most recently, Patel has focused on creating tailored volunteer opportunities which let residents be part of the solution. “Volunteer work is so unique that you want whoever’s volunteering their time to walk away with a sense of accomplishment,” she explains. “That’s what happens when you get the purpose of the community service event correct.”

Creating opportunities to engage residents to advance sustainable communities has been one of Patel’s proudest accomplishments. “Getting people to take leadership positions and going out in the community and giving back in their own way, being able to motivate them and giving them the right tools and right skillset to make the impact they want to make: That’s where I found myself helping volunteers to achieve their impact goals.”

Dhruti Patel
Patel works to create volunteer experiences that are more empowering and rewarding. “You want whoever’s volunteering their time to walk away with a sense of accomplishment. That’s what happens when you get the purpose of the community service event correct.”

One such initiative has been the establishment of an online community platform for the U.S Green Building Council Emerging Professionals Committee to promote connectedness and to streamline communications. Patel says that through this new platform, she start to see more focused volunteering—and the USGBC also came up with a great strategy for helping the Chicago Housing Authority benchmark their energy usage.

“The volunteer work that I did was very strategic. I was able to bring all of these different players together to get them talking about what they want to get out of the volunteer activity.”

Patel has used On the Table to its full potential, and beyond. “I think everything is connected. One experience does drive another experience, or further motivates action in another form. On the Table has impacted how I view volunteering as an experience—not only for yourself, but the people that you hope to impact.”