Aditya Voleti, director of community and partnerships at the Lean Lab, IDs a local celebrity and diagnoses a Pizza Hut dependency in The Pitch‘s Questionnaire

Instagram handle: @adivoleti

Hometown: Born in Hyderabad, India. Raised in Princeton, New Jersey.

Current neighborhood: West Plaza

What I do (in 140 characters or less): I empower parents, students and teachers to launch new education solutions, and I pound the pavement hunting for the next great education entrepreneurs.

What’s your addiction? Caffé Americanos and rice, often for breakfast

What’s your game? Antakshari, an Indian singing game where you sing a song that starts with the letter that ended the song the previous person sang. I can go in circles like this singing songs for hours.

What’s your drink? Wine of any kind, from boxed to overpriced. Barring that, a decent bourbon on the rocks. Barring that, a Truman-hattan at the Drum Room.

Where’s dinner? Usually my place. South Indian stir-fried carrots, egg masala, caramelized-lemon salad, spanakopita, biryani and pavlova tend to be the crowd favorites.

What’s on your KC postcard? A collage of schools and classrooms and the humans who fill them. I am fortunate to spend so much time with so many of them, all across this city.

Finish these sentences: “Kansas City got it right when …” We decided to become a location for refugee resettlement. Refugees add such vibrant diversity and culture to this city, and are among its most productive citizens. Their children have been some of my best and brightest students.

“Kansas City screwed up when …” We decided to embark on top-down reform movement to fix the deep-seated inequities in its school system, cutting the families, students and teachers at the heart of the system out of the process.

“Kansas City needs …” To empower families, students and teachers to build the solutions that their communities need in their schools, to trust in their expertise and to build a broad coalition around that expertise.

“As a kid, I wanted to be …” A robotics engineer, like any good Indian middle-schooler. Then a journalist, like any gregarious, spitfire liberal high schooler. I have settled into the middle ground of “community builder who obsessively maintains data spreadsheets.”

“In five years, I’ll be …” Still building a community of problem-solvers in education. Still listening to the needs of families, students and teachers and letting them inform my day-to-day. And if the universe (and my own willpower) permits, writing more.  

“I’ve been known to binge watch …” Spiral (in French, Engrenages). It’s France’s Law and Order: SVU, and it’s fascinating to watch a criminal procedural set in courts based on the Justinian system.

“I can’t stop listening to …” Telugu classics from the ’50s and ’60s. It’s the music my mother raised me on.

“I just read …” Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi for my book club, and Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything by Becky Bond and Zack Exley for work.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? Pizza. More specifically, Pizza Hut. I will shave years off my life because of it.

The best advice I ever got: My mother, who had a very traditional upbringing back in India, once told me that people will always blame the times for their actions, but that if you look, there are always those who push to be more modern and forward-thinking than the times allow.

Worst advice? People often tell me I don’t have a traditionally “masculine” or “corporate” presence. But in my experience, being true to myself and who I am has always been an asset to getting to my own successes and being a leader in my community.

My sidekick? Rachel Ignotofsky, best friend and platonic soulmate since high school in Jersey, New York Times best-selling author and illustrator of Women in Science, and Kansas City’s least-known famous person.

Who is your hero? Alice Paul. She was instrumental in getting women the vote, and not enough people know about her. She endured force feeding and much physical harm, and her story reminds me to stay constantly vigilant of the sanitized versions of civil rights movements we read about in history books.

Who (or what) is your nemesis? Probably sleep. I would be able to get more done, read more books, and keep in touch with more people if I could do with less sleep.

My dating triumph/tragedy: The tragedy is that I don’t date and don’t ever feel the need to. The triumph is that I am still happy and emotionally fulfilled, surrounded by many who love me and have never let me feel alone. 

My brush with fame: That Rachel Ignotofsky, hetero-life partner since high school in Jersey, New York Times best-selling author and illustrator of Women in Science, and Kansas City’s least-known famous person, is my sidekick. Also, for all you Indian cricket fans, I am related to V.V.S. Laxman.

My soapbox: The world right now needs people who are proximate and participate. Don’t sequester yourself with like-minded people. Get close to those unlike you, and get them to participate in problem-solving and solution-building.

My recent triumph: Last year’s Lean Lab Incubator Fellowship was one of the most diverse incubators in the country. Those who applied and eventually were accepted looked like, and came from, public-school communities. Our applicants were 48 percent people of color, 58 percent women, and 25 percent women of color. Everyone wants such representation, but not a lot of people actually get it. I am beyond proud to have recruited such a representative pool of solution-builders, and to have brought the Lean Lab and Kansas City national attention, especially for being able to attract a different kind of entrepreneur. It is not easy, and I am constantly working to connect with those traditionally cut out of the entrepreneurship. Reach out to me at aditya@theleanlab.org if you are — or know — someone who is building solutions in schools and are not part of the traditional support networks! 

Categories: Questionnaire