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Sanju Deenapanray - Mauritius

Sanju Deenapanray’s life changed completely when he won a partial scholarship to study systems engineering at the Australian National University in 1990.

Course: Bachelor of Engineering (Systems); Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Electronic Materials
Australian National University (ANU)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Sanju Deenapanray’s life changed completely when he won a partial scholarship to study systems engineering at the Australian National University in 1990.

For the first time ever, he left his home and family.

“I learned the life lesson of how to take care of myself, and also how to live in a community,” he says of his time in Australia.

Along the way he developed what he describes as an “an attitude to life,” which led him to join Ecological Living in Action, an organisation established by his wife Anneloes Smitsman, a judicial political scientist, and trainer in ecological living. ELIA helps people transition to live a more ecologically sustainable, planet-friendly lifestyle.

Brought up in a modest Mauritian family, Deenapanray explains that he had always had a sense of the value of nature, the environment and community but ANU and the exposure in Canberra to international speakers such as the Dalai Lama and David Suzuki fostered it.

“The good thing about ANU was that it further developed my sensitivity,” he says.

“Firstly, the exposure to a systems approach to engineering has helped me immensely to develop a holistic vision and approach to problem solving,” he explains.

“I am currently applying this approach to developmental challenges like climate change and sustainability.

“The person I am today is because I lived in Australia.”

Deenapanray later opted to do his PhD - on semiconductor materials - in Canberra despite being offered full scholarships in South Africa and Belgium.

“The great thing about Australia is the high levels and standards, the first class laboratories and lecturers, and the access to resources,” he says.

In addition, he knew the laboratory and its staff very well, had a large network of friends in Canberra, and ANU carried a lot of kudos as one of the top 15 research universities in the world.

While working on his PhD he had a growing awareness of the gap between the work being done in university and its uptake in wider society. This convinced him not to follow the academic path but instead to become more involved in policy.

“I wanted to make a difference, to be a bridge between different worlds,” he says.

An underlying ELIA principle of co-creating, co-learning and working with people who share similar beliefs is one he gleaned from his ANU days. ANU staff he says were incredibly encouraging when his discussed his plans to return to Mauritius and set up an institute.

Extensive travelling, too, as part of his research, collaborating with high calibre colleagues in Taiwan, Japan, France, South Africa, USA and South Korea was key to developing the analytical skills which come into play daily.

He reflects, though, that there’s more to Australia than study.

“Go out there and meet people, learn about the Aboriginal culture, and enjoy the nature and wildlife,” he advises.

“Two things stand out for me when I think about Australia: number one, the stunning nature and, number two, the immense luxury of being able to ride a bicycle all over Canberra,” he says.

“This is something I miss very much. Mind you I worked in a laboratory at the ANU where almost every staff member rode to work!”

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