Sonia Karkare, ’93, MS ’96, 2023 Kent State Professional Achievement Award Recipient

“Her persistent application of technology for social good and her specific emphasis on providing opportunities and being a role model for women and children in STEM-related roles is uplifting.”

Sonia Karkare, ’93, MS ’96, has devoted nearly two decades of her life to digital transformations at some of the largest and most iconic humanitarian and nonprofit organizations in the world. She has built her remarkable career through her ability to harness technology as a tool for revolutionary social impact, affecting lives across North America, Europe and Africa.

“She possesses a unique combination of technical expertise, creativity, business acumen and compassion that sets her apart from others in her field,” said Norma Rist, president and CEO of Norma K. Rist Consulting Inc., who recommended Sonia for the award.

As the global head of program for digital transformations in geospatial data and field clinical care at Doctors Without Borders/MSF Switzerland, Sonia improved the quality of care in remote areas through electronic support systems, providing data to enhance decision making for refugee camp locations, epidemiological surveillance and more. She also worked on a disaster relief management system that touched 75 countries and 100 million lives during her time at the American Red Cross. While with The Global Fund in Switzerland, she helped increase the organization’s efficiency in distributing $11 billion worldwide to save lives from tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS.

Sonia was born and raised in Mumbai, India. She left to major in computer science at Kent State University, though she had very little experience with computers at the time. In fact, she wrote a brief piece for LinkedIn where she discussed those initial days and how an instructor transformed her educational experience simply by showing her how to use a backspace key. That seemingly trivial moment propelled Sonia forward in her studies and served as the beginning of a trailblazing career. 

From leadership roles at major nonprofits to developing her own consulting business, she has achieved great success but acknowledges that she encountered many challenges along the way. Those obstacles inspired her to work harder and to find ways to prepare other women and girls for rewarding careers in the digital space, and in 2021, she received the Hidden Figures Award from TechFace (Switzerland), which celebrates women in STEM. 

“As a woman - a woman of color - and a woman of color in the technology and humanitarian sectors, Sonia is breaking barriers while also creating a path for many others who will follow in her footsteps,” said nominator Pam Anderson, a three-time Kent State alumna and former university employee. 

Her drive to improve the lives of others extends beyond her professional life. Sonia is heavily involved in the communities where she lives and works, abiding by her life’s motto: To be used up before she leaves this earth and to make it better than she found it. Sonia has been a volunteer and speaker for countless organizations. She has served as a board member for United Way of Portage County, Powering Potential and Habitat for Humanity. 

She founded Heroes Everywhere to bring joy in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and celebrate ordinary people and acts of kindness, Advance to Amplify to help professionally at-risk women and Salesforce nonprofit user groups in Geneva, Switzerland, to create and maintain a community for the Salesforce platform in the nonprofit sector. 

Somehow Sonia still finds time for her alma mater. In 2011, she returned to Kent State as an adjunct professor, teaching a nonprofit consulting practicum course in the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship. The unique course, which provided community-engaged learning opportunities for students to learn consulting skills in the nonprofit sector, was the first of its kind. In 2023, she is teaching Digital Transformation in Healthcare as part of the Executive MBA Program, another first. She is also teaching Advanced Professional Development to undergraduates as they prepare for entry into the workplace.  

“While having a career in computer science, she has used technology for a greater purpose. This is especially rewarding in current times where technology is often used for misinformation. Her persistent applications of technology for social good and her specific emphasis on providing opportunities and being a role model for women and children in STEM-related roles is uplifting,” said Murali Shanker, professor in Kent State’s Department of Information Systems and Business Analytics.