The Ohio State University Alumni Association

2020 Alumni Awards

Neethi Johnson ’10, ’19 MBA — William Oxley Thompson Award

Awarded to young alumni who have demonstrated distinctive achievement in a career, civic involvement or both. Nominees must be 35 years or younger.

headshot of David Schuller

Creating a world of opportunity

Access is key, whether the need is a roof overhead, a backpack for school or clean water to drink.

By Jen Lloyd

Neethi Johnson’s diverse set of life experiences have shaped how she sees the world — and are inspiring her to change it. Born in India, Johnson grew up in Ireland before she and her family moved to Ohio. Johnson ’10, ’19 MBA is grateful to her father, who instilled in her the idea that if you want something done, ask the busiest person you can find to do it. As her peers, friends and family will attest, Johnson is that busy person.

Johnson was chosen by her MBA peers to deliver their commencement address, and her message was strong yet simple: There is a whole world of possibility out there, and it is important to give back.

Of the things you’ve accomplished so far — professionally and personally — what do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

I co-authored and won a grant for $2.5 million to establish a radical pilot program aimed at addressing homelessness in central Ohio. The program’s holistic approach successfully housed over 2,500 individuals while providing access to mental and behavioral health centers, vocational training and other resources necessary for them to live sustainably. I helped provide these often-marginalized members of society with the opportunity to start over. Taking a tailored approach focused on the primary needs of the population made the biggest difference.

Why are you so passionate about paying forward?

I want to ensure that those who are underrepresented have a seat at the table so they can begin to make changes and access opportunities. I serve on the board of a nonprofit called Student Success Stores. Imagine being a young child whose family cannot afford food, clothing or hygiene products, let alone school supplies. This is the reality for a large portion of students who attend Columbus public schools. To alleviate some of the burden on families, this organization places “stores” inside schools across central Ohio where students can shop for new items for free. When kids do not have to worry about their basic needs, they can focus on learning. While I have worked with a lot of different populations, these are kids — they do not have the choice of whether their family can afford something. If we can alleviate some of that pressure in a small way, then I definitely want to be a part of something like that.

What worries keep you up at night?

Lack of access, whether it is to health care, education or even clean water and other basic needs. I think we have a lot of progress to make. But incremental changes in things like policy, research, ideation and implementation can move us toward that goal.

See all 2020 Alumni Award honorees