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My NGO taught me that it is vital to work on the ground: Dr Miniya Chatterji

CultureMy NGO taught me that it is vital to work on the ground: Dr Miniya Chatterji

In an Interview with G20, Dr Miniya Chatterji, founder and CEO of Sustain Labs, Adjunct Professor at SciencesPo, Paris, shares the formula of Sustain Labs

Q. You are an exponent of mammoth epic proportions, hailing from India with a career graph varied & robust. You were Chief Sustainability Officer at Jindal Steel & Power, worked at World Economic Forum in Geneva managing the Profile of Young Global Leaders in the South East Asia Region. To managing 2 Hedge Funds of 200 million in AUM in Paris. To adorning a political narrative in France as a Policy Analyst at Fondapol. And to top it all a PhD fellow at Harvard University & Columbia University, USA. Share the super-charged journey that was.
A. My father was a pilot of the Indian Air Force so I had the privilege of growing up across various cities in India. At age 21 I left for Paris for my graduate studies at SciencePo. The following year, one day My PhD director Christophe Jaffrelot gave me an address to go to. It turned out to be the office of Jerome Monod, the Chief Counsellor to France’s President Jacques Chirac. I worked rigorously with Jerome Monod as policy analyst for 3 years while pursuing my PhD and teaching a bit at university. I was obviously excited by the work I was doing with the President’s office and so was hardly focusing on my PhD. The research fellowships I went off to at the Weatherhead Centre at Harvard University and at SIPA at Columbia University were mainly to re-focus on writing my PhD thesis. I met with Goldman Sachs at their recruitment drinks event on campus at Columbia University. I can tell you that I purely had gone there for the free drinks. But I did really like the people at Goldman. The next day they invited me to interview. The interview process was long over several months. To know more about investment banks and the field I was getting into I joined Merril Lynch as an unpaid intern all through the interview process with Goldman! I worked at Goldman Sach’s London office in their Private Wealth Management department, and then moved back to Paris to manage a portfolio of 2 hedge funds at Louvre Gestion. The day I submitted and defended my PhD thesis, I felt that I no longer had a  purpose in life. I realised that I dont want to spend my precious life making the rich richer. Even though the work I was doing was very interesting it was not helping those who needed help the most. I remember the day I spoke to my manager Marie in the stair way that I want to quit banking, move to Cairo where my partner at that time was living, start a NGO that supports women and children, and start writing again too. I quit and did exactly that. After a year of running Stargazers out of Cairo, which included being at Tahrir Square with my placard during the Arab uprising I joined the World Economic Forum in Geneva as a community manager for South Asia, Middle East, North Africa as well as a Global Leadership Fellow. The WEF brings together political and corporate leaders to improve the state of the world. It was the perfect place for me to work and learn. I continued to run the NGO — Stargazers — alongside my job at the WEF. It had been 14 years I had lived away from India. While WEF showed me how important it is to scale up impact, my NGO taught me that it is vital to work on the ground. I deeply wanted to return to India and put to use whatever little I had learnt through my experiences and studies. So after 3 years of working at the WEF in Geneva I moved to Delhi to join Jindal Steel & Power as their Chief Sustainability Officer. Naveen was extremely supportive of the changes in the company I was making. It also filled me with hope about the power of the private sector in India to solve social problems. While navigating through our politics to get anything good done is messy, the private sector is more straight forward. This is the realisation which led me to establish Sustain Labs when I was 8 months pregnant. I brought in JSPL as my first client, and stargazers is now Sustain Labs Not for profit arm. All that I have done and learnt comes together here.
Q. As Founder of Sustain Labs:- share the formula of Sustain Labs, the Indian & global impact & dent you are making with your company. How does the revenue stream work?
A. We have several revenue streams. One is a monthly revenues coming in from organisations that we work with to transform them into becoming sustainable. These are typically long term engagements, where I and Sustain Labs team members hold titles so that we can work from within. One example is the Anant National University in Ahmedabad. Another major revenue stream is from shorter projects to improve energy efficiency, advise on ESG, write reports, map environmental and social footprint of various organisations. Our work with startups contributing to sustainable growth only covers our cost – we support them with ESG reports and certifications on a not for profit basis. We also work in partnership with various organisations on a revenue sharing basis. For example, we partnered with BW Businessworld to publish the annual ranking of the sustainability performance of 200 of India’s largest companies as a standalone BW Businessworld issue in December every year. We also teach in India and abroad. We are very vested in education even if that is a minor revenue stream.
Q. In between donning many a Global High Profile Prolific Hat, you have written the cutting edge bestseller Indian Instincts. An essay on equality & Freedom in India share the omni importance of this book. 
A. This is a book that is very close to my heart, or else I wouldn’t have written it! I have brought issues of nationalism, democracy, freedom closer to our personal lives, so the reader thinks about how do these issues affect him or her personally.

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