Shakti Saran, who attended the inaugural batch of the ILSS Leadership Program in January 2018, talks about his journey from the corporate sector to the social sector. Shakti took the plunge into the sector in June 2018, joining PYXERA Global as a Senior Fellow.
Tell us a bit about your previous role? What did a typical day at work look like?
I worked with the corporate sector across banking, management consultancy and information technology for 33 years. The last 15 of these were spent at IBM, where my last role was that of Associate Director of Business Development. A typical day at IBM consisted of several conference calls, meetings and lots of e-mail. It was a high-pressure and a target-driven role.
What excites you most about your current role?
I wear three hats as a Senior Fellow at PYXERA Global. In my first role, I manage teams of corporate sector executive volunteering programs. This is an operational role and I manage the end-to-end life cycle of the program, which consists of design, identifying host organisations (typically social enterprises) and on-boarding of teams. My second role is a business development role wherein I have to initiate and incubate a Centre for Citizen Diplomacy in India to encourage people-to-people contact between citizens of India and those of neighbours. My third role, a global one, involves supporting internal PYXERA Global teams on projects that have an inclusive finance and growth dimension.
What I like most about my role is that it has given me the opportunity to break out of the limitations of a narrow corporate sector and hierarchical mind-set. It has provided me the freedom to think original and be creative in designing for impact. I find myself busier than I was in the corporate sector and I’m more at ease.
What made you move from the corporate sector to the social sector?
At the time of completing my MBA and during my career I had experienced a sense of void in what I was doing, but did not have the clarity or the courage to work for impact. Four things helped shape my crossover to the social sector.
First, when IBM was celebrating its centennial year in 2011, our Chairman, Sam Palmisano urged every employee to undertake a day of service on IBM pay, and I spent eight hours volunteering for V Care Foundation, a cancer care NGO. Impressed with V Care’s work, I continued to volunteer for them on my own time. I have recently been inducted on the Board of Trustees of V Care Foundation.
Second, that year itself, my boss recommended I attend a weekend “Inner Engineering” retreat conducted by Sadhguru. The key message I received at the retreat was that human wants and desires are limitless, but fulfilment will always be finite. This sets the stage for human suffering unless one overcomes this through realisation and consciousness. It is also the cause of the abysmal state of our planet, for human wants may be endless but our planet embodies finite resources.
Third, in 2017, as one of around 450 employees chosen for IBM’s Corporate Service Corps program, I was assigned to Morocco, along with 14 other colleagues from 10 countries, to carry out a pro bono consulting engagement. This assignment was a great revelation and introduction to the world of global corporate social responsibility and citizen diplomacy. At the end of the engagement I had more or less decided to make the shift to the impact sector post-IBM.
Fourth, in early 2018, I participated in the inaugural edition of the India Leaders for Social Sector program, which helped me in several ways. The first was building perspectives. Whilst crossing over one needs to take a fresh look at economic, political, social and legal issues and challenges of our times and the program provided this in abundance.
It gave an introduction to the social sector ecosystem and a chance to interact with key leaders in this space. The program also exposed me to systems thinking, understanding key design principles and gaining insights into how these have been applied in several projects. ILSS helped me achieve in nine days what might have taken several months or years were I to have made the shift on my own.
The program gave me the confidence to feel and speak as belonging to the sector and the courage to take the plunge. I formally joined the social sector in mid-June 2018
How has the journey into the sector been so far? What is your motivation to come into work each day?
My daily life has become more enjoyable, thanks to the creativity this job position provides. I no longer feel skull-drudgery at work. In fact, that has been replaced by what I call as ‘purposeful’ living. My crossover has been smooth, thanks to the exposure I gained at ILSS and also my own efforts in writing blogs on social topics and reaching out to people in this sector proactively.
My key motivation is to wake up and work towards the dual objectives of my personal transformation and the transformation of our planet.
What is your advice to corporate leaders exploring options in the social sector?
First and foremost, be guided by your inner vision and passion. This sector (as a full-time occupation) is not for everyone, so it’s essential that you work from a position of inner capacities, sans ideological thinking.
Second, be clear about your monetary position. Whilst the social sector is offering better remuneration than before, either you need to have built a sufficient corpus to make the move or be content with a simpler lifestyle. Third, read up and research the sector: attend seminars, conferences and the like, proactively meet people and attend programs like ILSS.
Where do you go from here?
I am enjoying myself enough to stop me from thinking too far ahead!