Abhinav’s experience at the International Innovation Corps and his journey in the Social Sector

Despite constantly referring to his younger self as “confused” in his interview, Abhinav had gained enough clarity from his initial internship experiences that he did not want to be a part of the corporate quagmire. This is how his journey of exploring the social sector began and took him to prestigious UN organisations for internships. Leaving his corporate placement offers aside, he pursued a degree in Law and thereafter began his professional career with Chase India. He recently completed his stint with the International Innovation Corps and has since been independently consulting philanthropic foundations for policy and strategy issues. In this article, we cover his journey in detail, understand his interview preparation hacks and list his staple reads.

Looking Outward

Abhinav pursued his bachelor’s degree in commerce from Kirori Mal College (KMC), Delhi University. While most of his peers followed the suit and went on to join the companies which would come for mass recruitment on campus, Abhinav expanded his horizons by looking outward.

I just wanted to do fulfilling work

From his initial internships, he had recognized that he needed to be more strategic about his internships. His “Model United Nations (MUN) hangover”, oriented his interest towards the United Nations organizations. He sent out sincere emails for internships at UN organizations and then followed up on call. This way, he secured two of his UN internships – one with UN Information Center (UNIC) and another with UN Global Compact (UNGC). This is where he got the opportunity to interact with people outside his immediate peer group. He gained exposure to a vast variety of roles in the social sector. His UN internships also enabled him to secure other internships later.

I focused a lot on building a profile outside just academics while in college

Equipped with a slightly better understanding of the social sector, Abhinav began contemplating whether a career in policy or international relations would suit him better. To acquaint himself better with the field of International relations, he enrolled himself in a post-graduate diploma on conflict transformation and peacebuilding in Lady Sriram (LSR) College in his final year of under graduation.

I barely went to KMC in my final year

Again, his experiences at LSR introduced him to new fields, such as feminist theory – something that shaped his ideas and aspirations differently from his peers at KMC. Abhinav later did another diploma course in International Law from the Indian Society of International Law, but he gradually realized that the opportunities in the field do not cater to his career aspirations.

Pivot to Policy

After dropping the idea to pursue International Relations, Abhinav knew that he would like to explore a career in the policy field. This decision was not as straightforward as it appears in retrospect.

Most of my career explorations were driven by the fact that I was super confused

However, once he made a decision to switch gears towards the policy space, Abhinav started building his profile for policy related roles. The first step in this direction was an internship at the NITI Aayog, where he worked on a monitoring and evaluation related role.

By this time, he also started looking for jobs in the sector. For this, he made a list of his preferred organizations and wrote emails to them detailing his interest in the roles and highlighting his relevant experience. His job search culminated with a job offer at Chase India, a public policy advocacy and advisory firm. He calls his first job experience “eye-opening” because he got the opportunity to simultaneously work with the government as well as with corporates. His most important takeaway was his experience of learning how to manage government relations and think strategically about inter-related activities like policy research, advocacy, communications etc.

Transition to International Innovation Corps (IIC)

Early on, Abhinav recognized the value of creating networks in the social sector and judiciously used LinkedIn to share his experiences in his network. It was through LinkedIn that one of his contacts informed him about an opening at IIC. They were looking for an immediate hire and directly reached out to him, seeing his profile as a fit for the role. Interested in the role, he applied through a form and got shortlisted for interview rounds. The two interview rounds evaluated him on his behavioral and problem-solving skills (through a case study).

For the preparation, Abhinav undertook the following steps:

  • He reached out to his friends pursuing an MBA degree to help him with cases for structured thinking.

  • He realized that most MBA folks create their own checklists for solving cases for techniques to apply while solving a case, and he did the same but with a social sector/policy focus (like stakeholder analysis, 5-Whys etc.)

  • He also spoke to people working at IIC to understand what would make him a fit for the role

The objective was not to solve the cases well; it was to show that I was a fit for IIC

He ensured that he maintained stakeholder centricity in his answers and also made the interviewers go through his entire process of deduction, while adding tidbits from his first-hand experiences with the government to demonstrate his familiarity with the field. Unlike most other case interviews, he thinks, IIC case interviews are more unstructured and you are expected to navigate your way through the case while being focused on the final outcome.

Experience at IIC

Abhinav calls his experience at IIC “challenging”.

Working in the government is starkly different from working with the government”.

IIC gave him the opportunity to work in the government and learn exactly how it worked. Other than this, his engagement was focused on digital health (AI in healthcare) and he had no background in that field. He acquainted himself to the field by learning from his peers and “reading massively” to be able to be at par with his peers. So, the learning curve was very steep. Overtime, he realized how basic logic lies at the heart of all solutions. The idea is just to contextualize the logic to the problem at hand -- something law school trains you to do well.

In a few months at IIC, he was escalated to the role of a project lead. Here, he got the opportunity to directly talk to funders of the project and strategically work towards achieving the theory of change. This helped him immensely in building his social capital. However, Abhinav did not limit himself only to his project work.

IIC is what you make out of it

Enhancing his own IIC experience

Owing to the decentralized structure of the organization, Abhinav enriched his experience by working on aspects outside his immediate project - right from getting involved in training to writing policy opinions and motivating others to. All these aspects added to the holistic experience which a sole project-orientation might not have had. Difficult to manage many moving pieces at once, his strategy was solely to just set up targets for each day and focus on achieving those, while not fretting about what to do the next day or next week.

He was also involved in interviewing candidates for the fellowship. His focus, he said, was always on an individual’s ability to expand horizontally – on the diversity of experiences they have had and their potential to learn more and be leaders in their own right.

I looked at what an individual could do and what is their USP?”

Concluding his tenure at IIC in July 2020, Abhinav is now operating as a strategy and policy consultant for a leading philanthropy, in a bid to add to his own diversity of experience. On being asked how he managed to secure effective jobs in such a short span, he said:

I do not have a 10-year roadmap, I have a 1 or 2-year roadmap at best. I just want to move from one good opportunity to another and I work my best towards it. Sometimes I worry that there seems to be no common string tying all my starkly different experiences together, but then I realize that the common string is me and each experience has added on to my skill and perspective.

Reading recommendations

Significant advancements in his career have not come to Abhinav without hard work. He ensures to keep himself informed about the latest developments in the sector and his interest areas. Here are a few things he is currently reading:

- World Economic Forum Strategic Intelligence portal

- The Ken – you can get your subscription to Ken sponsored (he reads it for the first 15 minutes of the day)

Additionally, Abhinav has attempted to trick the algorithms on social media and LinkedIn in order to curate his news feed in a way that enables him to stay at the top of thought leaders, researchers and organisations of his interest in the sector. This includes knowing the opinion leaders and innovative organisations in the ecosystem and creating systems to keep track of all of them.

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