Leap from a corporate job to an impact-oriented one: Saumya’s journey to LGT fellowship and Varthana

Saumya’s background and corporate experience:

Saumya’s workstation at KPMG

Following his graduation in aeronautical engineering at Manipal University, India, Saumya worked at CRISIL for the first four years of his career. During this time, his work spanned across multilateral organizations like the World Bank, Asia Development Bank, and the government bodies of Africa and South-East Asia. His role pertained to providing financial and strategic advisory on large scale urban infrastructure projects (smart cities, roads, urban planning).

His experience of working on smart city projects at CRISIL brought a series of on-ground experiences for Saumya. It helped him understand the realities and requirements of the grassroots from a different lens. He was able to better understand the bottlenecks by working closely with the government.

From a distance, it may seem like the government isn't doing a lot; but when you go there actually work on it yourself, you realize how difficult it is to actually work on them.

Following this, he joined KPMG in a similar role. While his role involved advising governments with officials from US, UK and EU governments, he started feeling a disconnect with the impact he was creating on the ground.

It was during this year when I felt extremely disconnected. I questioned the impact of my work and what difference I was really making. I wanted to help and develop my own country.

Entering the Social Sector

Saumya spent 3-4 months trying to figure out where his value addition could be maximized and his skills would be most useful in the social sector.

He did these two things:

  1. Reached out to a lot of NGOs he found from his research, personal network and connection of connections

  2. Scheduled calls with the founders and reached out to them

However, the challenge emerged with respect to the roles that were being offered to him by different social impact organizations. He was trying to understand how he could best add value, given his experience and expertise working with governments across Africa and Asia.

I wanted to be a part of the program design and delivery team. However, after a lot of conversations with the founders, personal reflections, and attempts at understanding the role, I finally understood where I could truly add value and it didn’t have to be on the program management side.

As he was speaking with people in the sector, he also had a conversation with the then City Director, Mumbai, Teach for India. Coincidentally, she was looking for someone to fill in the position of the fundraising lead at Teach for India. Something clicked, and they took the hiring process forward.

Saumya immersing himself in the Teach for India work

Seemingly smooth, this transition to the social sector was not easy for Saumya.

Challenges after transitioning to the social sector:

1. A mindset shift: embrace it

As my work began, I realized that this [working in the social sector] is a whole different ball game. Especially when you come from the corporate side. There is a whole mindset shift that needs to happen for you to be making that kind of leap. Just see and learn as the social sector has some of the best minds to work with

After working at Teach for India, Saumya felt the difference between the corporate and social. The work is process driven and structured in the corporate setup whereas the social sector requires a certain entrepreneurial mindset.

2. The societal stigma

There is this stigma attached to working in the social sector.

For Saumya to make the shift from a high-paying finance job to the social sector, invited the stereotypical stigma. Even though Saumya took a pay cut as he transitioned, he was also excitedly looking forward to exploring models to address the dearth of capital in this space. His “why” was a driving force in his decision-making process.

Before making this jump, Saumya had saved up enough. He does believe that there is a lot of value one can bring from the corporate to the social sector.

Impact Investing - starting down this path

By the time he wrapped up his tenure at Teach for India, Saumya knew he was inclined towards impact investing.

I tried to marry my financial expertise with the non-profit place.

Yet again, what helped him with figuring out how to get build a career in impact investment was:

  1. Primary research: He reached out to his personal network in this space.

Three broad questions that guided his conversations: What do you do? How do you do it? And what does a normal day look like for you?

  1. Secondary research: “It was difficult to find a direct repository. Online research on the topic was scary and a rabbit hole to get into.” He narrowed down the sector to his preferred thematic area (Education), created a list of relevant NGOs and finally scheduled calls with the founders of those NGOs. Skimming through the relevant company websites proved to be useful.

His journey in the space of impact investment began with the coveted LGT Impact fellowship by the LGT Venture Philanthropy.

The LGT Impact Fellowship

It was during his Teach for India days when he found out about the LGT fellowship through a social impact recruiting firm, Shortlist. The application process was via Shortlist platform: “you can expect it to be like a regular MBA application with multiple essay questions”.

Saumya during his LGT fellowship with school leaders in rural Maharashtra

So, what is this fellowship? The fellowship is run by the LGT Venture Philanthropy which is a part of the LGT Group Foundation. LGT Group is the largest family-owned private banking and asset management group in the world. LGT Venture Philanthropy deploys philanthropic growth capital to organizations and companies with effective, innovative and scalable solutions to social and environmental challenges. As a year long fellowship it offers full-time engagements with LGTs portfolio companies in developing and emerging countries across Latin America, Africa, India, and Europe.The LGT Venture Philanthropy tries to support such social impact organizations with various human resource requirements such as data analyst, management consultant, communications consultant, among others.

These roles in the corporate space, are also required in the social space.”

Saumya just completed the LGT Fellowship last month and is now taking up a full-time strategy role at Varthana, the company that he worked with through the fellowship. Varthana is an NBFC that lends to schools and works towards transforming affordable private school education in India. ALong with providing growth capital it also does a lot of academic and management related stuff for schools (Teacher training, digital classes, marketing and Branding solutions, etc). During his fellowship, the role with Varthana encompassed a varied mix of strategy, operations, new product development, execution, client engagement, and business expansion.

Excited to work in a new role, Saumya has the following suggestions for anyone looking to build a career in the social sector:

Reading Recommendation: Publications, social media articles by GIIN, AVPN, Impact investors Council, Courses on Acumen Academy and company websites of Omidyar Network, BMGF and other foundations.

Anything you can bring from the corporate to add value to the social sector is worth reading.

For anyone at the periphery of making the decision to switch from corporate to social:

“It is really about what you want to do in life. If you want to be a part of the social sector, you should reflect on what kind of role you want to play. I would highly recommend people get some corporate experience before jumping ship. While it's good to make the jump soon, a few years in a corporate process driven setup would add a lot of value.”

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