My experience of working at Samagra Governance

Motivation to share my experience at Samagra

I spent about 22 months at Samagra, an Indian governance consulting firm. In all these months, I remained reasonably active on LinkedIn, conducting career sessions and offering help to young social impact aspirants with resume and interview preparation under my initiative Impact Connect. Naturally, many people reached out hoping to learn about my experience working at Samagra. Now that I have completed my tenure, I thought there is merit in documenting my experience to make it easy and fast to share with anyone who may reach out.

Important caveats while reading this blog

While I cover some generic details about the processes at Samagra, I would like to explicitly emphasize that this blog is a simple documentation of my experiences at the organization. This should not be taken as a review of the organization. I stayed at Samagra for about two years, there are people who have left within four months and there are others who have spent about five years in the organization. This is to again emphasize that different people may have had different experiences and motivations that affected their decisions. I am just sharing mine. Like in any other place, my upper-caste Hindu male identity and my unique life experiences have also influenced my experience at Samagra.

I would like to double-click on some critical life experiences to give a better context of how my experience at Samagra may be different from others. These are a few factors that readily come to my mind:

  1. My family background: With my three-year-long career, I am already the highest-earning member of my family. I am also the only member of my family who can speak fluently in English, which happens to be a marker of social privilege. This also means that I have had no professional role models early in life. No one in my family talks about work or books, so I have also not had that exposure early in my life.

  2. My undergraduate experience: While a popular college that attracts thousands of bright minds every year, Kirori Mal College does not shine brightest when it comes to academic experiences (barring a few truly phenomenal professors). There is negligible professional exposure built into your academics. So, you don’t really learn using MS Office or even Googling beyond Wikipedia in your classrooms. The placement cell is also student-driven and leverages the reputation of the college well, but there is so much that a group of students with academic and non-academic priorities can do. Coupled with a lack of professional role models, for me, this meant that I had no chance of landing meaningful internships. So, I graduated with almost no real work-life skills.

  3. Peer exposure at Kirori Mal College (KMC): The single biggest turning point in my professional life was the exposure that I got just by being around relatively privileged, bright, and hard-working peers. It led to a mindset shift, instilled professional aspirations, and through osmosis, made me better aware of the world, and a better thinker.

  4. My first job: I landed a job at the India office of a New York-headquartered advocacy and communication firm. The US culture trickled down to the India office as well, so the working hours were reasonable and the life was rather luxurious. I also luckily got to work under two hyper-empathetic women who probably made it their mission to make my first job an unrealistically beautiful experience. That set a really high benchmark in terms of work culture for me. However, my learning was limited to writing skills.

  5. The Young India Fellowship (YIF): It helped me catch up by building a network that I always lacked due to my family background. It also opened my mind in unimaginable ways and made me fiercely vocal about the values that I stood for. My left-leaning inclinations went further left with the kind of readings and discussions that happened inside and outside the classroom. I became, what YIFs proudly claim to be - a ‘Critical Thinker’.

So, overall, these five important experiences made me a thoughtful, well-networked, and vocal person who still lacked some basic professional skills but had high work culture expectations. This is where Samagra came in. It was the first job that I applied for, while at YIF, and decided to not apply for any other. This is where I wanted to be, since the beginning of the YIF. You can read about my application preparation here.

Experience at Samagra

Samagra works with the government, which leads many to wrongly believe that it is a public policy firm. It is not. It is a management consulting firm, which also does a lot of operational work. A few other important things to note about Samagra include:

  1. It is very selective. The majority of the team members come from elite colleges, and are very well-groomed, professionally, from day 1.

  2. It is not yet 10 years old and almost 50 members strong at the time I am writing this blog.

I will bucket my experience at Samgra into three categories - Professional growth, personal satisfaction, and Pay since most people I know try to balance these factors in a job:

  1. Professional growth: I was on an extremely steep learning curve while at Samagra. This was mostly because of the opportunities, support, and training that I got. I worked with top bureaucrats, a UN organization, and the leadership of big non-profits on workstreams with high individual ownership. My managers and senior team members were extremely skilled and supportive, which helped me learn a lot on the job. They sat me down and taught me how to make PPTs and use Excel. Over time, I also got a chance to learn more sophisticated software. There were professional development chats scheduled fortnightly with the managers to identify my strengths and work on my improvement areas. This was coupled with training sessions in the form of in-house training by the leadership, external speaker sessions, and peer-to-peer sessions. In my exit conversation with my manager, I reflected on how I used to always doubt myself before taking on any challenging workstream, and how he used to always push my boundaries while providing reasonable support.

  2. Personal satisfaction: My personal satisfaction always oscillated between high to low. Samagra focuses a lot on creating impact at scale, and some of its achievements used to fill me with immense pride about what I was contributing to. The people on the team were also warm and kind. Some of them also volunteered time to help me think through my higher-education aspirations. I found people to hang around in the kitchen area and make cold coffee with. However, it was an extremely high-pressure job, something that I found hard to reconcile with. This is primarily where my life experiences caused dissonance - I had worked at a job with great work culture, so I knew that such opportunities exist. I had been to YIF where I was taught to question the status quo, and it was very difficult for me to not voice my disagreements. Well-being was always a conversation, but I was not particularly satisfied with how much thought it was given. I firmly believe that the senior leadership is capable enough to solve these challenges if they choose to. But I do see how they have several choices to make at a growing firm with complex projects and very difficult stakeholders.

  3. Pay: I was very satisfied with the pay at Samagra. Had I continued staying at Samagra, my pay would have doubled from where I started less than two years back. The social impact sector is notorious for paying badly, but Samagra very reasonably pays for the high-pressure work that it gets you to do. My sense is that it is one of the best paying social impact firms in India. Moreover, unlike most organizations of this size, Samagra ensures that there is not much difference between the salaries of the members working at the same positions. Finally, the promotions, to me, seem fair and fast, so they contribute to significant pay hikes.

So why did I leave?

I think it was a mix of introspection and serendipity:

  1. Working on large-scale implementation projects at Samagra, I realized that, contrary to my initial belief, I would like to focus more on strategy than implementation. Beyond the strong foundation that Samagra provided to me, I was finding it difficult to imagine myself using the skills I was learning at Samagra, in the long run

  2. I stopped seeing senior leaders at Samagra as professional role models. I admired them for their intelligence and hard work, but I did not want the kind of life that consultants have for myself

  3. I was not getting enough time for any of my personal activities - reading, exercising, working on Impact Connect, thinking about higher education

  4. The YIF in me was also missing an academic blend in my work

Serendipitously enough, I was offered a role at my new job (working at Samagra gave me a good enough branding that got me several job offers). It offered me almost everything that I thought was missing at this stage of my career - a focus on policymaking rather than policy implementation, role models who live the kind of life I would like, more time for personal activities, and a strong behavioral lens in my work, which I felt excited to learn about. It came with a relatively slower pay hike, but I was okay to let that go for now.

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