Spotlight Series: Q&A with Navneet Bassan, Pensions, Risk & Compliance Manager

We caught up with Navneet, qualified solicitor currently working at Ernst & Young in the Pensions, Risk and Compliance team about the rise in importance of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance).

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I am Asian British born in the UK. I am a qualified solicitor.

Can you tell me about your career so far? What was the catalyst for you to take on ESG Pensions at EY?

I worked in a few City law firms in the early days, worked at PwC and also Thomson Reuters, I’ve been working at one of the Big 4 accountancy firms (EY) for the last five years. I no longer work in the capacity of a solicitor, since having children, I took a side step and now work in the Pensions HR Team at EY.

The UK has an investment market of roughly £8 trillion with UK pensions assets c.£3 trillion, so as a very rough estimate pensions assets are a third of investable assets. Given this proportion, switching pension investment to back the sustainability agenda is a strong lever to deliver real change and a mechanism to fund green growth. In line with the EY global commitment to tackling the climate change crisis, EY made recent changes to the investment strategy of its UK staff pension plan and as part of this introduced the EY Sustainable Fund. At present 10% of the default investment strategy is invested in the EY Sustainable Fund, a “green” fund that supports sustainable causes. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, this is only the beginning and EY is doing much more to ensure it invests its pension contributions into companies that are focused on reducing environmental impact and delivering sustainability. Watch this space!

What does your overall role at EY involve and how are you finding working on Sustainability compared to your other work?

I am the Risk & Compliance Manager for the EY in-house pensions team, so my day-to-day role involves ensuring EY remains compliant with all legal and regulatory requirements in relation to its pension arrangements within UK&I. However, I’ve recently become involved in a new cross-firm sustainability initiative created to focus on “getting our house in order” which is an aspect of EY’s Global Sustainability Strategy. So whilst EY is not only tackling sustainability in relation to services provided to external clients, it is also doing so with its own internal operations.

From a personal experience I did actually start to notice many small changes happening in our office pre-covid… Disposable cups within all EY offices were replaced with reusable cups, they ceased producing branded EY carrier bags and even dish sponges were removed from communal kitchen areas to reduce plastic microfibres in wastewater. It’s such an exciting area to be involved in at present and is a definite change from my usual day role!

Being South Asian, did you face any pressure from family, friends or society at large to choose the career path you did? Would you have done anything differently if given the opportunity again?

I didn’t feel direct pressure from my family, but I think it was the norm when I was growing up to either go for medicine, accountancy or law – so I just went for the last one given I loved English and History at School! If I had an opportunity to choose another career when growing up it would probably be around nutrition and diet but that wasn’t a well-publicised career path back in the day!

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

The biggest change I’ve made was a few years ago in changing from a petrol vehicle to a fully electric one. It’s been the best decision made in terms of being more “green” and definitely cost efficient, the only challenge has been in planning the charging points for longer journeys!

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I don’t believe there is any form of stigma, I think it is more of a lack of understanding and knowledge of the climate crisis. For me, it really hit home when I attended a work-related conference where Lewis Pugh presented and spoke about his experiences of climate change, especially when he first swam in the waters of Antarctica compared to more recent times. He’s a very inspiring speaker and really hit the message home.

I believe more education and publicity is needed in this area and suggestions on what changes people can implement to make a difference.

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly. How can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

Everyone can take “baby steps” to make changes in their day to day lives. It doesn’t have to be costly, even just ensuring rubbish is sorted and recycled where possible or using reusable shopping bags even helps. In recent times vegan lifestyles and products have come more to the forefront, which has helped with promoting foods that have less impact on the environment, so I believe being carbon conscious is more accessible than previously. Even making a few changes can help the cause.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Really start making a difference now by becoming more sustainable in your day-to-day lives. When I was growing up, this wasn’t a “thing”, but now it has been brought to the forefront through the likes of many individuals and climate “influencers” trending on social media platforms (i.e. the Greta Thunberg effect). Going back to pensions, which is typically an area where apathy is a challenge particularly amongst the younger generations, recent research has shown that

Millennials are most likely to believe that a measurable ESG impact can make a difference and for their investments to reflect climate change concerns. Hopefully this will mean the younger generation are more likely to engage with their pension if they can see if has a positive impact on climate change.

Coming from a background in law and working in a major financial company, would you say a career in the environmental sector would be just as financially and economically viable and stable?

Yes I believe in this day and age, a career in the environmental sector can be just as rewarding financially as well as from a job satisfaction perspective. Many companies are jumping on the “sustainability wagon” and if you do a quick google search for jobs in the sustainability field you will see many listed. I believe the only challenge may be a lack of awareness of what is involved in these types of roles.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

Yes of course – when on holiday in Mauritius a few years ago, I found it quite alarming when we came across so much dead coral on the beaches. We also went on a glass-bottom boat excursion, where we could see first-hand all the dead coral. When you compare this to living and healthy coral which you view when watching David Attenborough programmes, the difference is shockingly stark. While there was still some fish there, it was abundantly clear to see how much climate change had impacted a large proportion of the coral reef surrounding this beautiful island.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Climate change has been brought to the forefront in recent times, taking one example of the Australian bushfires, which I believe impacted many when you could see the devastation caused. The next step now is to take action and remember that as an individual you can make an impact by starting to make changes yourself and also educating others. The best way to do this is to “speak the language” of each generation e.g. the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (Gen Y) and the Centennials (Gen Z). Generally most people switch off when I start talking about my line of work(!), however,

I have noticed that if you can find the right hooks to discuss sustainability within the context of pensions, I have been able to engage both my parents’ generation as well as my nieces and nephews. 

Spotlight Series: Q&A with CEO & Founder of ChargeInc, Akshay Mukesh

We caught up with Akshay about his tech developments in all things Electric Vehicle charging in India, Middle East and North Africa

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I was born to a North-Indian family residing in South India so one could say that I was brought up in a very cosmopolitan-kind of environment. Essentially, I am a self-taught entrepreneur with minimal formal education and a handful of practical experience. 

I started working when I was 16 and I have diverse experiences in industries like publishing, realty, IT and a digital agency upholding senior executive positions. I love to dig into customer problems and solve them with modern tech and out-of-box solutions. I create, scale and optimise portfolios that matter.

What is Charge Inc and how did it come about?

When I founded ChargeInc back in 2018, the company was headed towards setting up smart charging infrastructure across India and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. In the process of developing the charger (EVSE), we realised that over 5000 companies with a similar product were going to deploy different solutions by 2026 making it difficult for the end user to charge the electric vehicle (EV) with different hardware/service providers. A user, at one time would not subscribe to more than 2 service providers, dividing the charging infrastructure and making adoption of EVs more difficult.

To curb this menace, we decided to focus on building a software platform that could manage and power hardware from any manufacturer or service provider. In simple terms, We would do what ‘Windows’ did for the computer industry and what ‘Android’ did for the cell phone industry. 

What are your main values and aims as an organisation?

We have one clear focus. A unified charging infrastructure irrespective of the type of vehicle, the service provider, the manufacturer of hardware or the geographical location of the charging station. The sooner we are able to achieve this, the faster we can see people choosing EVs over internal combustion engines. And, in this process, we as an organization, are imbibing the values of globality, collaborations, integrity and utmost commitment towards customers

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

The movie ‘2012’ caught my attention in 2010. Though the movie was overly dramatized, it depicted the imminent disaster that is in looming unless we reacted in time. This was just, as I realize now, paving my path forward.

Being an automotive enthusiast, I started to notice advancements in the industry. The kind of buzz Tesla and Lucid Motors were making at the time made me more interested in the EV industry. I transitioned to the IT sector in 2016 where as part of my job, I was fortunate to meet with prominent government figures from across the world and pitch for projects defining the future of the public transport system. 

Their valued opinions and feedback on national problems they face owing to transportation were intriguing for me. I was also witnessing how a few lines of code were able to reduce the efforts and drudgery of millions of people. This was the tipping point. It was here that I knew something bigger could be done.

I started researching what the EV industry was missing and every person I spoke to pointed towards 2 things. First being the range anxiety and second being the lack of charging infrastructure

The vehicle manufacturers were working on developing better battery technologies to fix the problem of range and a lot more charger manufacturers were working on setting up the infrastructure. But with such a diverse approach to the charging infrastructure a much bigger problem was awaiting to be addressed. Unlike refuelling a gasoline powered vehicle, an EV would require the user to reserve a charging point, before they get to a charging station or any business premises supporting it; but the user would be limited by the subscription from a service provider they opt in for. We were now clear on what we wanted to pursue, using our expertise to make a difference. 

I believe I am in the right place at the right time with the right kind of people. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about this career decision from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

I would consider myself blessed to be surrounded by people who have always supported me in my endeavours. It surprises me sometimes yet gives a feeling of gratitude to have such an arrangement around. Almost everyone I reach out to for help, guidance or connections, they do the best they can. 

I make conscious efforts to ensure I pass on what I receive in a similar fashion.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

With the kind of work I do, I land up travelling a lot. I currently drive to most destinations because of the pandemic which adds to the carbon footprint. Within the organisation, we often talk about ways to offset the carbon footprint we incur. We are tirelessly working towards deploying our solution at the earliest as it would enable faster adoption of EVs which in turn will offset quite a bit of carbon coming from vehicles on the road.

While this is a part of our primary objective of the organisation, as a personal commitment towards sustainability, I turned vegan back in 2019 and started to ride to most destinations within the city on a bicycle. We also try to limit Air/Long Road travel, use less paper, re-use most resources and reduce electronic waste by donating what is not in use or use electronics for a longer duration than intended. Soon we’ll work on policies where we will incentivise colleagues who eat locally (as that reduces the need to import products from distant locations), share rides to work and replace their ICE vehicles with EVs. While most of these are plans for the future, we intend to take them up gradually to ensure there is less resistance and we are able to sustain proposed changes in our lifestyle. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

It is a harsh reality but most people today wish to switch to an EV for the financial incentives and not the environmental benefits. Environmental reasons and climate change often get side-lined.

I often hear a conversation about “Climate change being real” when people realise that summers are getting hotter or winters are colder or when we experience natural calamities. We need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to prevent this? 

Something as basic as waste segregation is not widely adopted in most places in India. It’s surprising to see that most developed nations in the MENA region also do not enforce segregation of waste in households. It’s of prime importance that we understand this and self-regulate our lifestyle or the Government will have to step in, incentivise or enforce people to change to be more sustainable in their lifestyle. 

Just running ads or campaigns for awareness are not going to be enough. Stricter regulations have to be put in place and environmentalists have to be taken more seriously before it’s too late. 

What have been your greatest successes and learnings?

I personally don’t think I have experienced success as yet. My contributions have been minimal and I would consider them negligible. The vision is to make an impact which reflects in the life of millions for a long period of time. Whilst I am not someone who runs a company which is valued at over a Billion USD, it is difficult to convince people and make them align with the vision. 

There is also a subtle difference between being persistent and being clingy. As an entrepreneur, it’s necessary to know the difference and to know who to have around you for the journey. Unless the person travelling with you matches your vision, they will only end up being a hindrance. 

There are 3 main things I have learnt on this journey and remind myself of these.

You are going to hear a lot of “NO”. You will meet a lot of people who will disregard your idea, do not let them de-motivate you. Self-motivation is one of the most expensive resources and it’s scarce. Use it wisely so you don’t run out of it.

Assuming you do find a person, they may not always be able to align to your vision, learn to let go of people and focus on those who do. If you do not have a person who aligns with your vision, don’t stop searching for them. If you are on the lookout for such a person for a long time, it’s probably the vision that needs to be adjusted. 

It is important to be persistent, but one must know where to stop. Sticking to something that may never work is putting yourself at massive risk. It is okay to fail at something and apply the learnings from that onto the next one. Knowing where and when to pull the plug is an art not many can master. 

What are the biggest challenges being faced in the EV industry? Has any one country got it ‘right’ so far?

The EV industry is MASSIVE. The challenges that lie ahead are bigger than one person, one company or one country. The problems will continue to remain as long as there is range anxiety, lack of charging infrastructure and long periods of time taken to charge the EV batteries.

Norway and China are leading the EV adoption race and other countries need to learn from the, but even in these countries, the charging infrastructure is defined by the companies that manufacture the vehicle. 

Imagine if brands like Mercedes or Volkswagen had to step in to sell fuel because no one else will do so. The vehicle manufacturers are currently charging service providers because they are forced to do so. They have invested massive amounts of money in developing these vehicles and it is in everyone’s best interest to get them on the road as soon as possible. 

If experts from the charging domain step in to fill in the gap, vehicle manufacturers can focus on the battery technology and develop better vehicles rather than focusing on providing charging services.

It needs to be a joint effort between domain experts from the charging infrastructure and vehicle manufacturers to enable faster adoption of EVs.

What career advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Why is it important for them and their future? 

My advice to the younger generation would be to look around and analyse the situation for themselves. Refer to historical data and look at how things have changed over the years and try finding the reasons for those changes. 

They will soon come to realise that it’s us who are responsible for these changes and unless we do something right away to fix these issues, shortly there would be no room left for us to be able to step in and fix them. 

These shortcomings are not too far ahead in the future. Today when you read about the technical advancements, you would often read about companies trying to colonise Mars or space travel and alternative places on Earth for the existence of the human race. 

Looking at billions of $ being poured into making it happen must ring loud alarm bells within us so we wake up to reality and realise that we are already late. We either start to fix the problem right away or fixate over it for the reason of not doing so for the rest of our lives. This choice needs to be made by our youth.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

I have had far too many ups and downs in my life. I have experienced a steep raise and fallen too quickly. These ups and downs made me value quite a few things that I took for granted. 

A few instances during the initial phase of my career made me realise how important it was to be financially secure. I started to pursue projects in the realty sector as they paid well. Every project I would take up would be of decent value and if something came across that did not pay well, I would not take it up. 

Shortly after I was left with no work and with depleting finances it would become increasingly difficult to live below means after experiencing a lavish lifestyle. The reality of life hits you hard when you are down and the first thing that goes out the window is faith. 

I consider myself extremely blessed to be surrounded by people who truly care for me and stand by me in every situation. Some helped me reinstate my faith while others helped me find work and some helped in stabilising the situation so I could focus on work.  

It’s often said that only a few get a second chance. I can, with gratitude say that I have received quite a few ‘second chances’ and this keeps me grounded.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I may sound like a hypocrite when I say this as my previous answer reveals how I reacted, but I now believe faith is the driving force behind everything. Be it faith in The Almighty or the faith in yourself to do something. 

Be rest assured neither the good nor the bad is going to last for too long. Life will be a roller coaster, it will flip you upside down over and over again. I can scream but it’s my choice whether this is because I am scared or because it excites me.

Company Website: www.chargeinc.in

Akshay’s Linkedin Profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/amukesh/

ChargeInc on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/chargeincindia

ChargeInc on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charge.inc/

Spotlight Series: Q&A with ESG Research Analyst, Visvesh Sridharan

We caught up with Visvesh, Chemical Engineer turned Environmental Social Governance (ESG) Research Analyst, working in impact investing with Sustainalytics

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am an engineer turned sustainability professional currently working as an ESG (Sustainable Investing) analyst for Sustainalytics in Frankfurt. I grew up in Chennai, a large metropolitan city in south India and completed my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering before moving to the US to do my masters in environmental sustainability.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

It has been a combination of different experiences and moments. I have always enjoyed spending time outdoors in nature and this was probably my starting point towards getting into sustainability. Growing up in India, I was able to witness first-hand the environmental costs and repercussions of human development. My degree in chemical engineering also helped me realise the amount of pollution that comes with industrial growth. Eventually, it was about finding an avenue to make an impact and for me that was sustainable finance.

Can you tell me about your career so far and work with Sustainalytics? What inspired you to take this role on despite studying Engineering?

My role with Sustainalytics is to analyse and rate publicly listed companies based on their sustainability performance. It involves engaging with companies to understand how they consider environmental and social metrics and integrate it into their business models. The other part involves helping the investment management community make better long-term investment decisions by providing them with relevant non-financial data that can have financial impacts on the companies that they invest in. 

I got inspired by the fact that my research and analysis can have an impact on how money is being used by investors.

The idea behind sustainable investing of how you can use money as a force for good attracted me to this field. By convincing investors that climate change and other non-financial factors can affect their returns, you are indirectly influencing corporations to act responsibly and ethically.

This top-down approach to implementing sustainability coupled with the fact that you are influencing those who have large capital to manage got me hooked to this industry. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

I strongly believe that the only constant is change and one should learn to embrace it. Life is unpredictable and to never take anything or anyone for granted. Kindness and empathy can go a long way in understanding and convincing people. My biggest success for now is being able to work in a field that I enjoy and being able to help those who are looking to get into this space. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to work in sustainability? Has it been challenging?

Sustainability was a new and upcoming field and there were concerns from family members as to what kind of career I could have in this space. I also had friends jokingly tease me about my intentions to save the planet. But I am thankful to my parents for giving me the freedom to do what I liked and believing in my vision.

It was challenging to find jobs in sustainable finance as I had no prior experience in finance apart from some academic coursework. Although my graduate degree was focused in Sustainability and Impact investing, preference was still given to those with a finance background. However, nowadays I see that trend changing with consideration given to those who have knowledge or expertise in sustainability as well.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I think living in Europe makes it a lot easier to be more sustainable. Recycling is followed quite diligently. Public transportation is pretty good and locally I travel by cycle to work. Some of the long-distance trains here are powered by renewable electricity. Most of the grocery items in Germany are sustainably sourced and have certification labels that meet minimum environmental and quality standards. From a personal standpoint, I like living a lifestyle that is minimalistic and free from too many material possessions. I have also been trying to invest my savings in sustainable funds and companies. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think people in South Asian communities are well aware of the climate crisis, partly because of the several extreme weather events that have affected daily life in those regions. Some of the South Asian countries are still growing at a rapid pace and the key focus should be about sustainable development and adopting a long-term approach. Aligning growth, based on the sustainable development goals and implementing policies aimed at climate change adaptation should be the norm.

I still believe that tackling some of the fundamental issues facing humanity such as poverty, water scarcity and women empowerment will significantly help in solving the climate crisis.

Being carbon conscious on a practical day-to-day basis can be quite costly (e.g. vegan/organic food supplies, general supplies/toiletries, electric cars etc). How can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

I think there are different ways to be carbon conscious depending on a person’s lifestyle and way of life. Some of the cost-effective ways to be sustainable include minimizing food waste, recycling and composting based on local disposal guidelines, and purchasing products that are designed to last long.

If your local city has a good public transport network, try to use them as much as possible to commute. Changing one’s diet to reduce carbon footprint can be hard and it’s a personal choice. However, one can take efforts to buy free range meat or farm meat instead of factory grown processed meat.

There is this misconception that practicing a sustainable lifestyle is expensive, but it’s the simple things like minimizing water consumption, walking or biking to nearby places and reducing impulsive buying that also largely makeup sustainable living.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Future generations will be facing the implications of climate change in ways the older generations never had.

However, history has shown us that when humanity is slowly pushed to the brink, it comes up with some of the most innovative and uplifting solutions to not just survive but thrive.

Climate change and sustainability is the biggest challenge of the 21st century and I am hopeful of our ability to tackle this issue. I encourage the younger generations to be aware of the big picture and try to understand how every little action contributes to something large. To try to cultivate long-term thinking and not for short-term gains. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

It is a small incident during my mom’s college years. She was preparing for an important exam during which her father had a life-threatening road accident and an emergency operation was required. As she was in medical school, the surgeon performing the operation requested her to participate in the operation procedure and was scheduled to take place a day before the exam. The surgery was successful, and my mother also ended up clearing the exam. I was just amazed and inspired at the level of composure, mental strength and determination to get through that phase.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I generally like to meet new people and listen to their stories and experiences. My communication channels are always open, and I will be glad to help those who are trying to understand ESG and sustainable finance.

Connect with Visvesh on LinkedIn

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Sustainability Campaigner Nina Jatana

We caught up with Sustainability Campaigner and Corporate Social Responsibility expert, Nina about her global experience in community development and implementing SDGs in the not-for-profit sector

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am British-Indian and both my parents are from and were born in Punjab. I have a BA (Hons) in Economics from Manchester Metropolitan University and an MA in International Relations Theory from Warwick University. Professionally speaking this is more difficult to explain! I have a cross-section of experience but, I suppose you could say I am an experienced policy and campaigns generalist in the not-for-profit sector, working my way up to manager roles. The subject areas of which I have experience include community development, CSR and sustainable development issues including the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

When I was studying my MA there was one module called International Business and it explored the role of business as a global citizen. At the time the premise of CSR (corporate social responsibility) focused on the roles of big businesses operating in foreign countries so the likes of Shell, BP, Nike. Their supply chains and the impact they had on local communities was only really articulated by the likes of Transparency International and Greenpeace – hardline campaigns which acted to raise public awareness of issues very rarely addressed by big business or in the media.

This led to me writing my dissertation on the role of the media and CSR and whether or not the media is a hindrance or support for good. After I completed my MA I looked for intern roles in London for organisations ‘that were doing that sort of thing!’ My first sustainability/ CSR role was as an intern for AccountAbility. 

Can you tell me about your career in CSR/ Environmental consultancy and policy and how you got into? 

It started from my role as an intern at AccountAbility (3 months long). Once that role finished I had to find a paid role to stay in London and managed to get myself a policy officer role for a consumer watchdog called Postwatch (part civil service but no longer exists). This was a stop-gap. It enabled me to stay in London and gave me much needed work experience, but the issue itself wasn’t of massive interest to me.

Whilst there I went on a one month course about international development issues from the perspective of a developing country; 20-25 graduates and non-graduates met in Mysore, India for a 4 week course led by fantastic development experts from India. I came back fired-up wanting to change the world. My line manager at the time told me she didn’t want to see me at Postwatch when she came back from maternity leave. Within 3 months of being back, I got myself a role as a researcher at New Economics Foundation and the rest is history really… I moved onto other roles for a variety of reasons (redundancies, leaving the UK, coming back to the UK etc.)

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

On a personal level, building up a cross-section of experience that has enabled me to move into different types of organisations at home and abroad. I used to think this was a disadvantage – not being specialised in one particular area but recently found it isn’t! On a professional level delivering and running the leadership programme in Mysore, India (I went back there in 2012) for the Global Institute for Tomorrow’s executive education programme. Taking 25 middle managers and executives from across Asia to India and organising a 2 week programme of lectures and field trips. To be able to reignite the networks and friendships I developed all the way back in 2005 was very rewarding as well as useful to other roles – a key learning.

Another key learning is that the range of commitment and understanding of sustainability is vast and it’s really important not to feel intimidated by those around you who appear to be fully ‘woke’. Being interested in sustainability isn’t a competition. If you don’t want to give up meat, it’s okay!

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take a niche/ unfamiliar career path? Has it been challenging or isolating over the years not having your peers fully understand your job?

I wouldn’t say backlash at all, just more indifference and a look of concern mixed with confusion. As I write this it does make me laugh. The lack of apparent interest in my work did annoy me when I was younger, you do feel a bit left out.

My parents had such low expectations that completing my MA was more than enough for them and living in London without needing their help was also quite satisfying. If anything it was the fact I lived away from home which probably concerned more them than anything else. I suppose I was also lucky in that we were very much a nuclear family – unusually the majority of both my parent’s families all stayed in India, so there was far less pressure surrounding myself and my brother. 

Yes, I would also agree that not being able to explain what I do, or present a really clear job title was and is sometimes still annoying. Once I moved into campaigning roles that was all a bit clearer!

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

Hmmm… Not massively. I don’t like to waste food and use my own shopping bags.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think it’s definitely a lack of understanding and dare I say a lack of priority for them (when I say them I am thinking of the older generation to some degree). No matter what, South Asians will fly home to see their families and visit for weddings etc. I would counter, that for specific communities in Asia there is more awareness. My family are traditionally farmers so they see the direct impact of climate change. Climate refugees in Bangladesh are on the rise each year. For those in developed countries their attitudes are somewhat removed and the issue is not so relevant.

Blockers – the mediums which they communicate and live within maybe don’t talk enough about climate issues. Zee TV and all those other channels just don’t emphasise the role individuals can play and how they impact. Businesses, and suppliers advertising on such channels should also perhaps make more on environmental credentials – consumers see these brands as an extension of their lifestyles. 

For the younger generation, I’m not so sure the stigma is there. I actually think they often seem slightly envious that someone has chosen their own career path, rather than following the path set out for them/ be approved of by their families. 

Another point – I think the way many South Asians consume food and understand its value is hugely impressive and positive. I think this should be celebrated – fresh, seasonal, cheap food is the staple for many families (lack of meat for many communities) and something other communities can only aspire towards. This is one way they can understand how they are already helping. Daily household chores are also quite carbon conscious without people even realising. The families I grew up with used their own shopping bags and recycled ones well before the trend was to do so!

I think if you break it down, South Asians are actually already doing a lot just by living their natural, cultural lifestyles.

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

Firstly, people need to know what being carbon-conscious means. It always resonates more when you can say it saves you money etc. People need to be encouraged to do what they can manage, taking small steps and feel satisfied and accomplished in whatever they can do. In time, they will then learn what else they can do. I don’t think it’s costly in terms of money. It is costly in terms of research, understanding and then implementing it in your own lives. I think being sustainable is accessible to everyone – within their own parameters of how they can live. 

You touched on representation and generally only finding South Asians (majority women) working in D&I, but rarely ever in the environmental/ sustainability sector. Why do you think this is? Why is it important for there to be more representation in this sector?

I think it’s about some of the things I have mentioned above. A lack of peer networks going into similar careers but also I think a lot of it is down to understanding the types and breadth of careers you could have. It’s much easier to envision a career path as a doctor, optician, accountant etc.

It is really important to have representation in the sector to develop practices and research that can be applied across social and ethnic boundaries to affect change at a faster pace.

If you don’t have BAME representation you are perhaps less likely to get BAME engagement across the board through communities, business and families. 

You’ve worked in policy and community regeneration, across corporations and even in Hong Kong – what has been the most rewarding for you? 

That’s a tricky one! The community regeneration work was perhaps most rewarding because I engaged with beneficiaries more directly, whereas a lot of corporate work is directed to the goals of the company, no matter how ethical those are – it is hard to measure the ‘good’ you have done.

However, working with corporates is rewarding when, as I have, have those ‘penny drop’ moments when a senior executive sees a business issue through the lens of CSR and social justice issues. What’s more rewarding is seeing companies who have those moments make actual change.

Change is much easier and faster to achieve in a corporation than lobbying for local or national policy changes… If only more corporates realised this!

Having worked in such diverse organisations, can you confirm the industry is just as economically viable and stable as those of your peers?

Absolutely, if anything I would say it’s probably the safer long term industry than many others given COVID and the increasingly alarming impacts of climate change.

The insecurity of the industry lies in the roles that are in-house corporate ones. These roles are solely dependent on the success of the business however, business may well start to prioritise these roles more given the demand from consumers and employees to demonstrate ethical, environmental values. However, the industry operates in thousands of not-for-profit orgs as well as in local and national government agencies. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

I would say go for it if that’s your interest, passion or looking to be the next environmental entrepreneur. No business in the future can operate without understating diversity, environment and well-being. This is where CSR I believe is headed.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

One of the executive education programmes I was part of for a company I worked for in Hong Kong took place in Balikpapan, Indonesia. This is one of the last resource frontiers in Asia with virgin forests being chopped down at a pace for their timber and agricultural land. It was an experience of a lifetime. It was a programme for 25 executives and middle managers from one company – a family owned Singaporean shipping company.

The CEO was relatively enlightened for a man of his background and age. He wanted a select number of employees per year to get a better sense of globalisation and open their eyes beyond their conventional business education. The trip was to the family-run new arm of the business – a palm oil plantation in what was once a virgin Indonesian jungle.

It was heartbreaking seeing hectares upon hectares of plantations all owned by different companies, the scale was breathtaking. It made me realise how much work needed to be done (or impossible to do) to accept that resource exploitation won’t end anytime soon.

The role of some of Asia’s biggest paper and oil manufacturers are on a whole other level. On the one-hand it made me think CSR is perhaps a futile exercise, on the other it made me realise how amazing it is when smaller companies can demonstrate the provenance of their products, at every point in the supply chain versus those who require a global supply chain where transparency will always be compromised.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think I have said enough! Although I have sometimes felt despair at doing something that can feel like you are hitting your head against a brick wall, whilst also having to contend with the fact that you mates and your family don’t even know what you do! It is an industry which is finally having its day of reckoning. If it wasn’t for CSR we wouldn’t have seen Sainsbury’s taking the plunge (although that is a ridiculous way to describe it) to have a Christmas advert featuring an all black acting cast; we wouldn’t have a modern slavery act, a constant push to close the gender pay gap and a recognition of workplace well-being.

CSR has come a long way from the days of greenwashing; although it is still out there, social media and activists in particular are constantly keeping companies on their toes in their responsibilities towards consumers, employees and shareholders and this is perhaps the best we can hope for! 

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