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Alumni Feature | Glad to have Made the Choice: Sharada Srinivasan on Taking the Public Policy Route

April 1, 2022

Shifting career paths at a crucial juncture is never an easy decision, especially when you’re an engineer in India. But Sharada Srinivasan (MPP 2016) did it with conviction against prejudices and pressure, only to land herself at the prestigious Office of the Infrastructure Chief Economist, World Bank. In this interview, she tells us more about her inspiring journey, her work, and her interests.

As an engineer, why did you decide to take up the MPP programme? What was your inspiration?

My personal experience with rigid social norms and engagement with parliamentary debating during undergraduate study encouraged me to pursue graduate education in public policy. Being raised by a single mother for most of my collegiate education while facing pressure to marry from within my deeply conservative community was a formative experience as a new adult. In college, parliamentary debating enabled newer avenues of learning, necessitated a strong grasp of topics relevant to public policy, and facilitated interactions with people from countries around the world.

I faced resistance in my pursuit of higher education, especially as I chose to pivot to a relatively new career path in India. I did not have the networks or the role models at the time, but I was keen to position myself to create meaningful, sustainable change. In hindsight, I am glad to have made that choice.

How did your time at NLSIU impact your life?

My experiences at NLSIU were meaningful for three reasons –  First, it created space to engage with diverse disciplinary perspectives, challenge my assumptions, and grow by engaging with those more experienced than I was. Second, learning by experience (fieldwork, internships, client-led projects) was valued as much as, if not more than, learning in a classroom. Third, working within a trimester schedule taught me to manage workloads with tight timelines without compromising on quality.

The campus was also unique. I have fond memories of  ‘double coffee, strong’ and ‘masala cheese Maggi’ orders at Chetta at midnight, terrace conversations at Narmada, project discussions on the library ramp, post-dinner debates, and several hours spent in the library. For two years, it was home!

What followed in your professional life after NLSIU?

I’ve had three turning points in my (not very long) career after NLSIU:

  • Attending the United Nations Internet Governance Forum at Joao Pessoa in November 2015. It is the conference where I met Professor Christopher Yoo, who is one of my strongest champions to this day.
  • Working in Vanuatu, while I was a Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Spending weeks in Vanuatu with Maewo residents was truly life-changing for, both as an academic, and as a person. Working on the telemedicine pilot was an experience in taking grassroots lessons to policymaking through rigorous research, and I am glad to have experienced that process.
  • Choosing to take the offer at the World Bank. To be honest, I knew very little about the organisation or the programme I was recruited into at the time. Choosing this career vis-à-vis an academic offer was a risk, and one I took with a lot of trepidation amid some difficult personal circumstances. I am lucky that I have had a wonderful time at the Bank since.

So what lies ahead in this journey?

I am keen to upskill and make a meaningful impact through evidence-based research and connecting it to policy action. Through my research, I want to address the global digital divide with academic rigour, drawing on my professional experience, analytical skills, and interdisciplinary training. Through my work in countries, I want to connect these lessons to ongoing projects and country engagements, helping create impact at scale.

What keeps you busy outside work?

I am currently volunteering to help resettle Afghans in the DMV, which has been a tremendously meaningful experience. I enjoy interior décor, and have been trusted to make over/refresh friends’ spaces with new design choices. Last year, I travelled to a national or state park every month after being fully vaccinated. Most recently, I have taken to obsessively solving the daily Wordle, a popular word guessing game.

Words of Advice: Three choices in my life that served me well so far, both through the MPP and through my policy career:

  1. I believe in a world of positive-sum games. Life is too difficult when treated as a series of cut-throat competitions, meant to be “won” in some way. Lifting people up works much more than putting people down.
  2. I choose to be in spaces of discomfort when it comes to learning. For me, this is growth, and a way of keeping complacency at bay.
  3. I surround myself with supportive people and healthy relationships as a priority – both personal and professional. It has helped me through some of my toughest times.