Different Strokes: the Sustainability journey of a development sector professional

In this new series “Different Strokes”, we will be presenting a snapshot of the career journey of different sustainability professionals. Here’s a development sector professional- Bhavna Prasad, Director, Business and Industry Engagement, WWF India.

Development Sector Professional

Bhavna Prasad
Current Position: Director, Business and Industry Engagement, WWF India

What motivates me: Environmental issues and their impact on human wellbeing have always been a cause of concern for me.  While I did start my career in banking, I always felt I could make an impact if I dedicated my energies towards full time work in the sustainability sector, and started to make small shifts initially, and finally moved full time into the space a few years back.

Journey so far: I started my career in retail banking with American Express and then worked with Standard Chartered Bank in the Middle East.  However, throughout that time, I consistently took on volunteer roles with environmental organizations in India and the Middle East.  After working for a few years, I decided to change careers and get a formal degree in environmental policy – so I went on to pursue a Masters in Public Administration with a focus on Environmental Policy at the Columbia University.  While at Columbia, I interned with UNDP and ERM, an environmental consulting firm. After Columbia, I got an offer to work with JP Morgan Chase at their newly formed division for Environmental Affairs. My work ranged from environmental and social risk assessment, internal carbon footprint reduction, helping develop new ‘green’ financial products and services for the bank.  After spending a few years there, I was asked to help set up their carbon trading desk and became part of the investment bank, reviewing and trading carbon credits for the US market.  After spending a few years at JPMorgan and then a short stint at a boutique carbon consulting firm, I really felt the need to take on a more active role in issues dealing directly with sustainability, especially since I wanted to move back to India. I felt that I could make a great difference by working across businesses.  WWF-India seemed like a good opportunity to enable me to make that difference.

Current Role and Responsibilities: WWF has two key core areas of work, one directly linked to conservation of species and landscapes, the other is around what we call footprint programmes that address the key environmental drivers that can have an adverse impact on our conservation priorities. These could include unsustainable production and consumption of commodities, such as timber, pulp and paper, cotton, sugar, palm oil or unsustainable use of water in agriculture. As part of my role as Director – Business and Industry, I work on sustainability issues across these cross -cutting footprint programmes, ranging from Climate Change, Forestry, Agriculture/Commodities, Water, and Finance sector.

Is sustainability a viable career in India? Yes, definitely, there are a plethora of opportunities for people with the right kind of skills and expertise, which did not exist 10 years back. There are not only sustainability courses but also technical vocational courses available at good universities and management schools. A range of organizations from private to public sector, NGOs, multilaterals are starting to hire sustainability professionals, at the corporate or foundation level and also as experts within business lines. Today there is a much greater strategic focus among businesses on the sustainability aspects and this has led to emergence of senior corporate roles such as Chief Sustainability Officer.

Personal Experience: From my personal experience, the growth in this sector has been quite staggering in the past decade or so. There is far greater movement across sectors, with sustainability professionals moving from the private sector to the NGO sector and vice- versa. This allows greater understanding of issues across sectors and better alignment of outcomes, even if the approaches might be different. This trend is only going to increase further with more and more qualified professionals entering the workforce every year.

Advice for sustainability professionals: Think strategically and not incrementally, as environmental issues require transformational interventions. It is better to compromise on salary initially, if you have to, but don’t compromise on the work that you would like to do, as one will follow the other. Try and provide value addition on key issues, by addressing gaps, instead of duplicating environmental initiatives. As the environmental field matures and more professionals come into the job market, make sure that you have build up a good set of skills along with a strong academic background. A majority of the learning happens on-the- job, so make sure to get internships and diverse experience, before you decide on what you’d like to do.

Image(s) Courtesy:
Sean MacEntee