Alumna of the month
After graduation Gauri Gopal Agrawal (MSc Finance and Economics 2008-09) quickly decided that the corporate world wasn't for her. Since then she has gone on to create the Skilled Samaritan Foundation, a social enterprise which is making a real difference in India.
How did you go from Warwick to the Skilled Samaritan Foundation?
In 2008, I was finishing my Masters in Finance and Economics and had three months to complete my dissertation. A strong need to deviate from the norm got me thinking about travelling to a country I had never been to before and exploring my education in a completely new context. My research on the Success of Microcredit Provision led me to an internship with SKIP – Supporting Kids in Peru, small NGO in Trujillo, Peru.
I’m from India, so I had plenty of reason to find an equally compelling town or village back home. It would have been cheaper, my family’s collective blood pressure wouldn’t have gone up in worry, and I would have had more than adequate research material for my dissertation. But moving out of my own comfort zone and finding similarities in unfamiliar territories is what started to inspire me. How many opportunities would I have to fly out to a completely new space and observe life, compare statistics, and learn how unique new communities could be?
In Trujillo, I worked with single moms living in slums to spread awareness of micro-credit and help secure micro-loans. Initially my dream was to do something similar in India but I joined the investment bank instead, as I was unable to justify a job in the development sector, after having forked out a truckload of money on an expensive foreign degree.
Coming back to India, I knew I wanted to keep the rush of what I had done alive. My internship in Peru gave me an edge during my job hunt where I eventually worked with Deutsche Bank for two years . Questions were raised before I decided to distance myself from the corporate world and move on to a more disciplinary field, the answers were not simple but possibly a representation of the person I am. I ran of the confidence and insight Peru had given to me, and I followed my gut once again. The Skilled Samaritan was born, and from conception to launch, my passion for its intent has never wavered.
What do you do at the Foundation?
The Skilled Samaritan is a young social enterprise, registered as a Section 25 company under the companies Act of 1956. We aim to provide collaborative and sustainable development at Sirohi, a village 40 kilometers from Delhi, in the Faridabad Mandal of Haryana in India. Our model focuses on enhancing local capacity to address issues in primary education, women empowerment, social and renewable technology.
Skilled Samaritan within a year of incorporation has notched up mini-successes, where our biggest win has been the Rural Solar Electrification Project: a collaborative initiative between Engineers Without Borders (India), Bechtel Corporation, Students at National Training and Power Institute. The project has been conducted in three phases over a period of six months. In the October of 2013, we completed the project where 366 houses at village Sirohi have access to reliable solar power.
In addition, we use low cost solutions to create a high impact, so If you think you can help build low cost solar lanterns , construct a bamboo cycle , a low emission cook stove and or help with other innovative ways to sustain the lives of these villagers, we offer internships and volunteers programs that will surely tickle your fancy.
As part of Skilled Samaritan’s Reaching Out Program, we use the arcadian beauty of our project site to organize off-beat excursions to our project site, a village 40 kms from Delhi. This is an initiative where we hope to introduce time-offs to the frenzied lifestyle of a 9-5 urbane regime - for city hustlers to getaway from the city for a day and be part of the simple yet beautiful village life of Sirohi.
You studied Finance and Economics at Warwick, how does this help you in role?
My Master's in Finance and Economics helped immensely, as the professors encourage us to be our own boss. The coursework has been a bedrock in creating a sustainable financial model for the Rural Electrification Project, while the international exposure added intellectual credibility opening doors to creating networks that would have otherwise remained closed. Our Masters class offered a huge diversity in backgrounds and experience, which encouraged me to examine my own perspective and helped develop critical thinking and leadership skills.
What have you done that you are most proud of?
Lighting up 366 houses in less than a year of incorporation without any prior experience in the development sector has definitely been a big milestone for me and makes me immensely proud.
What drives you?
On a nippy November evening in 2013, two months after the installation of the Solar Systems at our first project site, Sirohi, I got a call from an unknown number and it was an old lady who asked for me saying that there was no light in the area but Sirohi was the only village lit up because of the lights we had provided. She happens to be one of the oldest women at Sirohi and had walked to our local resource person's house to get my number and pass on her message. Stories like these and the respect, love and warmth I get when I enter Sirohi drives me to make a larger difference.
What single thing would most improve the quality of your life?
The unwavering love of the people I care for the most
What was your favorite aspect of the finance course at Warwick?
My favourite aspect of our coursework was definitely the group discussions and the interactions with our classmates. It made the “intensity” of our coursework a lot more interesting and easygoing.
What would you tell someone thinking of studying at Warwick?
Well that they should stop thinking and do it. Warwick gives you an all rounded experience of learning from top-notch professors, to meeting peers from diverse backgrounds and ofcourse the first in its class on campus facilities that most schools lack.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently during your time as a student?
I wish I had travelled a lot more and maybe even interned in the UK for a while before rushing back to India to secure a “job”.
How do you balance work and life?
I love travelling and ensure to take a vacation even if it’s to the next town in India every couple of months.
If you could choose another profession, what would it be?
A war journalist or a famous travel blogger
Where do you hope to be in 10 years’ time?
That’s a very tricky question since I do not have a definite answer to what next month will be like but yes in 10 years I hope to be content and happy.
What three objects would you take with you to a desert island?
My phone, a Swiss knife and a box of dark chocolates
What are your favourite memories of your years at Warwick?
This question did just bring back a barrage of memories – they’re just so many. My favourite ones include the orientation week where I made some of the best friends, Varsity, The Dirty Duck, late hours in the library working on presentations, my room at Lakeside, One World Week – I think I’m ready to go back again!
Do you have any advice for new graduates?
Make the most of the facilities and your time at Warwick, interact with your classmates and professors and make tons of friends!! You have no idea how much you’re going to miss it even years after you graduate.
Gauri Gopal Agrawal: the facts
|Lives: New Delhi, India|
|Education: Master’s in Finance and Economics, Warwick Business School
|Career: Social entrepreneur|
|Interests: Travelling, foodie|