What is your job?
Chief Resilience Officer, Chennai, since July 2017. I lead The Chennai Resilience Office and the development of the city’s Resilience Strategy, which we launched in June 2019. Day-to-day, I facilitate collaboration between stakeholder groups, fundraise, and create the right conditions for implementing the Resilience Strategy’s key actions and projects. These aim to encourage the city to adopt a long-term view of disaster preparedness, for both shocks like earthquakes, fires and floods, and the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city, daily or cyclically. Currently, I am focused on two flagship projects: Urban Farming and Water as Leverage. Both aim to boost food and water security and urban heat mitigation and carbon sequestration, as well as livelihood generation among the urban poor.
How are you helping cool the planet through your work?
By improving the thermal performance of buildings through our Urban Farming Initiative. It uses Mobile Rooftop Vegetable Garden Kits (MVGK) in vulnerable/low-income settlements to increase access to nutritious produce. The lower-cost MVGK and its modular, variable, and portable aspects will help reduce the electricity needed for cooling and heating across a range of communities in India, which in turn cuts carbon at scale. There is enormous potential to scale and customize implementation of such kits based on the space available, local climate conditions, and local diets.
What most surprised you about your job?
How little information is shared across and within stakeholder groups in public or civic organizations. We forever reinvent the wheel. Unless we break this cycle and share information, people, expertise, funds, and relationships — and leverage these for the greater good — the large-scale, meaningful change we need won’t happen. A magic lantern or a dashboard that captures the work done by different organizations in a given area or subject is essential to help organizations build on the prior work of others. Be prepared to encounter silos and move forward with the determination to break them down.
What can we do to get more young people into public service?
Well-planned and -managed internship programs. Recruiting an intern should be given the same attention as hiring a senior partner. It is important to create an environment of trust and commitment and to build confidence by allowing the intern to become an important and integral member of the team. Hire for attitude and passion. The most useful interns we’ve had are those who say, “I need to work with you on this project. The money is a bonus.” A happy intern is the best ambassador to get more young people energized about joining public service. The opportunity to make a difference in water security and livelihoods for the urban poor, in my city, drew me to this work.