There are times when we are so intrigued about something that our thirst for more knowledge is neverending. We can either beat the books in the library or we can get right into the source, understand its application, and gets our hand dirty. The latter was the more knowledgable route that today's feature, Aman Killa, took. He developed a strong interest in finance during his undergrad. He felt so consumed by the concepts that the library was not enough. He joined an NGO called Bandhan to understand what happens in the grassroots. His courage to pursue his interest and his open to learning attitude scored him as a place in InsideIIM's Best 50 - India's Most Employable Graduates of The Class of 2018-20. Read to find out his story!
The following is Aman Killa’s set of responses to a questionnaire floated amongst MBA graduates to determine the top-50 most employable MBA graduates of the Class of 2020. Amongst the massive number of entries and responses being evaluated by the Founder of InsideIIM-Kampus Konversations, Killa’s story and profile stood out. Here's his own story in his own words.
"I am Aman and my life, at 23, is a tale of 2 cities – Calcutta where I was born which gave me a sense of composure and patience and Delhi where I did my undergrad from which gave me everything else. Academically, I have completed my B.COM (H) from SRCC, DU in 2018 and MBA from IIM-A in 2020. Beyond that, at the core, I am a storyteller. I love seeing stories in people and events and talking about them. That is probably why I’ll soon be joining P&G as an Asst Brand Mgr. very soon. I am one of the most ardent cricket lovers around and my idol MS Dhoni is the personification of everything I want to become."
Name an instance where you wanted something and went out of your comfort zone to achieve it OR Tell us the biggest risk you have taken so far in your life.
"During the second year of my undergraduate study at SRCC, I was given an opportunity to intern at Bandhan Konnagar, an NGO supported by then recently formed Bandhan Bank. Since I had a keen interest in microfinance, the opportunity was a god-sent for me. However, sitting in the air-conditioned SRCC Library and reading papers on microfinance and interning on the ground were two very different things. I learnt that the hard way. The first bombshell was dropped when I learnt that I had to stay for a couple of weeks in a village 4 hours from Kolkata. As a 19-year-old who had stayed in a metropolitan all his life, there were certain amenities I took for granted. However, a few hours into the branch office, I could feel their absence and live in those conditions made me appreciate my privilege of urban life a lot more. The challenging work conditions came with challenging work too. The NGO worked on financial literacy and inclusion, the not-so-sexy parts of Microfinance. The challenge with financial literacy in rural areas is that there is a general lack of literacy and education about things. The people are deeply entrenched in primitive thoughts and traditions which include absolute financial profligacy on events like marriage and religious ceremonies. Finally, patriarchal thought systems in the region make it acceptable for men to splurge the minimal savings of the household on alcohol, smoking and gambling. The context shows the challenge it was to provide quality financial literacy to the people. The nuance and the tact with which our team would go about both providing the education and balancing social discourse around the program to avoid any backlash was commendable. Since I was part of the team right away, I found this aspect of the work extremely challenging. Finally, every day of the internship, I was challenging one strong thought that a lot of the people in my team shared. One part of my internship was to improve the operational efficiency of the program. In order to work on that, I used some basic excel modelling and simple analysis of the program data. However, every time, I took out my laptop, my team members would say that your theoretical concepts do not apply here in the field. However, I have long felt that the two can easily be combined to form a strong synergy. I used my analysis at the end of the program to show exactly that. It was difficult to get over their apprehensions initially. However, when they understood the rationale behind what I was saying, they become more open-minded to my recommendations and three of them were implemented and scaled up across the country. Identifying common ground between the so-called theory and practice was my biggest challenge and my most fulfilling aspect of the internship. The internship was the one experience where I have been pushed out of my comfort zone, physically, intellectually and ideologically and coming out of that experience successfully, was one of my biggest achievements."
When was the last time someone relied on you? OR What did you do which was purely for someone else - a truly selfless act.
"Since I have spoken extensively about my professional life in the other answers, I would like to answer this question with a more personal answer.
The culture at IIM-Ahmedabad is one where the spirit of brotherhood and assistance to juniors from the seniors is held in the highest regard, especially in the dorms. Personally, I have been a massive beneficiary of this during my PGP1 tenure when my Dorm seniors were both a source of guidance and inspiration. I would like to share a similar experience I had with my Dorm juniors. I saw the tremendous sense of responsibility when one of the juniors came to me and handed me his laptop to decide the preference order for his scheduling for the internship interviews. While I was trying to rationalize my choices and ask for his opinions, the amount of trust he showed on me was exemplified that he went with the exact order I had put in. Fortunately, for him and for me, he converted his best shortlist (HUL) and got his dream internship.
The trust only grew over the year and he took my advice with club applications, subject choices, and even in certain personal matters which I might not be able to disclose here. The essence being, I became a sort of confidante for him in the manner in which a couple of my dorm seniors had been for me. Till date, I am the first person to hear about his internship problems and his ideas of how to get around them. Both during my undergraduate time at SRCC and at IIIM-A, I have had strong relationships with my seniors cum mentors. With my junior, I felt the same level of trust and responsibility. This might not be an incident unique to me. However, the profound nature of the impact it has had on me and I feel it has on most students is why I wanted to mention it as an ongoing instance of people relying on me. It is a tradition I am proud of carrying and I hope my juniors and those who come in the latter years pass the baton forward with equal enthusiasm."
Tell us about a time when you disagreed with an opinion/idea/decision. What did you do about it?
"One of the earliest occasions, when I faced opposition to a decision, was at SRCC when I was managing the conduct of the SRCC Youth Conference as its Organizing Head. The Conference was a 2-day event with around 14-15 speaker sessions from influential leaders of politics, business et al and performances by musicians and comedians. The opposition came when I suggested Prateek Kuhad to be our music performer. There was strong resistance to the choice from most of the team. However, since I was strong in my conviction for him, I pushed for it very hard. On doing so, I realized that some of the apprehensions had strong arguments against his choice. However, each of those arguments had strong counter-arguments supporting his choice. For example, the team felt that he was not famous enough for him to be invited to an event of such stature. While I agreed to the premise, I felt that we had enough crowd-pullers amongst our comedians and business leaders. Therefore, we could afford to have an artist more for his performance and less for his star appeal. Further, the money saved on this account could be invested in improving the logistics which had been a major concern in the previous editions. Similarly, there were other small arguments which to I had countered. The important takeaway for me though was the fact that in a scenario where it was me against the 7 other team members, convincing them together, was a stretch. Therefore, I did not discuss the same at that very moment. I took my time, spoke to them in smaller groups and showed them my perspective to make them more receptive to the idea. Further, I realized that the opposition also came from the fact that no one in the team had seen him perform live. I was certain that if I could get them to a Kuhad concert or show, they would change their minds. That is exactly what happened. Luckily, I managed to secure tickets to an event where Kuhad was a surprise guest who performed 7-8 tracks. The team had a great time and was convinced that we wanted our audience to experience the same. Thus, I managed to turn a conflicting decision in my favour, or rather, in the team’s favour as Kuhad came to our event and his session was rated as one of the best sessions not just of the event but for the 2016-17 academic year."
What is the one thing you can claim to have some level of expertise or depth of knowledge in - it could be anything - a subject, a sport, a hobby, a venture, an initiative which has led you to do deep work in that field?
There are two areas specifically, which I consider being my strong suits – both at very different ends of the spectrum. The first one, I have already mentioned in one of the answers, my knack for Microfinance. The other thing which I would talk about in this answer is my love for cricket. Fortunately, I have been born in a family which is known for their cricket-crazy nature and so the initial push was always there. What happened afterwards though, was a function of the sport and my personality. Inherently, I am a person who likes the stories and emotions behind people and things that they do. Cricket in the past few years has provided me exactly that. With all the insight in the cricketers’ lives even off the field, fans have had the opportunity of understanding the emotion behind the person and his sport a lot better. Hence, my love for this has only grown. After joining SRCC, I saw that love come to life. Fortunately, I was surrounded by flatmates who were as passionate about the sport as I. While none of us was the best at playing cricket, we loved watching the sport intently. We also shared a common idol – MS Dhoni. This enabled us to start our MSD Fan Club in DU. We started it off as a fun place where some of our friends who were big cricket and MS Dhoni fans would come together, share stories about cricket, play a little bit of gully cricket but mostly watch as many live matches together as we could. We were a very close-knit group with about 20 odd people. We became extremely good friends and fortunately or unfortunately, did not really endeavour to grow that group. However, within those 20, it was an extremely satisfying experience to share our love for a sport which had shaped our personalities to such an extent. As time passed, we organized IPL Auction type events amongst ourselves and had our own version of friendly bets we would place on matches. We even came together to create a few blog posts which we put out through my blog handle. The most memorable moment for us, however, was when we won a quiz conducted in a college fest and the award was an opportunity to meet MS Dhoni. While the opportunity was for only one person, he managed to secure an autograph on a picture of us wearing Dhoni’s jersey and that picture is still one of our most prized possessions. Unfortunately, once we finished college, our activities were restricted to conversations and sharing videos over social media. However, while the 20 of us rarely do any activities together, the MS Dhoni Fan Club remains one of the fondest memories of my college days and one of the experiences that brought me closer to the sport that I love so much.
If 10 Million Dollars (approximately INR 75 Crores) is given to you to use it any way you deem fit what would you do with this corpus?
As I am writing this answer on the 30th of April, our country and the world is facing an unprecedented crisis. Therefore, my answer will revolve around that. The Covid-19 saga has once again highlighted the lack of basic social security and welfare in our country. One of the most impactful statements that I have heard on the current discourse was by Prashant Kishore who said, “I don’t think COVID is going to change the electoral agenda. It was poverty and hunger earlier. And even today, the issues are still the same. Yes, people realize that healthcare is inadequate. However, more people are suffering from hunger than anything else.” Therefore, I would like to use the money in addressing this gap. The current situation has also shown the inadequacy of the State to provide this security. Therefore, I am a strong proponent of localised private solutions to plug this gap. One of the NGOs doing commendable in this space, for slum-dwellers in Noida and the corresponding NCR region is named Voice of Slum. I would like to provide this corpus to enable Voice of Slum to act as the vehicle for providing food security to slum-dwellers in the region. Using some calculations shown in this sheet, used for a donation drive in college, I can see that Rs 650 serves a family of 4 with ration for 20 days. I would imagine a 60-day ration quota would provide the dwellers with the sense of security that they would need to stay indoors and maintain the required social distancing norms. That would amount to roughly Rs 2,000. Roughly, that would cater to 3,50,000 families which I believe should be sufficient to cover the Noida region. While some percentage of the money would be required to administer such a campaign, my experience with Voice of Slum has shown that they can do this more than efficiently. Therefore, with a corpus of Rs 10 crore, we can not only provide food security and disease prevention to the slum-dwellers in a major city but also keep them at home preventing the disease from spreading and benefitting public health at large. It could act also as the anchor for further such campaigns in other cities. The impact goes way beyond the 3,50,000 families which is what could make this campaign extremely special and that is why I chose this as the use for this hypothetical corpus of Rs 10 crore.
Also, enjoy reading -