‘We ensured quality high education for 140 government school students’ – Kunal Agrawal – Best 50

Kunal Agrwal has been chosen as one of the top 30 most employable candidates across schools and programmes in India for the Class of 2015. He has one of the best 30 profiles among the 66 final round candidates who participated in the Best50 competition. The final 30 were chosen based on a combination of scores for the write-up below and the candidate’s resume.

What have you done at your business school which makes you stand out from the crowd?

In the movie Batman Begins, the character of Rachel Daws reminds Bruce Wayne, “But it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you”. In life it’s not just the inherent values but it’s our experiences and actions that shape who we become. It was on a dark rainy morning of September 2011 in Goa, when I stumbled upon an article by Ankit Doshi, one of the founders of insideIIM.com. It was a list of 50 things to be wary of while joining an IIM. But 2 of them left a lasting impact on me. #42 – Do as many activities as possible on campus. It may be the last chance before you get back into the real world. #43 – If you can avoid peer pressure on campus, you’re already on your way to becoming great.

Two years later, when I entered the portals of XLRI, these two points repeatedly reverberated inside my head. I decided to pull-out my nomination from the rat race and avoid the mad scramble for CV points. I wanted to use these two years to explore all that an MBA program had to offer and also to develop all those life skills which would help me stay afloat in the turbulent rapids of the real world.

I came to XLRI from the world of semi-conductors, with a degree in IT. The first competition I aced was an Operations and Supply Chain event. The second, a finance and investment banking event by Goldman Sachs. And the third, if you have guessed the pattern, a marketing competition by ITC. A summer internship with the popular General management brand –TAS, assured me that my prayers for diverse experiences were being taken seriously by someone up there.

As a member of Finax, the Finance club at XLRI, I had the experience of conducting a Finance Conclave in Mumbai which gave me an opportunity to interact with CEOs and Executives of major banks and financial institutions. I was selected as a member of Team Controls, which is responsible for scheduling and conducting the entire placement process. The 200 hours spent in training for the flawless execution of placements and the rigour of the actual placement process gave me some invaluable lessons on life and management. Participating in dramas, cricket tournaments, quizzing championships, marathons, blood donation drives, etc. made for a well-rounded experience at XLRI. An entire term spent in France, as part of the exchange program, gave me the chance to experience life in 14 capitals of various countries across Europe, sky-diving from a height of 4000 metres and scuba-diving into the blue waters of Mediterranean Sea. I could not have asked for a more life changing experience, which was only possible by being a part of XLRI.

We often undermine the role of failure in shaping our personality. It is only in our deepest moments of failure, that we truly realise our potential. I did not want the fear of failure to deter me. I tried to devise a b-plan for an idea, which was probably unbaked and hence failed, twice. I failed to clear the interview of that company which I prepared the hardest for. I barely scraped through in the strategy 101 course, despite trying the hardest I could. My attempts at case competitions have met with failure, with an impressive consistency. I have failed hard, I have failed often. But for me, the courage to continue after a failure is what counts.

Inspired by each success, hardened by each failure, I have lived each experience to its fullest.

 

What have you done in your life that you are the most proud of?

When I joined Nvida Graphics, I was keen on being a part of the Community Relations Team which was tasked with doing CSR related activities. After joining the team, I realised that the team had become almost non-functional in the last couple of years. In the years before that, Nvidia had adopted a Government school i.e it had partly funded the construction and also paid for the initial infrastructure. Since the project was dear to a lot of employees at Nvidia, regular monetary contribution from them was used to facilitate the services of an NGO which worked for the development of the school and served as a link between the school and Nvidia. The NGO provided additional mentoring to students and also adopted modern pedagogy to aid the lacklustre teaching of government schools. Also various other facilities like uniforms, meals, stationery were taken care of by the NGO. With passing years, the monetary contributions started dying down and had reached a situation where the NGO was about to quit citing lack of funds from Nvidia. That would have meant an end to all teaching innovations and would have snatched away learning opportunities for more than 140 students.

I believed that the situation could be prevented by acting quickly and decisively. I discussed the problem and convinced a few more new joinees to help me with this task. Before trying to solve the issue, it was important to understand what caused it in the first place. We talked to many employees and managers who were the most enthusiastic donors in the recent past to understand the reasons for drying up of funds. After few rounds of formal and informal interactions, I realised that the main issue was their apprehension about the effective use of funds. The employees believed that their contributions were not being used judiciously and understandably had stopped contributing to the cause. At this stage, continuing the well facilitated education for those kids started seeming like a distant dream.

But as a team of five youngsters, we decided to give it our best shot and tried painstakingly to change the situation. We visited the school a number of times. We worked hard on understanding what the ground reality was, how the NGO was benefitting the school kids, what was the quantitative improvement in their academic performances, and what were the areas of improvement that could be suggested for utilization of funds. We designed an evaluation system that could be used for measuring the effectiveness of the various teaching tools. We also researched about the other NGOs that were offering similar services. We benchmarked the costs and benefits offered by them to ensure that the students were getting the right facilities for the cost incurred. We brought along tons of pictures and videos of school kids learning and more importantly having fun while learning. We interviewed the school principal and couple of teachers and brought their testimonials too. Having collected all this data, we made a documentary, and gave a presentation to all the employees of the company showing them the wonderful work that their contribution was enabling and what all could be achieved if more people stepped forward to contribute.  The presentation was awarded with a thunderous applause and much more.

In the months following the presentation, there was 400% increase in the number of employees who registered for donating to the school. The total contribution went upwards of INR 3,00,000 and was well over the required sum for renewing of the contract with NGO. All the work put in was well rewarded when we could ensure the continuation of a superior quality of education for 140 students.

 

If there was one good aspect about your school that you could take back after you graduate –

XLRI has always striven to be a management school with a difference. One of the principles imbibed in the Jesuit spirit of “Magis” followed by XLRI, is to develop a sensitive social conscience and to have an abiding commitment to improving the quality of life in society. XLRI has relentlessly worked for the cause of downtrodden and the marginalized sections of the society. Through various missions and initiatives, both institute and student driven, it has tried to positively impact the lives of the various communities in Jharkhand. If there was one thing that I could take back with me, as an XLRI graduate, it would be this quality of making an impact on the lives of others, making an impact on the lives of many.

I have always tried to do my bit in contributing to the betterment of the weaker sections of the society. Even if the gesture was as small as donating a part of my first stipend to “Nanhi Kali”- an NGO for girl child education or by contributing to the Teach For India projects of my friends. But it is at XL, that I learnt how to be relentless and to persevere the cause with a single minded focus. I learnt how to tap the power of the community to make an impact of such magnitude that would be impossible for an individual to achieve. I learnt how “inclusive growth” could be more than just an overused term, by integrating the marginalized at the very centre of the value chain and helping them earn a respectable livelihood.

I read a quote recently which summed up this feeling very beautifully, it said – We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. If I can live my life with this spirit of giving and bringing a change, I would consider my two years at XL well spent.

 

If there was one thing that you could change about your business school, it would be –

Please see this video to know.

 

If you had to open a rival social network to Facebook, what would it be like?

question5_infographic_kunal

 

Meet the rest of India’s 30 Most Employable Management Graduates from the Class of 2015 here

 

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