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A Journey Through Her Struggles And Achievements

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

(As she followed her dreams to rise to eminence)

Vineeta Hariharan leads several Government of India Missions and is a public policy expert of National eminence. She has excelled in the public sphere with a forte in policy formulation, dissemination, community building, public addresses, conflict management, and multi-varied stakeholders at the national and international levels.

​​Vineeta is a voracious public speaker and a thought leader in diverse issues of Nation Building. She is on the board of leading global institutes and a mentor to social foundations that work towards empowering women and the girl child. What makes her unique is her love for people and communities. Vineeta was recently given the Woman of Excellence Award from the Indian Achiever’s Forum for her outstanding contributions to the field despite all hurdles.

Led By is also guided by her mentorship as she serves us as our 'Advisor-in-Residence.' We interviewed her to understand her journey and the path towards where she is today, and her road ahead.

Q. Your first introduction to being a leader? What or who inspired you?

During my formative years in the Government engineering college in Kerala, I participated in debates, leading forums, organizing events, and taking up many leadership roles. After I started working in the development sector, I had opportunities to interact and address large gatherings of people. Whenever I used to go for field visits, I could sense ‘acceptance’ in people’s eyes. That was when I thought I’m a people person.

At a point in time, during my mid-career juncture, while playing out roles that needed close interaction with the city leaders from across the political spectrum to implement large infrastructure projects and blueprints for development, I somehow felt stifled with the pace of development then in 2005-06. That was when I thought I should leap from being a technocrat to being a person who takes decisions, from an implementer to a decision-maker to a leader.

That’s what they say, right? If you want something new, the whole universe conspires to bring it to you, and opportunities came my way to pursue my goals.

Q. When did you decide to pursue public policy as a career?

I always had the urge to go beyond the oft-trodden path. Hence, my academic options also were unique and ahead of its times, right from my Master in Urban Planning to my mid-career program in Public Administration and Policy from Singapore, always goaded by the philosophy to transit to macro frameworks. Although I knew compared to regular courses like an MBA, I would have had very chosen and few prospects in terms of career as it was ahead of its time in India, but still, I decided to do it because of the interest and the value it added to me. The training in both my Master’s degrees consolidated and solidified my skills.

Q. What are the skills needed to be in the realm of Public Policy?

One is communication. The second is love for people and communities. You need to feel strongly for the underserved communities. And the third is you need to be a nation builder. You need to invest in building communities and nations.

If one is very focused on building an inward-looking career and becoming a CEO, this is not the field; if you’re looking at the more expansive prospect of nation-building, this is the field for you.

Q. How was your experience studying abroad from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore?

At the very outset, I was inspired by their motto, ‘Be the change you want to see.’ But beyond that, I was driven to pursue a mid-career program such as this to explore how the globe and specifically Southeast Asia deal with development challenges. It was a game-changer because it gave me a paradigm shift in how policies are framed, how international relations work, how global policies are written, and various aspects of development, policy-making, and the art of leadership. It was a tremendous exposure because our cohort comprised 80 mid-career professionals, bureaucrats, technocrats, and elected representatives from across the world.

From defining a problem statement, understanding the root causes, and framing solutions to address the challenges across the spectrum, the school of public policy enabled me to gather holistic expertise in policymaking and leadership. The training method was innovative and rigorous through a combination of case studies, cohort learning, field visits, and readings.

It was post this mid career training that I got opportunities immediately on my return to work at the National level leading several multil lateral and bi lateral funded programmes with the senior most bureaucracy and policy makers of the country in framing National level policies and designing and implementing National programmes across the country. This has been given wide exposure to scale and I am able to impact millions of lives through my work.

Q. Could you tell us about your social enterprise? What sets it apart from others?

During the pandemic, while I introspected on my journey so far. I felt the need to consolidate my experience and expertise gathered and used it to benefit the larger community as National level program leadership and policymaking provided me vision and capabilities at scale at a National level. But I felt there was a gap in the last mile delivery of services, and that’s how I set up a social enterprise, ‘Sankassa Foundation.’ It is a policy laboratory with a 360-degree plan to understand community-level problems and then take up those issues with the stakeholders at the community, the state, and later at the national level and design policy and project interventions.

Q. What brings you joy in your work?

Interacting with people, understanding the issues they face, listening to their problems, and trying my best to resolve them, makes me feel involved, and if I can be of some use to people and give back to society, that gives me immense self actualization, gratification, and joy.

Q. What advice would you give to women who are struggling to kick off their careers?

It is very easy to get de-motivated when you feel that you're not going to make it and it's not going to work for you. But I think if you have a real passion for doing something, you will survive beyond any challenge. And like I said, the universe will find a way for you. That's how it panned out for me. But you need to focus, and you will see people coming forward to help you. And if your motives are clear and you are a well-intended person, things will work for you.

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