“Well, there are many ways”. He paused for a second and continued,” if there’s any time for entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs to step up then this is it. There are challenges of livelihood, there are challenges of logistics and there are challenges of health needs. You see, social entrepreneurship is a subset of entrepreneurship. Every social entrepreneur at the end of the day is an entrepreneur and vice versa. Even if someone is a hardcore profit-earning entrepreneur then at the end of our society has to accept his/her product or service. Honestly, I don’t see any difference between these two terms. Having said, this is a really great time to come forward or step up if you are passionate about entrepreneurship. There is a huge demand for innovations, out of the box solutions or ideas for creativity. No doubt this is a very crazy and uncertain time, and I do not think the generic ideas and solutions would help us to come out of this situation.
IT can play a major role and I think VSSUT students and its alumni can really pursue their dream of entrepreneurship. People often ask me, ’’How do I get funded? I have this great idea but I don’t have the resources to execute or a seed investor to support me.” So again, that is a skill I should learn. A skill to launch my ideas with limited resources. There are many govt. policies and many investors to support any credible idea. So, if there is anyone who has something as innovative or creative as I mentioned, they can reach out to me. I am more than willing to support such ideas. I play a very active role in the startup ecosystem, have invested in many start-ups and also, I am part of many start-up initiative programmes. I would like to invite the alumni to reach out as well and to help to shape these ideas.
No doubt this is a very crazy and uncertain time, and I do not think the generic ideas and solutions would help us to come out of this situation.
Well, technically I was in Oxford which is around two hours drive from London. Anyway, it has been a great and audacious journey. I have always believed in taking the path less travelled by and I have always done things which have fascinated me, without bothering about the consequences or looking back. Having said that, I do not intend to create an impression here that I was reckless or impulsive or maybe deliberately being risky, (laughs). Anyway, as I said earlier that one had to chase one’s dream. Once you make a resolve and put all your efforts, all your dedications then the entire universe will help you to achieve it, this is a great line from the great book ‘The Alchemist’ written by the renowned author Paulo Coelho which was a great source of inspiration for me.
I have always wanted to come back, though. I never had the desire to settle down overseas. After my graduation, I started my career at Infosys, and I left them in early 2002 to work for a small NGO. I have always been inclined towards the public and working for society and never had the fascination for the corporate jobs since I never enjoyed working for them. It was good but never made me any happy. Many of my family members and friends thought this to be an unwise step for me leaving such a great job. You see, Infosys was a big brand back in those days and leaving them was, risky is not the right word, I would rather say unwise, but I have always done things which I have loved. So, there was no going back. I worked in NGO for almost two and a half years before I decided to go for my higher education. Initially, I thought of doing PhD but that would have taken me out of the work-life for like four to five years, so I finally decided to do MBA and eventually I got a full scholarship in Oxford University, in fact, I was the very first Indian to get that scholarship. Post my MBA, I went to work for World Economic Forum (WE Forum) in Geneva and subsequently I worked in the US. I did my other master’s in public administrations (MPA) at Harvard University and finally relocated back to India in 2011. In 2012, I started working with the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Odisha, Shri Naveen Patnaik, and there was no looking back since then.
It was a different trajectory I must agree and in meantime, I acquired a law degree and enrolled myself to practise law at Odisha High court and once this lockdown is lifted, I will go to Delhi to enrol in Supreme Court and I’m seriously going to pursue my law degree along with my Parliamentary duties.
Once you make a resolve and put all your efforts, all your dedications then the entire universe will help you to achieve it.
“Always ask yourself two questions. “Where do I want to be?” and “How do I get to where I want to be?”. You may not always get the answer or may not have the answer now, but that is perfectly fine and sooner or later you will find what you want in your life. However, you must be brutally honest with yourself. Again, I will go back to what I said earlier about the movie ‘3-Idiots’ where Farhan was passionate about photography even though he was studying engineering and, in the end, he became the person who he had always wanted to one. So, it does not matter whether you are studying Engineering or Medicine, you can always be anything and anyone. Your academic career does not decide who you are. It’s just the beginning. You do not have to a coder for the rest of your life if you do not want to be one. If you find your passion elsewhere then chase it. Do not live the lives of your friends or your families because you do not have to. This one life is exclusively yours.
To follow your true calling, you must be willing to take risks, to be able to come out of your comfort zone and to be able to take a step backwards. You cannot shoot an arrow unless you pull the string. At some point, you will be ridiculed or laughed at but never let these things to put you down. And I will not suggest the wishful thinking. These may sound glamourous or fashionable like I want to change the world, I want to be an entrepreneur or maybe I want to write a book or produce a movie because you know when the rubber hits the road, that’s when you decide whether you are cut out for it or not.
Many of my friends have been saying this for the last fifteen years about how they want to start their own business or write a book or direct a movie or to produce one. I say, for God’s sake just do it. Because at some point you have to pay your own bills, to secure your job, to secure your future in this real working life and if you don’t intend to come out of your comfort zone or to make any sacrifices or willing to take any risk then achieving anything different is almost impossible. We cannot have the best of everything you know. We cannot have both ways and at the end of the day that is the reality. This is how it works.
Many of my friends have been saying this for the last fifteen years about how they want to start their own business or write a book or direct a movie or to produce one. I say, for God’s sake just do it.
Well, you see politics is one of the most difficult and unconventional terrains, not only in India but also across the globe as well. In many countries including India, where almost everyone comes from a family legacy and where polls, money, caste, and religions play some roles if not vital, being a first-generation politician is exceedingly difficult. I have neither any family legacy nor any background in politics whatsoever, so I had to rely on my hard work and my dedication and commitment to make a mark.
My advice for the youth is that it is a great platform, a platform where you can have many opportunities to give back to the society, to your nation and to make meaningful changes in the lives of the people around you. If you work in NGO or take a job, then the magnitude at which you will be affecting the lives is limited. So, politics is the biggest platform especially in developing countries like ours. You know, 60-70% of the population is under the age of 35 which is why we have this great demographic dividend. What if this does not stay forever. You see, if the bulk of the population is young, However, the political ruling class is elderly, then this will not be able to live up to the aspiration of the youth. Therefore, more and more youth should get into politics and I really hope that many students from universities like VSSUT would choose this unconventional career path. It is unconventional no doubt, but it is very fulfilling as well. There are no textbook lessons for politics, you only learn from the experiences and eventually, things start to work out. It is difficult and a treacherous journey but if you are willing to make a change in the society and then eventually you will find the success, even if it is to be a member of the parliament, or to be a minister or to make the changes in the lives of the people.
If you work in NGO or take a job, then the magnitude at which you will be affecting the lives is limited. So, politics is the biggest platform especially in developing countries like ours.
After a half an hour of delightful, inspirational and motivational conversation with Sujeet Sir, he wishes all the best to the students as well as the Alumni association and he is grateful for being a part of this long history of VSSUT and he will always be looking forward to giving back his gratitude to this University in any way possible. We couldn’t be any more grateful with such an opportunity and with the conclusion of this mega interview, we wish to soar higher and keep bringing such gems to you.
Interviewed by – Chandrashekhar Tandia