I’m Mahua Acharya, CEO of CQC Green Ventures, and this is how I Lead from Within
Mahua is a graduate of Yale University and has had a distinguished career in carbon finance and corporate social responsibility. She led the development of a carbon protocol while in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Geneva, was a successful deal manager in the pioneering carbon finance business of the World Bank in Washington, and headed up Mittal Steel’s carbon portfolio management business in London before returning to India to join Emergent Ventures as a senior manager responsible for corporate financing.
Mahua now runs a $27 Million Fund, CQC Green Ventures, that finances energy efficiency projects all over India through carbon credits. Mahua manages a staff of almost 20 members in CQC Green Ventures and in turn the supervision of contractors with hundreds of staff engaged daily in distributing compact fluorescent light bulbs to replace inefficient incandescent light bulbs in poorer households across India.
I have always been an environmentalist at heart. I grew up surrounded by nature. I love the outdoors. But later on, in my undergraduate years, I realized the approach traditional environmentalists were taking wasn’t fitting with my philosophy.
I think the point at which I took the right step was when I was at graduate school. I knew that I wanted to work on Business and on the Environment, and I wanted to combine them. I believe in the power of incentives to guide human behavior. If one can build an environmental framework with the right incentives, that framework will spur positive practices. I got a degree in Environmental Studies and Management, and have stayed with Renewable Energy and Climate Change ever since.
I also always wanted to do international work. So, I made a choice to try living in different countries not just for the sake of living in different countries but also to further my career journey.
I have been described as stubborn by various people. I don’t give up easily. I think along the way I digested the fact that if I am going to be working on something as long-term as Climate Change, perseverance will be key, because we won’t see results easily.
I developed both resilience and patience because of my professional environment. For instance, back when Carbon Credits and Emissions Trading were being designed, I knew that could not happen overnight. It needs the involvement of several countries. It has a lot of political consequences. There is potential for several downfalls along the way, but provided you keep your eye on the ball, somehow or the other you can make it through.
It’s important to love what you do and that means finding what you love. I would say that has been the sole parameter of the professional choices I have made. I have loved all the jobs that I have had. I love my work. I like the area I am involved in. I like my team. I like building teams.
An important lesson I have learnt along the way is the importance of socializing your failures. With sharing failure comes a sense of collective ownership and a collective responsibility towards fixing it. That goes a long way towards finding more stable and sturdy solutions. It sort of suppresses this ‘Not in my backyard’ kind of syndrome.
Now looking back, I realize I should have socialized my failures a little bit more whether they were created by me or by someone else. The point is not who created it but to collectively solve it as an organization.
It has been challenging balancing my domestic and professional lives. I realize this sounds like a cliché. To be mentally available for your personal life and to have enough bandwidth to remain focused in your professional life is a challenge. It has got nothing to do with the number of hours in the day. It has to do with mind space.
It is harder I suppose when you have children. I don’t have kids so I don’t have the same demands on my time, but like working mothers who have to deal with issues around guilt, I do as well. I am hardly at home. I went through an entire decade where I was hardly at home.
Both my husband and I have made a conscious effort to work on the relationship. We remind ourselves every now and then that we don’t want to be one of those couples that just drifts apart.
More than simply logging in a certain number of shared hours in a day, such as being together for meals and other things, I make sure that I spend the energy to update him on my life. The idea is not just to update him but to engage him and vice versa because we realize we are both individuals, we are both professionals, we both have our views and so it would be easy for us grow separately. It’s easy to get swamped in your own affairs and your own life. Then as a couple you just end up sharing the daily mechanics of chores like taking the trash out, or fighting over who should mow the lawn. You cannot build a relationship upon chores.
It is so much more work to spend the time to stop and engage the other party, but that is what builds true intimacy in a relationship.
On Balancing Life and Work
On the home front, my husband and I try to be more disciplined about things like holidays. During that time, I try not to go through emails and do any work, unless it’s creative work like writing an article.
We have a lot of common friends and make an effort to do social activities with friends. These are all planned and scheduled because of both of our travel schedules.
We both love sports so that has allowed us to create some time around something that we both equally enjoy. I love running. I am trying to discover long distance running. I am getting my husband more involved with my running as well otherwise running can literally turn into a cult-like activity which alienates everybody else.
On Leading as a Woman
I think in India, a mix of perceived stereotypes around women in senior decision-making roles, combined with certain cultural values, can make leading as a woman a bit of a challenge.
For example, say I have to get a meeting with the head of a company because I want to try and explore a business development idea. There have been instances where I know that person was expecting to meet someone else. Coupled with that, I believe Indians are also very deferential towards age and if you don’t have grey hair, you’ll come across a lot of dismissive remarks for being young.
I have just learned to grow a thick skin. My personal mantra is ‘knowledge rules.’ I tell myself again and again that I should know my work. If I know my own work I feel that somewhere down the line I will be able to command the credibility. It will take me some time but I will command that credibility and it won’t matter if I am a woman or of whatever age.
On Gender Diversity in the Work Place
Increasingly, I find that I am drawing mental lines for myself on what is acceptable and what is not. For instance, I’ve noticed there is a certain flippancy around being sexist and sharing sexist jokes, which I think is unacceptable in the work place. If I encounter bad gender jokes or bad sexist jokes, I remind myself to at least make it known that that is not acceptable. I will find a nice way to draw the line, hoping that will sensitize the workforce and create a more supportive environment for other women, who may not have the confidence to say it.
Many times, as far as the men are concerned, they are not doing it deliberately, but that sensitization is often absent and if left unchecked creates an unsupportive environment for bringing in balance in the workplace, or for bringing the focus back to merit in the workplace.
My Personal Vision
I want to have made a difference. When I die, I want people to think, “this was a fair person and she had a solid set of values.” I want to have made a difference in my own life and in other people’s lives. I want to have made a difference in the environmental ecosystem.
At a personal level, I just want to build relationships, whether it’s in my workplace, in my team, in my family, in my extended family, my friends, staff, people that I interact with, or even people in the park that I go running with. I don’t know any of them. But it is so nice to receive a smile at the other end from someone that also runs with you along the way.
Advice to the Shenomics Community
Professionally, I would really urge women to get a mentor. All of my reactions are based on my own personal experiences. I am always on the lookout for a mentor. I don’t have one. I have tried to develop an internal compass.
Personally, I would also urge women to find what they love doing at the workplace; and do it outside of office hours if you have to. It’s so important to find something that brings you energy because then you can take that energy and positivity and give more to the world as well as to your immediate relationships. That energy, that positive energy is fodder for a much nicer environment to live in, to excel in and to find your own inner convictions.