From Plastics to Policy: My transition to the impact space
Shraya Sapru
March 31, 2023

I graduated in 2019 from National Institute of Technology Karnataka, Surathkal with a Bachelors’ degree in Chemical Engineering. With a passion to create impact through technology and innovation, I joined ExxonMobil, a US based oil and gas company. My role, termed as Customer and Application Development Engineer, was often confused as “developing apps in a Mobil-e” company for those not familiar with the industry. To explain it in simple terms, my role was in the plastics division, at the intersection of sales and marketing- we were the “technical” experts of the product. It was an incredible learning curve. The position allowed me to engage with individuals across all levels of the organization, from CEOs of client companies to shop floor employees. I had a platform to pitch solutions, test proof of concepts through on-ground trials, and facilitate billions of dollars in sales. Additionally, I had the luxury of working in a global environment, complete with perks such as business-class international travel and premium hotel stays.

A significant aspect of my work involved developing innovative packaging solutions, with a particular focus on the agriculture sector. However, it was not until I had the opportunity to interact with farmers at KISAN’19, India's largest trade fair for agriculture, that I fully appreciated the complexity of the challenges they faced on a daily basis. This experience sparked a deep interest in me to build innovative designs that would help solve their problems. Over time, I worked on projects aimed at designing climate-resilient and cost-effective solutions for agriculture films to increase productivity from farmlands. Around the same time, there was a policy regulation under discussion to increase the minimum gauge or thickness of plastic bags from 50 microns to 120 microns. While my thoughts on this regulation are a topic for another discussion, it did inspire me to better understand the functioning of government and the policy-making process.

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Now bitten by the “impact ka keeda”, my first interface with the world of policy was through YLAC’s, Policy in Action Program. Through this program, I had the opportunity to work on a live policy brief for a Member of Parliament, which gave me a deeper understanding of the policymaking apparatus in India, including the role of data and evidence in policy making. For the very first time, I was in a room full of individuals who were not engineers, which also made me appreciate the beauty of varied perspectives. To further explore the impact space, I enrolled in Global Governance Initiative’s masterclasses, which provided me with a comprehensive understanding of the ecosystem. Through masterclasses in policy, consulting, and impact investing, I gained insightful perspectives and a holistic view of the space.

My exploration of the impact space led me to discover three key reasons for pivoting- to gain a ringside view of the functioning of the government, work closer to the ground and contribute towards transforming ideas on paper into reality. In the 365 days of my journey at Samagra, I have had the opportunity of working with both the state and central government. My experiential learning of government functioning began with the program Niramaya, aimed at improving the quality of human resources in healthcare in Uttar Pradesh.


As I reflect upon this transition, there have been three overarching differences between the two sectors that I have observed- the impact cycle, the approach to driving change, and internal processes. In terms of the impact cycle, the government sector’s primary focus is to maximize impact for its citizens, while the private sector is driven by profit and shareholder value. This often makes the impact cycle in the government longer and less focused on instant gratification, as it is dependent on outcomes for the intended beneficiaries.

The second difference is with respect to the approach to driving change. To draw a parallel, change in the system can be quantified as change in momentum, which is the product of mass and velocity. For the government, the mass refers to its complex machinery and the velocity pertains to the speed in a specific direction. Due to the enormity of the issues the government addresses, decision-making can be slower, involving several layers of approval and consultation with various stakeholders. However, once the government sets the system rolling in a particular direction, the momentum generated is massive, offering an opportunity to unlock large-scale impact. In contrast, most private sector organizations focus on solving a niche problem, with the beneficiaries being the total addressable market of their domain. Although decision-making in the private sector may be quicker, the scale of impact is often unable to match that of the government.

Lastly, in terms of internal processes, the government has heavy reliance on documentation, with carefully documented meeting notices, minutes, note sheets, and flagged files, among others. This process compliance is a critical part of the work, ensuring that the “file” speaks for itself, regardless of who sits on the chair. In contrast, this requirement is not as stringent in the private sector.

Despite the significant differences, a common thread runs through my experiences of working with CEOs in the private sector and senior bureaucrats in the government. To navigate these environments, I have found certain skill sets to be valuable. The first is the importance of clear communication. It is necessary to keep messaging in terms of outputs, such as presentations or meeting briefs, concise, precise, and actionable by answering the what, why, and how. The second is the need to understand the audience. To solve problems for clients or beneficiaries, it is crucial to listen closely to their needs and concerns. I have gained some of my most valuable insights by engaging with people on the ground, from shop floor employees to citizens, during field visits. These perspectives help maintain a user-centric approach, which is essential while implementing initiatives on the ground. Lastly, stakeholder management is vital. It is necessary to understand the motivations and perspectives of employees at all levels, from senior leaders to junior staff, shop floor employees, PAs, and drivers. While senior leaders provide a strategic perspective, employees at the lower levels often have better “institutional memory” and can provide valuable insights into the organization's inner workings.

A year into Samagra now, I can safely say that all the three objectives that drove my pivot- gaining a ringside view of the functioning of the government, working closer to the ground and contributing towards transforming ideas on paper into reality, have been met. This pivot came with a lot of learnings and unlearnings. The transition from the private sector to working with the government, was one of discomfort coupled with growth. So to sum it up, I would like to say if you’re looking for a fulfilling role, an ability to create impact at scale, understanding the complex government machinery, developing new skill sets and engaging more actively as citizens in the process of change- I would encourage you to explore this space.