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At the end of college, I was on the right path…or so I thought. After studying Economics at BITS Pilani, my journey was set. I had reached the final rounds of off-site interviews for two giant management consulting firms, the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey and Company. Once I got into one, I thought, I would use it as the launchpad to a job with one of the famed development organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or an advisory role with the Government of India. I thought (or rather, was told) that these organizations would contribute to my growth and success tremendously. It was all part of my plan — until the plan fell apart. I didn’t make the final shortlists.

I still wanted to work in development, but I didn’t know how to get there anymore. I asked myself, “If solving complex societal problems is where I want to direct my energy, why do I need an anchor (academia and research) or a stepping stone (management consulting)? If making a difference through my skills is what I yearn for, what’s stopping me?”

Career

My folks thought I was crazy. They threw advice back at me — “You won’t be able to pay your loans if you don’t build a stable career” and “If you wish to pursue ‘social work’, do it in your leisure time or when you are old or retired”, among others. However, none of this made sense to me because development doesn’t only mean social work — it is bringing a long-lasting change through technology and data. If the traditional career path that everyone around me seemed to opt for didn’t offer what I genuinely wanted, why not just ignore it?

The light at the end of the tunnel

In the middle of placements, one of my seniors and a dear friend recommended SocialCops to me. I had followed SocialCops for a long time now. With my preference for hands-on research work, I always thought there wouldn’t be a place for an Economics graduate like me in a company like this. After all, research and start-ups don’t traditionally go hand in hand, right? Maybe not!

To figure out if this was true for SocialCops, I turned to another friend, Divyansh. (Pro tip: Always find the right people to go to!) He knew the company inside and out, having worked over there for almost a year. Divyansh explained how SocialCops exists in a very unique space — at the intersection of data, technology, and development. He helped me understand how it provides solutions using all of these pillars to a diverse set of organizations such as government organizations at all levels, nonprofits, philanthropies, United Nations bodies, multinational companies, etc.

Divyansh told me about his experience as one of SocialCops’ first interns. Check out the story in his own words.

He described how the “solutioning” or “scoping” aspect of each deployment involves loads of research about the problems that our partners face in their journey to data maturity. I learned how SocialCops’ Economics PhDs and Masters grads research about policy, governance, markets and industries, data collection, and more, all while I read articles posted on this very blog. Never had I imagined that I would be writing for it someday!

I then applied for an off-campus thesis at SocialCops for 6 months, and I got selected. For the first time in my life, I dove into something without any plans for the future because I had nothing to lose. I wanted to see where life would take me. I went in only with the goal of giving it my best shot.

Learning the ropes and checking off goals

SocialCops was exactly how I had imagined from the blogs. I loved every bit of it — the work, the culture, the people.

I started with a hack week and first project on the United National Sustainable Development Goals. SocialCops had built an SDG solution to help countries track their progress toward achieving the SDGs, and now we were setting it up for India in collaboration with the UN, MoSPI and NITI Aayog.

My work was to take ownership of the data pipeline end-to-end. From the very beginning, I had to learn the Research & Analysis team’s entire workflow — the tools, the processes and the frameworks. I learned what it takes to acquire data, clean it and make it ready for analysis and visualizations, all with challenging data. All the tutorials and R code that I had done dealt with perfect data sets, but now I had to wrangle tons of unstructured data from public data sources into a pipeline.

Check out Anjori’s story on what it took to build this SDG solution with the United Nations.

In the end, I set up a pipeline with over 300 indicators, which could be disaggregated across time, geography, region, gender and more. Seeing this pipeline come to life on our SDG dashboard and seeing the UN, MoSPI and Niti Aayog use it was amazing. My big takeaway was that tracking the right data can quickly influence decisions and policies that matter.

  • Putting my research skills to use
  • Learning how to code

The next deployment that I worked on was the DISHA Dashboard, for which we partnered with the Ministry of Rural Development and (drumroll…) the Gates Foundation. In my head, I was checking off some of my life goals:

  • Working with the Government of India
  • Working with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The DISHA Dashboard, built to jumpstart good governance in India, brings data from 42 flagship government schemes in one place for the first time. My task was to research these schemes, put my R skills to use in creating indicators, and do user research about government MPs (Members of Parliament). The best part was undoubtedly the exposure I got while still being in college. Between participating in meetings with the Economic Advisor to MoRD and scoping out indicators with the Deputy Director General of MOSPI, the experience was really thrilling.

Inside SocialCops
At the DISHA Workshop during the DISHA Week with my team

Moving from intern to full-time

Two and a half months in, I got an offer to join full-time. I wasn’t expecting this, but it was pretty normal. Once interns come to SocialCops, they often don’t leave. I became one of 18 interns who ended up staying at SocialCops full-time.

You see, the thing with SocialCops is that your age, experience, degree, college, etc. don’t matter much. If they trust you (and that trust is really tough to earn), you will be trained and then, as my mentor Richa calls it, “thrown under the bus”. Surely you’ll make mistakes. But it’s also the fastest way to learn.

One example was my work with Children Investment Fund Foundation on child welfare, in partnership with the Government of Rajasthan. Richa entrusted me to handle the complete delivery of the project. It was overwhelming and a completely different responsibility.

I was afraid I’d buckle under the pressure, so I had a conversation with one of my team members and friend Sourabh. He told me that everyone believed I was ready and they were there to guide me at every step. This really surprised me — everyone in my team genuinely wanted me to grow exponentially. This was so contradictory to all the experiences I had in the past. That’s why, at that moment, I accepted the full-time offer to join SocialCops as a Research Analyst.

Sourabh’s first year with SocialCops was also filled with learnings as he explored our DISHA and SDGs work. Check out his story.

Interestingly, one of the anecdotes of this project was when Richa and I were on a call with folks from BCG and I was adding value to the conversation. It was the coolest thing ever and, mind you, I was still an intern who hadn’t graduated. That’s when I realized I had done what I set out to do — I invested in myself, my learnings more than anything, and it paid off well. I had made the right choice to come to SocialCops.

Inside SocialCops

My next challenge was to take my skills up by another notch. Richa wanted me to try my hand at client and project management. I took up our deployment with Make A Difference, where I was executing the deployment and managing communications with the stakeholders. Being completely new to this, I made a few blunders. However, the thing that really surprised me was that I wasn’t curtailed or pulled off the project. Instead, Richa was always patient in giving me direct and honest feedback in our weekly catch-ups. She trusted me to improve, and I worked really hard in return.

Taking on wild side projects

Ankita, my teammate, once told me in one of our catch-ups, “You have an eye for catching inefficiencies and the knack to fix them.” I think the reason she pointed this out was that, in the midst of all my data and research work, I undertook several side projects.

For example, I had seen that our on-boarding process for new Research & Analysis team members could be much better. I came up with some ideas to fix it, then I took it upon myself to onboard the next R&A member to test my ideas.

Some of SocialCops’ early team members had pretty cringeworthy first days. Check out what we’ve done to improve on-boarding and people’s first experiences.

Prukalpa, our co-founder, took notice and wanted me to go beyond the R&A team. She gave me a couple of pointers to fix on-boarding at the company level. I crafted a small proposal teeming with wild ideas. She looked at it and replied, “Go ahead and implement it!” It was so exciting. She took my feedback very seriously and confided in me, which gave me the confidence to execute my wild ideas.

Onwards and upwards

I started off my first week handling the data pipeline for the SDGs in India, and now I’ll be handling the complete execution of our SDGs solution on a global level. It’s a ton of responsibility, but I’m so excited to take it on. Also, coming from a research background, things as small as writing professional emails or this blog for that matter were new for me. But, as cliched as it sounds, my mentors believed I could do this and so much more.

It’s been just over 6 months since I joined SocialCops. The journey has never been easy. I had my share of low moments. However, I see SocialCops as yet another school, teaching me things beyond work and lessons about life. It’s a school with values that I can actually believe in, question, and change. It has helped me grow as a person and form my own worldview. My colleague Akash put it best: “But more than anything else, you learn about yourself when working in a startup environment.”

In a high-growth startup, it’s not just about the product you are building, the people you are building it for, or the market that you are trying to capture. It is just as much about the people that you work with and their collective effort to help everyone play to their strengths. This journey was filled with my work to find and grow my strengths. All the while, my colleagues have been a pillar of support — because, at a certain point in their careers, they too have been “thrown under a bus” and learned to make the best of it.

Inside SocialCops

15 years ago, checking those boxes was a guaranteed path to success. Today, we are in an entirely different world — a world that is changing rapidly, a world that rewards meritocracy, a world where 23-year-olds are billionaires and you only need Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to create a network for yourself. In this world, degrees don’t matter much, since you are judged by your skills and expertise more than anything else. In this world, you are boundless. You can find work that permits you to learn and grow — after all, the only way to learn something is by actually doing it.

I am so thankful for this opportunity, and I am so glad I decided to listen to my heart and take this path, even as people questioned my decision. Here’s to all the noodles, chicken, 3 AM meta balcony conversations, and those one-off all-nighters that brought the team together! I’m so excited to see what the next 6 months bring.


We believe that data can empower the world with better decisions, more opportunities, and effective execution. Do you also want to be an enabler and join us on our journey of building a data intelligent world? We are hiring Senior Data Analysts to join our Research and Analytics team. Know more and apply here.

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