Right after completing my graduation in Statistics, I joined the Market Analytics team at one of the Big 4 accounting firms. I wanted to get a head start on analytics tools and techniques, and I thought it would be the right place to do that. However, within a year of my stint there, I realized that I had no insight into how my work was being used to drive decisions. I knew that I work best when I have the full context of how my work is driving impact, so I decided to go ahead and join a German pharmaceutical consulting and product development start-up.
Over the next two years, as a Project Manager, I saw how pharmaceutical companies were using data and technology to analyze tons of research, develop drugs, and maximize their outreach. I would help with mining information around increasing access to a drug in the market that could treat thousands of people suffering — such clear impact! And I began to wonder, could this sort of impact be created in the public health space? Could the development sector use data and technology in this way to maximize impact?
I remember reading an article from my now–team lead (and an old friend), Richa Verma, on 7 common myths about working with the Indian government, which got me to explore what SocialCops was doing. I soon realized SocialCops’ work was edging closer to what I wished for. Although SocialCops was sector-agnostic at that time, I secretly hoped to do some experiments in public health. So I spoke to Richa and Prukalpa, one of the co-founders, and eventually joined the company as a Project Manager (and later an Account Manager) in November 2016.
Over 12 months later, I can say that I got more than I wished for. 🙂
Chapter 1: Learning to Crawl
In November 2016, my first month at SocialCops, I joined a team that was designing a dashboard for the Chief Minister in Maharashtra. The goal was to develop a dashboard to help him monitor the state government’s key schemes. I took charge of the Integrated Child Development Scheme. (It focused more on nutrition than healthcare, but oh well!)
I had a chance to work on this scheme from end to end. I did sector research, identified indicators to go on the dashboard, created aliases, worked with one of our Data Engineers to clean and transform the data sets, and finally visualized the data on a dashboard. (That feeling when data shoots insights right back at ya!)
In January 2017, I got a chance to take up the role of a Project Manager. Externally, this was a multi-stakeholder project (with over 30 stakeholders across the state of Maharashtra) and even internally, there was a cross-functional team working on this. We realized that we needed to bring more structure to both how we communicated with these stakeholders externally, and how we prioritized implementation internally. So I got down to applying my PM 101 skills to the crew of research associates, front-end engineers, external on-ground consultants, department secretaries, technical vendors, and our non-profit client. I streamlined processes by introducing weekly vertical updates to all those involved, drafted a framework for reviews and feedback collection, and more. (P.S. I’ve always loved working in cross-functional teams, because there’s so much to learn!)
Highlight: This deployment brought me to my first (of many) government meetings in just my second month of joining SocialCops!
Chapter 2: Going Global Yet Local
Have you heard of the Sustainable Development Goals or the SDGs? These are a set of 17 global goals, divided into 169 ambitious targets. The SDGs provide a global development framework for emerging and developed economies alike to help coordinate their development efforts. These were introduced by the United Nations as a successor of the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs) in September 2016, and they were immediately adopted by 193 member countries, including India.
In December 2016, the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office in India (UN RCO India) got in touch with SocialCops, and they asked us to develop a dashboard to track India’s progress towards Agenda 2030. I was eager to take on the role of a Project Lead (and eventually an Account Manager) for this deployment.
I was most excited by the complexity of the problem statement — imagine helping the key development stakeholders (UN and its agencies, NITI Aayog, national ministries, and so on) in the world’s second-largest emerging economy to measure their country’s progress for the next 13 (now 12) years! Even more exciting, I had a chance to see this product (a.k.a. our SDGs Solution) come to life, right from the conceptualization to the implementation to the scale up. With two SDG dashboards now launched and a third in the pipeline, you will be able to relate when I say that this has been one of the most surreal experiences for me as an Account Manager.
We started from scratch paper. Literally! Around February 2017, while the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) was still working to devise the indicators, we decided to make plausible assumptions before starting external discussions with the UN RCO India team, NITI Aayog and MoSPI. We finalized the sketch of the dashboard over multiple paper mocks, like this one:
To finalize how the dashboard would work, I worked with our Front-End Engineers and Product Designers to portray it in Invision. This is what the prototype came to look like:
The prototype is still live and can be accessed here. Today this is what the final dashboard’s homepage looks like:
Coming back to March 2017… after a couple of feedback meetings, we knew that we had cracked the problem of SDGs monitoring — not just for India, but for any organization, affiliation, state, or country.
Next, our Research and Analysis team took a closer look at the problem and realized that monitoring the SDGs using only official statistics (such as Census and periodical surveys) was not going to drive development in real time. Based on our experience of working with Government of India schemes, we deployed the log-frame model to devise “Process” and “Trigger” indicators to improve decision-making at the grassroots level. Luckily for me, we piloted this model on Goal 3. (Yes, that’s “Good Health and Well Being”! I was more than happy to study India’s largest healthcare scheme, the National Health Mission.)
Over the next 9 months (from April 2017 to December 2017), I traveled to 2 countries, presented at 3 international conferences, and met with 6 UN agencies, 2 state governments, and 4 central ministries of three countries.
In these interactions, I had to constantly wear multiple hats in my role as an Account Manager. During my first visit to Papua New Guinea, I ran a workshop to help the ministries, businesses, and UN agencies understand how data can be used to drive development in their country by taking examples of our past experiences in India. In the Philippines, as a representative of UN India at the UNDP Regional Knowledge Exchange, I had to talk about our challenges and learnings for the benefit of other Asia-Pacific countries.
In India, I took over meetings with NITI Aayog and MoSPI to discuss the future phases and requirements of the dashboard for India. In Sri Lanka, I conducted video conferences with the WHO team to help them understand our SDGs Solution (Goal 3 particularly) and how it would adapt to the country’s context.
In retrospect, these 8 months were the most challenging for me — both professionally and personally. As someone who gave second thoughts to addressing any audience, presenting to an international audience of over 100 participants was definitely a challenge. I had to not only overcome my inhibitions, but also make sure that I was tech saavy enough to address diverse audiences.
I remember my mentor (and SocialCops’ co-founder) Prukalpa Sankar setting a clear goal for me way back in March 2017 — to be able to represent SocialCops at all SDG events throughout the year. We created a plan to achieve this. The more I spoke about our SDGs Solution, the clearer its value became to me. Soon I began enjoying this and found myself readily agreeing to attend events.
Fast forward to March 2018, and we’d already deployed our SDGs dashboard in three countries — India (at national and gram panchayat levels), Papua New Guinea (for businesses) and Sri Lanka (for national monitoring).
Being the Account Manager for our SDGs account has been like a power-packed course in client management, engagement, business growth, financials, data, tech, and visualization. There is nothing better than working with the best teams and clients to build a landmark product from scratch (on paper)!
Highlight: To this day, the launch of the SDGs dashboard for Papua New Guinea (in December 2017) is one of my most special moments at SocialCops. I remember being invited to take the first workshop in Port Moresby in June 2017 with only 4 days of notice — just enough to get an expedited visa! The PNG account was also one of the few accounts that we won without involving either of our co-founders, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Every stage of the project — right from the first pitch and visit to PNG (June 2017), to the follow-up visit (September 2017), to winning the tender to develop the dashboard (November 2017), and to finally powering the launch from the SocialCops HQ (December 2017) — was like an endless adrenaline rush.
Chapter 3: At SocialCops, You Can Start Up Too!
One of the best things about working at a start-up is that every idea is like a mini start-up by itself. That means that you can chase it and take it to completion and truly own it. One of my most successful experiments was developing a pricing framework for our data and visualization services.
By April 2017, I had worked on two projects (the Chief Minister’s dashboard in Maharashtra and SDGs dashboards), which showed me that we needed to standardize our product and service offerings, both internally and for clients. What made this interesting was that SocialCops’ work is a unique combination of data, technology, advisory and implementation services. Benchmarking this work against our competitors is nearly impossible. And so, I realized that we had to work on giving our clients more flexibility and transparency, all without creating internal chaos. I worked with our engineers to understand product build time, with our advisors to understand value- vs. effort-based pricing, with my team lead to build on our market research of existing tools and companies in this space, and finally with our co-founders to finalize my pricing framework.
By February 2018, this framework was deployed and tested in 3 countries with different audiences. To date, I love hearing from my clients about how they find this budget intuitive, comprehensive and flexible enough to adopt and not worry about ambiguous pricing components.
Highlight: When I shared this idea with my team lead, Richa, the first SocialCops Hackathon was just around the corner (June 2017). So Richa and I decided to pair with a front-end engineer to develop a UI for clients, which gives them the flexibility to pick and choose their services based on their budget. We managed to hack the first version within 24 hours, from conceptualizing to executing it! (I still don’t know why we didn’t win!)
Chapter 4: Did You Say Healthcare?
By June 2017, I had done small pieces of research and minor proof-of-concepts using the public health data. But I still secretly hoped for health to become a bigger part of our work. And then I saw it unfold!
Though I was the one harping about this, it was actually my team lead Richa Verma who pushed me to start working on analyzing public health data for India. I used this push to deep dive into the public healthcare structure and analyze data sets such as the National Health Mission (NHM), Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), and National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP). I worked with a fellow Data Associate to identify trends, then we verified our assumptions and findings through research and calls with health program heads.
While analyzing this data, the first thing that struck me was that infectious diseases (such as diarrhea and typhoid) can be easily prevented by simply washing your hands! Similarly, vector-borne diseases such as malaria can be prevented by using bed nets or mosquito repellents. The key was figuring out where these diseases were breaking out, then taking preventative measures in those areas.
I soon got a chance to lead the project with one of the largest consumer health companies in India. Our objective was to drive weekly targeted messaging in sub-districts which were most affected by infectious diseases in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Imagine sending regular, data-backed, disease outbreak messages to almost 1 million people every week.
That was just the beginning of the health-tech wave in SocialCops. There have been multiple experiments since then to drive better access, such as building a malaria prediction model and health burden index using both spatial and non-spatial data.
Veterans would always advise you to make your passion your daily job. We all know that it is easier said than done. But at SocialCops, we all find a way to work on what we’re most passionate about. For me, these healthcare projects were a big corroboration of how access to healthcare can be bridged with data, technology, and the right partners.
Highlight: As a project manager and consultant, I worked with the Clinton Health Access Initiative on their vaccination network. Our goal was to increase vaccination coverage by identifying healthcare centers that could be converted into cold-chain points (CCP). The challenge was to make sure that vaccines didn’t stay out of cold storage too long — they had to reach the village and get consumed within a certain time limit.
I teamed up with a geospatial scientist to deliver a solution. During the course of the project, I learned about the ground factors that affect the decision to open a CCP and how those match against the algorithm inputs. The solution is currently being implemented across Madhya Pradesh.
Epilogue: Looking Back on My Year as an Account Manager
Being an Account Manager at SocialCops is like trying to set foot in multiple boats simultaneously but in steady waters, because your team members always have your back. Whenever you explore something new and start asking questions, they’re the perfect sounding board to help you solve your own problem.
If I look back at my last year here, I think I checked off far more than I expected when I first joined SocialCops:
- Solving a variety of problems. (My all-time high was speaking to 8 different clients in the same day.)
- Taking my dog to work (TWICE!!!)
- Representing India at a global stage (twice, again)
- Delivering on at least one public health project. (I’m already at more than three.)
- Working on building a global product from scratch with engineers
- Overcoming my fear of writing. (I applied for and won 3 tenders!)
- Not being allowed to board a flight because I didn’t have a transit visa. (This made it to the list after it happened.)
- Traveling to a country most people can’t spot on the map. (Victory!)
- Walking up to a stage and addressing an audience almost like I was born to do sales. (My biggest audience to date!)
- Working in the most cross-functional team ever. (It included lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs, economists, econometricians, geospatial scientists, research analysts, data associates, consultants… the list goes on and on and on!)
I wake up every day looking forward to working with a motivated and humble team of superstars, focused partners, and complex problems to write a story that puts a smile on millions of faces.
That’s me and Royce signing off from the SocialCops HQ for now. Adios!