Dr. Girija Bharat, Founder and Director of Mu Gamma Consultants Pvt. Ltd, is of the belief that India can leverage its full potential only if each individual is motivated to strive for excellence in what one is pursuing. We should promote meritocracy in our institutions and transition towards a just, equitable and socially inclusive society. One of the recipients of Women Transforming India Award-2021 by the Indian government’s NITI Aayog, Bharat talks to Education Post’s Tanay Kumar about the country’s emerging green sector.
Please tell us about your early education, your family background and what role your parents played in shaping your career?
My family, especially my mother, has been a very strong pillar of strength for me throughout my life. I was brought up in Rourkela, a small town in Odisha state. My parents, both from Kerala, were very academically inclined. My father, Krishna Pillai, was a chartered accountant and my mother, Easwari Amma, was a personal manager at Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), where she worked for 33 years.
I lost my father very early in life, and my mother not only did she ensure me, and my siblings got a good education, but she also completed her own formal education in law, public administration and social welfare. Later on in life, she took voluntary retirement and went back to Kerala to practice law.
My husband, Dr. Manish Kumar, and I studied at IIT (ISM) Dhanbad. He has always encouraged me to find solutions, no matter what the situation was. And the reason behind his supportive nature may be because he has seen my mother-in-law (a Professor in Botany) face challenges in her career due to my father-in-law’s frequent transfers. I strongly believe men will have gender equity systemically built in, if they are raised by educated and progressive women.
You did your Master’s and Doctorate in Chemistry, after which you ventured into the field of environment and water resource management. What triggered you in this transition?
I took chemistry because of the limited options available, not that I willingly chose it. I was studying at SK DAV College in Rourkela and the Honors course was offered in limited subjects of science, and chemistry was one of them. I really slogged while studying chemistry, understanding its basic, moderate and advanced levels. After B.SC (Chemistry), I went to Utkal University in Bhubaneswar for post-graduation in Chemistry and ISM Dhanbad for Applied Chemistry
My interest in chemistry evolved during my Masters and accelerated during my PhD when I was researching on removal of phenolic pollutants from wastewater by granular activated carbon (GAC). This was application of nanotechnology for treatment of wastewater.
Our family believed in sustainability and finding ‘nature-based- solutions’, even before the word ‘sustainability’ was coined. The principles of reduce, reuse, recycle, redesign were in-built in us from early in life and the concerns about the environment and sustainability were part of my subconscious mind and I really started enjoying it when it got combined with chemistry
Even among science students, subjects like climate science, water engineering, and waste management, are not as popular as engineering or MBBS. Why do you think that is?
The focus of most of the parents in India is on job security, rather than pursuing one’s passion. This is another reason that students, shy away from a career in climate change or opt for green jobs. Opportunities are available in several conventional and established disciplines, but the ones pertaining to the environmental sector, green jobs or climate change sector is not yet a preferred choice for many. But I do feel this trend is changing across the world now and so is in India.
What are some ways that courses like ecology, waste management science, and sustainable engineering could be more popularized among students for higher education?
Thanks to digital and social media, people residing even in remote areas can access information about these branches of study. It is the attitude and aptitude that we have to work on. In the 1990s, insurgency was not a new thing in a northeastern state like Tripura. I was teaching at Maharaja Bir Bikram College in Agartala, and we used to organize science camps and science exhibitions in remote corners of the state.
I set up an award for chemistry toppers at M.B.B. College, Chemistry department, as part of Tripura Chemical Society, which is still on even after 23 years. One of my colleagues, Prof. Purenendu Kanti Das, donated his entire life’s savings to the university when he retired to popularize chemistry to the students. So, to answer your question, with a collective approach, we will have to change our approach via such programs and activities to help familiarize and motivate the younger generations with these branches of study.
Industries around the world are now calling for a skilled workforce in the green sector. Are you seeing something similar taking place in India?
India has a huge young population and this demographic dividend should be leveraged. It is notable that the workforce in our country is very agile and adaptable. I see lots of unwanted noise among many Indians, be it the youth or aged folks. These unnecessary noises and irrational thoughts keep us from utilizing our potential to the fullest. If we could just eliminate these, we can do quite a lot, whether it is the green sector or any other sector. I am reminded of a sentence from Michael Singer’s book: ‘Living Untethered’, where he says that if Albert Einstein was busy with what others said, he would not have been able to do higher-order thinking and arrived at the formula: E=MC2.
You founded Mu Gamma, when you were 50. In India, what challenges does a woman entrepreneur face during her entrepreneurial journey?
I always wanted to do something different. Whether it was my stint at CSIR, M.B.B. College, George Mason University (USA), TERI or even working as a Consultant at The World Bank. I have always put my 100% in each job with persistence, perseverance, and commitment. Thus Mu Gamma Consultants was born.
After I tendered my resignation at TERI, I got two offers – a project with the World Bank (for water quality assessment in Kerala) and another USAID Project (for co-drafting the Water Policy of Republic of Georgia). Georgia’s project came with a condition that I had to live some weeks in Tbilisi, its capital. My husband told me he would take care of our daughters and I was really elated when our daughters said that, “We are no more kids, you should not turn down this opportunity”. So, when you have your family support, half of the battle is won.
Further, time management is really important when you want to start your own venture.
What do you think India needs to address immediately in the domain of sustainable industries and green skills?
Application of theoretical knowledge is extremely important in any area of education. Thanks to the new National Education Policy that it hammers on the hands-on experience. Mandatory internships which have already started in our colleges, also enable students gain the much-required practical experience as well as make them job-ready in their areas of specialization.
The environment sector is interdisciplinary as well as transdisciplinary. The students who have studied in various disciplines can contribute towards the green sector and these are very well-paying and rewarding careers. For example, an electrical engineer can work in a wind turbine manufacturing or solar panel firm. We at Mu Gamma also have a very interdisciplinary team with colleagues from the Environmental Sciences, Civil Engineering, Public Policy, Natural Resource Management, Economics, Biotechnology, Chemistry, etc.
The incorporation of teaching and training modules in our curriculum to make them aware of the ‘future of jobs’ is another need that we must pay attention to.