Jesal Dalal is a first-year student at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the MBA program at Wharton, she was part of the consulting team at Bain & Company. She is passionate about creating value at the intersection of the business and social sectors, and has been working closely with the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation and Bachpan Bachao Andolan for the last few years. We caught up with Jesal on her journey so far:

“Four lessons have held me in good stead through my time in consulting, my stint in the social sector and have now brought me to Wharton:

  1. Don’t think of your career and your passion as a trade-off

Many of us are still looking for our passions. Some of us know what our passions are – but can’t necessarily make a career out of them. What has helped me is not viewing the two as an either/or, and instead, building something unique at their intersection. For me, it meant bringing my passion for the social sector into my career in consulting. I put my hand up for a rather unusual pro-bono project at my firm – one that would require me to work as a one-member team despite being a junior associate, and closely support the head of a non-profit organization. It turned out to be an opportunity to work with Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and his wonderful team at Bachpan Bachao Andolan, to set up the global operations of the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation. Learning to keep an active eye out for opportunities (and often, disguised opportunities) has led me to several life-changing experiences. The time I spent working with Mr. Satyarthi over the last two years completely transformed how I thought I could contribute to the social sector in India. Eventually, this helped me build a new perspective on how to bring businesses into social impact – something I had been thinking about since my early college days.

  1. Find opportunities to challenge status quo, and act on them

A piece of advice from a DU college senior has become my mantra inside and outside the workplace. When I was about to start my first job, he told me: “Wherever you go, challenge yourself to look for ways to change how people work and how they think.” To me, this is the true definition of individual-driven innovation. I love questioning and rethinking the ‘usual’ way of doing things, and then driving the changes I visualized. In the early days, it meant tweaking small consulting processes at my firm. Lately, I worked on the structure of my company’s engagement in the non-profit sector, allowing us to serve more NGOs, in more ways. Not only have these self-driven projects been a huge source of satisfaction for me, they’ve also helped me stay curious and committed to change.

  1. Take the plunge first, and leave the worrying for later

I must admit, I can sometimes be far more worrier, and less warrior. An important lesson I’ve learnt is to not let my doubts stop me from action. This is echoed in a quote I think about quite often: “Ask yourself: What would you do it you weren’t afraid? And then go do it.” Two years ago, I was debating setting up a new volunteer pro-bono consulting program. My friend and I saw several potential causes for failure: Would enough people sign up? Would we be able to help non-profits in a meaningful manner? Would we even get a green signal for this project? We went back and forth on these for months, without a date for closure in sight. One day, we decided to let go off all doubts and make an impromptu pitch. The proposal was accepted, and has led to a setup which continues to run and grow. A caveat here – exploring doubts is not necessarily a bad thing, as we ended up addressing several challenges proactively, rather than reactively as a result. However, I always make it a point now to not make those doubts a roadblock, and despite my fears, move quickly to action.

  1. Build meaningful relationships with diverse mentors

This is one of those things that I wish I had learnt sooner – the huge value of having mentors. Luckily for me, my firm’s structure helped me organically discover and develop mentors in the workplace from the early days. Along the way, I also started building deep relationships with mentors from other fields who have gifted me with varied perspectives. This has become my personal ‘Board of Directors’, individuals I reach out to for all of the important decisions and doubts in my life. Some of them are well-known stalwarts (you can find fantastic career advice from one of them on Network Capital here), while some are people my own age, from whom I learn something new every day. It didn’t seem easy to do to me – I still see many of my own friends and colleagues hesitate to reach out to seniors they respect. You would be surprised though, at how many leaders take great joy in investing in people they believe in. If you are genuine, respectful, and willing to learn, you will find many people who will help you along your path. Building and investing in this mentor network is the single most valuable thing you can do, especially early on in your career, and I have been fortunate to learn from the best as a result.

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