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SAB's CEO - Karan Girdhar featured on IIFMIGHT

Karan Girdhar, (PFM 2009-11) is the founder and CEO of Skills Art and Beyond (SAB). He was recently covered on IIFMIGHT in recognition for his work done at SAB and Development Innovations Foundation (DIF).

August 30, 2022
SAB Admin

Original Post :

Karan Girdhar, (PFM 2009-11) is the founder and CEO of Skills Art and Beyond (SAB). SAB is a social organization working in research, consulting, and implementation in the areas of community-focused interventions including skill development, capacity building, literacy programs, livelihood promotion, and natural resource management. Since its inception, SAB has impacted more than 1.25 lakh lives across its operations in 14 states/UTs in India.

Karan is also Co-Founder of Development Innovations Foundation (DIF) – a brainchild of a few internationally recognized IIFMites. DIF aims to innovate, implement and promote initiatives towards the sustainability of People and the Planet. DIF is invested in finding solutions for effective natural resource management, biodiversity conservation, decentralizing renewable energy, and building sustainable cities and communities.

Q. How has been your journey from IIFM to this role?

A. I remember when asked during my school days what I wanted to be (career-wise), I would always say I want to be an entrepreneur. Little did I know, the journey of getting the fancy word in my bio will take me through the route of so many experiences, learnings, challenges, adventures, and whatnot. I still wonder sometimes if I am moving towards that.

IIFM placements gave me an opportunity to begin my career with the Andhra Pradesh Government (erstwhile), where I had the chance to work closely with the tribal communities and the unemployed youth of the state and learn the on-ground challenges in the implementation of the development programs like MGNREGS, skilling, innovation in development space, etc. Then I worked with a few private-sector agencies to understand the other side of the table, particularly in skilling space. I worked with a start-up called Skills Academy which was the skilling initiative of Pramod Bhasin (Genpact founder) and Pia Singh (DLF) and then worked with AISECT as National Lead for Skilling Programs before I started Skills Art and Beyond.


Q.  What were some of the key milestones/learning in this journey that you would like to share with us?

A. To begin with, getting into IIFM was a key milestone (especially when you are almost the last one to get in). On a personal front, getting a wife (that too a batchmate – Richa Singh, (PFM 2009-11) who supports you through the thick and thin of the entrepreneurial journey is a key milestone.

Career-wise, landing a job, that too with the state department, was a milestone as it gives you the access and approach to understand the issues at the core; the opportunity to come back and work and settle down in Bhopal is another one. In the entrepreneurial journey, every day we survive as an organization, and impacting lives on the planet is a milestone. There have been a few milestones achieved and a lot many to go!

For learning – I will quote the words of Kunal Shah – “Sexy part of being a founder is that no one is out there telling you what to do. The scary part of being a founder is that no one is out there telling you what to do. Success in entrepreneurship is rare, maturity is guaranteed”. Learnings have been tremendous, especially learnings through mistakes, learnings through experiences, learnings from the talented teammates and the talented youth and communities that we work with – is unmatching and lifelong.

Q. What is the most satisfying part of your current role?

A. Failing to achieve something but knowing that you can start again with a better approach – is satisfying for sure in the longer run. Seeing SAB/DIF grow one step at a time, an opportunity to associate with global partners and creating direct impact on lives are the most satisfying aspects of working at SAB/DIF.  

Q. Has your learning at IIFM helped in shaping how you approach your professional roles?

A. Of course! IIFM is not just a curriculum but a complete experience of immersion into the development space. Classroom learnings, field visits, internships, assignments – all coupled with experiential learnings from such a diverse set of batchmates are amazing. This 21-month residential program at IIFM gives you the right platform for not just academics but anything and everything that is needed for a development professional to hit the ground! Being in the placement team for 2 years has given me tremendous opportunities to network, connect with alumni and hone my professional skills.  

Q. Who (or what) are the biggest influences or drivers in your careers. What would be your advice to freshers and IIFM graduates who are looking to choose similar sectors/roles?

A. Taking the challenges head-on and not stopping till it’s done – is something that drives me to keep going. The impact that SAB as an organization creates on the communities and the happier and healthier people we work with – pushes us to achieve more, make it bigger and more impactful.  

Key advice to fellow IIFMites who are looking to be an entrepreneur in the development space is to be consistent (which I am still lacking though) – the world around us has endless opportunities, the human resources are amazingly talented – if you believe in something – stick to it and put your best efforts to make it work! It will!

Q. What are your favorite memories during your IIFM days?

A. Every day at IIFM has been memorable – staying at IIFM has been the best 2 years of academics. Sitting and chatting near Neem Tree till 2:00 A.M. in the morning and then coming back to the same place at 7:00 A.M. – that’s something that was every day’s routine.

Udhaar wala Anda Maggi in the canteen and constantly fighting with Kittu (Krithika Subramanian) for settling that, sitting for hours and doing nothing in the Bakar Room (Room no. 24) with Bhaiya ji (Avinaw) and Anujwa (Anuj Sharma), me, laddoo and Kittu trying to wake Richa up for breakfast on weekends and failing, late-night volleyball, 6:00 A.M. trips with Kapil and King (Kingkham) to Anjum Hotel and Railway station after night-outs and amazing time spent with my best buddies, seniors and juniors – Apoorva, Laddoo (Akanksha Tiwari), Nirbhayyyyyyy, Nakul, Sahil, Sudhanshu, Anirban, Meena, Nandu (Anandita), Himwan Sir, Gabdu Sir (Saumya Singhal), Pramod Sir, Sampy (Sampath Gelam) and Shubham.

Other than that, my prime reason for being at IIFM was to spend more time with Richa (as we were graduation batchmates too) and that I did for sure.

IIFM Memories
IIFM Field Trip

Q.  In hindsight, what was the biggest contribution (courses, faculty, library, friends, and alumni. Anything else!!)  or take away from IIFM that you think played a critical role in shaping you as an individual or professional?

A. IIFM is a whole package that helps one get ready for the professional world. The academics, sports, club events, alumni interactions, field trips, internships, and peer learning are of course the biggest contribution in totality.

Q. The best friends/seniors/faculty at IIFM? Some memorable tidbits that you like to share.

A. I could only clear IIFM because of my friends! I was least confident in clearing exams like Accounting and Statistics, but the before exam sessions by brilliant minds like Apoorva, Richa, Laddoo, Kittu made me pass somehow (Well I mentioned Kittu as she is my best friend – she was not that smart in studies though – we were on the same boat together)

IIFM Field Trip

Q.  As an alumnus, what is your advice to freshers or those who are joining IIFM to get the best out of the 2 years there?

A. IIFM is a once-in-a-lifetime experience– make the most out of it. Keep networking with the alumni (everyone out there is doing amazing work), make the best use of sports infrastructure, create a lot of memories while you are at the campus, and keep learning every day!

Q.  What is your typical day at the office?  (We want to know what your day job looks like)

A. I wish I had a typical day at the office! I am fortunate enough to work with some of the best IIFM minds like Dr. Alark Saxena and Dr. Pankaj Lal who are both in the US. So many of the workdays start with early morning calls and end with late-night calls. While at the office, the day starts with a quick catch-up with the teams and the day mostly goes in email responses, proposal writing, client/funding agency negotiations, team meetings, etc. Having team lunch and chatting about everything but work is something we don’t miss at the office on any given day!

Q.   And how about weekends, Hobbies, Family and anything else you want to add

A. Weekends are reserved for spending time with my son – Kabir (2 years). Mostly on weekends, I enjoy going to my farm, spending time with my dogs, hosting & cooking for my friends and family!

Karan with wife Richa and son Kabir


Q.  Favourite Books, movies, authors.

A. Confession – I don’t read much!

Q. IIFM is driven by alumni’s passion and commitments towards its goal. How would you like to contribute to IIFM or IIFM alumni and students?

A. I believe in IIFMites – so both SAB and DIF have been participating in internships and placements at IIFM. I am happy to share my learnings and guide anyone seeking careers in the development space.

Q.   Any suggestions on who you want to get profiled/interviewed here?

A. Dr. Pankaj Lal – PFM 2004, Nakul, Sahil, Anuj, Krithika – PFM 2011, Pramod – PFM 2010

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