Hi there, my name is Anand Mistry. I've continually broadened my horizons beyond what I could see and have stumbled (intentionally) into an alternative career path.
This path is ProjectCHAKRA.
Through ProjectCHAKRA, I design and run experiential education experiences to inspire action for social impact and entrepreneurial leadership. We use simulation role-play and gamification to evoke real emotions in participants which build their empathy.
You can’t be what you can’t see. Growing up in a traditional British-Indian household, my exposure to what success and work looked like was a stable corporate job. I was curious for more.
At 17, I participated in a Service-based Leadership Programme in India, which opened up a new world of opportunities and inspired me to be part of a social enterprise at my university. The goal was to support local homeless people.
Post-graduation, I did a United Nations Development Programme placement with a social enterprise in India, which contributes towards 14/17 UN SGDs.
I lived on an average of £1 a day and my daily commute to my ‘office’ was a walk through Ahmedabad’s largest slum to a waste management centre.
Reflecting on why I had been able to take this path straight after graduating and why many of my peers who were interested in the same, were not, I realised I was incredibly lucky to have access to a social leaders programme at a young age.
These opened opportunities and inspired my continued engagement in social impact work.
I found the work valuable to broaden my entrepreneurial outlook, develop unique insights and skills and gained immense personal growth through the process.
I realised these opportunities that I’ve gained so much from were not generally available despite the demand.
So, I felt a duty to use my experience, knowledge and network to open the opportunity for others who were curious like me.
The foundations for ProjectCHAKRA came through the work I was doing on my UNDP placement - for me, working in India’s social development sector (the communities, leaders and approach) had not only inspired and grounded me, but also helped me understand what this type of work actually looked like in reality.
But not everyone can just fly out to India.
So, the idea was to bring real global development challenges into the classroom through a workshop on social entrepreneurship using simulation role-play and gamification.
At this stage, I hadn't actually built the product yet but I managed to sell the workshop to 4 UK universities, including Imperial College Business School.
This is what I did:
We delivered the workshops and they went really well. Within a couple of months, we had students and professors fly out to India to work with us on the ground and build further partnerships.
This early success validated my initial ideas and motivations.
The next natural phase was to build a business from this.
I take an Effectual Thinking approach to everything I do - I ask myself, who am I? What do I know? Who do I know?
This approach essentially enables me to take action.
As well as the steps in my above answer, I also leveraged my UNDP role and the partnership between the UNDP and the social enterprise I was working with to get my foot in the door.
Interestingly, I have barely done any marketing and the main thing I have focussed on is delivering a super high-quality product, which surpasses expectations.
This has led to not only high ratings/feedback but also inspired further action from participants and university staff beyond the workshop.
This in turn resulted in repeat sales. It built trust and credibility and positive word of mouth.
So many challenges, where do I begin?!
Working in social impact has financial barriers. I have had to fund my own time spent in India pre-graduation and my post-graduation work opportunity in India also only covered my expenses.
And of course, the financial struggles continue going from that to starting my own business. I knew this was what I wanted to do, but of course, comparisons of friends' incomes and lifestyles do creep in.
Forging my own path that is against the norm of what my family is used to, combined with the lack of financial return, meant that my family were sceptical about the choices I was making, which I found difficult.
It’s a case of backing yourself and pushing through these short-term struggles.
Whilst in India, thinking about the communities and beneficiaries I was supporting always kept me motivated, knowing the daily hard work and struggle they go through.
This gave me a sense of purpose, responsibility and perspective on my relative struggles.
Simple living is also one of my personal practices and has been key to allowing me to continue on this path. Although challenging, this is also very rewarding and encourages personal growth.
The positive momentum following the first set of workshops I ran was cut abruptly short, because of, yes you guessed it, covid!
During this time I worked with a scaleup in their growth marketing team. I found working for an established startup in this role, alongside an incredibly talented team, a very useful experience to develop my skills and understand what it takes to grow a business.
But as in-person events and activities started to come back, I immediately knew I wanted to get straight back on the train, growing ProjectCHAKRA and building upon the initial momentum it had.
I often think of Gandhi's quote, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony". Working on ProjectCHAKRA really allows me to take action on the things I care about, enabling what I think, say and do to be in alignment - so it was never in doubt that I would continue to work on this when I could.
There is no doubt that my competitive advantage has been leaning on the incredible leaders who have supported my journey, in particular my co-founder, who is also my cousin. He has opened so many doors for me and I and ProjectCHAKRA leverage his network and years of experience.
I say I am standing on the shoulders of giants and I am only building on the years of work that have gone before me.
Following on from that, this is what makes this incredibly real for me. I am a real example of the journey that ProjectCHAKRA hopes to inspire and support, which places me in a unique position to relate to our target audience.
ProjectCHAKRA’s experiences are rooted in my deep on-ground experience and knowledge working with developing communities in India.
This, teamed with my co-founder's and my unique skill set in experiential learning design (gamified simulation role-play activities with facilitated debriefs) make for an authentic, high impact and distinct offering, which is hard to replicate.
Outside of my personal experience and technical skill set, I always try to lead with empathy, love and kindness and live my values and thus be authentic.
I have the ability to step outside of myself and observe, taking a holistic and systemic view of situations to see the whole from the parts and in turn hopefully navigate life and work more strategically (and fruitfully).
I also love listening and asking deep questions, which enables me to connect deeply with others.
I still feel a little shocked by this, but ProjectCHAKRA won the Progressive Education Delivery Award at The PIEoneer Awards 2022, which are the only global awards that celebrate innovation and achievement across the whole of the international education industry.
As well as growing in the UK, last year (2022) as part of our international expansion, I toured around 7 cities across India delivering our workshops to universities, business schools and NGOs there. I had a bit of a pinch-me moment when I delivered our workshop for leaders at UNICEF during a second trip.
One thing that excites me and makes me proud of what we’re building is the people who want to become facilitators for our workshops - they range from fellow entrepreneurs to actors and actresses!
Soon we will also be running a 10-day social leadership programme in India for students in partnership with a UK university and we’re hoping to run and develop more of these longer-form activities in the future!
I have placed a lot of focus on working with universities over the past couple of years, but I’m now taking steps to reach a wider range of organisations like colleges and secondary schools (to plant seeds for people at a younger age) as well as corporates to utilise our workshop experiences to help with team building, leadership and social impact training.
If you work at an academic institution, corporate (within HR or ESG/CSR) or community organisation and would be interested in bringing our experiences to your organisation then I’d love to have a chat with you!
And if you're interested in getting involved as a facilitator for our workshops do reach out!