Hi, I’m Neela.
I wish I had a neat label to describe myself: Brand manager. Or Development Specialist. Or Behavioral Scientist. Unfortunately I don’t and have no plans to stick to one category. So let’s just say that I am super interested in how to end extreme poverty as quickly and well as we can, how to ensure the flourishing of all human beings and in general, how behavior change happens. I’m also interested in reading good novels and playing the piano among other instruments.
A test I took in college indicated that I would take a up a career either as an accountant or a writer. Turns out the only thing accurate about this prediction is my long struggle with reconciling these two parts of my personality.
I chose to prioritize the accountant side at first – undergrad in economics, followed by an MBA. At business school though I discovered that marketing was a place I could reconcile both the creative and “accounting” parts of my life. So I spent the next few enjoyable years solving consumer problems at scale with various multinationals and consulting firms.
The accountant in me wouldn’t rest though – where’s the evidence that any of these marketing strategies truly worked? So I applied and got into a phenomenal PhD in marketing program. And actually learned a whole new field: behavioral science or the science of how people make judgments & choices. I fell in love with the scientific method, particularly applied to ambiguous behavioral phenomena. At last! A way to study something systematically.
At the same time, I was restless. You could say I started to get greedy. Why should I apply this new learning narrowly to figuring out how to sell more soap? Why not use it to help improve people’s health, wealth, happiness – yes the cliched, make the world a better place? The practical side of me still struggled though and I took up a job post PhD in consumer insights with what I knew -a leading marketing firm.
Working there was fun and comfortable but I hadn’t given up on the idea of joining the good fight to make the world better. I got into the Effective Altruism movement and started volunteering with The Life You Can Save).
Then one cold day in 2017, I got a life-changing call: would I be interested in heading up a newly created Center for Social and Behavior Change in my home country, India? The job was a dream: using cutting-edge behavioral science at a leading liberal arts university to solve some challenging issues on public health, livelihoods and education for some of the most marginalized populations in my birth country, India? I was on that plane from Manhattan to New Delhi (along with my lovely, supportive family) faster than you could say “behavioral science.” I felt like someone had heard all the disconnected pieces of my brain and designed a job for that.
I set up the Centre which is now flourishing and am back in the US. What does the future hold? Who knows? I continue to consult, teach, write about things I’m interested in so if you are interested in this magpie-like collection of ideas, follow me!