Hi, I’m Neela.
I am super interested in all things development and poverty related. In my current job, I lead the Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE) at Yale University. Y-RISE is focused on developing the science around scaling policy interventions. I am a behavioral scientist by training and advise organizations on behavior change, advocate for charitable giving, examine ideas around dignity and try (and fail) to deliver a credible rendition of Bach 875, often all in one day. Do get in touch if you’d like to hear more (I presume not the Bach).
A test I took in college indicated that I would become either an accountant or a writer. Turns out the only thing accurate about this prediction is my long struggle with these two halves of my personality.
I started with the accountant: an undergraduate degree in economics where I loved development economics, but took the pragmatic route of an MBA. At b-school, I discovered marketing was the closest thing to “accountant-writer” so I spent the new few years pleasantly at various multinationals and consulting firms.
The accountant half reared its head again: where’s the evidence that marketing strategies worked? So I applied and got into a phenomenal PhD in marketing program. I came to study brands an ended up with something much more foundational and useful: how people make judgments and choices. I fell in love with behavioral science and the scientific method.
Over the next few years, I tried to find how best to use this new knowledge for good: within a well-known consumer firm, trying to nudge people toward healthier options in the portfolio. I knew there had to be more options though. A book “The Life You Can Save” by Peter Singer pushed me more to think about the extreme global poverty I had grown up with in India and that still existed – could I use my skills in this area?
The universe, it seems was intent on helping me: one cold day in March 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 poorest and 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 set up the Centre which is now flourishing, came back to the US, dabbled in consulting, teaching, researching, writing. One of the most memorable projects I worked on in 2021 was a huge randomized-controlled trial about mask-wearing in Bangladesh and the effect on COVID-19. One thing led to another and here I am at Yale.
If you are interested in this magpie-like collection of ideas around poverty, global health & development, scaling, dignity and behavior change, follow me!