Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Shivani Choudhry, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad

Shivani Choudhry

Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad

“I am rooted, but I flow.”

Hometown: I am a military kid, so it is tough to answer this simple question without telling my life story. Everywhere & nowhere!

Fun Fact About Yourself:  I once danced non-stop for 7 hours. I could have continued longer.

Undergraduate School and Major: Jaypee Institute of Information Technology, B. Tech (Computer Science Engineering)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Project Manager-Clean Energy, Avani

Aside from your classmates, what was the critical part of IIM Ahmedabad’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? From the get-go, IIMA’s commitment to bringing the real world into the classroom shone through. Its culture of intense inquiry and open dialogue makes every class a mind-bending experience. Indeed, IIMA’s rich legacy famously imbibes these qualities. However, what has hit home the most is the extraordinary class of the IIMA professors.

Orchestrating a case-based pedagogy in a class of 70 opinions calls for an intense commitment from the instructor. True to their reputation, the IIMA professors hit the ball out of the park. They take up the role of what a conductor is to an orchestra. From the highs, the lows and the critical silence, the professors enable a highly fulfilling classroom experience. Be prepared to come out of the classroom with an upended perspective. Since the professors genuinely enjoy what they do, you too experience an element of joy in the learning. Most importantly, the professors do not just teach their subject but also inspire one to lead a life of hope and action. What can be more transformative than that?

What has been your favorite course or extracurricular activity at IIM Ahmedabad? What has been the most important lesson that you have learned from it? This is a tricky tie between Firms and Market (FAM) and Financial Reporting and Analysis (FRA).

For most, FAM is a standout experience. Taught by Professor Viswanath Pingali, a doyen in his field, his passion for the subject and his real-world experience make the sessions highly-simulating. The course motivates a pluralistic way of looking at things, focusing on economics for the real world. Importantly, this subject openly challenged my left-leaning perspective on market economics. I would say it made me a better activist!

FRA was my first class ever at IIMA. It was easily the class that I was most worried about. Magically, by the end of the term, it was the class that I looked forward to the most. The entire credit for this goes to Professor Balagopal Gopalakrishnan, a gem of a teacher. He deftly connects every topic to the decisions we will make as future business leaders. Professor Bala is the epitome of the IIMA professors’ commitment to their students.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: For the last three years, I lived and worked in a remote village in the Indian Himalayas. My organization, Avani, endeavored to develop sustainable livelihoods for the local mountain communities. While my work was formal w.r.t managing projects, my approach to people was one of building trust and friendship. The focus was always on developing community-based systems that helped the locals grow from strength-to-strength. Aside from 3-full time staff, including myself and seasonal interns, all the people involved were from the nearby villages. Moving out of the individualist urban mindset, I truly surrendered to the spirit of the community. I developed patience, flexibility, and empathy for working in a large local team so varied in its background, skill, and culture. In the process, I truly blended into the local way of living and working. This integration into the community has been my biggest achievement so far.

Describe your biggest accomplishment as an MBA student so far: Professionals from the non-profit sector are often placed on a pedestal, tagged as ‘do-gooders’ or ‘selfless.’ This myth does more harm than good. It precludes objective conversations on the non-profit approach and whether there are smarter ways to create impact. Stripping this sector of its ‘holier-than-thou’ image and engaging the cynics can bring much-needed scrutiny and rationality to this space. As the only student from a traditional non-profit sector, I invited my cohort into conversations that dissect this sector beyond the peripheral. Between the glamour and the doom of the non-profit sector lies an ocean of untapped potential. In these last two months, I have nudged some members of my cohort to reflect on this gap. This has, in turn, opened them up to perceive a non-profit career in a new light.

What is your class’s favorite hangout away from school? Why do you gather there? This has to be lazing at the iconic Louis Kahn Plaza. The famed red brick structure and the expansive green patch offer communion and solitude to all the students at IIMA. This is the go-to spot for anyone looking to unwind.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point, and what do you hope to do after graduation? For a long time, I held onto the belief that a school’s structured learning snuffs out creativity and intuition. So, at an age when my peers were pursuing further studies, I moved lock, stock, and barrel to a rural commune in the remote Indian Himalayas. Working at Avani, I gained first-hand experience in scaling up grassroots enterprises. While I grew tremendously by learning on the fly and trusting my gut, I reached a point where I needed the foundation that an MBA provides. Of course, the narrower questions of my ambition nudged me too.

This education will give me access to roles that marry my diverse experiences with the vigor of business knowledge. I aim to help build organizations dedicated to advancing sustainability, climate resiliency, and inclusion. The path to achieving the same is a work-in-progress. Without a doubt, IIMA will provide a highly nurturing and authentic ecosystem to make this leap.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into IIM Ahmedabad? First, don’t self-shortlist yourself out. As an applicant from a non-traditional background, I can vouch for IIMA’s progressive approach to the admissions process. Take everything you read on the internet with a grain of salt because, between all those profiles and test scores, the most significant thing missing is the applicant’s personality. Write about the experiences that you bring to the program outside of what your resume captures. Put a lot of thought into understanding IIMA’s culture and how well you fit into it. Use the wide range of outreach activities the admissions committee conducts to know the school better.

Importantly, as a comrade, I urge my fellow non-traditional applicant friends to consider this program seriously. A few months back, I was in the same shoes, worried if the course would whitewash my way of looking at things. I sometimes wondered if it was contrarian to think of an MBA while inclining towards a non-linear career. Take it from me: IIMA will put you through a crucible out of which you will only come out more colorful. Go for it!

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