Sarita Nayyar

Sarita Nayyar (MBA 1987) is a member of the Managing Board at the World Economic Forum, who heads strategic partnerships with partners at Board and C-suite levels, for the purpose of improving the state of the world. She led the international expansion of the global Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) network. The network seeks to rapidly achieve global scope and scale in establishing a new operating system for international technology governance and cooperation. Prior to this work, Ms. Nayyar worked with Mondelez International in the Post Cereals Division. 


Describe the experiences that have most influenced your path to the WEF

After graduating from Ross business school I joined General Foods, a consumer packaged goods company where I practiced and learned marketing and business management skills. Through various mergers and acquisitions, General Foods became Kraft General Foods, then Kraft Foods, and more recently it split into Mondelez and Kraft Heinz. My 20-year career in business management was exciting and fulfilling. I worked on brands like General Foods International Coffees, Crystal Light, Kool-Aid and Capri Sun. I travelled to LA, Hawaii, and New Zealand for TV advertising commercial production. I was involved in new product launches, in pricing actions, and in integrating new businesses that were acquired. In my final years at Kraft Foods I was the General Manager of the Post Cereal Division where I had full business responsibility across product, manufacturing, marketing and people. Kraft Foods offered me world class marketing and general management experience.   

Sarita Nayyar with the University Consulting Club.

How have you leveraged your Ross experience in your career? 

My Ross experience was one where not only did I learn the MBA curriculum, I also learned the western world of business. The university experience was very special as I worked as a teaching assistant and as a part-time staff member in the marketing & Communication department of the Executive Education program. The entire time I also worked to cover my out of state tuition. There was the University Consulting Group, a student run consulting that provided consulting to local businesses in Ann Arbor. I joined this group and worked on many projects with other classmates. This group did quite well in getting consulting assignments. Everything I learned at Ross was key in helping me succeed in the business world.  

What led you to make the switch from Mondolez (Kraft Foods) to the WEF?

I get asked this question a lot. The answer is not very exciting. Actually, my career at Kraft Foods had reached a level where my next move required me to relocate from New York to Chicago where the headquarter was based. I wasn’t able to make the move to Chicago for personal reasons. I left Kraft and took a sabbatical year during which time I explored what I wanted to do for the rest of my professional life. A few general management opportunities came my way but I wasn’t excited about them. The World Economic Forum opportunity came to me from a head hunter and while initially I wasn’t sure if it was for me, the more I learned about the organization the more I was intrigued.

I made the switch and it turned out to be the best decision for me. I haven’t looked back ever since.

What is a major social impact issue you seek to address during your tenure? What is the most pressing issue that WEF is currently addressing?

At the World Economic Forum we work on many issues — climate change, biodiversity, natural resources, jobs, skilling, diversity & inclusion, technological advances, industry transformation, economic and social development — to name a few. Our core principle is anchored in “stakeholder capitalism” which suggests that business needs to think about all stakeholders (employees, citizens, communities, societies) and not just shareholders. With this principle in mind, we engage business in public-private collaboration.

Business organizations have tremendous capability and responsibility to ensure that they pursue sustainable and inclusive approaches in the ecosystem in which they operate. In the past, corporations would have Corporate Social Responsibility teams to make positive contributions separate from the core business. Even the Sustainability teams in many organizations are often run as separate units. Today, it is critical that environmental sustainability is built into the core of the business. How products are designed, what materials they are made from, the environmental impact of product consumption and/or disposal are all aspects that need to be part of business strategy.

Probably the most critical issue for this decade is climate change — as a collective the world needs to get to net zero emissions by 2050, and to make this target we need to reduce emissions in half by the end of this decade i.e. 2030.

It is great that Ross and the University of Michigan offer special masters programs that include sustainability curriculum. More business schools need to include sustainability courses as part of the MBA curriculum.

Do you have any advice for students aiming to make a career in the social sector? 

I started my career in the private sector and after more than two decades, moved into the social sector. I don’t think business schools offered programs for entering social sector then. I found my business school learnings and private sector experience quite helpful in approaching the issues in the social sector. The discipline of analysis, goal setting, outcome measurements are applicable in all sectors. 

Today, with special master level programs and the technological developments, starting careers in social sectors is a growing momentum. My advice would be that you follow your passion and use the discipline to develop solutions that can be scaled and amplified with speed.

PODCAST: Social Sector Tools – Futurist Thinking for Uncertain Times

In this episode of Social Impact Design for Business, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks of Michigan Ross’ +Impact Studio interviews Jenn Holk, Strategy Manager at the Monitor Institute at Deloitte and Apoorva Kanneganti (MBA ’19), Senior Consultant at Deloitte Consulting.–both working with social impact-focused organizations. In order to help social sector leaders confront the COVID-19 challenge, the Monitor Institute by Deloitte developed a report with tools for planning in these uncertain times.


Apoorva Kanneganti

Apoorva Kanneganti (MBA 2019) is a Senior Consultant with Deloitte Consulting, who recently supported the Monitor Institute by Deloitte in its COVID-19 response for the social sector. She co-authored a social sector scenario planning report, and developed workshops to support nonprofits and philanthropic organizations implement the report’s key findings. We caught up with her when she returned — along with her colleague from the Monitor Institute, Jen Holk — to deliver a webinar about the work to local nonprofits and Ross students and faculty. She came to Michigan Ross for her MBA to explore social impact, healthcare, and entrepreneurship.


What is the most important realization or experience you’ve had since graduation in the area of social impact?

The field of social impact is broad, and it is evolving. During my time at Ross, the Center for Social Impact was rebranded to Business + Impact, which feels apt. The field can broadly be categorized as those who do, those who fund, and those who govern, and each of these categories includes both traditional players as well as newer disruptors that share similarities with the private sector. For example, those who do increasingly include mission-driven, for-profit social enterprises and certified B corps alongside traditional nonprofits. Those who fund have seen an influx of private dollars, with new LLC foundation models and a rise in social impact venture funds and corporate investments because of the flexibility and fewer restrictions associated with private dollars. With those who govern, we see more public private partnerships because they can be effective in quickly and efficiently bringing innovative solutions that benefit the broader public.

In some ways, it feels like the focus of social impact in business has shifted from where one can make an impact to how one can make an impact with so many new avenues to explore.

How have you leveraged your Ross MBA experience at Deloitte since graduating?

Apoorva and her Open Road at Ross team with the owners of Lake Missoula Tea Company, a for-profit, mission-driven tea shop in Missoula, MT

At Ross, I focused my time on social impact, healthcare, and entrepreneurship, and I have been able to successfully pivot into projects related to these experiences since my return to consulting. My classwork provided foundational knowledge of the healthcare and life sciences industry that has been critical to the Pharma and Medtech projects I’ve worked on. My experience with the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund was useful on multiple client engagements assessing emerging and niche markets. My practical experiences in the social sector with Open Road at Ross and Business + Impact’s Summer Internship program gave me working knowledge of the social sector ecosystem that was immensely useful during my time with the Monitor Institute, Deloitte’s social change consultancy. As part of my work with the Monitor Institute, I co-authored An Event or an Era?: Resources for social sector decision-making in the context of COVID-19, a scenario planning resource to help social sector leaders better prepare their organizations for the different, possible futures that may unfold as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Moreover, the Ross network has been instrumental in supporting my career and professional goals. I’ve called upon numerous Ross mentors and friends for career advice or to learn about a new topic I’m exploring at work.

In your work with Deloitte’s Monitor Institute on COVID-19 scenario planning, have you identified any unique challenges that nonprofits are facing in the current pandemic?

Mental health and burnout among nonprofit leaders and staff is a significant challenge. There is immense pressure to work around the clock to serve those who have been profoundly impacted by the pandemic while also finding new ways to do it because of social distancing. There is some worry of a significant exodus of human capital from the sector because of this. In our scenarios work, we found that estimates of nonprofit contraction as a result of the pandemic range from 10% to as high as 40% not accounting for this human capital concern. It is important that we actively support organizations with financial and operational resources as well as with mental health and well-being tools to avoid even greater losses to this important sector.

What are some of the best business tools for social impact that you gained from your MBA experience?

A framework I find useful in thinking about the social sector is from Aneel Karnani’s Business in Society class, where he argues that corporate executives are incentivized to act in the interest of shareholders and so they only participate in social welfare when it also leads to profits. When social welfare and profits are in opposition, corporations are unlikely to act in the interest of the public unless there is another force to compel it, like government regulations. This framework highlights to me the important concept that incentives are often misaligned among key stakeholders that impact the social sector. Given that many challenges in the social sector are systemic and require various stakeholders to work together, aligning their incentives is the only way to create lasting change.

What shifts do you hope to see in the social sector moving forward?

We must work towards greater DEI representation among social sector decision makers across those who dothose who fund, and those who govern. Social sector leaders are often not representative of who the sector intends to serve, which can lead to unintentional discrimination and communities being left out. Greater DEI representation can ensure that our investment priorities are reflective of all communities and that the solutions we create actually work for those communities. We see first steps towards addressing this as a result of the racial justice movement last year; there are focused efforts to bring in voices of leaders from Black, Latinx, Native American, and other underrepresented communities. Let’s also use this momentum to ensure that these leaders are elevated to positions where they can influence decisions in the sector.

Do you have any advice for today’s students aiming to pursue social impact?

Apoorva with her classmate Jeff on a site visit to a hospital in rural India as part of her Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP)

Yes! My three tips are also my biggest learnings from my own journey:

  • Balance academic, theoretical learnings with on-the-ground, operational experience. The social sector and its challenges are complex, and one of the best ways to truly understand the nuances and complexity of this sector is to live it. Take advantage of opportunities to learn by doing, through opportunities like Open Road at Ross, +Impact Studio, Social Impact Internships, Multidisciplinary Action Projects, and Social Venture Fund.
  • Use your network to explore what you can do. There truly are a multitude of ways to make an impact and in my experience, Rossers are some of the most involved in this space. The companies that come to campus represent a small subset of the opportunities and careers one might pursue, especially in social impact. Plus, building off-campus-recruiting skills is valuable because that’s how you’ll find your next career move outside of Ross.
  • Keep the endgame in mind. If the challenges the social sector faced were easy to solve, we would have done it by now. It’s easy to be discouraged when you are working to change deeply rooted systems. Contextualize your impact in light of this and take the long view in order to avoid being discouraged.

Tools for Futurist Thinking in the Social Sector with Deloitte’s Monitor Institute

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment of hyper-uncertainty for social sector organizations, as the economic crisis has weakened funders and nonprofits even as the demand for their assistance is skyrocketing. Many funders and non-profits have completed their initial round of emergency response to the crisis, but they are struggling to contemplate what they should do next.
To help social sector leaders confront this challenge, the Monitor Institute by Deloitte is using the tools of scenario planning—the well-tested methodology for thinking about the future pioneered by Deloitte’s Global Business Network group—to help both funders and operating nonprofits get on their front foot in preparing for the landscape on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis. While it isn’t possible to predict the future, this session will provide funders and operating non-profits with an understanding of the tools that can help them think about the critical uncertainties of the moment, reckon with the new “certainties” emerging from the pandemic, and think about how their strategies might (or might not) fit the different possible futures that may emerge in the coming months and years ahead.

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