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Miniya Chatterji: Working For A Better World

Sustain Labs’ unique operating model has created a high social and environmental impact

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The whole wide world now worries about climate change and sustainability, but what are the perpetuators of climate change doing about it? Transforming large, traditionally operated organisations into highly social and environment-friendly ones is not an easy task  especially if  you have to be physically involved in projects in different continents. BW Businessworld’s 40 under 40 list includes the illustrious founder and CEO of Sustain Labs Paris, Miniya Chatterji, who is redefining sustainability for large size organisations.

Chatterji founded her company in 2010 but she only took over its management as CEO in 2017.  The first decision she took was to focus only on a portfolio of projects with largescale social impact. “I was very clear that the kind of problems we were tackling needed solutions implemented on a massive scale,” she recalls, adding, “We do work with a handful of startups as well, but that is our pro bono work.”

Chatterji has been able to transfuse her energy to Sustain Labs. “As CEO, I brought with me expertise and also big budget projects. Our first client was JSPL, the next was Anant University, then a government housing project in Fiji, another in Morocco, and France. I set up teams at each organisation and I continue to lead every project,” says Chatterji. “My days in the month are spread over being physically present at every organisation where we have set up teams. This is an operating structure I have created and it works,” she tells us, “But this is what it takes to be in a rapidly transforming global market!”

A major strategic decision Chatterji took was to anchor her company’s presence in France and subsequently New Zealand, apart from India. The cross-continent presence helps Sustain Labs Paris develop networks and knowledge in these regions, to be able to cater to clients and develop business. It also helps the company cross-pollinate its clients in India, Europe and the Asia Pacific with solutions, technologies and experts. Sustainability as a business domain has its own set of challenges and staying ahead of them is a major one. Sustain Labs has a unique operating model, which has created a high social and environmental impact across three continents. It thrives on moving large businesses to work on a ‘business for good’ model and getting the private sector to drive solutions for climate change.

“We are not affected by the economic slowdown because we work on incentivising social good. The changes we make in organisations typically lead to profitability along with far more social impact,” says Chatterji. “We have nothing to do with CSR and when the tap runs dry in organisations, CSR or R&D are usually the first (divisions) from where capital is sucked out, depending of course, on context, region, and industry, which I think is dangerous for the end beneficiaries of CSR funds,” she says.

Chatterji’s professional journey began as an investment banker in London. She then worked with the World Economic Forum and the corporate sector, before turning   entrepreneur. She has a strong and motivating message for budding entrepreneurs.“There will be promising ‘ups’ and devastating ‘downs’. Great ideas might not work. Payments will not come in on time. The deal that is so close to completion might remain in limbo for the longest time. You will not always be fairly treated. You will meet with disapproval for no fault of yours,” she warns, adding, “During these times, it is best never to react spontaneously to the situation and instead, use unpredictability, ambiguity, or a setback, to give you momentum to rise even higher.”

“When a door closes, take a different direction,” seems to be her motto.

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40 UNDER 40 Miniya Chatterji