"The Impact Club at ISB has had the biggest impact on my career as it instilled a sense of purpose and meaning to what I could be doing professionally."

Tell us about yourself, your current role and organisation and your professional journey.     

Hi, I am Badri Pillapakkam (co2004) and I am a Partner at Omidyar Network India, an  investment firm focused on impact founded by Pam and Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. I grew up in Chennai, started my career at PwC and have worked in organisations such as EXL Service and Xander Investment Management as a financial consultant/ investor. In early-2010 and after failing to set-up an EdTech focussed fund in a post-Lehman world, I got the opportunity to join the Omidyar Network and help set up their India office. I had no inkling of what impact investing was, but the firm’s mission really resonated with my belief in using market-based approaches to solving deep societal problems. Fast-forward, I have progressed from being a Principal to a Partner in the India fund, while having the opportunity to invest in and support some great technology start-ups like Dailyhunt, 1mg, Indifi and Doubtnut that are having massive social impact on India’s Next Half Billion (500 million first-time internet users that have come online via their mobile phones in the five years from 2018 to 2022; mostly from bottom 60% of India’s income distribution) while also generating positive shareholder returns. The Omidyar Network is a pioneer in the field of impact investing combining a (technology) venture-capital like approach with philanthropy.

Where did you think you were headed in your career before you took the course? How has the overall ISB experience affected the direction and what has been the ROI? 

I completed my CA and pursued the MBA with a fair bit of clarity that I wanted to be a financial consultant, investment banker or investor. The courses I took, the initial projects I signed up for etc. were also designed accordingly. During ISB, I found a new love for marketing and did well in strategic marketing, pricing and negotiation (incidentally, under Dean Pillutla) classes. The learnings have really helped over the years, particularly when it comes to helping consumer-facing start-ups scale. Being a member of the Net Impact Club (unknowingly at the time) has had the biggest impact on my career as it instilled a sense of purpose and meaning to what I could be doing professionally. In 2004, I visited the tsunami affected areas of Pondicherry as a volunteer and that reinforced a decision to do something good while still making money. When the Omidyar Network opportunity came by, I felt the timing was right to put my ‘money where my mouth is’. Hard to measure the ROI, but there have surely been some lifelong learnings and career shaping moments from the ISB MBA.

What ISB memories do you connect with most profoundly?  

I still have plenty of memories from ISB after almost 20 years, starting from being awed by the size and splendour of the campus to seeing a snake (my favourite animal!) on the path to Nirvana rock, meeting some very intelligent professors and students, and cramming away late nights in our study groups. The Holi party by the pool, helping organise the ISB Leadership Summit, being summoned at 3am because someone saw a ‘creature’ in their bathroom (turned out to be a grasshopper), gate crashing a black-tie Christmas party without the proper attire are some memories that I will cherish for life.

What do you find most rewarding in your current role?

Meeting ‘crazy’ entrepreneurs every day trying to sell their very different stories of how they are trying to change the world and why they are doing what they do is the most rewarding aspect of my current role. That we get the opportunity to back some of these bold entrepreneurs and help them scale to positively impact millions of lives is the icing on the cake. Fortunate to have an LP who gave away most of his wealth for good and set us on this path and to work with good people who believe in the mission. 

Opportunities in the impact sector are often limited which makes it hard to make a transition to this sector. What is your advice to professionals who want to work in the impact space?

First, be absolutely clear of why you want to work in this space and what you are willing to give up to be here. Second, there are multiple paths to achieving impact, i.e. philanthropy, impact investing, consulting, entrepreneurship or working in a high impact organisation (NGO or social enterprise or even a mission-driven company) and each one plays a critical role in the sector. Being flexible at the point of entry is important given the limited opportunities that exist. Equally, choose where you want to play on the impact spectrum (non-profit to market-based) recognising it’s wide and based on your beliefs. Third, marry your skill sets to the role and work you pursue. Too often, people enter the impact sector out of passion to make a change without being clear of what it is they want to do as individuals. Fourth, stay the course. It is a hard, long journey and change does not happen overnight. You will likely run into questions like ‘is it rewarding enough?’, ‘am I seeing the impact I wanted to?’, ‘is the impact attributable to me?’ etc. along the way, but none of that matters. The means is rewarding enough and probably better than anything else we do.