Trailblazers: CSBC- Pooja Haldea, PGP 2003

It is said that we do our best work when it is in the area of interest. This same passion drove Pooja Haldea to switch from her high profile corporate job to become a co-founder at the Centre for Social and Behaviour Change at Ashoka University. Human Behaviour always interested Pooja and she was always intrigued by how the human mind works and why we make the decisions we make or choose not to make. A mother of 3 young boys, Pooja is setting examples for people who want to walk the path less travelled.

Please tell us something about yourself.

I graduated from IIMB in 2003, worked in McKinsey for 10 years across India and Europe, and then realised that the thing I was deeply interested in is understanding human behaviour -very different from what my career was at that point.  That search led me to System 1, a global marketing consulting firm that used behaviour science to improve business outcomes. And from there to setting up Centre for Social and Behaviour Change at Ashoka University – an organisation dedicated to applying behaviour science to improve outcomes of government policies and programmes. Today I work as an advisor to several organisations that hope to benefit from a deeper understanding of what drives behaviour, and what can be done to change it.

I am also a mother to 3 boys – all under 7. So life is always exciting!

Can you please tell us about CSBC. What do you do at CSBC?

CSBC is an independent Centre within Ashoka University. The Centre is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The aim of the Centre is to use behaviour science to make government programmes and policies more effective. Often, when policies and programmes are put in place, the focus is on getting the infrastructure ready, getting the systems to work. The end-user can get ignored. So our work is to keep the end-user at the centre, and understand what will it take for her to adopt new behaviours or modify current ones. As an example, the government makes iron supplements available to all pregnant women but adherence is extremely low. Our work focusses on developing interventions to enable women to complete the 180-day supplementation course. Similarly, large strides have been made in the area of financial inclusion and now a record number of citizens have a bank account. Our work is focussed in getting people to actually use those accounts, transact, build savings.

What prompted you to be in this space?

My fascination with how human beings work, why they do what they do. It was something I was always interested in – from the time I was a child. I wanted to study psychology in school. During my time with McKinsey, I tended to veer towards projects that involved consumer insights. Later, when it was clear to me, that this was the area I wanted to pursue, I decided to quit, and go and explore this space, figure out how to make a career in something that I was deeply passionate about.

Some recent projects that you have been excited about.

We recently did some work on data privacy – on how online consent can be made more informed. All of us routinely give consent to websites, without fully understanding what we are consenting to, what our data will be used for. We ran experiments with 10000 people across India and Kenya to see whether any type of nudge can get people to pay more attention to what they are sharing with the websites. Examples included putting an Amazon-type star rating for the privacy practices of the website, getting users to stay on the policy page for pre-determined number of seconds, presenting the policy in a visual manner and so on.

Similarly, we have been doing some exciting work in financial inclusion – how to get people to adopt QR codes, buy pension products, save more.

What role has IIMB played in your journey?

IIMB was the first time I was away from home. It was a formative experience. Meeting people who came from very different backgrounds, helped me understand who I am better. It made me more comfortable in my skin, more confident of my choices. Some of the classes also had a long-term impact. I remember sitting in the Consumer Behaviour Class and absolutely loving it, knowing this was an area which really excited me. There were many life lessons learnt – on friendships, on responsibility, on courage.

Any fond memories from your days at the institute.

Many. Possibly the fondest are of the L-Square parties we had right under my room. Starting at 12 am, ending when the sun rose. Long campus walks. Sitting in the computer lab at 5 am to print out our papers and submit them on time – sounds ancient now. Those were some of the most exciting times!