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Leveraging YIF’s multidisciplinary education effectively for a career in sustainability and climate change

YIF and MLS, which shaped my perspective before my career even began, made me realize that we need an amalgamation of disciplines when attempting to solve issues of sustainability, climate resilience and climate justice, and even safeguarding the environment

Anurit Kanti

29 August, 2023 | 4m read

Back in 2016, around a year after I graduated from the Young India Fellowship (YIF) programme, I was a part of the founding batch of Masters in Liberal Studies (MLS) at Ashoka University. During this time, I was selected from my batch to give a presentation at Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts, during the Future of Liberal Arts and Sciences Conference. After racking my brain for two days about what I should speak about, I finally chose “Liberal Arts as a Tool to Promote Sustainable Development” as my topic—which was a culmination of what I studied during my previous year at YIF, being exposed to a plethora of disciplines as well as during MLS.

This eventually fed into my Master’s thesis, on creating an incentive framework for sustainable development, where leveraging a multidisciplinary approach for sustainability & climate action formed a major crux of my argument. Seven years later, I am still convinced that a liberal arts education was the perfect launch pad into the career that I chose—in sustainability and climate action—for which, there is no doubt that a multidisciplinary mindset is critical.

I remember that before the YIF, as a young graduate of Economics, I was under the false opinion that the discipline of economics held the key to solving all of the world’s problems. During my time at Ashoka, as I studied other disciplines, I realized that economics as a discipline was extremely flawed, because concepts like growth and consumption which have often been romanticized by the discipline as stimulants of development and prosperity, do not actually consider the limitations of our society and planet. Policies that have prioritized rapid growth and unfettered consumption (or more accurately, hyper-consumerism) are in fact what has caused massive environmental degradation- due to emissions, waste generation, and deforestation among other catastrophes. Clearly, the free hand of the market, or laissez-faire, is probably a major driver of the climate crisis we are in today, whose effects we see almost on a daily basis. And then there is the other side of sustainability, which is not just about environmental conservation—the social dynamics critical to a sustainable society. In a world plagued with issues like poverty, health issues, gender inequality, racism, and war, among others, all of which are technically concerns of sustainability, what good is learning just one discipline and hoping to solve these macro issues?

YIF and MLS, which shaped my perspective before my career even began, made me realize that we need an amalgamation of disciplines when attempting to solve issues of sustainability, climate resilience, climate justice, and even safeguarding the environment. Ashoka is sure to produce experts in disciplines like history, political science, gender studies, literature, economics, and philosophy, among many others, all of which according to me are critical in our pursuit of a sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous future.

While generally, organizations always tend to give more importance to specialists, an education in liberal arts along with seven years in the professional world has allowed me to realize the value which generalists bring to the table, especially in the field I am in currently.

I have donned various hats in the sustainability and climate space over the years. From working in organizations that sell products geared towards sustainability (hemp, renewable energy), to being an environment journalist (for which I received international recognition in just a year), to being a corporate sustainability professional, to now being a sustainability consultant, I have excelled in all these diverse areas only owing to the multidisciplinary education that I received at Ashoka, which allowed me to pivot, adapt, and navigate this complex space.

When it comes to climate change and sustainability, “the arts and sciences definitely need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated”, in the words of Tim Minchin. As a student at Ashoka and as an active member of the alumni community now, I have had the privilege of knowing and speaking to people from diverse backgrounds, disciplines and expertise, and I believe each one of them has been critical in shaping my perspective and instilling my belief in the value of multidisciplinary education, especially in the context of sustainability and climate action. For policymaking in this regard, one needs to have sociology, anthropology and gender experts to account for the disadvantaged who are contoured out of mainstream sustainable development narratives and face the highest degree of climate risks. One also needs political scientists to understand and formulate policies conducive to different political contexts, and literature experts and linguists for advocacy and knowledge dissemination on sustainability and climate action (and learning lessons from the greatest books of our time). We need economists and finance experts to craft models which incentivize sustainable development and we need philosophers because it is arguably the foundation of all knowledge and thinking. We also definitely need those who are experts in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, who have an undeniable contribution to make in our collective efforts for battling climate change and accelerating sustainable development.

I have been lucky enough to effectively leverage my liberal arts education at Ashoka with the YIF and MLS programme for a career in sustainability and climate action. However, I am aware that the end objectives of the path I have chosen require a multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach, where everyone plays a significant role, irrespective of background, discipline or expertise. I hope that Ashoka allows other like-minded sustainability enthusiasts also to find their way to excel in this journey and be stalwarts for our society, and our planet.

To use a somewhat outdated reference from Game of Thrones, which I also used in 2016 during the liberal arts conference that I spoke about in the beginning—to battle the allegorical threat of White Walkers (climate change) and protect the realm (our planet), we need every kingdom (country) to unite, while the “Maesters”, who are equipped with knowledge of various disciplines (multidisciplinary liberal arts graduates), guide and lead these efforts. Brace yourselves, climate change is not just coming, it is already here. I am grateful to Ashoka University, the YIF and MLS programmes for giving me the tools and multidisciplinary knowledge required to be a part of these efforts, for our collective societal and planetary future.

(Anurit Kanti is currently a Senior Consultant-Sustainability Specialist at Capgemini, a Global Shaper in the Global Shapers Community (an initiative of the World Economic Forum), an Agenda Contributor to the World Economic Forum, a former international-award-winning-environmental journalist, 40 under 40 list of the Indian Achiever’s Club, and a graduate of Ashoka University, YIF’15 and MLS’ 16 where he specialized in Environmental Economics)

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