Where are you from, and why there?
I was born in Maine, USA, but soon thereafter my family moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. My parents were Indian immigrants who left India chasing dreams of a more prosperous life. My father worked in the oil industry, first with British Petroleum and then Talisman Energy. It’s remarkable to think about what he did for his work and what I do for mine. We’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. Perhaps it’s part of some grand balancing act.
Which issue(s) do you work on/care about, and why?
I work at the intersection of globalization, human rights, and inequality. My work examines the role that business has in our society, including minimizing rights impacts and, increasingly, challenging business to act to enhance society rather than extract from it. I believe that we need a total rethink of the role that governments, business, and society at large play against one another. I hope my work contributes to this reimagining.
How did you get involved?
In some cosmic way, I think I was always meant to do this work. Being raised in the den of the Canadian oil industry, I saw very quickly that the business model of extraction led to booming growth within my city, but was aware that there were consequences in places farther away. In college at McGill University, I studied the “Social Context of Business” in my management degree, a new stream that challenged the role of business in society. From there, I went to law school and continued to do work on these issues, including leading work on the mandate on business and human rights for a local NGO, Human Rights Advocates.
What are the biggest challenges for the issue(s) today?
There is a growing recognition that big business and its role in society needs to shift. From tax avoidance to political interference, global business has brought an arsenal of strategies and tactics to their engagement with society, and they employ an unending string of lobbyists to help them effectuate their ends. We need to retool the way business engages in society by focusing on the long-term and making respect for human rights, the rights of workers, and the environment critical drivers rather than casualties of global business. We have the opportunity to do this now more than ever. Active movements around the world are challenging corporate power and government capture by special interests. Leaders will be born of these movements and they will reframe the rules of globalization to ensure that it works for all, not just an elite handful.
Who are your most frequent allies in your field?
Everyone, anyone, all the time. I believe allies exist across political, religious, economic or any other spectrum.
What drives you?
The feeling that the system is not fair, and that I may be able to help it become a bit more fair and the thought that if I don’t at least try, I’m not sure who will. Ultimately, it’s a humbling but heartfelt commitment that I am on this path for a reason, and that by keeping my head down and working, I may find myself looking up to a world much improved than the one we currently have.
What do you want your career/advocacy to stand for?
That nothing is set in stone, and that the seemingly intractable problems facing our societies can be solved through strategic vision, hard work, creativity, and collaboration.