NEXT GEN VOICES: Introducing CASE Scholar Shreyas Chandra Shekar

In India, a farmer commits suicide every 48 minutes.

The majority of India’s population (58%, or 800M people), depends on agriculture as the primary income source. Of those individuals, 86% have an average of 0.6 hectares of land (half the area of a football field), which is insufficient to scale, reinvest for growth, or sustain their families. Furthermore, most farming families belong to the lowest castes in the Hindu caste system and were forbidden formal education until just a generation ago. Illiteracy and lack of education among farmers make them vulnerable to exploitation from intermediaries in the supply chain and unable to benefit from technological advances and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) that can help them scale and negotiate deals that are more equitable than today’s (<20% of what the end-consumer pays). As a result, financially strained farmers take on insurmountable debt and eventually corner themselves into committing suicide.

Since I was 18, I’ve scoured government data, research papers, and media reports to understand the challenges that compel so many farmers, like my father, to take their lives. When I discussed this pressing issue with my classmates in college, none could truly comprehend and relate, since most of them hadn’t even met a farmer, much less grown up in a farming family.

During my second year in college (2013), I learned how large-scale reforms in agriculture are achievable through policy and governance. So, I started an independent campaign to elect a pro-farmer political leader as the Chief Minister of my state, Karnataka (50M voters, 75M population). My efforts started small, organizing meetups and discussions with supporters I found through social media. By 2017, I was managing 3,000+ active volunteers, 50,000+ registered members, and social media accounts with 200,000+ followers and 3M monthly unique viewers (30% of total social media users in the state). We had coverage in every district across the state. The movement had become the most popular political campaign in Karnataka, compelling the pro-farmer leader to reach out and ask me to lead his official election campaign. Realizing this was my ticket to impact farmers’ lives, I quit my well-paying job in Decision Sciences to lead the campaign full-time, without pay, and succeeded in helping the leader come to power in the 2018 Karnataka state elections.

Following the election, as Assistant to the Chief Minister, I helped implement a $2.2 billion loan waiver scheme, which waived outstanding loans of 2.7 million farmer families – and contributed to a reduction of farmer suicides in the state by 45% YoY.

Why Fuqua?

Working closely with a former Prime Minister of India and Chief Minister of Karnataka taught me the importance of establishing strong professional relationships. When I was researching MBA programs, an extremely tight-knit Fuqua community and the well-known loyalty of Duke alumni made all the difference. The camaraderie among alumni and current students I interacted with was highly evident and convinced me that the Duke MBA was the best fit for me. My interactions with Erin Worsham, the Executive Director of CASE, reaffirmed my observations. It became clear that I’ll have a lifetime support system of staff, faculty, and fellow scholars at CASE to lean on as I embark on my future endeavors.

What impact do you hope your Fuqua education will allow you to have on the world?

I want to acquire and leverage the highest levels of influence in business and politics to create large-scale positive changes in people’s lives. While I continue building personal relationships in politics and government, Fuqua will help me develop connections in the business world. Post-MBA, I want to work in a client services role so that I can interact with business leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations. Long-term, I want to tap my network in business, politics, and government to drive impact-oriented business decisions and government policies.

A Fun Fact:

I did not take even a single day off work (politics) from November 2017 to March 2020 (the start of the COVID-19 lockdown) – not even weekends! (Maybe I’m an extreme example of intrinsic motivation?!)