“Find your sense of purpose and ambition and go after it”
It was in boarding school, when I was 10 and wandering off wherever I wanted to go, that I tasted independence for the first time. I suppose that is useful for most things later in life, although not so much in school where I was a bit delinquent and spent more time tracking sea turtles, learning to catch snakes with the Irula tribals and climbing coconut trees than studying.
In 2005, I was working on my postdoctoral research in neurosciences at National Institutes of Health, US, when I unexpectedly got involved with microfinance. My father, K M Thiagarajan founded Bank of Madura and later sold it to ICICI in 2004 (signing a deal between his non-profit and the bank). A debilitating stroke rendered him bedridden, and the operation unravelled. Since rural micro finance was a personal undertaking for my father, I decided to help out with the operations, with no clue as to what I was signing up for. I would google banking terms and it took three years of firefighting operation to overcome structural challenges in setting up Madura. Meanwhile, my doctrate continued over Skype and occassional travel between the two continents.
There are a few things I’ve learned along the way to make things work. First, if you are committed to making it work and are on a budget, prioritise things that buy you time and freedom over material stuff that will just tie you down. Second, put in the effort to build systems so that your household operations work efficiently and don’t need daily review. Third, talk to your children about your work often so that they understand what you do, why you do it.
Tara Thiagarajan 45 Chairman, Madura Microfinance and Founder and Chief Scientist, Sapien Labs, US