What I learnt during my First 100 days with FSC

This week, I completed 100 days as the as the Country Manager for India for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) . It has been a very enriching experience, so thought of sharing my learnings through this post. Hope that you will find some of these learnings useful.

Learning 1: Network Matters

This learning is not a surprise, or anything revolutionary, but it is a great reminder for me. Around middle of May, someone in my LinkedIn connections sent me a message about this role. So in a way, I owe this job to my network! Equally important is that during the past few months, I have reconnected with several amazing people in the nonprofit world, many of who have been known to me for years.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the India Sustainability Standards Conference organized by the Center for Responsible Business in New Delhi. During the event, there were several instances where I met someone after three or four years. The time gaps were quickly bridged, and they were more than eager to offer their support and advise.

I also feel privileged to work with some amazing colleagues- I have met most of my colleagues from Asia Pacific region recently, and will meet many more in Bonn next week. Their energy, depth of knowledge about the issues, and focus is inspiring. It is great to be a part of this network.

(I have written about my experience with this conference in a blog post at the FSC Asia Pacific Blog)

Learning 2: A Not-For-Profit Startup

When I saw the opportunity, I was intrigued. As I saw it, the role involved setting up a new country office and a company, the opportunity to hire super smart people, and B2B business development. It was literally like launching a startup!

The icing to the cake was that FSC International has over 50 offices and a staff of over 200 globally. Which meant that I would be in a startup with a great support system form day one.

But more importantly, the organization, FSC, worked in the field of sustainability, particularly forests and forest products. Having worked in construction, I was well aware of the importance of wood, and also the downside if supply of wood disappeared. That was the trigger for me, I knew this was what I should be doing.

My experience with Gaatha Stories benefitted me immensely when my wife and I considered this role. Once the decision was made, there was excitement, energy, a flurry of thoughts, and an urge for immediate action. But I did quite the reverse, which is the next learning.

Learning 3: Business School Case Study in Real Life

We’re faced with twin challenge of meeting an ever increasing demand and a dwindling supply for forest products. The forest cover globally has depleted by over 45 percent in the past decades, and if we do not manage our forest resources wisely, the situation will become even more critical. But what I’ve learnt in past months is that the problem has multiple dimensions. In some countries such as Indonesia, burning of forests to make way for plantations is an issue. In others, ownership and rights to forest resources is the main challenge to tackle. In India, illegal import of timber from Africa is a challenge, but this is also a challenge in Southeast Asia and China. It is almost like living in a business school case study- but in real life.

There are many dimensions to the challenge, and the challenge has several layers like onions. And there is no right or wrong answer. Time will only tell which approach works, and which doesn’t.

Learning 4: Doing More By Doing Less

Almost every organization I have worked with, and every role I was in, required me to get into the thick of things within days of joining them. For example, when I joined Novak Construction in Chicago, but I hardly spent a week there before spending the next six months at construction sites in different cities. Likewise with Amazon in India: a fortnight in Bengaluru, followed by several months at construction sites.

I had resolved to spend majority of my time during the first three months with FSC in learning, talking to people, and understanding the issues. It was probably the most difficult challenge professionally.

Every day, there was the urge to get into action, and everyday I would spend more time meeting people and talking to them. Doing so not only helped me in understanding the lay of the land, but also forming relationships with the key stakeholders.

This month, we finalized the strategic plan and the action plan for FSC in India. The time I spent in meeting people and understanding the issues at hand proved to be helpful. It helped in prioritizing the issues, giving them focus and a timeline.

Learning 5: Metrics Matter

I found that a lot of information about impact, outreach studies, and business connect was qualitative in nature. There is a different way of monitoring, measuring and evaluating results in the nonprofit world. As a result, it was really difficult for me to get the big picture. The good part is that FSC has two metrics, namely, number of certificate holders (business and smallholders) and area of forests under certification. To reinforce them, I believe that we need to develop some more parameters for India which businesses managers will be able to better relate to. In a way, defining the TAM or Total Addressable Market, marketshare, impact of outreach activities, etc. Fortunately, there tools available that help in measuring these, and metrics is one area which will need some work.

(originally posted on LinkedIn).



Author, Speaker. Cofounder gaathastory podcasts and creator of Baalgatha, Devgatha and Fairytales of India Podcasts. New book "An Eye for AI" releasing soon.

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Amar Vyas

Author, Speaker. Cofounder gaathastory podcasts and creator of Baalgatha, Devgatha and Fairytales of India Podcasts. New book "An Eye for AI" releasing soon.