What kind of work do you do/business do you run?
I run Humane Society International/India, a not for profit, animal protection organization in India. I am an animal protection advocate and have been in the animal protection sector for a decade.
HSI India is the Indian affiliate of Humane Society International which is the world’s largest animal protection organization in the world.
What do you love about it?
The fact that I get to help animals, humans, and this planet – all at once by bringing the focus on animals.
That I wake up, sometimes exhausted and disappointed in the world but I wouldn’t change a thing about doing what I do and I am fiercer everyday.
What’s your ‘why’ in life? What drives you?
Three instances changed my life:
1. When I was in a mundane job, on my way to work, I saw a street dog dead right in the middle of the road opposite my former office. She had been run over. People stared and grimaced, some cars swerved past it and some ran over the dog again. I was aghast by the car in front of me not evening bothering to sway away from the dog.
I got to office, went to the spot, got my colleague to stop the traffic, picked up the still warm dog and placed her aside while calling the municipality to pick her up. That was when I realized that my plan of earning all my life and helping animals late in my 40s or worse, after my retirement was a bad idea.
How could I expect others to be compassionate when I wasn’t taking the first step in doing something about what was wrong in the world?
That still drives me today. Not to wait for anyone, do it yourself because animals suffer every second of our lives and they cannot afford for us to wait.
2. Back when I was a non-vegetarian and I didn’t get why people called me a hypocrite for eating animals and wanting to help animals, I saw a rooster being taken to the veterinary clinic of the animal shelter I was volunteering in.
Something suddenly clicked within me and I realized that animals I brushed away as food were just like the pups in the shelter my heart would bleed for. That day, the realization I had was so powerful that I can still feel the glow of it.
3. Immediately after getting my first job at an animal welfare organization 10 years ago, I visited a shelter in west India where orphaned male calves were rescued. I still remember the 10-day-old calf who suckled at the tassles of my stole before I fed him milk.
While I was a practicing vegan then, I was doing it because the environment was conducive, not because I was determined and enlightened. When I started feeding store bought milk to the orphaned calf, I understood how it all made sense. That milk was for the calf and he should have gotten it directly from the mother but because of our selfishness, he was getting it this way.
And he was in a minority among the very few who get rescued and actually get to live out the rest of their lives. That calf and my naïve self’s sudden realization helps me find my reason to keep going whenever I am lost.
Why are you a member of the Vegan Women’s Leadership Network?
For as long as I can remember, women have always been pitted against each other. Women have worked juggling a million things, excelled yet doubting themselves and feeling guilty of not doing at least one thing well.
When women reach a leadership position, they are more often than not pitted against other leaders on the basis of their gender and not their performance.
I believe in the power of sisterhood and think the Vegan Women’s Leadership Network is a brilliant platform to meet other women leaders, learn from them and uplift each other.
What better time than now to be with a group of dynamic women who are not only leaders in their own right but also the most compassionate.
What’s been the biggest highlight or ‘wow’ moment of your career/business/professional life?
I have been in the animal protection sector for only a decade and I have a long way to go but I think the first achievements are always special. On 28 June, 2012 I sat in the drug and cosmetics regulator’s office during a stakeholder meeting with the regulator announcing a prohibition on animal testing for cosmetics. This was after HSI/India’s efforts over 8-12 months and that is one of my happiest and proudest moment to date.
How do you handle failures, fear and disappointment?
I would love to say I don’t set myself up for failure but sometimes failures are the biggest lessons.
The way I cope with failures, fear and disappointment is that I give myself time and energy to analyse what went wrong, talk to others – whether senior or junior. I allow myself to be vulnerable so I get help and am able to bounce back to be a more effective advocate for animals.
What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
I would tell myself to not listen to others and believe in myself a little more, perhaps respect myself a little more
Which women inspire you and why?
The women in my family especially my grandmothers, one married at the age of 13 but so determined to study that she went to college with her daughter, the other widowed at a young age but her zeal to live was immense.
My 10th grade math teacher who would push us to do our best by working doubly hard herself – she was the first example of collaboration that I had seen in my life. She didn’t make me feel like it was only my job to get good grades but her responsibility too and we worked very well together.
I LOVE Michelle Obama – when I read her book Becoming, I could relate to almost everything she said which is one of the best things I love about her.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced and how has it helped mould who you are now?
Since I was in school, something that I have always been faced with is how people assume my ability to do things.
It has been very easy for people, especially boys and later men, to doubt my abilities, underestimate me and point that out very blatantly.
While that has been a trigger and continues to be a bit of anxiety for me, I think therapy and my work in the animal protection sector helped me grow out of that.
I think my experience has made me want to be a better ally for other women and those who are marginalized.
What’s your super-power? What are you amazing at?
I believe I am a great listener and to just to be able to keenly listen to people is a superpower in understanding them, empathizing with them and making this world a less miserable place.
What brings you joy?
Rains, all animals and Indian Bollywood music.
How do you define success, and how will you know when you’ve achieved it?
Challenging myself and setting higher standards for myself means I am growing and that would be the yardstick by which I would measure myself.
Professionally, my biggest success would be to make animal protection organizations unnecessary because animals would not suffer anymore.
I know that may be difficult for my generation but two generations down the line, I think there is hope.
What’s your vision for yourself and your business/career for the future?
Personally, my vision is to try one new skill every year and never be so complacent to stop learning.
Professionally, my aim is to bring all the marginalized groups of people together and recognize the intersectionality and the common link between animal welfare and human welfare and work together to plug so many loopholes that exist and work as a united front.
Anything else you want to tell us?
I’m super excited to be part of the Vegan Women’s Leadership Network!
Alokparna Sengupta is the Managing Director for Humane Society International/India. She has worked in the animal protection movement for the past decade. She has been part of several government and scientific committees including the Indian Council of Medical Research and Bureau of Indian Standards. She has also been part of several stakeholder committee meeting to bring in animal friendly policies in India. Having obtained a degree of Masters in Science (M.Sc) for Biotechnology from Osmania University, she is currently pursuing her long-distance LLM from National Law University, Delhi.