EMI ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT – Nirupama Kumar, MBA ‘13



Getting out of the Johnson One-Year program I realized I had changed somewhere, completely. The experience was so transformative, the support during and after the MBA so positive, that the only regret I have is that it was only 13 months!

EMI ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT - Nirupama Kumar, MBA ‘13inline-block

Nirupama Kumar, also known as Niru, is a 2013 graduate of Johnson’s One-Year MBA program. Prior to joining Johnson, she received her undergraduate degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from India and an MS in EE in Energy Systems from the University of Washington in Seattle. Niru worked as a power systems research engineer at a U.S. Dept. of Energy run national lab and is heavily active in several organizations including the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and SWE (Society of Women Engineers).

At Johnson, Niru received two fellowships – the EFII Fellowship (Environmental Finance and Impact Investing) given by the Sustainable Global Enterprise Institute and the EMI Fellowship given by the Emerging Markets Institute. With an MBA from Johnson, Niru aspired to achieve her dream of setting up energy and rural electrification businesses around the globe but especially in emerging and frontier markets. “Getting out of the Johnson One-Year program I realized I had changed somewhere, completely. The experience was so transformative, the support during and after the MBA so positive, that the only regret I have is that it was only 13 months!” Over the years, Niru has become aware of the strong connection between energy access and the achievement of the UN Millennium Developmental goals and hence wants to do her part in securing these millennium developmental goals globally.

After Johnson, she landed a position in the energy industry, but since her company only operated in the United States and  Canada, Niru decided to start volunteering for IEEE Smart Village (previously IEEE Community Solutions Initiative), which is involved in efforts to build communities of rural energy

Niru Graduates

entrepreneurs in the developing world, including India (Niru’s home country) and frontier markets in Africa and Latin America – http://ieee-smart-village.org/. Niru became their ambassador in 2013 and continues to serve in that capacity to date.

She is humbled by the idea of assisting rural business entrepreneurs with basic business tools, frameworks, and business plans as they grapple with being first time business owners in remote rural communities. Exploring the harsh conditions under which these entrepreneurs have to make and sustain a business provided her with new perspectives. “Doing business is no longer only about learning how to run numbers, marketing to appropriate segments, product research and strategy or about building relationships in known environments. We are living in an increasingly global world and learning about different markets in different countries, geopolitics and cultural and socio-economic complexities has become absolutely vital to be a successful business person today. The EMI gave me the platform, the resources and the amazing support that made understanding of global emerging and frontier markets, a challenging topic, that much simpler.” She has developed a strong appreciation for the socio-economic complexities of interacting and working in communities in emerging and frontier markets. Each country comes with its strong cultural history and with it nuances in doing business, which is in as much flux as local dialects, something she had not anticipated.

Global Himalayan Expedition‘s “E-Base” in Leh, India

IEEE Smart Village, Global Himalayan Expedition‘s “E-Base” in Leh, India. (Photo: Business Wire)

Niru also became the engagement officer and the chair for the Sustainable Rural Microgrids task force under the Sustainable Energy Systems for Developing Communities, a working group under the IEEE Power and Energy Society. Through this work, Niru is enabling theoretical and practical engineering research in the field of Sustainable Micorgrids within IEEE, a field which is often overlooked as opposed to research of microgrids in the developed world. Niru was also made the 2016 Marketing and Branding chair for another IEEE humanitarian technology effort called IEEE SIGHT (Special Interest Groups on Humanitarian Technology). Through this effort, she has been marketing the importance of humanitarian technology to the larger IEEE community.

Niru hopes that by enabling both research and business models, she can be a catalyst for cutting edge technology and business tools and their use to secure electricity and energy access to remote and/or rural communities in emerging and frontier markets. For her efforts, Niru was featured by the Futures Forum in 2014 in their ‘Voicing HerStory 2014’ effort as one of 8 women changing the world – http://futuresforum.org/futures_of women forum_2014. She was featured as a woman in sustainability under 40. As part of this feature, she was interviewed by Dr. Claire Nelson, a White House Champion of Change under the Obama administration; the interview can be heard here, http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs146/1102224459998/archive/1116753586215.html.

Niru has also been featured by IEEE Smart Village http://ieee-smart-village.org/volunteer-testimonial-nirupama-prakash-kumar/, and by the IEEE Women in Power http://sites.ieee.org/pes-enews/2016/02/10/women-in-power-niru-prakash-kumar/. She has spoken at a conference at Harvard and at several conferences in India on behalf of IEEE Smart Village. In 2016 she also spoke at the SWE Annual Conference’s Career Fair Opening Ceremony on behalf of Johnson business school.