On finding home in people and building things from the ground up, with Shakti Mehra

August 4, 2023

On finding home in people and building things from the ground up, with Shakti Mehra

In this piece, our Sr. Content Specialist, Nea Ningtyas, recounts her conversation with Shakti Mehra, who heads Jiva’s operation in East Java. He shares about building the East Java branch from scratch, living in a foreign country, and finding comfort in the Indonesian cordiality and beautiful islands.

Albeit being the busiest man around, Shakti Mehra, who leads Jiva’s East Java operation, welcomed my invitation to chat as soon as we arrived in our Surabaya office.

It was still early in the morning. I was worried our conversation would go stale quickly; he seemed a little reserved, and I was unprepared and sleep-deprived due to my early flight. But he turned out to be a natural conversationalist, and our talk had become one of the best conversations I’ve had on this visit.

Shakti has been there since Jiva started its operation in East Java, so instinctively, he shared many stories.

Before Jiva, he was among the many people impacted by pandemic lay-offs. But not long after, he got to join this company with an exciting opportunity to help establish a new branch operation from scratch. Since then, he said, there had never been a boring day.

It was a peculiar opportunity, building something from the ground up.

“When you’re there from the start of a company, you sort of get attached. You’ve felt the ups and downs; you’ve seen good days, bad days. But through it all, there has never been a boring day here — that sort of keeps you going,” he said.

It was a challenge for him, being accountable for the hits and misses for the entire branch operation and its people, especially as a foreigner working for the first time in Indonesia — having to deal with cultural differences on top of everything. But the people he worked with, whom he thought was the most amiable set of people he had ever met, made it much easier for him.

“My favourite part about Indonesia is the people. They are so nice and friendly, that makes settling in and working with them very easy.”

He spoke fondly about his Indonesian colleagues at the East Java branch office. For a long time, he was the only Indian employee in an office full of Indonesians, but as he put it, “it never felt like that. It’s been like working amongst friends.”

Other than the people, Shakti felt at home in Indonesia because of its beautiful islands. Gili Air in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, is his favourite place to spend his day-offs.

“It’s great here, Bali is a stone’s throw away, and you can find me in Gili Air every long weekend,” he said, jokingly, but I was pretty sure he meant it.

Always being on one’s toes and allowing room for mistakes

When asked about the most challenging thing about his job, Shakti chuckled. Everything about this role is challenging; the amount of responsibilities it bears, being accountable for the entire business in one of Jiva’s key operational areas, and all that.

“When you have so many things going around, it’s easy to miss one thing or two. But you can’t afford to do that in this role. You have to be on your toes all the time,” he said.

Tough as it is, this role brought him his colleagues, whom he referred to as a special (his word) reward.

“These people are not only brilliant. They’re also very humble and understanding. You see this spark in everyone; that they want to learn,” he said, his eyes radiating that very same spark he just mentioned, “Nobody here is afraid to admit that they don’t know or that they need time to figure things out.”

This behaviour is admirable, he continued. It gives a space to learn and grow.

He further stressed that making mistakes was an important thing to do when you’re in a startup. “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying.”

Things we offer and limitless opportunities

It wasn’t surprising to see how much Jiva’s operation in East Java has grown since it started after knowing that the person who led it had such courage; to push every boundary coming his way.

He recalled when Jiva first started operating in this area — meeting farmers and micro-collectors while not having much to offer.

“When you think about helping farmers, the first thing you have to ensure is that you solve all the basic problems in their lives. For example, to ensure fair trade practices where farmers aren’t being cheated on,” he said.

And that’s what Jiva has been doing since we first started — and will continue to do so in the long run. However, Shakti thought that the full potential of Jiva we were yet to see.

“The opportunities to help farmers are limitless. We haven’t seen 100% of what Jiva can do for farmers, but I’m excited to find out.”

This talk, and many conversations I’ve had before and after this one, led me to believe that Jiva is where it is today because of the people behind it. With people like Shakti and many others I’ve encountered so far, I can now see that our mission to empower 500 million smallholder farmers around the world is, after all, attainable.

Learn more about Jiva, what we do, and the people behind the scene by following our LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube.

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