Shagun Sethi

Director for Global Leadership at OneShared.World

Programs and Operations Manager at Pontoka

Research Fellow with Leading Cities, Boston

Why did you choose the M.A. in Global Thought and how did it prepare you for your current position?

I have known from a very young age that I had to empower myself and use my voice to speak up – I come from a developing country where voices of women and vulnerable populations are crushed by oppression and discrimination, and so, I knew I needed to get an education that would enable me to find solutions to tangible problems faced by people on ground. However, after an undergraduate degree in Political Science, I graduated with more questions than ever before – how do I facilitate change? In which aspect of society do I see myself working? And most importantly, how do I take local problems with contextual instances to the global paradigm?

That is when I stumbled upon the MA in Global Thought program – and from the first glance, I was in love! The program is the epitome of interdisciplinary learning and provides students with the ability and platform to engage with diverse courses. Through the degree, we had the opportunity to take classes from all of Columbia’s schools, and interact with/ benefit from the wide variety of resources the university has to offer.

To me, the Global Thought program has been like the bridge that takes young leaders and people with big dreams from where they are, to where they want to be. Through the degree, I took coursework which opened different avenues for professional development, and accumulated tools and skills which were transferable, global and interdisciplinary. Today, as I work with global corporations and consult on multi-national projects, my ability to communicate and think analytically has been a great value add to all my projects. Additionally, as I research and write about issues concerning sustainability and social development, I think back to all those hours I spent on my MA thesis and the priceless feedback that allowed me to see loopholes, which today I am able to tie up in my writing, on my own and effortlessly. The network and community I gained through the program is a lifelong asset and gift, and with this support system I know I am on the right path to achieve my goals and make the world a better place!

Describe your favorite MA in Global Thought course or project, and how it helped your academic, professional, and/or personal growth.

Every class I took during my MA has a special place in my heart – each of them elicits emotions of absolute joy and fulfillment. The core classes of the program empowered us with the tools and skills required to conduct meaningful research, write coherent essays and think critically and globally. The MA Seminar classes were packed with interesting speakers, nuanced and deep conversations, and most of all, debates which emboldened us to pick apart complex arguments to find our own footing and thoughts in an ever changing, increasingly global class. Professor Desai’s mentorship and consistent support through my thesis writing and discovery process not only helped me become a better writer and researcher, it made me a better woman. Her encouragement and presence helped me identify the kind of mentor and leader I hope to one day become – sensitive, committed, approachable, inspiring, incredibly venerable and most of all, kind and loving.

I loved the Global Economy class ‘International Political Economy of Developing Countries’, taught by Professor Gaikwad, because here, I was able to understand the global economic paradigm with a local, subaltern perspective and engage with issues close to my personal and professional life through an economic understanding. One of my electives, ‘Corporations and Human Rights’, was fundamental in defining my professional journey and enabled me to see the intersection of business and social development. During this class, for the first time, I was able to see my career ahead clearly, it empowered me to conduct research and find my footing in the space of Sustainability, Corporate Responsibility and ESG. Another elective, ‘Women in Cities’ emboldened me to conduct original research on gendered perceptions of safety and how they affect people’s behaviour in cities. With a friend (and now co-author), I collected data from across 13 countries and after graduating, in early 2021, we published our work with Leading Cities, Boston, U.S.A (

How did you come to work in your current career field and what inspires you about your work?

My interests lie at the intersection of globalisation, business, sustainability and social development. Before Columbia, I did not know how to make these seemingly divergent fields meet – I was spending time interning at policy think tanks, government bodies, corporations and consultancies, but some how was not able to marry my interests together. The Global Thought program emboldened me to see beyond the surface and unveil the possibilities of engaging with all these disciplines together, meaningfully and successfully.

Today, I do multiple things – I am the Director for Global Leadership at OneShared.World, a global, social organisation which aims to offer interdependent solutions to our greatest common challenges. For my work on global leadership, I have been recognised on India’s A list, and have been featured on global news media including CNN International, NewsX, Doordarshan and others. I work as a full-time programs and operations manager at Pontoka, a global ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) Advisory firm, based out of Denmark and India, where I support ambitious managements to leapfrog the sustainability agenda. I am a research fellow with Leading Cities, Boston, where with my co-auther, I published original research on gendered perspectives of safety in urban spaces. Our research has been featured in leading global dailies including SmartCity, Cities Today and StreetBlog USA. Finally, I am participating in research projects with people from across the globe and am keen to constantly think of solutions to empower the world’s most vulnerable. In every way, I am functioning globally – and none of this would have been possible without the encouragement and support of the community at the Committee on Global Thought!

What advice would you offer current Global Thought students as they prepare for their next steps?

1) Seek out people to connect with – the CGT offers a rich and diverse group of people including fellows, professors, alumnus and partners who could be catalysts in helping you understand your career trajectory and personal goals. Seek out these people and connect with them as soon as you can!

2) The program is an intensive one year degree and it does get hectic, but if you just put in every ounce of energy and soak up all that the degree offers, you will end up with experiences that you will cherish forever – so take that job on campus, start that internship, and take all the classes from across the Columbia schools that interest you!

3) Invest your time in building deep relationships. As I write this answer almost two years after I graduate, I smile thinking about the bonds I have made with people through this program. From the invaluable mentorship I received by Dr. Desai, to the never ending support by Professor Feinberg, and the close relationships with my cohort and classmates, CGT will stay with me forever. I hope it stays with you too!

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Shagun Sethi, Class of 2020