A public policy professional with a focus on tech, Anuja Kadian, SFMBA ’22, is the Government and Industry Affairs Director at Corteva Agriscience (formerly Dow-DuPont). Through product and policy advocacy, she spearheads the planning and execution of strategic programs and initiatives across the Asia-Pacific region.
In her previous role at Rolls-Royce, Anuja worked closely with policymakers to expand the company’s footprint within South Asia’s burgeoning aerospace, energy, defense, and manufacturing sectors. Based in New Delhi, India, Anuja holds degrees in electrical engineering and business in addition to her MIT Sloan MBA.
Since you left the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA, you’ve taken on a pretty exciting role at one of the largest Agri-Tech firms in the world. What are you working on now?
I head the Government and Industry Affairs division of Corteva and oversee 17 countries in the Asia-Pacific region from New Zealand to Pakistan. It’s a cluster of regions vastly different from one another, with very different food security challenges, system issues, and policy impediments.
The future of food production hinges on getting new, productive, and sustainable tools and technologies into the hands of farmers. These innovations are required at all levels. They result in more resilient crops, greener chemistry, smarter digital resources, and better access to financing. They can help farmers optimize their investments in seed and crop protection and drive on-farm sustainable impacts. Usually, however, the tech-intensive nature of this sector happens far away from the eyes of the public. People are frequently unaware that contemporary agriculture is backed by sophisticated technology and that it undergoes multiple layers of safety testing.
What do you think is the path forward?
For one thing, I strongly believe that food security should be part of the national security dialogue. We need to help farmers protect their crops against weeds, insects, disease, and weather pressures, while meeting consumer and regulatory demands, supporting soil health, and increasing productivity. Improving agricultural production levels against the decreasing availability of arable land and the increasing stress on natural resources will require new solutions for sustainable food production. Digital tools, superior seeds, customized crop protection, climate risk insurance, weather forecasting, access to financing, education and training initiatives—all are key components of a smart, resilient, and sustainable agricultural ecosystem. My role is to collaborate with policymakers and shapers to ensure a conducive environment for these innovations.
Have you been able to draw upon your time as an SFMBA in this role?
Definitely. I’m looking at how to promote innovations in these very diverse countries under my umbrella. You need to promote innovation in India in a very different way than you do in Australia, for example. As a Sloan Fellow, one of my favorite courses was iEcosystems, taught by Phil Budden. It’s been crucial to my work on a daily basis to identify what level of innovation is acceptable to different demographics and how to better collaborate with stakeholders.
Sustainability Lab with Jason Jay and Bethany Patten was also a game-changer for me. The issues we looked at were diverse and eye-opening. We explored materiality analysis, responsible consumerism, analytical tools and frameworks, new business models, and worked on a live project. We also examined the roles that non-governmental institutions and organizations can play in supporting and advancing sustainability. A number of these issues are central to my work today.
Just as valuable is the knowledge I took away from working with my immensely talented SFMBA cohort. I can drop a line to a classmate or MIT alum to guide me in any of the countries I’m working with. They can give me an insiders’ view of their political systems so that I have essential knowledge on how to approach policy in that area.
What brought you to the MIT SFMBA in the first place? Why this particular program?
I first reached out to the SFMBA program back in 2009, even though I wasn’t really ready. But I had met alumni of the program in a professional capacity over the years and was really impressed with them. And the more I interacted with former Fellows, the more I was convinced of the power of the program. It seemed a natural fit for me. Then, the pandemic hit, and I was forced to pause. It actually presented a chance to sit back and think about what I wanted to do with my life. I asked myself, Are you satisfied, or do you want to take your life to a different level? The answer, of course, was to apply to the program.
What was it like to spend a year at MIT? Was it different from what you expected?
When I arrived, I said to myself, “I have finally come home.” I felt comfortable from day one. I just knew very clearly what I wanted from the program. I was focused on three areas: frontier markets, sustainability, and innovation. Most of all, I wanted that one year off to really concentrate. I already had an MBA—that’s not why I came to the program. What I wanted was to experiment, to think, to do the things I couldn’t do during my first master’s degree or while embedded in the workplace. I wanted to explore all that MIT had to offer—and the Harvard ecosystem, too.
At MIT, you feel a certain energy. Everyone is excited about what they’re working on. It’s contagious. Everyone is focused on excellence. You won’t meet anyone who is content with mediocrity. They want to be their best, and they want you to be your best. And you want to be your best…even if it’s not the world’s best. It’s always understood that you’re beyond what you bring to the table. It’s not a competitive vibe. Everybody is surprisingly humble, and that in itself is humbling. You arrive on campus, and suddenly you’re interacting with these inspiring thinkers. You only find out later that that person you were just having coffee with is a Nobel laureate or on the Forbes “30 under 30” list.
There’s also this powerful sense of priority at MIT. Everyone is dedicated to doing the right thing. Everyone is focused on finding ways to conduct their careers with a focus on the greater good. It’s the thread that weaves through the entire MIT ethos. MIT Sloan is not just a B-school. It’s not just a place to learn the fundamentals of business—although you can do that, of course. It’s much larger than that.
What is your feeling about the immersive one-year experience?
I’m someone who wants to put in 100 percent. If I had done a modular program, that 100 percent would have been divided among all the responsibilities in my life. The one-year program gives you the advantage of being totally immersed and focused on this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It gives you the mental space to decide your future. I knew I loved policy and that never changed. Having the space to explore and evaluate, though, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to focus entirely on tech-oriented sectors so that I could simplify tech policymaking. That, I realized, is what I love to do. I would never have reached that understanding in the all-encompassing chaos of the work arena.
Also, after 15 years continually working, I wanted to take that year and really assess where I’d been and where I should be going–to finetune my calling. People tried to talk me into a more modular program so I wouldn’t leave my place in the work arena. They warned it was a financial risk. I said, “I know what value I bring to the table, and I am committed to doing this deep dive.” In the end, that decision has certainly worked out for me. I’m doing what I’m meant to do!
What was your most valuable takeaway from your year as a Sloan Fellow?
Probably learning to understand the dynamics of a passionate, high-powered team. In the SFMBA program, you’re continually working in groups on intense projects. You learn how to manage the relationships, debates, and passions that are part of a team dynamic. In all these collaborative experiences, you grow to understand your own boundaries and to acknowledge other people’s boundaries. You identify your blind spots. You pick up small but important lessons—like when you turn off your video during a Zoom, people assume you’re not listening.
I understand that while you were in Cambridge your family stayed back in New Delhi?
Yes, my husband and my 7-year-old son were brave to take it all in stride. We coordinated a regular movie night when we could connect and have fun together. But really, my son was focused on one thing: he just wanted to see me graduate and, more than that, to see the MIT dome in person! Kids at this age understand the value of tech and innovation. We had talked about nuclear energy in connection with something I was working on, and he was curious to see it in action, so when graduation came around, I took him to see MIT’s nuclear power plant. One of my classmates gave us a tour, explaining the technology and the safety measures. It was a revelation for my son—and for me, too. It’s times like that when you really see what MIT does. The Institute brings all these diverse minds together from all these different places around the globe to work together for humanity. It’s a reality that hits home every day that you’re at MIT.