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Jayant Rastogi on why he left the corporate life

The Magic Bus India Foundation’s CEO says leaders should be approachable

I was drawn to working in a sector where the bottomline was not just about profit, he says. (Courtesy Magic Bus India)

By Shail Desai

LAST PUBLISHED 16.10.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

About a decade ago, Jayant Rastogi was an integral part of the corporate world as the CEO at Motorola Solutions for South Asia. All that changed the day he stepped out for a field session in Mumbai with the NGO, Magic Bus India Foundation, which works with young people from underprivileged backgrounds to equip them with life skills and livelihoods. He was amazed to see the power of sport and how it was being used by the NGO to highlight important issues such as gender equality and the importance of finishing school. 

In that moment, there was an instant connection and he considered combining his corporate expertise with a social cause for the first time. He started understanding the work being done in the development sector, the challenges at hand and how he could make a difference. In 2016, he quit a promising corporate career to join Magic Bus as its Global CEO.

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“I was drawn to the idea of working in a sector where the bottomline was not just about profit, but the positive transformation in people’s lives. It was a unique opportunity to bring about change and promote social entrepreneurship," Rastogi says. 

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Some of the early challenges he faced were related to acquiring consistent and timely data, which in turn made it difficult to make well-informed decisions and thoroughly evaluate the NGO’s impact. 

“My understanding of what technology can do and its transformative power led me to introducing it, which was frugal at that point of time, but addressed most critical aspects of programme delivery and finance," he says.

Today, their childhood and livelihood programmes are spread across 24 states and union territories, empowering ten lakh adolescents with life skills and secondary education, besides helping two lakh youths to sustainable jobs over the last two decades. 

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“Looking back, the transition from a big multinational corporation to the social sector feels like destiny. Not only are we solving generational problems at scale, but we are trying to envisage platforms and models that can anticipate the challenges of the future and provide solutions. Our goal is to expand our programmes to reach every needy corner of our country," Rastogi says. 

Rastogi talks to Lounge about active and passive mentoring, and the importance of being approachable.

Who do you consider your mentor? 

Our founder, Matthew Spacie, had the foresight that to scale the organization, he needed to entrust his brainchild to a more professional management. He brought in a team, fully realising that passion alone cannot drive the scaling of an NGO. This helped Magic Bus institutionalise and build strong credibility, significantly contributing to addressing the acute problems of school dropouts and ensuring sustainable livelihoods.

One major insight you worked on with your mentor’s guidance. 

I emphasise the importance of being approachable as a leader, so that in case of any challenges or negative news, people feel comfortable sharing it and proactively work towards a solution. I believe in establishing an environment that promotes open communication, where team members can freely share their thoughts without the fear of criticism. This cultivates a more collaborative, inclusive and creative work atmosphere.

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What does being a mentor mean to you? How do you mentor your colleagues at work? 

As a mentor, I focus on actively guiding and nurturing my team’s growth, believing in balance between active and passive mentoring. In the active role, I provide guidance, share experiences and offer constructive feedback. This helps my colleagues identify and develop their strengths while addressing their weaknesses, ultimately enabling them to reach their full potential. On the passive side, I lead by example. I demonstrate values, work ethics and commitment. Through this, I aim to create an environment of continuous learning and collaboration, inspiring and empowering my colleagues to not only thrive but also succeed in their professional journeys.

What are some of the productivity principles you follow that have made your professional and personal life much easier? 

I’m a big believer in having a positive attitude and being thankful for what we have. I’m all about finding passion in what we do. When you truly enjoy your work, it doesn’t feel like a chore and it can drive productivity. And mistakes happen, so holding grudges doesn’t help anyone. Forgiving and moving on not only reduces stress, but also fosters a culture of trust and open communication. It’s how we learn and grow from our slip-ups.

Any book or podcast you would recommend about mentorship and growth? 

A great book for futurists and deep thinkers is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a thought-provoking journey into the issues that shape our 21st-century world. 

Monday Motivation is a series in which business leaders and creative individuals discuss their mentors and their work ethics. 

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.