A little over a year ago, Neha Panchamiya was out on assignment in rural Solapur. Alongside her team, she sat huddled in a clearing, with a sugarcane field on one side and a banana plantation on the other.
The silence was shattered when her phone started to ring. Panchamiya hung up in a hurry. For, hidden somewhere around them was a distressed leopard that they were hoping to rescue.
Life in animal rescue has put the president of RESQ in the most uncertain situations. Whether it’s pulling out a leopard from a well or nursing a hyena back to health, in the organisation’s 15-year journey, Panchamiya has seen it all.
It was this empathy towards animal suffering that got her to set aside a promising career in healthcare and fill the void that she had observed when it came to animal rescue back in 2006. She had little idea about the world of animals when RESQ started out. But with intent in place and guidance from mentors, she created an organisation that stands 60-strong today.
Through animals, she’s learnt resilience after seeing them bounce back from the most hopeless situations. At the same time, she knows she mustn’t get too attached to them, which makes it easier for her when they have to return to their natural habitat. Besides responding to animal emergencies, their outreach programs have helped prevent human-wildlife conflict in many areas.
Earlier this month, the government of Maharashtra handed RESQ permission to conduct wildlife rescues across the state. In Panchamiya’s opinion though, the organisation’s biggest achievement is surviving the rigours and demands of fieldwork over the years, and how their outreach programs have managed to work towards prevention of human-wildlife conflict.
Panchamiya looks back at how her father mentored her during the career switch, what it takes to lead a diverse team that often finds itself in the most unexpected situations, and why she enjoys hanging out in the balcony at the end of the day.
Who do you consider your mentor?
My father, Hemant Panchamiya. He’s been a great listener, providing honest and candid opinions, and encouraging me when I’ve needed it the most. In many situations, he’s shown me the path to solving a problem, but not necessarily held my hand through it. Following my heart and head, and then taking action, has made me confident and independent over the years.
One major insight you worked on with your mentor's guidance?
When I was younger, I remember my father patiently telling me the importance of planning and being practical and realistic about my goals. More importantly, he’d remind me that there is no shortcut to hard work and remaining committed. Today, when I lead a team of over 60 individuals from different walks of life, working in a relatively high-pressure environment that involves volatile situations, dealing with life and death on a daily basis, remaining disciplined and organised has held things together.
What does being a mentor mean to you?
It is about being fair, honest and innately wanting your mentee to grow and develop personally and professionally. As someone who takes joy in completing a task as perfectly as possible, I feel sheer pride when my mentee reaches a point where they do something better than me, or comes up with an idea that I would never have thought of.
How do you mentor your colleagues at work?
I encourage them to approach me with their challenges, but I don’t always present them with solutions. Instead, I share my experience and get them to draw their own conclusions. I am candid with feedback, but because my team knows I am unbiased, they take it well. They know that even if something is hard to hear, it is never personal - it is always about the work and how our actions affect human and animal lives. I believe my mentorship style is fair, brutally honest and constructive.
What’s your morning schedule like?
Our work lives can be erratic. So, if I’ve managed to sleep on time, I wake up around 6.30 am, have a cup of coffee and either meditate for 15 minutes or do some form of light exercise. After my son leaves for school, I do my thinking or creative work between 7.30-10.00 am because it’s the only time my phone doesn’t ring. After that, I do priority tasks on my to-do list, which I already determine the previous evening. In case I’ve had a late night, I ensure I get a minimum of 6-7 hours of sleep and I then get straight to my prioritised to-do list.
What are some of the productivity principles you follow that have made your professional and personal life much easier?
I use a simple application called TickTick to create an efficient to-do list. It is synced across devices and helps me remain organised and focussed. Planning your next day in advance greatly helps you focus once you wake up. I also like to be realistic and not take on more than what I can handle. If you do something, do it right.
Any book, podcast, or app you’d recommend?
I strongly recommend two applications -“Blinkist” and “Headway”. They summarise mainly non-fiction books and give you important highlights and insights. I have learnt valuable things using these apps and suggest it for busy people who are curious to learn and want to grow, but struggle with time.
How do you unwind? Do you pursue any serious hobbies?
I unwind at the end of the day by doing nothing in my balcony. It allows my mind to process the happenings of the day and then settle the thoughts running through my mind. I can also be found watching a mindless TV show, too as it helps distract my mind completely from stressful thoughts. I also spend time with a few close friends over a casual dinner at home, and since I love cooking, I do so every opportunity I get.
Monday Motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative individuals who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.