Surya Sai Mohan who creates Social Impact beyond the UPSC Traditional Path

Surya Sai Mohan's upbringing in Hyderabad with a father serving in the Government of India and a supportive homemaker mother provided a nurturing environment for his early education at St. Patrick's High School, Secunderabad.  His Childhood visits often to his ancestral house in Undi Village, Bhimavaram.  He used to spent atleast 15 days in the village, spending the lovely times with the extended family.  There he wished to meet his father’s sister Sarojini Devi, the most caring and compassionate person.  She used to constantly insists Surya to work for the betterment and greater good to the society.  She imbibed the values and thoughts inside his heart on doing good to the community and instilling the ethos of finding happiness in serving others.  

Surya Sai Mohan

Engineering, Aspirations and Ethos:

The explosive growth of Information Technology in India started in 2000 when the sector gradually upgraded from adaptation to modification to project management.  With the IT boom accelerated,  pursuing Engineering and working in the Software Industry became a societal trend.  Surya jumped on the bandwagon by pursuing Electronics and Communications Engineering at Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology, Hyderabad in 2007.  While pursuing Second year in Engineering, he contemplated attempting the UPSC civil service examination. Students in Engineering College talked about TOEFL, JEE, GATE, Masters in abroad but not much about UPSC. So he did some research online about UPSC preparations and found a small private coaching institution in Hyderabad.  He attended the weekend UPSC coaching while pursuing final year in Engineering.  But his parents worried that if he didn’t clear the examination, he will struggled to face and survive the competition with a career-gap.  The parental concerns urged him to take the job in campus placement. 

The Pursuit of Dreams:

Surya attended the campus placement and received the offer from Persistant Systems.  Accepting the offer from Persistant Systems post graduation, he dedicated the entire year as a Software developer in IT industry with sheer hardwork and saved the money diligently following his parent’s advice for financial security.  He saved the money for financial independence for the future course of action.  Then he approached the family to leave the job at the IT company to pursue the UPSC exam saying “It’s now or never”. His conservative joint family strongly opposed his decision to leave the job and move to Delhi.  

After a prolonged discussions, he managed to convinced them to relocate Delhi to start coaching.  With dedicated preparation, he appeared for Prelims in 2013 and was cleared.  Unfortunately, he failed in his first Mains but he analysed the reason for not clearing the Mains.  Now the decision has to be taken whether to stay in Delhi or moved to his hometown after exhausting his savings on a year of preparation in Delhi.  He moved back to Hyderabad and readied for the next attempt.  Fortunately, he cleared both the Prelims and Mains examinations on his second attempt. 

Quest for Service:

Post finishing his main examinations, he interned as a Researcher at the Foundation for Democratic Reforms providing research and analysis to Dr Jayaprakash Narayan the retired Bureaucrat and organisation’s founder.  While working in the organisation, he attended the final interview but narrowly missed getting the Service with a few marks.  He was one step away from the dream and he could see his dreams crumble before him.  His parents were worried about his future and given the circumstances he remained unconvinced about seeking permission for yet another year of UPSC preparation.  He was at a crossroads in his life with too many thoughts, guilty of sitting at home, dependent on his parents at the age of 25 and many emotions were running around his mind which can’t be described in words. 

“Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living”

Surya is again at the crossroads in his life and the life’s reality pushed to the place to take a decision. Whether to pursue MBA, returned to an IT job, continue working in Foundation for Democratic reforms(FDR), Pursues Masters abroad or prepare for UPSC again.  He used elimination method and figured out firstly to eliminate going back to IT job. While working in FDR and was rigid about getting into service, Dr Jayaprakash Narayan brought new perspectives on doing good for society without being a civil servant.  This brings clarity in him that IAS is a means for doing good but not an end, thereby eliminating the option of writing the UPSC exam again.  Even though he secured a good percentile in CAT, he had a deep thought on “What is the purpose of joining MBA and doing general management without any substantial social impact”.  

Path of Impact and Clarity:

On finding the right place for him,  In the year of 2016 he joined as a Policy Associate in Abdul Jamal Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) which was greatly aligned with his personal values.  He worked on a programme named “Targeting the Ultra poor” is a graduation approach to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for women to generate income, eventually leading to economic empowerment.  His role is to identify the right beneficiaries from the poorest of the poor and facilitate to establishment of small businesses such as setting up small grocery shops and tea shops. etc, meeting with the District collectors, Secretary, and Block level officer, ensures the effective knowledge transfer about the programme. This programme implemented in Rajasthan as a pilot project for 1000 women and Bihar government implemented this model as Sadat Jeevikoparjan Yojana.  

Impactful Transformations:

While during the visit on checking the right beneficiary for the programme in 2016.  Surya went to the house in the village in Rajasthan to meet the beneficiary.  Her husband was a daily wage labourer, tragically passed away, leaving her and two children struggling.  Forced back to her parent's house, Societal norms pushed her to live in their cowshed. On meeting her, Surya asked “What did you eat last night”.  She pointed towards Ceramic jar filled with Mango pickle, unveiled the depth of her deprivation.  Surya understood her dire circumstances, included her in the programme provided with ₹20000.  She had a idea of starting retail garment business, utilized the money to buy children clothes for the sale.  Gradually, her income grew by 6000rs through her small business and she could afford nutrition and uniform for the children. In 2018, she was declared as “Graduated out of poverty” and financial empowerment from showing a jar to buying a stove.  Her subsequent journey from destitution to financial independence was a testament to the power of support and opportunity.

Current Role and Impact:

Presently, Surya holds the position of Vice President of Creador Foundation and leading the design and implementation of Multiply which aims to transform the financial literacy and empowerment of women and girls in India.

“Service knows no boundaries, it's the heart that drives meaningful impact”

The journey of Surya Sai Mohan signifies a path defined not by societal expectations but by a personal quest for meaningful contribution and positive change in the society.  His decisions in life at the crossroads reflect the power of resilience, empathy and a deep commitment to making a tangible difference in the lives of those in need.