Q&A with Narasimha Kumar, Encore Fellow at GE
This interview was conducted by GE volunteer Kendra Sterneck.About Encore Fellow ProgramThe Social Venture Partners of Portland manages the Encore Fellows Program, an innovative initiative that matches seasoned professionals with local nonprofits for a yearlong fellowship. Intel has a partnership with the Encore Fellows Program, whereby individuals who are retiring from the tech company are encouraged to apply for the fellowship to follow their passions, learn new skills, and support the local nonprofit community. Earlier this Spring, NPR highlighted how Intel is using the program as a retirement perk for their employees. This year, Kumar Narasimha has joined Green Empowerment. When Kumar retired from a long career at Intel in 2016, he decided that he wanted a new experience in the nonprofit world.
1. What was your role at Intel before coming to GE?I was at Intel for 36 years. I had many roles, but for 20 of those years, I was a manager. I was a senior product manager for a media-streaming project. Mostly I worked with local teams in Oregon and California, but we did do some work with international teams with Intel partners in China, Europe, India and other places. I had to juggle work/life balance for employees, working internationally with long hours. Second, the products are not done in isolation they are done in conjunction in synchronization with different entities. My role was mostly technical work; even though I was a manager, I was a technical guy. I reviewed code and documents and wrote specs. My role was not a general manager job, but more of a technology manager job. That was the majority of my Intel life.
2. After a career at Intel, what drove you to apply for the Encore Fellows Program?Intel gave me an opportunity to volunteer. I wanted to volunteer, so the question was where. Intel has an Encore Program where they try to match individuals with organizations. So I got connected with three or four organizations. I looked through various places, and I realized I needed to go with what my heart says. At Intel we always use logic and analysis and here I wanted to follow passion. I wanted to do something with renewable energy. It has always been an interesting topic for me, even though I hadn’t been involved with it before. Green Empowerment had the green energy component and it also worked in developing countries. I went to a presentation about their projects in Borneo and it motivated me to join the organization.3. What is your role at GE as the Encore Fellow? What have you worked on during your year here?When I went to Green Empowerment, I immediately wore multiple hats. The first thing I did was write a HR document. It was interesting and a challenge. It opened my eyes to things like policies of employment. Things I had vaguely heard about.Then I went back to my technical side of things and started working on water quality. The question was “What would be defined as good water quality in developing countries?” In the US there are EPA guidelines and kits and things you can do to make water cleaner, but water in places like the Philippines and developing rural areas in general is different. The policies are not strict and they are not able to match the EPA guidelines because it requires local innovation, tests, labs, etc. So, I wrote the specs that are acceptable for these nations, not as strict as EPA Guidelines, but still good enough. It was an opportunity to dive into this side, which while is still technical, is different than my background in Chemistry. I wrote the specs with one of the technical leaders. It took a good three months to get it all done. It was interesting because I learned something new. It is technical, but I was able to understand the impact in communities, which was new for me.The difficult part for me is having my work accepted from the field. It is not enough for me to send it to the field and have them receive and say, “This is great, thanks.” I need more; I need them to apply what I send them.One of the things I have wanted to do for GE is to help establish their brand by defining water quality for developing countries. It’s a step in building their brand. Instead of reinventing the wheel, it opens up opportunities to work with other organizations.I have also been branching out and looking at pumps in general, including micro-hydro power generation. I have been writing guidelines on how to sustain and maintain pumps and power generation that they have in the field. The guidelines walk through certain things the communities have to do every week, it’s like maintaining your car.4. How has the transition from working at Intel to Green Empowerment been? Any challenges that you did not expect?
I have faced a couple of challenges in this transition:(1) I always thought the nonprofit world would be less bureaucratic. I worked for a large organization, so there were a lot of rules and you had to get everything approved. It was a surprise to see that this is applicable to the nonprofit world too. It’s not the corporate world bureaucracy but different. A lot of people are volunteers, so you cannot say we are going to have an 8 am meeting and expect that to work for everybody.(2) The budget is very strict. The last project at Intel was a million dollar project, but the budget for a project at GE is like a 10th of one of those projects. So you have to work with the system you have. You cannot just go order stuff or just take a trip to other places, because those things cost money and it impacts this corporation a lot more than a big corporation.(3) Working with people is different in a nonprofit vs. in a for-profit environment. At a for-profit, you follow the plan and people are accountable to me because of their salary. In nonprofits, you have to work with the limitations in field. Things come up and there is also a much smaller staff. For example, when referring to a team in Malaysia, that could be referring to a team of two people.But do I like working for a nonprofit? Yes, I like nonprofits. It gives me a sort of gratification that I did not get in for-profit. In the for-profit world, it felt like I am getting paid to make the thing and here I’m doing the work out of passion.5. How has your time at Green Empowerment allowed you to continue to grow as a professional?I now know how to work in a nonprofit. I have done some parts well, but I am still learning. I am learning how to connect with the organization outside of the core group here in Portland. It is one thing to know the names, but another to connect with them. The team here is helpful and supportive. I’d like to grow, and I think I am growing.
6. As you near the end of your 12-month fellowship, what are your future plans? Do you plan to stay connected with Green Empowerment?Yes, I would like to stay connected. I am also looking at other things I’d like to do, like travel and home improvement projects. Gardening is a way I spend time with my wife, and I’d like to do more research and learn more about it. I would like to take a class at Oregon State about gardening, to be more knowledgeable in the space. I could see myself doing fewer hours to fit in these other interests but still continuing at Green Empowerment. I want to see some of the stuff I am doing come full-circle. If some of the initiatives do not come full-circle, I would like to be around and see why they did not.
Green Empowerment has been thrilled to have Kumar join the team. We are grateful for all the great work he has done with his strong technical background from Intel and are excited to see how his presence continues to impact our future work around the world.