When you don’t see an opportunity, you create one for yourself ! That is a very important lesson that sports teaches us.

Nupur Joshi, our next pathbreaker, is a sports business professional with diverse experience across business and development side of sports. She also manages the profile of Indian Para-Badminton Athlete, Manasi Joshi, looking after all her non-sporting requirements.

Nupur talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about her association with basketball at school that made her realise the power of sports in shaping young minds which led her to forming a basketball team in college from scratch and eventually a career in sports !

For students, a career in sports is not an easy one. But if you want to work in an environment which imbibes the “never say die” culture, you need to inculcate it as well.

Nupur, your background?

I grew up in Anushaktinagar, Mumbai, a residential township for
Bhabha Atomic Research Center. Growing up, while academics was the focus, my parents always ensured that me and my siblings participated in extracurricular activities. From what I remember, I was part of all the major school events from dance to drama to singing competitions to sports. Since my colony (Anushaktinagar) had a wonderful sporting infrastructure, I was exposed to different sports through my school and college life. I picked up basketball in my 6th grade as part of the school summer camp program. Over the years l represented (my school, college and university) and won at various district and state level tournaments.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I was always inclined towards sports and social work but didn’t have much knowledge of the options available to build a career in these fields. Moreover, I was surrounded by Scientists, Doctors and Engineers, who guided me to pursue a similar path as theirs. I scored well in my 12th grade and got myself enrolled into an Engineering college. I was not really keen but I remember my father saying “You will enjoy it, trust me! In case after 4 year of the course you still feel the same, then I will myself help & support you in whatever you wish to pursue.” 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and rare career?

“Good decisions come from experience”.

I can resonate with this quote the most for the past 7 years. Now that I look back, pursuing basketball right from student life led me to develop a deep passion for the game and the field of sports that eventually made me pursue a career in the industry.

Sports (Basketball) played a major role in framing my identity; many important life skills have been cultivated through it. While Engineering was interesting and fun, I continued playing ball through the 4 years. We didn’t have a basketball team in college. So, I went ahead and formed one. Despite initial difficulties faced by lack of support by college authorities and participants, I kept at it for a year until I was successful. I brought in several students and trained them. With their hard work & dedication and my experience & knowledge we won many tournaments together.

I believe that sports has the power to change the lives of people. It provides an amazing medium to educate them and turn them into better professionals (& human beings). It is this love and belief in sports that captured my interest in the industry. 

During my final year, I had secured a campus placement offer with an MNC – good profile, great salary. But it didn’t excite me! I remembered the conversation with my father from before and decided to confront him. I was scared! My parents always wanted me to be an engineer. There were so many thoughts and questions. When I informed my parents about the decision, they weren’t very happy. They inquired if I had figured what I wanted to do instead. The only thing I knew was that I didn’t want to continue in the field of engineering but it was not a good enough answer for them. Since I had 1.5 months in hand before joining the corporate, I was given a deadline – “If you can find another job (in the field of your interest) before the joining date then we won’t stop you.” It took me a while to figure out what I really wanted to do. It was a do or die situation for me. I read a lot about different industries, met with people, gave interviews. It was during my fellowship interview with Teach for India that I realized my calling. Once I figured what I wanted to do, things became pretty easy. I secured a job with a Sports Management firm in the next 20 days. The salary was not comparable but I was happy. For 4 years I did something that I didn’t enjoy and I did it really well. And, I couldn’t wait to see what it would be like to be a part of something I truly believed in.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?How did you get your first break? Tell us about your career path

Immediately after Engineering, I entered the sports industry with a job at SportzConsult India Pvt. Ltd. to manage the operations for the Coca-Cola Cup, (National Sub-Junior Football Championship, held across 87 cities/districts in India). I got my first job through research and reaching out to people. Since I dint know much about the industry, I would look up people on LinkedIn, check their career paths etc. and write to them. I have been fortunate enough, till date, to receive reply from people from across hierarchy. I believe, since this is a rare career option (at least it was then, when I started in the industry) people take out time for you, to guide you and help you learn from their experiences. What has worked in my favour is that I asked for help, I asked questions, definite questions and I was persistent.

Over the years, I have come to believe that for career progression one needs to work hard and be sincere along with having a strong network. It is this network that will give you an edge over your peers. 

I was initially hired as the Project Coordinator but I quickly earned promotion to a higher responsibility role of Assistant Manager Marketing. At this position, working with the Sales & Marketing team, I supported them in writing proposals, conceptualization and marketing of sporting properties for brands, handling events (execution and promotion), developing marketing strategies and collaterals, making cold calls, assisting in data management, budgeting etc. It was a wonderful experience to work alongside senior management and help them acquire projects like IMG-Reliance Indian School & College Basketball League, NBA Junior Program, to name a few.

In the last few years, I have worked with leading rights holders and franchises as well as global brands helping them use sports as a vehicle for marketing, sponsorship ROI measurement, Digital Campaign monitoring and valuation, etc.

I have also worked with non-profits in Dharavi and Cuffe Parade where sports is used to instill the value of education and to empower the children (and youth) from marginalized communities. It has been an enriching experience to work with people from diverse backgrounds, experiences and nationality, all coming together with a common goal of creating community development programs using sports. These experiences have helped strengthen my belief in the power of sports and how it can change the lives of people.

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

I had to quit my job in Dharavi due to a medical condition. I was unwell and had to undergo a surgery. The recovery was taking longer than what we anticipated and the doctors suggested that I take a break from work. Before 2014, everything was fine. I had a perfectly balanced professional and personal life. But the health issue that started off as a physical one, was taking a toll on every aspect of my life – from professional to personal. It took me 2.5-3 months to recover from the surgery and everything it brought along. Had I not been playing sports, the implications of what I was going through could have magnified. I practiced yoga and meditation every alternate day. During this phase, I learnt 2 new sports – Football and Ultimate Frisbee. Because of sports, I was able to turn the negative into positive.

Where do you work now? 

I am a sports business professional with 7+ years of diverse experience across the business and development side of sport. I have just returned from Germany, completing a Diploma in Sports Management from Leipzig University, for which I secured a 100% scholarship from the German Embassy. I think the scholarship was the result of a combination of relevant work experience + having played basketball at State and University level + contribution at grassroots development.

I have also worked as an Athlete Manager to Manasi Joshi, an Indian Para Badminton player (currently world no. 2 in SL3 singles) and a contender for Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. I look after all her requirements from sponsorship, PR, marketing to finance and legal, etc.

 Manasi Joshi is an Indian Para-Badminton athlete who is currently World No. 2 in SL3 (Singles) category. She is the current Para Badminton World Championship Gold medalist and a National Award winner for Best sportsperson with a disability. At the age of 22, Manasi met with a road accident and acquired disability due to her injuries. A software engineer by profession, Manasi used Badminton for rehabilitation. One thing lead to the other and Manasi landed in the selection trials for Asian Para Games 2014 which started her professional journey as an athlete and my journey as her manager. 

It is difficult for me to point out one thing that I love about my job. People don’t believe me when I say this, but I look forward to Mondays! 

How does your work benefit society? 

I would like to share an incident from my volunteering experience. I was working with a non-profit in Dharavi, we ran a girls’ football program in the community. Part of my job was to assist the football coach in all his sessions. As time passed, I became good friends with all our beneficiaries (9 to 16 years old). They would share their stories, their secrets and ambitions with me. One of our girls’, Mala (name changed), when she turned 11 years old, her parents decided to stop sending her for training. When I found out what was happening, I decided to meet her parents. The first time I visited her house, her mother told me “my daughter needs to learn household chores, she is a grown up now and she has to take up more responsibilities in the house. We had a big discussion and at the end she said, “I cannot decide for my Mala. You will have to speak with my husband or my son (15 years old).” It was heartbreaking that she did not have a say in her daughter’s life. On my next visit, I met the brother who asked me to leave Mala alone. I visited their home a couple of times more, but couldn’t meet with the father. I found out where he worked and decided to visit his workplace (dukaan). At first, he didn’t entertain us much but when we started talking, he told us that he was not too comfortable with his daughter wearing shorts and running around in the community. He felt that playing football was not adding much value and that being a woman, she needs to be trained to look after the house. I stressed on the fact that the sport was not only helping her improve on grades but it was also shaping her overall personality and improving her decision making. She was learning important life skills that one cannot learn in a classroom or through household chores. These skills would help her stand out and progress in her career. I really wanted to convince the father because Mala didn’t want to quit. She had told me “Didi, I want to continue playing. It makes me happy! It’s the only thing I do for myself the entire day.” I think I tried everything in my ability to convince the family, but in vain. Two to three weeks from my last interaction with the family, Mala showed up for practice, her father had come to drop her. She had an ear to ear smile on her face when she entered the ground. I was surprised!

So, it turns out that Mala’s grandmother had a heart attack when the parents were not home. It was just Mala and her siblings. Their eldest brother had stepped out for a walk. Everything happened in a split of seconds and Mala stepped up. She made calls, took her grandmother to Sion Hospital and informed people in her family. By the time her parents reached the hospital, the grandmother was out of danger. The girl’s parents couldn’t believe that their 11 year old daughter did all this on her own. I think it was around this time that her parents realized what I was trying to tell them. Her father not only came to drop Mala for practice, he even bought her shorts and t-shirt so that she could train comfortably. 

In the last few years with my work in the sports for development sector, I have had the opportunity to touch the lives of children (and youth), and to empower them, to help them re-enroll into school / college to finish their education, and get scholarships to study abroad. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

It is difficult to pick one but what I do for Manasi Joshi (athlete management), is very close to my heart – from getting sponsorships, to creating her Wikipedia page, to getting her social media handles verified, to coordination with different stakeholders, etc. all of these have been important stages in our journey and I remember each one distinctly. Together we aspire to drive a shift in how para sports and disability is perceived.

Working on various processes of brand building and identifying opportunities for Manasi is exciting. Moreover, it has provided me with great insights into the intricacies of the industry. To me, it never seems like work. I enjoy every bit of it.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

1. Everyone’s path is different. Don’t be afraid to take the road less travelled. You might be alone at the start and it might seem scary. But don’t worry! It will help you understand and trust yourself better.

2. Ask questions! Easy questions, difficult questions, stupid questions. Always ask, it will improve your learning.  

3. Listen! Listen to your teachers, your parents and your peers. Learn to listen and really hear what others are saying. This is a life skill that cannot be taught. It has helped me a lot especially when trying to attain new skills / knowledge at the workplace.

3. Be patient. Good things take time. There is a cooking metaphor my mother uses often that I resonate with “सहज पके सो मीठा होय” (haste makes waste).

4. Define what success means to you and then work hard to reach there. If you go after achieving other people’s definition of success, you will never be happy.

5. Be sincere and work with all your heart.