Lijo Chacko, a 2017 alumnus of Yale SOM’s Global Executive Leadership Program (Yale GELP), has spent most of his adult life looking for ways to give back. He doesn’t worry much about the scale of the task. When a program in Liberia needed children’s books, he found a way to arrange to ship a container full of them. When local students needed help with a scholarship program in India, he sought donations.
For Chacko, life has been about opportunities presented and how to take full advantage of them.
“The first real break for me was when I was selected to attend a public school in India that I wouldn’t have had the chance to go to otherwise,” he said in a recent interview. “Later, I was accepted into the India Naval Academy. One chance led to another and therefore perhaps I have been fortunate to lead a meaningful life. I therefore think that I should give the next half of my life to help others to get at least similar, if not the same, opportunities.”
So when Chacko—a retired Indian naval officer who now serves on the boards as well as executive teams of several nonprofit organizations—had the opportunity to participate in Yale GELP, he saw it is as a chance to broaden his network and connect with others who share his values. The school’s mission to “educate leaders for business and society” felt like his calling in the form of an educational institution, he said.
In the close-to-a-year-long program, Chacko learned how to master influence and persuasion, manage organizations through times of crises, and leverage operational capabilities. All these skills, designed to help global executives and other leaders build high-performing organizations, were a perfect fit for his personal mission.
Yale GELP was also an opportunity to enlist his classmates, accomplished leaders from all over the world, in that mission. Together, they assembled a list of organizations that they wanted to help in India, Argentina, and various countries in Africa. So far Chacko and his classmates have raised thousands of dollars for a variety of causes. Additionally, the class sponsored the scholarship for a Yale SOM MBA candidate. In other cases, he and some of his other former Yale GELP classmates have worked on fundraising projects, too. Anuj Kalra, CFO of Carl Zeiss India, has worked with Chacko on improving the company’s corporate social responsibility activities. Another classmate, Smriti Vijay, is helping provide technical support to reduce the energy consumption of Maher, an NGO that helps with homes for orphans and the mentally ill, Chacko said.
Every project is a puzzle, he said, and his talent is in finding how to fit the pieces together. At Yale GELP, his classroom learning and his classmates’ passion and expertise brought out new strategies for making that possible, Chacko said.
“Let’s say a student gets a full-tuition scholarship at a top international university, but it doesn’t do her much good if she can’t afford the airfare to the school,” he said. “I’ll get on my mobile, I’ll make calls. I’ll do what I can. My time at Yale showed me that the most important aspect was to try to be an instrument of change. In small ways that is what I am attempting with my life.”