Home>Graduate profile : Chaitanya Kanuri


Graduate profile : Chaitanya Kanuri

Of e-mobility and urban policy in India: a GLM alumni reflects on her career path

Chaitanya Kanuri (alumni of Governing the Large Metropolis master’s programme) has been working at WRI India (World Resources Institute) for the last six years. She is currently Associate Director of E-Mobility. We asked her about her work, career trajectory, and the urban professions of the future. 

Tell us about what you are working on at the moment?

My current focus is e-mobility in India, and my job takes a 360-degree view. So, focusing on demand creation, EVs (electric vehicle) adoption, EV charging infrastructure, financing models. E-buses are a key focus area, as they enable both cleaner vehicle technology and shared mobility. Electrification of freight is an emerging area, as heavy freight is probably one of the highest components of emissions and decarbonizing. Then the battery ecosystem, which battery chemistries will work, how do you indigenize manufacturing in India. The automotive industry is big in India, employs a lot of people, so if the world is going to switch to electric, what are the opportunities for us. We are looking at projects about ensuring a just transition, where social impacts are not unequally distributed, with some people getting the losing end of the stick.

How do you see your role and career trajectory?

As the organization has grown, my role has been changing quite a bit, and quite quickly. I manage around 15 people now.
In the e-mobility team we are trying to diversify, as we need a range of skillsets. So we are looking at bringing in economists, electrical engineers. The person leading the battery program is a PhD in battery chemistry so. 

How do you see yourself now? 

Profiles like GLM prepare you to be able to speak to multiple stakeholders, and I am embracing my role as a generalist to create synergies. I have a lot of institutional knowledge in my organization, having been here for six years now. I lead many projects, I have to step back from day-to-day involvement and management and start taking a lead on strategy and exploration of new topics. For example, the just transition ecosystem is entirely new. I am not a transport planner, I am an architect who has subsequently become an urban policy expert through GLM. I started with transport at WRI, so I had to get into the transport planning aspects, like road safety, traffic management, public transport planning . You learn on the job, there is so much training on the job, you have to, especially in a field like e-mobility which is so new and evolving.  

How has your role changed over time? 

It has shifted to being management-driven. Previously it was very research-driven and practice-driven, it’s a very good mix of both, because we are not consultants, it’s not like we just write reports, we don’t do the same thing again and again. There is a lot of innovation, and new frontiers being explored. 

Tell us more about the evolving policy landscape in India?

The policy ecosystem is definitely growing very fast in India. Even the think tanks are a bit like start-ups nowadays. There was an old guard of think tanks like Center for Science and Environment, CSE, and TERI, now there is a whole slew, WRI is one of the earlier ones of the new batch, and there is CEEW Center for Energy Environment and Water, there is Rocky Mountain Institute. And there are several others, thinktanks and consulting firms, that are coming up around sectoral topics like e-mobility as well. 
The government is also responsive and open to working with industry and civil society organisations on policy. Just as an example, the guidelines and standards for e-mobility are under Ministry of Power. They have revised their guidelines and standards for charging infrastructure in the past 4 years, maybe 5-6 times, partly through inputs from industry and experts. So there is a closer connection between the government and stakeholders from consulting, industry, academia and so on, both for implementation of pilot projects and for policy-making.
The idea with think tanks is that you create a proof of concept, you build capacity and then you look at how to scale in an effective way. You can’t take philanthropic funding to provide run-of-the-mill everyday assistance. You are supposed to use it for some amount of impact and transformational change.