Shwetha Shetty challenges status quo for a greener New York

After moving to New York City five years ago, walking up and down Park Avenue with its tulip-lined malls was one of Shwetha Shetty’s favorite things. One day, she noticed that the beautiful flowers weren’t visited by pollinators, the bees and butterflies critical to the human food supply. She noticed this as a pattern in many of the city’s small green islands.

In Mumbai, Shetty’s prior home, the environment was far more polluted, less green, and grimy, yet still had its fair share of butterflies and bees. Looking for an answer, she stumbled upon a city-based group of citizen gardeners planting indigenous plants and landscaping traffic islands to strengthen the ecosystem. Shetty joined forces and spends quite a few spring and fall weekends planting the Upper East Side – in senior citizen homes, on traffic islands and at overlooked children’s parks.

Being part of the solution for any problem has been Shetty’s life-long mantra. She manifests this by encouraging STEM education – she organizes workshops for students of inner-city schools on design thinking as a tool for problem solving – or leading an initiative to eliminate single-use cups from her office (which annually keeps 150,000 cups out of landfills). She also is a successful female technology executive who believes in constantly challenging the status quo and bringing about positive change.

Corporate success and a drive to help others

As vice president of corporate strategy for SAP, a multi-billion-dollar business software leader, Shetty focuses on product strategy. Previously, she worked for McKinsey & Company, one of the world’s best-known business consulting firms, wearing two hats of helping businesses use technology to become more efficient while also improving their operations.

“I like to work on hard problems, and with technology you do that. But in order to make change happen, you need to start with empathy,” Shetty said.

Born and raised in Bombay, Shetty came to America in 2008, entering the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, after having earned a degree in electronics and telecommunication from the University of Mumbai in 2004. She credits her home environment and upbringing for encouraging her extroverted nature and thirst for knowledge, which has served her well as a tech exec.

“I don’t feel intimidated at work. Being the one woman in the room, I am very often encouraged to speak up. Although with my personality, I have rarely needed that encouragement,” she said about working in a male-dominated industry.

Influenced by James Carse’s concept of The Infinite Game – where the objective of the game is not to win or lose but to keep all players in the game – Shetty is always looking to strengthen the entire ecosystem. Both professionally, by mentoring tech startups and promoting STEM education, and broadly through her work as a gardener.

“While I love my job and it gives me an intellectual high, I think, for my soul, I need to constantly volunteer and do something for society. If I didn’t have this balance, I don’t think I’d be a happy person,” she added.

Shetty is also a trained Indian classical dancer, avid reader and has hiked the Himalayas. In the future, she would like to merge her volunteer mentoring work with environmental causes.

“Where we are headed as a planet is concerning to me. … To me, change is brought about by children. … I’d like to encourage them to mobilize against climate change,” she said.