Alumni Profiles: Rachna Chowla (MBA’09D)

A spaghetti life: Medicine + INSEAD +…

Before INSEAD, I had diligently followed a typical medical path – six solid years studying medicine, then another 7 working as a junior doctor, combined with post-graduate training. It was hard work and well contained within the bounds of medicine – a life that could have almost continued on a straight line, all by itself. But somehow my curiosity was stirred. Some combination of a childhood spent in Africa, and a definite unsettling feeling that just wouldn’t go away, urging me to explore what else might exist outside of what I had always known. So, studying at INSEAD became the conduit towards answers, for the many questions I was asking myself at this time in my life.

And as anyone who has been to INSEAD knows, it of course raised many more questions than it gave me answers to. A whirlwind of a year followed, spent in both Singapore and France – travelling, climbing mountains, chateau parties, not enough sleep, all somehow fitted around classes where I was exposed to an entirely new universe of subjects. And all amid meeting friends from everywhere, who came with their own unique stories and diverse cultural perspectives, about almost anything. Life could not have been any more far removed from clinical medicine. I loved being completely immersed in the richness of the INSEAD experience, all of it. The intellectual stimulation of class, the challenging dynamics of group work, the dancing every Tuesday at a minimum, the exchanges with friends from everywhere. It all changed me! We graduated one snowy December’s day in Fontainebleau and I could not have been more proud to have represented my class, wearing a traditional Indian Sari and delivering the Valedictorian speech. A wonderful end to a wonderful year, and the beginning of what I call now, my spaghetti life. Yes, a type of pasta does indeed best describe my life since then.

After INSEAD, quite by chance and because ‘I had a feeling’ during the interview (and, no, I am not joking about the latter), I moved to Milan to work for a Big Pharmaceutical, in strategy and marketing. With no working knowledge of the Italian language, but with that ‘all conquering’ bravado that we all get momentarily after INSEAD, I just went for it. And not surprisingly it was hard in many ways, not least the language. I was fortunate to have language lessons with a wonderful teacher and this changed everything. I made friends – with my neighbour, at work and with the Milanese INSEAD community, so work started to get easier and I started spending my weekends slowly living la dolce vita, punctuated only by the start of the INSEAD wedding season, which still continues 10 years on. Work in Italy eventually reached its limits for me. So, with lots of colourful life experience, ups and downs, including 2 solid years of cooking lessons, I returned back to London, fluent in Italian, la cucina italiana, and open to what might be next.

Since then, I returned back to clinical medicine part-time but have combined it with a myriad of different things, from working for a health-tech start-up (Outcomes Based Healthcare), research for two prominent London-based healthcare think-tanks – the last where I co-authored a paper on Compassionate Leadership, in the context of nurturing innovation in healthcare, and now I am co-leading an ambitious system-wide health programme in Southwark which has the potential to really improve the health outcomes that matter to local people. On the side, spurred I am sure by meditation and falling in love with poetry, I started writing my own poems and in 2017, I published my first book of poetry called, ‘Fall in love with Love with me?’

INSEAD continues to play a prominent role in my life. Professionally, I am currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD’s Healthcare Management Initiative. I have just returned from an impressive European Alumni Forum in Geneva, buzzing with ideas and conversations with really interesting fellow alumni. In Italy I was social secretary for the alumni association, and in London I have organised a panel discussion on healthcare and am preparing for a further two events, one in healthcare and the other more arty. So if you are in London, please look out for them.

Life-wise with INSEAD, well you all know the score – it is such a vibrant community to be a part of, and some of the closest, smartest, most fun friends I have, are those that I met in class. And thankfully, our global lives remain happily intertwined with the help of phones, social media, the ongoing weddings and meet-ups all over. This May, half our class and our families met for our 10 year reunion in Fonty, where I was a proud reunion co-chair. Proud particularly because our class fundraised for a Diversity Scholarship to INSEAD in the name of our friend and classmate Machaba Machaba, who sadly passed away last year, enabling his memory to live on by helping others have, what he called, ‘a magical year at INSEAD’.

Machaba was right, it was magic and that magic changed me. Whilst I have no idea what the next decade will bring, I know that with this spaghetti life, it most certainly will not be boring, and that the true magic of INSEAD for me, remains in the wonderful life-long friendships that were born that year.

July 2019