Balancing the Grind with Selva Ganapathy, Co-Founder of Community Simplified

For our conversation today, we sat down with Selva Ganapathy, co-founder of Community Simplified, to get a closer look at his journey from a technical role at the Indian Institute of Technology to spearheading sustainability and community initiatives. 

Selva’s path is a testament to how passion and purpose can guide a career through diverse sectors, including volunteer mobilisation, corporate sustainability, and now, consultancy with a focus on building thriving communities and environmental stewardship. 

Beyond his professional achievements, Selva shares insights into how he strikes a balance between a demanding career and personal well-being, offering practical advice for anyone looking to navigate the challenges of modern work-life integration. 

Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

My career journey has been marked by a passion for community building, stakeholder engagement, and sustainability. My professional path has taken me through various roles and organisations, where I have made significant contributions.

My journey began as a Technical Superintendent at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. In this role, I was responsible for planning, designing, and implementing laboratory experiments in the Chemical Engineering Department.

Driven by a desire to make a positive impact on a larger scale, in addition to my full-time job, I volunteered with Aid India and mobilised volunteers across India. I took on the challenge of growing the organisation’s volunteer community from scratch.

Through strategic planning and mentoring, I’ve mobilised over 10,000 volunteers across India, running large-scale corporate and volunteer events and raising funds for significant rural projects. My exemplary volunteer mobilisation strategy earned them the title of Volunteer Hero in 2013 and the recognition of Indian of the Year in 2015 on behalf of the People of Chennai for my disaster relief work.

Seeking to expand my knowledge and skills, I pursued an Executive MBA at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Equipped with business acumen and a passion for sustainability, I embarked on a role as a Sustainability Executive at Christchurch Casino. Here, I championed the casino’s sustainability strategy, fostering behavioural change among staff members and presenting the strategy to the leadership team.

My commitment to sustainability led Selva to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in Tauranga, where I served as a Corporate Sustainability Officer. I played a crucial role in preparing a sustainability framework and strategy aligned with the council’s Climate Change Action Plan. Engaging both internal and external stakeholders, I successfully delivered emissions reductions and reported on sustainability targets, making a tangible impact.

In pursuit of global community development, I joined Quora as a Community Manager and then progressed to become an International Community Development Manager. I led the community managers team in India and developed and implemented community strategies.

Collaborating with cross-functional teams, I implemented community programs, campaigns, and events, fostering impactful outcomes. I was also one of the coordinators of Quora’s World Meetup Week. I then worked for MYOB as their Social and Community Support Manager built and implemented a digital support strategy and led the Social and Community team.

Most recently, I’ve taken on the role of Low Carbon Specialist at Auckland Council, New Zealand. Drawing on my expertise in community engagement, stakeholder collaboration, and climate action, I’m running projects and initiatives that promote low-carbon, environmentally sustainable living. My leadership and strategic skills continue to drive community participation and support in the pursuit of a greener future.

In 2023, co-founded Community Simplified, a consultancy services to help businesses build and scale communities. We work with a few clients to help them understand a community, build strategies, develop an engagement plan and grow their communities. In addition, via Social Footprints I also offer consultancy services in the ESG space to Indian businesses that want to incorporate sustainability measures. We help them measure, track and report their carbon emissions. 

Throughout my career, I’ve demonstrated a deep commitment to community building, sustainability, and stakeholder engagement. My ability to develop strategies, lead teams, and drive impactful outcomes has made me a valuable asset in every organisation I have been a part of. With my current role at Auckland Council, I’m actively contributing to the fight against climate change and inspiring others to join the cause.

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

I’m an early starter. I like to get into the office around 7 am. My general routine for the days is to start with figuring out the tasks that I need to complete before the end of the day (and also broadly plan for the week). I normally start by reading my emails, slack and team messages. I respond to emails as soon as I read them and that helps me to be on track. 

The morning coffee helps me to be alert, haha. Typically the time between 7 am and 9 am is the focus time when I try to document and write things. Once the office crowd kicks in then there are always some distractions and I’d like to get my things sorted before that. I’d typically have an average of 5 meetings throughout the day. When I was a people leader, I had more but now it has come down. I also try to have one meeting free day in a week. 

I normally enjoy working from home. This allows me a lot of time to plan and do things at my own pace compared to an office environment. I also can save time from commuting (plus cost savings). I work till 4.30 pm and then I start to wind down. In the evenings, after reaching home, I prepare my food and then start working on the consultancy projects that I’ve picked up.

Typically, I go on to work until 10 pm and then hit the bed. Some of my evening routine is not too fixed as it depends on the projects I pick up. I try to accommodate walking into my routine during the morning hours. I walk a few stops ahead before taking the bus. 

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach to maintaining it?

Many people think that I overwork. However, I have always found time for the things I want to do. I’ve had good travel breaks, found time to catch up with friends and family, and watched a lot of movies too. I love cooking. So, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important. 

I think by planning and prioritising it, we can all find time to do the things we want to do. I think the Japanese concept of Ikigai which encapsulates the intersection of one’s passion, mission, vocation, and profession, leading to a sense of purpose and fulfilment in life completely suits me.

It represents the harmonious balance between what one loves, what one is good at, what the world needs, and what one can be rewarded for. I think I am in a space where I love what I do and hence I find it always enjoyable. 

I will probably never work in an environment that would disturb any of the above. 

Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

Yeah. I believe change is important and it helps us to grow. I am an extremely extroverted person and used to be omnipresent. I attended most of the events around me and made myself available to anyone who needed my help. However, in the last year, I have constantly chosen to say no to many things. I have consciously avoided being present at many events. I have tried to be not so social and have started to have more me time. 

I’ve moved to different cities and improved my walking habits. I’ve also started to focus more on healthy eating. I used to skip my breakfast in the past but now, I’ve made sure that I eat 3 meals a day. I have reduced the portion of my meal.

Concerning work, I was kind of available 24 x 7 in my previous roles. I have now set boundaries for myself and don’t work beyond the specific work hours. I keep my work laptop and phone away from me and do not open them when I am home. I think most of these changes were made incrementally. I strongly believe one size doesn’t fit all. You must choose what works well for you and design your life accordingly. One thing I’d say is that you and I have only one life to live and hence prioritise your health, and well-being and put your family before your job/work.

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

I’d recommend mindfulness resources. There are plenty of mindfulness resources out there. I also recommend the Vipassana meditation course. Even if you are unable to do it regularly, I’d suggest you do their 10-day in-house meditation course. 

WorkLife with Adam Grant’s podcast is another great resource. I’d recommend reading the books Ikigai, The Courage to be Disliked and Atomic Habits. Maybe I should start a podcast or newsletter.

Before we wrap up, do you have any final wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Haha, thanks for asking. I don’t think I have words of wisdom. One thing I realised is that one needs to discover what is the most important thing to them and design the rest of the things around it. I discovered for me it’s my friends and family.

So, putting myself first and taking the time for my friends and family has always been my priority. I’ve seen many people who build startups or work in an industry not giving sufficient time for their families. I don’t find a purpose in doing that. Irrespective of the problem one is trying to solve, if they are unable to spend that quality time with the people who mean the most to them. We also work to live and not live to work.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.