Staunch feminist, water worshiper and queen of puns, Sukhman Sandhu is uniquely and proudly herself, never simply accepting what the world tells her is expected.
Growing up, relatives would tell Sukhman she shouldn't play with her brothers and should instead sit with her sisters and do feminine activities, but she was a keen basketball player and cricketer and significantly more talented at the sports than most of the boys in her family.
This sense of indignation at being told to stay in her box furthered when she entered her higher education and studied the very practical subject of civil engineering. “The reason I took the subject in the first place was because someone told me girls didn’t do it. That’s just the way my mind works. When I started the course, there were only 10 girls in the class to 70 boys. I felt like us 10 girls always had to go one step further to prove ourselves. So that’s what I did.”
Alongside the issues of equality driving her journey for impact, is Piscean Sukhman’s connection to water. Growing up in Punjab meant Sukhman was never far away from water, as Punjab has five major rivers running through it. “I had to travel across these wide stretches of water to visit my grandparents almost every month, and I always marvelled at their beauty and expanse.”
The seeds of impact were then further sewn when she was 12 years old and a video on water scarcity was shown at her school. The documentary resonated with Sukhman on a deep level and her passion for combating water scarcity gave her her first taste of sustainable thinking.
After that, she became somewhat of a water activist, telling everyone who would listen about the importance of saving water. She started small, giving people advice such as turning the tap off while brushing your teeth. “People say one person cannot make a difference,” says Sukhman, “but actually, change starts with a single person.”
This passion for water comes as somewhat of a surprise when you hear how Sukhman has almost drowned three times! The first time was when she was three years old and fell into the Sarovar (holy pool) at her local Gurudwara (Sikh temple). The next two times were at ages ten and fifteen and both took place due to misjudged attempts to tackle water slides. Needless to say, she decided it was time to learn to swim after the most recent incident!
In 2017, Sukhman completed her degree in Civil Engineering and was one of the top performing students in her class. As a result, she was invited to complete her Masters at IIT Bombay where she chose to study environmental science and engineering. Staying true to her passions, she studied the impact of fertilisers in our water supply and how to reduce nitrates from drinking water.
After graduating, Sukhman took up a post at GIST after hearing about openings from her fellow IIT graduates who had joined before her. In fact, it was the team that initially motivated Sukhman to join the organisation, “Having known Anupam and Sneha from IIT, I was already familiar with GIST and had been watching some of my most talented and respected seniors join the organisation. This was enhanced when I came to the office for my interview and got to meet more of the team. I remember feeling in awe of the trendy office environment and the interesting people I saw all around me!”
Today, Sukhman is a valued member of the research and development team and supports GIST’s global client delivery and she see’s an exciting journey ahead for the organisation, “In the next five years I see GIST becoming a global leader in impact measurement.”
As for Sukhman herself, she might not know where the future will take her but she certainly knows how she’s going to get there, “I’m a water person, that's why I run and never walk. I’m just going to keep being my authentic self and fight for the things I believe in. It’s been a good policy for life so far.”