After an exciting period of growth and success with Climateworks Centre, Chief Operations Officer Bhavika Agnihotri will leave her role in the new year to enjoy time with family, before looking for her next opportunity.
When Bhavika applied for the Operations Manager position at Climateworks in 2016, she was struck by the organisation’s sense of urgency to fill the role.
‘After I applied I got a call the next day saying “they’d like to interview you tomorrow or the day after”,’ Bhavika said.
‘I thought, that’s quick! But it turned out [Climateworks CEO] Anna Skarbek was going on maternity leave so they needed to fill the role fairly urgently because Anna had also been holding all the operational side of things.’
Bhavika described her job in her first year as ‘all-encompassing to keep parts of operations ticking along while implementing changes in other parts’.
‘It ranged from writing up management procedures and operational guidelines, finance and budget management, HR management through to managing facilities and legal contracts and even program acquittals. It was fun. It also meant that I got to know the people and the organisation fairly fast,’ Bhavika said.
‘And during this period I had three CEOs [Executive Leadership Team members acting as CEO while Anna was on leave] so I pretty quickly learned what was important to each of them while we were all writing some of the biggest funding proposals of the time and our first ever Southeast Asia plan.’
Things didn’t slow down from there: 2019 marked a significant strategic shift for the organisation and Bhavika stepped into the role of Chief Operations Officer in March 2020.
‘2019 was a significant change point,’ Bhavika said. ‘Anna Skarbek came back from New York Climate Week, and that’s where the language of a transformational decade and fivefold impact came from.’
The organisation entered a period of rapid growth, embarking on an enormous recruitment campaign to support its new ambition. However, at the same time this was taking place, the world was locking down.
‘COVID-19 was another major shift for the organisation and Climateworks, in a way, was at the forefront,’ Bhavika said.
‘Our organisation was leading, in many ways, through our approach to People and Culture – even before COVID. We’d already been providing the opportunity to work from home, along with time flexibility, so our people could start and finish later or earlier in the day if that suited their personal needs.’
She said the operations team had identified early that the way the organisation worked together, favouring ‘in-person’ collaboration, had to change rapidly.
‘I remember in the first months, as we’d been hearing the news coming from China and Italy, we could see that we’d have to shift, and do it very quickly, and we were preparing for it’ she said.
‘We had started investigating other options. When lockdowns were announced at Monash University, within a week we implemented two new applications across the organisation to ensure connection, collaboration and knowledge sharing. We adapted so quickly to the new ways of working. The credit goes to our people; Climateworks people are just so fantastic. They adapted and adjusted so well, and so quickly.’
This, she said, was helped significantly by the ‘people-first’ approach that the organisation took into the pandemic.
‘We spent a lot of time doing a lot of learning and reflection, which we have always done. But those learning and reflection sessions took on a new importance, and were spent discussing how we were coping with what was happening in the world around us while keeping a steady focus on our mission.’
Bhavika praised for ‘immense warmth and care for all people’
Reflecting on Bhavika’s influence, Anna Skarbek affirmed the COO’s people-first approach.
‘Bhavika is the first COO Climateworks had. In her time she has overseen the growth of Climateworks from around 20 people to now around 100 including our Indonesia office,’ Anna said.
‘She managed this with immense warmth and care for all people, which makes her a delight to work with and plays a big role in maintaining the great culture at Climateworks.’
‘She also led our governance and contracting as our external partnerships have grown, and our connections with Monash University’s operational services that support us. I have enjoyed every year working closely with Bhavika, and wish her the very best.’
Bhavika extended this approach to encompass Climateworks’ people-first strategy. The organisation now has various initiatives that sit across the employee ‘lifecycle’.
‘Two of those initiatives include our capability framework – because I think ultimately it’s the responsibility of the organisation to invest in its people and their success – and then our inaugural awards program to recognise our amazing staff.’
So why is a people-first approach so important?
‘To be a high-performance organisation in the sector we work in, it is imperative that we have people at the heart of everything we do – people we employ, people we work with and people we serve. And I take immense pride in the fact that we have a clear purpose, and well-designed structures and frameworks, processes, and internal systems in place along with a great workplace culture (values and behaviours), which has created the right environment for our people’ Bhavika said.
‘With all these elements in place, along with clear objectives and that spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, we then trust our people to get there. This is proving to be the way to go – it’s how we’ve always worked at Climateworks.’
And it is the people Climateworks recruits, Bhavika said, that makes the organisation what it is.
‘Our people are brilliant – they’re smart, talented and some of the most kind, generous people I have met,’ and Bhavika adds ‘Climateworks employees are aligned to the mission of the organisation.’
‘So despite the challenges we face, there’s this sense of camaraderie and coming together around that bigger challenge of climate change, and that’s something I’ve always admired at Climateworks.’
While she is ready for new challenges now, it is this same sense of a shared purpose that Bhavika will be looking for, after a well-deserved break to spend time with her family.
‘I will be looking for my next opportunity to make a long-lasting impact,’ Bhavika said.
‘My next role will also, like Climateworks, be somewhere where I feel part of an organisation with a mission that’s bigger than any one of us.’
Bhavika said she’d ‘love to contribute towards helping people succeed’.
‘One thing that has consistently motivated me in my career is unlocking the best in people to help them grow and achieve their goals,’ she said.
‘Whether it’s helping individuals, or creating the right systems or processes or environment or culture. Whether it’s operational plans or growth or strategy.’
‘Ultimately, it’s about helping people and the planet.’
A recruitment process is now underway to fill the Chief Operations Officer role.