Shyla Raghav

Shyla Raghav wanted to be an environmentalist from childhood. Although she was born in India and spent time living in Nigeria and Australia as a child, she settled in Irvine with her family when she was seven years old. Growing up in the shadow of the UCI campus, Raghav was long familiar with the university's "reputation and the caliber of the curriculum," she says. But what really drew her to UCI was the degree program for applied ecology, an interdisciplinary major that includes both a bachelor of science and a bachelor of art.

"It really enabled me — early on in my training and in my academic career — to be able to understand not only the scientific underpinnings of environmental degradation and ecology but also how you apply that science into practical, real-world situations," says Raghav. She also majored in international studies, and the dual programs gave her a global perspective on environmental problems.

With a master of environmental management under her belt from Yale's school of forestry, Raghav pursued a number of roles in the world of climate-change adaptation. Her first job out of school was managing a project out of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, in Belize, that examined the range of solutions that could assist local communities whose livelihoods are affected by climate change. "It was a really formative experience because it enabled me to get on-the-ground field experience and understanding of how climate change affects vulnerable communities at the local level," she says.

For two years, Raghav worked as a technical analyst and project reviewer at a large trust fund called the Adaptation Fund, where she helped establish mechanisms to deliver funding to communities for climate change adaptation. In 2012, she joined the nonprofit Conservation International, where she ultimately led the climate strategy and program as VP of climate change. "That's really where I spend a lot of my time and effort raising the visibility and importance of nature as a climate solution," she says. "I did a lot of advocacy and a lot of policy." Through this role, she negotiated on behalf of the Maldives in the Paris Agreement.

In 2022, Time hired her as the Chief Portfolio and Partnerships Officer. She cofounded Time CO2, an offshoot of the media company that focuses on accelerating climate investment through curated climate, nature, and community impact portfolios. Time CO2 also aims to provide content that helps businesses understand how climate change affects them and decide what to do. "There's a lot of complexity, especially when it comes to issues like carbon offsetting or understanding risks to business or even the opportunities that businesses might have to kind of get ahead of the curve. But quite frankly, most businesses are struggling with that challenge."

Sometimes there is simply a lack of data. But more often, there is too much information to process, or even contradictory information floating around. Raghav believes that the media wields responsibility to help businesses make good choices. "So much of the content that we consume on climate is negative, and it doesn't necessarily provide a bridge or a path to action."

Many businesses are scared of putting a foot wrong. "There's a lot of shaming and judgment, a lot of accusations of greenwashing, a lot of which is founded on actual deception on the part of some companies. However, this has kind of led to a phenomenon where we have a lot of companies 'green hushing,'" says Raghav. "They're not talking about their climate action because they are afraid of being called out or being scrutinized in a way that punishes them for trying to take action. And so we want to kind of create a safe space for companies to talk about their successes, their challenges, their failures, so that collectively, we can move forward as opposed to creating this era of silence and judgment around climate action."

Earlier last year, Raghav was promoted to Chief Climate Officer at Time, a role that sees her building the program, growing its audience and finding more meaningful ways of creating community among businesses. "My previous jobs had demonstrated to me how important communications is, because so much of climate change boiled down to not just hitting people in the head with facts but also in the heart," she says. "How we leverage our shared narrative to drive change is so important in addition to research and analysis and some of the more technical outputs or products. "

Her winding career path to New York wasn't necessarily a pre-planned one. "I wouldn't say that any of this was orchestrated," she says with a laugh. "I think I've just been really intentional about challenging myself and being comfortable with that impatience of wanting to push myself and wanting to really understand how I can make the biggest contribution in whatever organization I am."

At UCI, that took the form of student leadership in the Green Campus Program. In partnership with the administration, that group implemented energy-saving practices on campus: a green dorm, take-the-stairs day, compact fluorescent lights swapped in for inefficient incandescent bulbs. It was a miniscule slice of the pie in the grand scheme of the climate crisis, but it empowered Raghav with an attitude of radical collaboration and partnership that she has carried with her throughout her impactful work for international organizations.

"To have such a receptive and encouraging administration at UCI really enabled that to take place. It wasn't like we had to be activists and we had to fight for something to happen. It was something that was invited," she says. "It's not like you're always in opposition to something — you can find common purpose with people that you think might think differently than you. You're really able to go a lot further when you're capable of finding those areas of common ground."

The then vice chancellor of business administration, Wendell Brase, was instrumental in guiding and mentoring Raghav "in a way that enabled me to also utilize a lot of my skills right there on campus, through the Green Campus Program," she says. Raghav also credits her success to her "really supportive professors," like Sharon Stern, as well as Joe DiMento, who advised her on her undergraduate thesis on deforestation in Brazil.

Raghav appreciated the breadth of opportunities that UCI afforded her, including a study abroad stint in Italy and the UCDC program. These allowed her to understand the complexities of climate change from a number of different vantage points. "That was really the power of that interdisciplinary degree: so that you, from the outset, understand the intersectionality of issues rather than just trying to confront them from one perspective or one approach. That really set me up for success in the future, because I was trained immediately to always think about what's next and what is the appropriate application of this knowledge."

This idea was at the forefront of Raghav's mind as she approached the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai in December. "There was a lot of debate and discussion about whether or not — or how — we get back on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid some of the tipping points that we know that we'll reach unless we change our behavior, quickly. And so for me, it's really about how we can kind of make as much progress and galvanize enough businesses to really be a powerful force of progress. Especially as we approach this critical time."

-Alison Van Houten for UCI Social Sciences
-photo by Steve Zylius/UCI

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