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An abstract painting, one of the entries in the annual Al Young Art Show.

Khyati Shah '99

Bangalore, India

Political Science and Spanish

Khyati is senior vice president of corporate communications at Kinara Capital, a fast-growing company driving financial inclusion of small business entrepreneurs in India.

Khyati Shah '99 studied political science and Spanish at Knox College. Following her graduation, she moved to California to be closer to the tech scene and was the first Indian-American woman to work in corporate communications at Apple. In 2019, she moved to Bangalore, India, and she is now leading corporate communications at Kinara Capital, a company focused on financial inclusion that was started by her sister, Hardika Shah '92.

What is your current position, and how did you come into it? How long have you been working in this position?

Currently, I am the senior vice president of corporate communications at Kinara Capital, a fast-growing fintech driving financial inclusion of small business entrepreneurs in India. After years of public relations and communications experience in the tech industry, I was drawn to the vast social impact potential of working in India. I had spent my childhood in Bombay, India, before my parents had moved to the U.S. Over the years, I went back every now and then to visit family members but hadn’t really considered working there.

During the last few years, my sister Hardika Shah '92 had continued to build her company Kinara Capital in Bangalore. The passionate culture of Kinara and its steadfast focus on financial inclusion inspired me. Though I had provided guidance to Kinara on and off for years, I decided to join the company formally in 2019. It has been an incredible experience; it brought back the same excitement that I had felt back when I had done a study abroad program when at Knox.

What is it like to have such a position? Did you anticipate having such an important role in this way?

Yes, I anticipated being in such a role at some point in my career. However, moving to another country was not something that I had planned on but I am glad that I have expanded my international experience. I find my work very rewarding and I have the opportunity to go beyond traditional public relations work by overseeing corporate social responsibility (CSR), investor communications, social media, digital advertising, branding, content production, and more.

Every day, I am filled with pride and inspiration to work for an organization that is helping underserved entrepreneurs. The communications work that we have done has raised global recognition for Kinara’s innovative approach towards financial inclusion, including winning the gold award as “Bank of the Year—Asia” by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

How did Knox prepare you for your current position?

Knox provided both academic and practical opportunities so I was confident and clear about the field that I wanted to pursue after college. While at Knox, I was able to work as a writer and an editor for The Knox Student and interned with the city paper The Zephyr under the guidance of the late Norm Winick '74.

One of the best experiences that I had was working at the career services office with Terrie Saline because that gave me vast exposure on how to build resumes and take interviews. Between my journalistic pursuits as a student, thanks to Knox, I was able to secure a summer internship with the Chicago Transit Authority, which introduced me to the field of public relations, and it was a match! I loved the excitement of the work. 

I was keenly intrigued by the field of technology public relations that was expanding along with the dot-com boom of the late '90s. With this in mind, I first started working with a boutique agency in Chicago after graduation and then moved to California to be closer to the emerging tech scene, which was pretty much concentrated in Silicon Valley back then. After some years of working in PR agencies and surviving the dot-com crash, I was the first Indian-American woman to work in corporate communications at Apple. 

Knox prepares you by making you think about the “what ifs.” You are taught early on to question and hypothesize any situation from different viewpoints. And, beyond nurturing your curiosity, Knox gives you the tools to learn how to analyze and communicate, be resourceful and work collaboratively. These are adaptive lifelong skills to support wherever you go and whatever you choose to do.

What advice would you give to students hoping to go into the communications field?

Earlier, the marketing disciplines were siloed, so you had to pick one to get started in your career and learn the ropes. Now, there is a lot of crossover between advertising, public relations, social media, and other digital brand building. So, it is best to start with becoming a jack of all trades to get as much exposure as possible before deciding on your specialization. 

The overall communication style has become informal over the last few years. While this is all right for social media, it is still important to learn how to write well, especially in long form, and know how to present your ideas clearly. Lastly, resourcefulness is a skill that you can learn. 

When you are handling marketing work, you have to figure out how to make a difference even with a smaller budget in hand. The more you can learn how to do this early on, the better it will serve you in your career.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

There are benefits to the Knox experience that one may not even fully realize until years later. The specialized attention that you get from your professors extends beyond the classroom. They make the effort to join students in the cafeteria, hold open forums, resolve debates and even give you an opportunity to share your personal struggles. They really take the time to get to know you and nurture your interests and guide you when in college. Most importantly, they call you out when you are wrong and forgive your faux pas, which you will doubtlessly make at that age.

The professors and the administrative teams work in conjunction to always support the best options for the students. I particularly remember Professor Jorge Prats going out of his way to ensure everyone’s safety and happiness while in the study abroad program in Spain. He would make time to take each student out on their birthday for lunch; honestly, this just doesn’t happen anywhere else. Even today, Spanish has been an incredible new skill that I have gained, and Barcelona was a turning point in my life. This is an experience I would have easily missed out on had it not been for the personal support received at Knox.

The late Professor (Robert) Seibert '63 was one of my strongest advocates, letting me design my senior thesis paper and providing guidance and career networking opportunities (these were the days before Google and LinkedIn). There are many wonderful teachers who have made a difference— Professor Jerry Miner, Professor Karen Kampwirth, Professor Tim Foster, just to name a few.

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Printed on Thursday, April 25, 2024