Alumni News

Emerging Leader Award: Radha Kulkarni MPA ’17

Posted May 17 2024
Radha Kulkarni- SIPA

Radha Kulkarni works at the intersection of finance, strategy, and policy, having worked across multilaterals, government, and private sector. She is the investment manager and leads the Innovative Financing Pathway at United Nations Children’s Fund’s new Innovative Finance Hub that works on new mechanisms to unlock global capital in support of children across 190 countries. She was also recently appointed as one of UNICEF’s Ethics and Culture Champions. Previously, she worked with UNICEF’s Private Sector team building new-age partnerships on financing, with its Youth portfolio leveraging innovative financing for young people, and with United Nations Development Programme’s Policy Bureau on Fiscal and Development Financing helping scale the work across 40 countries. 


RADHA KULKARNI: For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to create a meaningful impact on the world around me. However, I did not know how exactly I wanted to do that. Growing up in India as a young girl in a middle class background, there was enormous value that was attached to education, which is why I went to school when I was two years old. I took my final year undergrad exam at 19 years of age. Went on to pursue two masters and really the whole world view was to be able to get a great education and charter the corporate path. So I worked in finance and strategy for about seven years. It was great. I had a thriving corporate career. But somewhere, I couldn't find meaning in what I was doing. And I was running at a pace that was unprecedented. That kind of led me to pause and think, how can I maximize my impact in the limited time I have or not?

I decided that I wanted to jump into the development sector. One of my first jobs in development was at the Piramal Foundation, which is one of the largest foundations in India. And that made me realize that policy is such an important lever because we were dealing with government, business, civil society, academia. And every decision I sit-in the boardroom and make is actually tangibly touching impacting changing lives for the better. That led me to policy-making which led me to Columbia and SIPA for my third masters.

Columbia has given me so much. It has given me amazing education. It has given me extraordinary opportunities, diversity people, and evolved worldview. It also most importantly gave me the ecosystem to discover so much more about myself. And I think that built my hypothesis further that not only is policy making a huge lever but perhaps using my initial skill set of finance and strategy to policy. I could make a difference at scale. After school, I joined the UN to work on that intersection of finance strategy and policy to help finance development across the world. And I helped scale the work across 40 countries, raising about half a billion for the countries to be able to fund their own development.

Now, I lead the innovative financing pathway at the innovative finance hub at UNICEF, which works on closing the financing gap and meeting the sustainable development goals. Unlocking global capital in support of children across 190 countries. I didn't giving up my thriving corporate career and moving to a sector I knew nothing about, how the dots would connect in the future. But I took that leap of faith and I think, the thinking from the Bhagavad Gita which is an ancient Hindu text really helped me in terms of don't do what is right because it will give you a return. You do what is right because it's your duty. And there is need today for all stakeholders to come together to try and solve developmental challenges and tap into the huge untapped potential that exists out there. So I'm continuing to do my duty to genuinely contribute and add value in whatever little way I can to make the world a better place. And I hope this is just the beginning.