Women inspiring others: Rajvant Nijjhar
Rajvant Nijjhar was the project lead for the BankEnergi project in south London. The six-month project worked on developing a local energy market trading place, and received funding from UK Research and Innovation’s £102.5 million Prospering from the Energy Revolution challenge, part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.
With over 20 years of experience in the water, construction, and energy and sustainability industries, Rajvant also operates the independent measurement and verification of energy efficiency savings company iVEES where she is involved in the delivery of measurement and verification services for energy performance contracts.
She has to date, trained over 700 individuals in measurement and verification both in the UK and internationally. She also was the President of the UK Chapter of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) for four years, developing and taking the organisation from strength to strength.
Could you update us on the BankEnergi project?
This project was concluded in July 2019. We are now following up on developing an end-to-end energy trading solution at one of our test sites, starting in March 2020.
What’s your average day like?
My average day is very varied so there is no average day! As your own business owner, you are motivated to manage yourself in the most efficient way possible.
It’s is fair to say in the last two months of the BankEnergi project, I did not have a day off – not even weekends. I was developing new partnerships, strategising on existing, writing a final report and developing the next stage of the proposal. Whilst there were seven other partners in my consortium, as the project lead and leader of the group, I had many challenges, not only technical but strategic. Two things helped immensely during this time: having three good mentors, who had my back, to bounce ideas and formulate next moves, and the help of my parents in looking after my baby. As a single mum by choice, my support structure is vital to my business and wellbeing.
Growing up, did you always want to work in the energy/ engineering industry?
I wanted to be a pilot so took maths, physics and geography A levels. I then studied mechanical engineering – which is just as well as I’m now not the greatest of flyers! I then fell into my first job in the water industry. After a few years, I started to get itchy feet so as soon as I became a chartered engineer, I took a sabbatical to do an MBA. I knew back then I had an entrepreneurial spirit and had so much more to give. You know when you have a gut feeling about something, and working in a corporate world, go against it, then you know you should have simply just listened to your gut because you were right in the first place - well that's what drove me to wanting to be my own boss.
Why do you think it’s important to have strong female role models, particularly in this field?
I think it’s important to give everyone an equal platform or opportunity to grow themselves, and to flourish to their full individual potential. I’m completely supportive of the underdog, in any situation. Every individual is unique and brings different experiences to the forum – age, nationality, background, male or female; diversity is more important to me.
At present, less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women. According to UNESCO data (2014 - 2016), only around 30% of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Why do you think this is?
I wonder if there are not enough ‘cool’ or perhaps publicity. It’s still a feature when you see a girl with a hard hat and high vis jacket. So, it’s not yet the ‘norm’. Perhaps there aren’t clear paths laid out for career choices – and if more examples could be shown of women in technical roles, reaching leadership roles, then there could be more applicants in this direction.
What are the main lessons you have learned throughout your career?
You never stop learning, just get better at making decisions based on experiences and articulating yourself. As an entrepreneur – you also learn to change and adapt. When I first started to work for myself in 2011, the highs and lows felt extreme; now if something doesn’t go to plan, I know from experience, something else will happen instead, that was bigger and better than expected. I’ve had my fair share of hard times and experiences, and learnt that so long as my moral compass is straight, that I will win through every time. Goes back to trusting your own self.
Ian Byrne, a friend and former colleague of Rajvant, tells us why inspiring women like her are vital for the industry to flourish.
“I’m Ian Byrne, and I have been working to encourage the more sustainable use and generation of energy for over 30 years – long before it became fashionable! I’ve known Rajvant for almost 10 years, when we both joined an International Standards Organization Technical Committee on Sustainable Energy Management.
Rajvant impressed me from the very start by her willingness to take an independent view, based on the evidence that she sees, rather than to follow the herd. She’s unafraid to ask questions – even if there’s a risk that people may think she should already know the answer (and indeed she may already do so, and just be testing them), and is always open to new ideas, however left field they may seem at first. Rajvant is also generous with her time, and willing to support activities that don’t offer an obvious personal return, if she thinks it will help move sustainable energy forward.
Energy and engineering have too often been seen as ‘men’s stuff’. If that’s the case, then we men have a lot of answering to do, given the unsustainability of much of the global energy system – both through unchecked demand and environmentally damaging supply.