Q&A: Talking with Jacobs Urban Planner, Sasha Mahajan
Urban planner Sasha Mahajan talks about her career journey, curiosity for the evolution of smart-city technologies and her aspiration to help contribute to India’s transformation for the better – one project at a time.
At Jacobs, we turn abstract ideas into realities that transform the world for good – and Urban Planner Sasha Mahajan is one of our visionaries, thinkers and doers whose knowledge and skills help make this come true.
In this feature, we caught up with Sasha to talk about her career journey, curiosity for the evolution of smart-city technologies and her aspiration to help contribute to India’s transformation for the better – one project at a time.
To start with, tell us about your background and role at Jacobs.
I’ve had quite an interesting and varied career path. I’ve worked as an architect, researcher and prior to joining Jacobs – as an assistant professor teaching undergraduate students at the NMIMS School of Architecture in Mumbai. I have been fortunate with the opportunities to explore and pursue various professions across multiple disciplines – from design, planning, analytics to geospatial visualization. At Jacobs, I am an urban planner based in Mumbai and I am working on detailed planning and development of industrial smart cities, as well as geospatial analysis in the urban and transportation domain. I think, it is fair to say that my diverse experience has provided me the ability to appreciate and solve project complexities with a much broader perspective.
What sparked your interest in the field you’re pursuing?
The history of human settlement, evolution of urban planning and its intricate relationship with socio-economic factors. These sparked my interest in urban planning and later earned me a master’s degree in Community Planning at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, U.S. Now, I am putting my Geographic Information System (GIS) knowledge into practice by drawing on insightful data intelligence to help bring our client’s vision to life.
What are you most passionate about and what’s the favorite part of your role?
Geospatial data and analytics in the urban realm. I am also curious about the power of big data, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and predictive technologies; and how they will revolutionize urban planning and developments.
Let’s shift over to projects. First major program at Jacobs?
India's first smart capital city, Amaravati. It was a massive undertaking spanning over 217- square kilometers of infrastructure development, integrating digital technologies and intelligent design to transform Amaravati into a technologically advanced capital city. As the program manager, our team played a vital role in coordinating and aligning multiple stakeholders as well as our client’s dedicated team to work in unison and deliver the program successfully. The scale, complexity and duration of such a major program meant no small feat for our team, whose role in navigating uncertainties and driving the project holistically, delivered an integrated outcome we’re incredibly proud of.
What are some of the key considerations that will help drive successful major programs?
Effective stakeholder engagement and governance are key in delivering major programs. With our experience in delivering major programs around the world as well as locally across India, we were able to apply lessons learned, the right capability and resources to address the entire program lifecycle. Managing the program also involved nurturing client and stakeholder relationships to help drive forward such an ambitious program.
Can you share a digital success story with us?
For another major program we delivered – Shendra Bidkin Industrial City, we helped develop one of the most transparent governance systems in India. The tool, E-Land Management System, was developed under close supervision by our program management team. One of the most vulnerable part of governance system to malpractices – the ‘building approval system’ was completely automated using software scripting. This is to help achieve maximum process efficiency with minimum human interaction. Jacobs received SKOCH Order of Merit Award 2017 for this effort. It is a true testimony for the work we do in the digital solution space.
Increasingly, digital and technology tools are now commonplace in major infrastructure programs. From digital twins, geospatial technology to cutting-edge visualization techniques, these tools can significantly help with progress monitoring in real-time, project optimization, advanced visualization and enhanced outcomes.
Tell us about your proudest moment at Jacobs.
Last year, I was recognised for ‘Exceptional Performance on Global Integrated Delivery (GID)’ – for my work on the Dubai Transportation Strategic Model project. The Jacobs award recognizes individuals who make a notable contribution in supporting a significant project that was delivered through GID. It’s indeed by far my proudest achievement in the three years I’ve been at Jacobs. The project also holds a special place in my heart, as it saw many of my firsts – my first secondment, first experience working abroad as well as my first management of city-wide geospatial datasets for the City of Dubai. It was such a rewarding experience and I enjoyed every bit of it.
People would be surprised to know that ….
For the love of adventure sports, I’ve actually tried skydiving! I jumped off a plane at 13,000 feet in Palm Jumeirah, Dubai with a freefall speed of over 120 miles per hour. Before the jump, it felt like the worst decision ever but as soon as the parachute opened, it was all worthwhile to be gliding and soaring above the beautiful City of Dubai. It was such an unforgettable experience that pacified the cartographer inside me!
When you’re not at work, you enjoy…
Listening to podcasts, reading books, exploring new places by foot and adventurous sports.
What do you enjoy most about being part of Jacobs?
The opportunity to learn is limitless and what a better way to do that while having a hand in the progress of impactful city-shaping projects. I also enjoy meeting and working with people from diverse backgrounds – learning about their life and professional experiences as well as the challenging projects they’ve undertaken and conquered!
You aspire to…
Play an active part to help transform India to be more sustainable and climate-resilient, that provides a better quality of life for its people and generations to come. One project at a time.