23 September 2021

Leading climate change and sustainability professional and engineer, Anusha Shah's waterborne journey has taken her from the crystal springs of the Himalayas to the grand industrial vistas of the Thames.

Her latest achievement was appropriately set by the sun-dappled waters of the Royal Docks where Ms Shah received an Honorary Doctorate in engineering neighbouring the University of East London's Docklands Campus. 

She told graduates, "Each one of you is unique - your journeys and your experiences are going to be unique. Draw your strength and inspiration from your own journey, learn from others and while you're at it, please be humble and have lots of fun."

Drawing on her 22 years' experience that has taken her to the position of senior director of resilient cities UK at forward thinking design and engineering consultancy Arcadis she said, "It's not always going to be an easy ride but I will tell you one thing: you can change every challenge into an opportunity to do something bigger, better and more impactful. 

"There's absolutely nothing you can't achieve if you set your mind to it and drive your life with the right values."

Ms Shah was born and brought up in the foothills of the Himalayas on the Indian side of Kashmir. It is a landscape with verdant greens, snow-capped mountains and pristine rivers.

She said, "I was always drawn to water."

She initially aspired a career in architecture. Failing the drawing part of the exam proved serendipitous.

She said, "I'm so pleased I failed. I would never have discovered the wonderful civil engineering profession at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. People have wrong perceptions about civil engineering. It's not just about construction, it's about everything around us. Land. Water. Transport. Buildings. Communities. Environment. The entire system."

Breaking stereotypes

At the age of 23, she discovered a consultancy in New Delhi was working on the conservation of Dal Lake in Kashmir. Anusha turned up at their office without an appointment and talked her way into a consulting project engineer's role.

Feeling the need to study more, Ms Shah was one of only two candidates to win a prestigious Commonwealth scholarship in 1999. She came to the UK to pursue an MSc in Water & Environmental Engineering at the University of Surrey.

Her career took her back home to put her ideas into practice, restoring springs on the Dal Lake. In 2004, and back in the UK, she oversaw construction of water pumping stations and installation of pipelines in the environmentally sensitive Lake District. Later, she helped manage the capital's great river as chair of the board of the Thames Estuary Partnership.

Ms Shah, at 36, was appointed youngest ever, and first female, chair of the Institution of Civil Engineers-London Region. She became a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 2016. 

She said, "I had to break many stereotypes."

In 2018, Ms Shah felt uneasy about the lack of awareness on the climate crisis and decided overnight to found the climate change consultancy Plan for Earth. 

She said, "Engineers can't tackle the crisis alone. They need to collaborate with everyone and implement systems thinking. Climate change is a societal issue."

After a year of intense thought leadership on climate adaptation, Anusha joined Arcadis. 

Ms Shah, married to Yasir Imran, was selected as non-executive director at the Met Office, won multiple awards including 2020 UK's Top 50 Women in Sustainability and is lined up to be the president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the first BAME person in its 200-year history. 

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