Sabrina Esufally has done a lot of things in a short amount of time. Her LinkedIn page, which I look through prior to my interview with her, does a full 180-turn in the middle of the ‘Experience’ section. From Associate at a law firm and Head of Legal Research at Verité Research, to Director of Business Development and Innovation at Hemas Manufacturing, which is where we meet. In a boardroom, she tells me that there’s always been one common thread running through everything she’s done so far: “I think, at my core, I exist to solve problems. If there is a pain point that exists to be solved, it gives me a lot of satisfaction to get in there and try to solve it.”
Solutions are Sabrina’s specialty. Even her choice to study law at university was a solution of sorts: “I like to get my teeth into analytical work, and I was always quite good on my feet, so I picked law — it was the closest thing to what I thought I’d be good at.” She says she had “a tendency to talk my way through most things”, which presumably had to change when, after graduating from the University of Durham, she began working under the late Sithie Trivuchelvam, the renowned lawyer whom Sabrina describes as a “powerhouse woman”. “She had all the right mixes of a mentor, she pushed me to come up with better ideas constantly, and she also just didn’t tolerate mediocrity, which I think was a good principle for when you’re just starting your career and trying to figure stuff out for yourself.” After 2 years at Trivuchelvam Associates, she went to Harvard Law School for her Masters, surer now about herself and the areas of law that interested her, which she describes as “the transformational pieces” — “public law, international law, anything that tried to shape society in a particular direction.”
From Harvard, she joined Verité only a few years into its formation. “I started when there were 15 people around a single table, and when I left there were 60.” With her work at Verité, Sabrina took on more of a public-facing role, giving interviews and appearing on TV as part of Verité’s mission to increase transparency between the government and the public by bridging gaps in public knowledge and facilitating the flow of information and transparency. “It wasn’t as scary as I imagined it to be,” she says of her many interviews and appearances. “Because when you work in consulting, you have the luxury of doing a deep-dive into what you’re being grilled on.”. “It’s far less scary than this,” she laughs, referring to my interviewing her.
The switch from law and public policy to the private sector, Sabrina explains, was something of a gradual transition. “I had a deep desire to change things about the world as I saw it, and I felt maybe law wasn’t the best avenue to do that. And I began to think of other institutions that could be utilized for change.” And while the private sector tends to be overshadowed by nonprofits and the public sector in terms of its potential and responsibility to foster significant social progress, its capacity for it is, Sabrina says, immense. “I think the private sector can and should be used as a vehicle to really transform the communities in which we live, and I think that there is a longer-term social responsibility that the private sector is now beginning to take on board,” she affirms. And Hemas, apart from being her family business, was also “ideologically a good fit as the company is hardwired to deliver better outcomes for its consumers and partners.”
At Hemas, Sabrina manages product development and innovation. “What we’re trying to do is to create meaningful products that, in some way, make people happier, make people healthier, and improve people’s lives,” she explains. And it enables her, most importantly, to do what she loves, which is to solve problems: “I believe in the power of transformational ideas. I believe in the power of institutions and their power to shape and change things and make people better off. Which is why I’ve been able to leave the public sector and join the private sector without compromising that very foundational piece of who I am.”
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.