From Environmental Activism to UPSC Triumph: Chandarprabha Sharma’s Unconventional Path to AIR 289

Chandarprabha Sharma's unconventional path from environmental activism and public policy to cracking the UPSC with AIR 289 defies the traditional success story.
Indian Masterminds Stories

Chandarprabha Sharma’s story isn’t your typical UPSC success narrative. Forget the coaching institutes and the laser focus on the exam from a young age. Chandarprabha’s path was paved with environmental activism, policy research, and a deep connection to her ‘karmbhoomi‘ Ayodhya. This unique journey, however, is precisely what made her stand out in the interview hall, leaving the chairperson with a question that sparked curiosity: “So Chandarprabha, tell me, who has been misguiding you?”


This question was prompted by her Detailed Application Form (DAF), which outlined an unconventional path. With a smile, Chandarprabha responded confidently, “Sir, I should take responsibility for my decisions and actions here. It was my own ambition and the goals I set for myself that made me take this journey. However, respectfully, sir, I wouldn’t call it misguided myself, as the journey made me the person I am and helped me reach here today.” Her response was met with an encouraging nod and smile from the Chairperson, setting a positive tone for the rest of the interview.


Chandarprabha’s first experience in leadership in environment conservation began as School Captain of Queen Mary School, Mumbai, when she and her parents were deeply troubled by the wastage of electricity in the Mumbai local trains as passengers would leave the fans running. With her parents’ and teachers’ guidance, Chandarprabha designed an automatic system to detect whenever the compartment was vacant and automatically switch the fan off. Her passion for environmental leadership further blossomed during her B.Tech. at Symbiosis International University. Co-founding the Environment Cell and working on anti-ragging initiatives were early signs of her leadership potential and a desire to make a difference.

In 2013, she worked as a researcher for an Hon’ Member of Parliament on the conservation of the Saryu River in Ayodhya. This experience ignited her love for public policy, which she pursued further by completing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, from 2014 to 2016.


At Georgetown, Chandarprabha served as the Environment Team Lead of the Policy Innovation Lab, focusing on the conservation of the Anacostia River in Washington, DC. She facilitated an ideas exchange between the Anacostia and Saryu River conservation efforts. Her stint as a Sustainability Consultant for the New York City Department of Education, where she improved water, waste, and energy management in over 1800 school buildings, further honed her skills.

But for Chandarprabha, home beckoned. In 2016, she returned to India, her sights set on the UPSC Civil Services Exam (CSE). However, her first attempt wasn’t meant to be.

“This was just the beginning of a cycle of failures and triumphs that would define my journey,” she told Indian Masterminds.


Chandarprabha’s next few years were a rollercoaster of exams (clearing prelims once, failing mains twice, and then falling prey to the dreaded “prelims curse” for several years). Yet, these setbacks weren’t simply disappointments. They were opportunities for growth.

While some might call it a detour, Chandarprabha saw it as a chance to make a real impact. In 2018, she co-founded the eArth Samvarta Foundation, an NGO dedicated to sustainable development in Ayodhya.

“This wasn’t just about resume-building; it was about putting her passion into action. The foundation spearheaded initiatives like the Swacch Saryu Abhiyaan, a weekly river cleanup program, and the “Adopt an Idol” campaign, promoting responsible waste disposal related to religious practices.”

These experiences not only deepened her connection to Ayodhya but also equipped her with invaluable leadership and problem-solving skills. She wasn’t just studying for an exam; she was already making a difference.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges. In 2020 and 2021, Chandarprabha paused her UPSC attempts to focus on her NGO’s role as a Nodal NGO under NITI Aayog for COVID-19 relief in Ayodhya. Her team raised funds and upgraded Primary Health Centers and Community Health Centers, along with providing food and PPE to communities.


In 2022, she resumed her preparation but failed the prelims once more. Undeterred, Chandarprabha made her sixth and final attempt in 2023, securing AIR 289. This achievement was not just a testament to her hard work but also her ability to learn from failures.


As the CEO and Co-founder of the eArth Samvarta Foundation, Chandarprabha led numerous initiatives in Ayodhya, including the Swacch Saryu Abhiyaan, community clean-up sessions, and the “Adopt an Idol” campaign. These efforts garnered recognition, such as the 2019 Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan Award from Ayodhya Nagar Nigam.

Chandarprabha’s journey doesn’t end with this achievement. While she will no longer be able to hold an executive position in her NGO due to code of conduct regulations, her passion for environmental conservation and sustainable development remains.  She plans to leverage her new role as a civil servant to continue fostering positive change, both through policy and by inspiring others.

“My co-founder and team asked me to take a sabbatical while I was preparing so that I could completely focus on my exam. During that time, we thankfully understood how the organization can be sustained in my absence. The NGO will always have a captain in the form of my co-founder and my team. So from the legal and ethical perspective, I will move out and my co-founder will continue,” she shared with Indian Masterminds.


Having cleared the UPSC Civil Services exam in her 6th (final) attempt and 8 long years, Chandarprabha is now on a personal mission to share lessons from the mistakes she committed so that other aspirants can save their valuable years. “Minutes after seeing my name in the final list,” she thought, “What if I could tell my 24-year-old self that she shouldn’t make certain mistakes in her preparation?”. But, I can’t go back in the past, so let me just share the mistakes so that other aspirants can save the precious years of their lives.”

Chandarprabha insists that Mental health is not a side note anymore but a strategic advantage for UPSC CSE aspirants. Her goal is to help make every UPSC aspirant’s journey resilient and fulfilling regardless of whether they pass or fail the exam. To ensure this, Chandarprabha has been dedicatedly sharing Mental Health tools and techniques that aspirants can use, in her talks and mentorship on her channels.


Another indispensable pillar of any aspirant’s UPSC journey, according to Chandarprabha is the support and understanding of parents, family, and friends. “Aspirants face a lot of self-pressure and negativity in this journey. So parents, family, and friends need to be safe allies for the aspirant. Since I was blessed with an incredible family and friends support system, I urge families of aspirants to be the fortress that protects aspirants from any external negativity, doubts, unwarranted comments, and pressures. After 8 years, I can assure you that the aspirant will still do well in life god forbid if the outcome of an exam is not in their favour. This is just an exam and not a certificate of the inherent merit of the aspirant. Having had the opportunity to serve our nation outside of the exam, I can assure you that it is only one of many ways to do public service.”

It is her experience in social impact that also motivated her to share her Plan B options if she had not passed the exam on her last attempt. Chandarprabha highlights opportunities in public service like Karmayogi Bharat, NITI Aayog, and Capacity Building Commission where aspirants who want to transition from the UPSC exam can also work to continue serving our nation. Chandarprabha also shares that it is in this spirit that her batch of selected candidates of the 2023 UPSC CSE are working to support aspirants with networks, profile building, leads on job openings, referrals, upskilling and interview preparation, and more, if aspirants aim to transition away from UPSC CSE. “We aim to ensure that dedicated young leaders who gave so many years to preparation can continue contributing to our country and creating impact through other good opportunities”.

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