Champions for change

Champions for change
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First Published: Sun, Jun 27 2010. 08 26 PM IST

Up the ladder: Diya Dutta’s eventual goal is to be an independent researcher. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Up the ladder: Diya Dutta’s eventual goal is to be an independent researcher. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Updated: Sun, Jun 27 2010. 08 26 PM IST
You could be a grass-roots worker in a village, working with poor farmers to devise an irrigation plan. Or you could be a social scientist with an international NGO, writing papers and lecturing on “the poverty trap”. You could be a researcher or research manager or—more typically—both. But if you happen to introduce yourself as working in the development sector, don’t be surprised if you’re thrown a “Development of what?”, possibly followed by, “Umm, software?”
The development sector encompasses people working in various organized and unorganized capacities—in academia and government, as part of think tanks and NGOs—all driven by one common goal: the will to bring about change.
Diya Dutta, 27
Consultant, NCAER, New Delhi
Up the ladder: Diya Dutta’s eventual goal is to be an independent researcher. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
From the peaceful life of a Commonwealth scholar pursuing an MPhil in development at Oxford, to the world of frenzied job hunting and unanswered email applications in post-slowdown India, it hasn’t been an easy ride for Diya Dutta.
The idea was to work as a field-based researcher, preferably with the UN, on her return to India in September 2007. But that didn’t quite work out and Dutta started doing short-term assignments with several research and policy organizations, such as a project on chronic poverty with the Overseas Development Institute, UK, and an agriculture study for the Institute of Financial Management and Research (IFMR), Chennai. In March 2009, Dutta was offered a job at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), in its rural governance and decentralization project.
Daily duty: At 9.30am, armed with a cup of coffee, Dutta dives into the world of research papers and statistics. Most of the journals and research papers she has to consult are available online, but for others Dutta goes to the NCAER library. “This job is a great stepping stone for me as it gives me solid research experience in a reputed organization such as NCAER, and prepares me for the next step as a research manager,” she says.
Sanity saver: That fact that my job ends at 6pm every day and I have time for myself.
Wish I could change: “As a researcher, there is basically a lot of information coming your way. Although I enjoy this, I don’t like the fact that I don’t any more read if I don’t have to,” she says.
Skill set: Dutta is a sociology graduate and has an MPhil in development studies. But the real skills—including practical ones for hiring and training people—are picked up in the field, she says. A head for numbers and a basic knowledge of statistics is always helpful. So is the ability to network, “which is how opportunities for new and further work can come”, she says.
Future plans: Dutta wants to spend the next five-seven years in a development organization to build some of her managerial expertise.
Salary range*: Rs3.6-6 lakh
Savi Mull, 36
Programme manager, Global Development Network, New Delhi
Managing people: Savi Mull believes her most critical skill is the ability to multitask. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Headquartered in Delhi, Global Development Network (GDN) is a global policy research organization that works in collaboration with 11 regional partners. As a programme manager, Savi Mull’s tasks include making presentations to donor organizations, communicating research findings to policymakers, and designing and administering research programmes in different parts of the world. This means she is travelling abroad 7-10 days every two months.
Daily duty: When in Delhi, Mull’s office timings are 10am-6.30pm. The first hour of her day is devoted to responding to emails from GDN’s international partners. Next, she and her junior colleague, the programme assistant, discuss projects they are working on together. One of them is the annual GDN Research Awards that Mull is administering.
By 11.30am, Mull gets down to more content-related work—writing reports, or listing guidelines for a monitoring and evaluation exercise—which takes up the rest of her formal workday, with a short break for lunch, usually in the canteen. Evenings are typically reserved for conference calls with the international partners, to suit their local times.
Sanity saver: Her daily dose of airline industry news, which she follows with a passion. If an airline has a new kind of service, Mull is very likely to go to the website and rate it as soon as she has tried it out.
Wish I could change: “It’s common to receive calls at 11pm from my boss and be told to finish something from home. The downside of this job is that it eats into your social life,” she says.
Skill set: Mull has a background in sociology. But she feels her most critical skill is the ability to multitask. “My early years as a primary researcher for Oxfam helped greatly; I learnt so much about field research, how to communicate research and how to manage people,” she adds.
Future plans: “Ten years hence, I see myself in top management, preferably of an international organization, and on a more long-term basis I would like to work as an independent consultant on international projects,” she says.
Salary range*: Rs4.8-11 lakh per annum.
Soumen Biswas, 48
Executive director, Pradan, New Delhi
Job satisfaction: Soumen Biswas draws energy from seeing that his work has resulted in a poor family getting two square meals a day, or that their children are going to school. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Pradan is a grass-roots organization that aims to affect livelihoods and enable rural communities and work in India. Biswas has to oversee all the projects, which means that he’s travelling to the poorest and remotest districts in states such as Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, MP, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand half the month.
Daily duty: Biswas starts the hour-long chartered bus journey from his Dwarka home to his office in south Delhi’s Neeti Bagh at 8am. From 9am to 10.30am, he deals with emails—from people wanting to collaborate with Pradan, donor agencies asking for status reports on projects, or people wanting feedback on their papers. After another hour exchanging updates with various department heads, Biswas finally gets down to his own writing by 11.30am—project proposals to donors or reports for Pradan’s governing board.
Occasionally, team meetings take from 2-3 hours to a full day. “This is where we design new training programmes, strategize about how to work in villages, what kind of advocacy to do with the government, etc,” he says. By 5.30pm, it’s usually time to wrap up; by 7pm he’s home.
However, this is just one half of a typical month. The other half is spent travelling to Pradan’s various projects. For example, he says: “To go to Khoonti, in Bihar, I would take the Ranchi Rajdhani, reach the district the next evening, by which time the office has shut, but I can get an update from my colleagues about the progress. Next morning, I go to the villages and get feedback from the field. On the third day, I fly back to Delhi.”
Sanity saver: “In development, there is no need to separate personal and professional life. It’s a personal mission. If you go to a village and find a family getting two square meals a day or their children going to school because of your work, that is the most rejuvenating thing in the world,” he says.
Wish I could change: The administrative load. “There’s great tension vis-à-vis resource raising and that’s not very enriching,” Biswas says.
Skill set: A management education makes you an organized thinker and aids strategic thinking. “But it becomes a constraint when you are looking for change,” says Biswas. The real skill then, according to him, lies in thinking out of the box.
Future plans: In two years, Biswas will complete his tenure as executive director (Pradan follows a rotation policy) and would then like to explore the international context. “I still haven’t worked out the logistics, but this can happen independently or through Pradan. I feel that we can apply the lessons learnt in India to other poor countries in the world, ” he says.
Salary range*: Rs9.5 lakh-5 crore
*Salary range varies depending on whether the organization is Indian or international.
Every month, we explore a profession through the lives of three executives at different stages in their careers. Tell us which profession you want to know more about at
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First Published: Sun, Jun 27 2010. 08 26 PM IST