From the Field
Alums Make Impact in India
by David Rice
OFTEN OVERSHADOWED by China’s meteoric rise, India’s economy has maintained 7 to 8 percent year-on-year growth (twice as much as the United States’ 3 to 5 percent) for more than a decade and is poised to break the 10 percent barrier within the next few years. Fueled by this growth, in a relatively short period of time, the country has gone from having a colonial complex and suffering from lack of self-esteem to having ambitions to be the best in the world. It has become cliché that “China will produce the hardware for the future, and India the software.” However, in spite of these reforms and unprecedented economic growth, India has to continue to make progress on a variety of complex public issues, including development of political leadership, tackling corruption, further investment in infrastructure and basic education, and restructuring taxes and public administration.
Where the public sector faces challenges around the world is where you’ll find Kennedy School graduates working at all levels — from the halls of power to the policy wonk trenches — and India is no different. As Harvard was preparing for the next Global Series, its annual worldwide alumni conference, due to take place in New Delhi in March, I spoke with some of the other Kennedy School alums who are shaping India’s public sector.
Sanjay Mitra MPA 1996
Joint Secretary, Prime Minister’s office
A professional in the Indian Civil Service, Sanjay Mitra is only a few doors down from the prime minister’s private office, but is often called to the PM’s official residence for intimate breakfast meetings to discuss policy and political strategy. He recalled his days at the Kennedy School and the lessons from such courses as Merilee Grindle’s “Political Economy of Decision Making,” describing how it continues to influence his present-day work.
“Balancing the interests of different stakeholder groups was not part of my original training in the civil service,” he said. “There was the right way and the wrong way to do things and nothing in between.”
The Kennedy School shaped his perspective on the policymaking process and opened his eyes to the potential for a more deliberative style of political discourse in India, he said. “KSG was full of civilized dialogue,” Mitra said, “even though people were passionate in the decisions they had taken.”
C. V. Madhukar MPA 2004
Director, Parliamentary Research Service
Setting out with the ambitious goal of providing members of Parliament with access to high-quality, nonpartisan policy analysis, C. V. Madhukar co-founded and leads the Parliamentary Research Service (PRS). PRS is a nongovernmental organization and is the country’s first-ever nonpartisan research service focused exclusively on upcoming legislative issues. In fact, it was the goal of developing the PRS that led Madhukar to the Kennedy School, which is where he used his classes, the faculty, and classmates to refine his vision.
“India is a vibrant democracy, and I am proud of it,” he said, “but there are gaps.” Filling these gaps through better access to information and analysis and increased scope for people’s voices in the legislative process “is critical to strengthening the quality of the democratic fabric of the country. PRS will help to fundamentally alter the nature of the policy debate in India in the years to come.”
Poonam Muttreja MPA 1991, APL 2002
Director, MacArthur Foundation’s India office
“Julie Wilson’s class on ‘Data Analysis for Public Policy Managers’ has a profound impact on my daily work with MacArthur,” said Poonam Muttreja. “I also keep Marty Linsky’s IOP 1973 book, Leadership on the Line, on my office bookshelf. The Kennedy School prepared me for my role as a manager in an organization with a substantial stake in the local political and policymaking environment.”
As the director of the MacArthur Foundation in India, Muttreja plays a leading role in identifying and funding efforts to build up local civil society, with a particular emphasis on those organizations that are providing a constructive voice to public policy issues facing India.
“Without the Kennedy School experience, I wouldn’t be able to ‘think strategically,’ which is a skill that cannot be over-emphasized when dispersing limited funds for maximum impact,” she said. The connection between Muttreja and the Kennedy School runs deep: her husband, Shiva Kumar MPA 1987, PhD 1992, is a member of the school’s summer program faculty.
Mohan Guruswamy MPA 1982
Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives
After years in the Ministry of Finance, Mohan Guruswamy left to become the director of one of India’s most influential think tanks. As an expert on national defense, he frequently presents to government officials on the latest trends and developments regarding India’s and the region’s security climate. While at the Kennedy School, he focused on classes that helped him examine the interconnectedness of economics, development, security, and international trade. In addition to his frequently published commentaries on pressing public issues and analyses of policy proposals, Guruswamy is very active with the Harvard Club of India.
Sanjiv Kaura MPA 2005
Harvard University’s representative in South Asia
“Harvard automatically made me think in ways I never thought of,” said Sanjiv Kaura. “I took advantage of the opportunity to create a unique experience by taking classes in a wide array of diverse topics, from philosophy to competitiveness, plus courses on public administration. Where else but at Harvard can students be exposed to such diverse opportunities and topics?” Although he previously served the corporate sector as CEO of a large multinational, Kaura honed his leadership skills and learned through first-hand experience that “solutions are always gray and various factors need to be considered when deciding the outcome, meaning I never began an answer to any question I was asked without KSG’s trademark ‘it depends.’”
David Rice MPA 2001 is the founder/director of Strategic Policy Concepts, an international public policy research, analysis, and consulting firm located in Cambridge (www.policyconcepts.com). He is starting a business in India called Veritas Consulting Group.
“From the Field”, a new series that will appear in each issue, looks at what alumni from around the world are doing to shape policy, ideas, and one another.