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Twenty Harvard Kennedy School students traveled more than 7,000 miles to spend two weeks meeting leaders and innovators in India during their winter break in January. The trip, organized annually by the HKS South Asia Caucus, took the students all over India and opened the door to meetings with the National Security Advisor, the Chief Minister of Delhi, the Minister of State for Commerce and Industry and many more high-level executives and entrepreneurs in the fields of emergency management, health care, government and education.
Anirudh Suri, MPA-MBA 2012, who organized the trip, praised the opportunity for students as one that allows them to think differently about India.
“Students gain a different perspective by seeing the country so closely and meeting with decision-makers, as opposed to simply traveling around the country,” said Suri. “In the long run, the students become more aware of opportunities to work in these countries. It prepares us well to engage with India in whatever job we might pursue upon graduation from HKS, whether it be as a trade negotiator, a leader in a global NGO or as a diplomat.”
Among one of the many meetings with influential Indian policy makers, Suri said he was particularly inspired by Sachin Pilot, minister of state for information technology and communications. Pilot — a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — is in his early 30s and, as such, is one of the youngest members of the Cabinet.
“Mixing humor with discussion of serious issues, Mr. Pilot was reasoned in his arguments, self-critical and very down-to-earth — despite his many achievements at such a young age,” said Suri. “As a young Indian myself, I found Mr. Pilot to be a role model.”
Nicholas Burns, Harvard Kennedy School professor of the practice of diplomacy and international politics, was in India attending an event co-hosted by the Center for New American Security and the Aspen India Institute to launch a new strategic U.S.-India initiative, which the students were able to attend. Burns spent some time with the students talking about the potential for India to develop its relationship with the United States in the future.
The group also had the eye-opening opportunity to visit Dharavi, one of the largest slum areas in Asia thought to house more than one million people in less than three-quarters of a square mile.
“Speaking to the residents of Dharavi and other socio-economically disadvantaged communities, including some of the homeless families that call Mumbai their ‘home,’ I was struck by the pervasive energy and the positive optimism,” said Suri. “Though it would seem out of place to an outsider, I realized that it was very much part of the resilient, entrepreneurial character of Dharavi.”
In Delhi, in addition to policymakers, the students also met HKS alumni at a reception hosted by the HKS India Alumni group, led by Pradeep Singh MPA 1991.
For Suri, who was born and raised in India and whose parents still live there, the trip solidified his goals for the future.
“For me, personally, it was an immensely satisfying experience,” he said. “It reinforced my desire to go back to India and contribute to its development after I graduate.”