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News Category: News

From Boston To Bangalore: We Co-host Successful Genomics Workshop In India



About | B4 Fellowships Genomics Workshop Past Courses | Resources | News


On December 11th, the Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) program formally inaugurated the Workshop on Genomic Applications in Healthcare & Translational Research, co-hosted by the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University and Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB).

In her inaugural address, Dr. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (Founder-Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon India Pvt Ltd) described Boston and Bangalore as cities that naturally gravitate towards innovation and science. Dr. Shaw discussed the need for scientists and doctors to incorporate big data in the development of clinical trials as well as new therapeutic approaches.

The 25 selected candidates are from all over India and represent research backgrounds ranging from pharmacology to rice genomics. The intensive two-week workshop includes daily lectures and hands-on sessions, culminating in a valedictory event featuring a key note by Dr. VijayRaghavan (Secretary of Department of Biotechnology, India.)

For the first week, students will learn about introductory genomics, cancer genomics, clinical genomics and the genomics of non-coding RNA. The students’ first hands on session was on computing with Linux, led by Dr. Subhashini Srinivasan (IBAB) and Dr. Jian Carrot Zhang (Broad Institute). The session ended with a discussion about how much about the human genome is still unknown. Another session will explore how to apply what they are learning to newborn hearing screenings.

Information from a patient’s genome is increasingly useful for diagnosis and therapy as a critical part of clinical care. Organizations such as The Human Genome Project, ENCODE (Encyclopedia of Human Elements), and the Human Epigenome Consortium have advanced our understanding of the etiology of disease and its progression. This has spurred a great deal of excitement in personalized medicine, which uses genomic and epigenomic information to guide diagnosis and therapy. Gene panel-based diagnosis, genomic markers for disease screening, and newborn screenings have created avenues for therapy and early diagnosis.

Genomics and next-generation sequencing technologies have influenced scientific research and medicine significantly, which has made a striking impact on healthcare and translational medicine over the last decade. The capability to sequence DNA at higher speeds with precision and resolution unravels several dimensions of the complex genome and enhances the applicability of genomic information in personalized medicine. 


The workshop is sponsored by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.

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The B4 Workshop on Genomics commenced on December 10th in Bangalore, India


About | Workshop Schedule Valedictory Event | Selected Candidates Application Process 


Workshop on Genomic Applications in Healthcare & Translational Research 

December 10-23, 2017


The aim of this intensive workshop is to introduce highly talented Indian students to the emerging area of genomics and enable them to explore the power and excitement of Next Generation Sequencing technologies to address clinically relevant research questions. The workshop will train participants on the experimental aspects of genomic sequencing and computational analysis of sequencing data through didactic and research lectures and  hands-on sessions.


Genomics Workshop Schedule 


Day 1 | Sunday, December 10



Day 2 | Monday, December 11

Introductory Genomics


Day 3 | Tuesday, December 12

Cancer Genomics


Day 4 | Wednesday, December 13

Cancer Genomics


Day 5 | Thursday, December 14

Clinical Genomics


Day 6 | Friday, December 15

Genomics of Non-Coding RNA


Day 7 | Saturday, December 16

Off-site Discussions (Arranged by IBAB)


Day 8 | Sunday, December 17



Day 9 | Monday, December 18



Day 10 | Tuesday, December 19

Microbial Genomics


Day 11 | Wednesday, December 20

Genomics of Infectious Diseases


Day 12 | Thursday, December 21

Genomics of Rare Diseases 


Day 13 | Friday, December 22

Precision Medicine


Day 14 | Saturday, December 23

Industry Interaction Day



The workshop is sponsored by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.

Venue of Workshop:
Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology
Biotech Park
Electronics City Phase I
Bengaluru 560 100
Tel: 080-285 289 00, 080-285 289 01, 080-285 289 02

Accommodation will be provided and there are no fees for the selected candidates.




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The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute Celebrates Landmark Donation

On Tuesday, December 5, 2017, faculty, administrators and friends of SAI gathered at the Harvard Faculty Club to celebrate the renaming of the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University. The renaming of the Institute follows the generous gift of $25 million from Lakshmi Mittal and his family to create an endowed fund for the institute. 

Members of the Harvard community who have been integral to the development of SAI gave remarks and toasted to the future of the institute.

Jorge Dominguez (Former Vice Provost of International Affairs; Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico at Harvard University; Chair of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies) gave the introductory remarks. Dominguez was a fundamental force behind the inception of SAI and was instrumental to the formal recognition of SAI from an initiative to an academic institute.  He commended SAI for the work that the institute does to lead the University’s intellectual and academic inquiry on area-specific global issues. Dominguez also recognized the role that Sugata Bose played as the first faculty director of SAI and described SAI executive director Meena Hewett as both the left and right arm of Tarun Khanna. 

Nitin Nohria (Dean of Harvard Business School) shared how the Partition Project has been personally meaningful since both of his parents grew up 10 miles on opposite sides of the present-day India and Pakistan border. He also reflected on how the Kumbh Mela project all began at a dinner party at Rahul Mehrotra’s house. Nohria marveled at how a simple idea transformed into “a stunning project that gives us a truly One Harvard view of the Kumbh Mela.” He ended his comments by saying, “I hope that with this endowed gift, this tradition will continue for a long, long time and that there will be people who in the same way that I can say today, feel magically touched by all that this institute does.”

Tarun Khanna (Faculty Director of the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute at Harvard University; Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School) remarked on his excitement for the future of SAI and his commitment to the founding principles of the institute. “I think we are just at the beginning of a wonderful journey. I will continue to emphasize the two principles around which we have founded the institute. One is to be open and inclusive to everybody. In a very deep and profound sense, I intend for this institute to be content agnostic. Not be mistaken for being empty of content, it should be interpreted as what it is, a philosophical commitment to an incredible openness. The second is a trend that Harvard will increasingly recognize over time, the idea of having people actually physically present in different locations. We take very seriously the idea that you should be part of the intellectual fabric of the places where you want to work.”

Pictures by Samatha Wiratunga





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Addressing Biases Across Borders

Biases between South Asian countries are at the center of what South Asia Engagement Forum (SAEF) hope to address through their cross-regional and cross-sector platform.

LMSAI spoke to co-chairs, Ameya Kilara (MPA ’18) and Muhammad Khudadad Chattha (MPA-ID ’18) about the personal experiences, which shaped their passion for cross-border dialogue.



What is the structure and purpose of South Asia Engagement Forum (SAEF)?

Muhammad Khudadad:

We have expanded the forum to engage the whole South Asian community. SAEF invites students, alumni or academics who are interested in issues related to South Asia to lead discussions on some of the key issues that are particular to the South Asian region such as climate change, economy, terrorism and security.

Our inaugural seminar on November 17, 2017, began with personal stories about why organization members are interested in a cross-regional forum. Secondly, we had a panel on media. We had a journalist from India and a journalist from Pakistan discuss how media is shaping public opinion and at times, polarizing the views in both countries and exacerbating the conflict.


We have structured SAEF around three objectives. The first is to connect South Asian students and academic scholars across borders. The second is to engage in discussions on policy issues in South Asia. The third is for our members to go back and influence their respective organizations, governments, civil society and/or businesses in South Asia.


Where did the idea for SAEF come from?


Despite India and Pakistan’s shared challenges, there are few Harvard spaces or student groups where you can come together with people from across the India-Pakistan divide. Last year, a Mason Fellow at the Kennedy School, Vinay Nagaraju, had an idea to get Indian and Pakistani students together to discuss issues related to South Asia. Our first meeting was a group of 10 people eating dinner at his house. During the dinner, we shared why we feel passionately about coming together. Each story was so different. Some of us had had experiences as Indians traveling to Pakistan and others as Pakistanis traveling to India.

The Kennedy School at Harvard is a unique place because we have so many people from across the region and sectors. People are from the government, from civil society and from business, people who have already come from leadership positions and that will go back to exercise leadership in their own contexts. We created the forum for people to come together and actually engage on these issues.


Why do you feel passionate about South Asians coming together?

Muhammad Khudadad:

When I came to Harvard, it was a big surprise when I interacted with people from India and from Bangladesh. It was the first time that I have been outside of Pakistan for a long period.  Here at Harvard, I was able to challenge some of my perceptions and biases about people from across the border.  I began to question where all of these biases actually come from.

After questioning my biases, I wanted to do something about them, which is why I am personally interested in this organization. I think it is important for people to challenge the biases that further complicate some of the already complex challenges in the region.


As a teenager in high school in the South of India, I was involved with a student movement for peace in Kashmir. The more I started understanding the conflict in Kashmir, the more I started to see how linked the Kashmir conflict is to India’s relationship with Pakistan.

Then, when I was 18, I travelled to Pakistan as part of a university debating team. We crossed the border on foot and reached Pakistan just in time to see the flag ceremony between the two countries. After growing up hearing about Pakistan as an unknown and dangerous place, it was the most incredible experience in my life to visit Pakistan, to meet the people and find out that we share so much in common. Shopkeepers would ask us, “Oh, are you from India?” and then give us some discounts!

Despite our shared history in culture and politics, I grew up thinking that we were so different. If we share so much, including poetry, music and cricket, it is possible to imagine both countries coming together politically to face some of the challenges that we share as well? Both counties have massive issues of poverty, education, and climate change. We also share opportunities that we can tap into to resolve some of the issues at the political level.

The India Pakistan relationship is one of the reasons that the South Asia region has not integrated more widely to face the challenges together. Despite the fact that SAEF began as initiative to bring Indias and Pakistanis together, we are now hoping to expand and adopt a regional lens.



How is SAEF confronting biases?

Muhammad Khudadad:

The first step is just to engage the community at Harvard. Before we go out and start advocacy on biases, we first need to come together as a community to be able to confront and discuss what is happening in the region.


We need to put issues on the table and create an environment where genuine dialogue and debate can be facilitated and in a respectful way. That is the unique opportunity of being in an academic environment like Harvard, where the same discussions happening in India can be explosive and can lead to real violence.  Courageous organizers on the ground in South Asia face risks of violence. The advantage we have here is to be able to have a discussion and debate about these issues in a safe and respectful setting. 

Muhammad Khudadad :

This is long-term engagement, not something that we would be able to do in the next six months or year. We have people in the organization that are first years that will hopefully take it forward on the advocacy side, so that more and more understanding in the community will build. We ask people to confront their biases at SAEF events.

Most of the people who are this organization will end up going back to their countries. Our hope is that there will be a direct or indirect impact when our members share their opinions on the issues that confront South Asia, specifically India-Pakistan hostilities. South Asia is an important region of this world. It is our responsibility as students in Cambridge and as citizens of South Asia to discuss the issues that hold the region back.


After coming to the U.S., I have found that there are small pockets where South Asia is in focus; however, mostly it is absent. At the Kennedy School, you hear about how India is impoverished, but you do not hear about the politics of the region or the region’s potential. South Asia will have a large portion of the world’s young population in the next 20 or 30 years. There are serious issues for the world to consider. For people from outside the region, South Asia is going to be crucial to how they shape their own governments’ policies going forward.




This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Partition and Today’s Issues of Forced Migration



On November 30, the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute at Harvard University (LMSAI) traveled to New York City, where researchers on the Partition of British India 1947 presented their research-to-date at the Asia Society’s Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium. This event was part of Asia Society’s Viewpoints series, generously supported by Aashish and Dinyar S. Devitre. Boon Hui Tan (Vice President of Global Arts and Cultural Programs and Director of Asia Society Museum) convened the gathering.


Photo-Elsa Ruiz-smaller

Jennifer Leaning (François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights and Director, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) introduced the humanitarian catastrophe of the Partition.  Leaning emphasized three key take-away points. First off, groups of people organized a significant amount of the violence, as opposed to prior theories of “random” or “spontaneous” violence. Secondly, the death rate for this period is higher than conventionally assumed. Finally, there was an amazing collective of pioneering and heroic efforts at relief and rehabilitation. These efforts, while imperfect, were remarkable considering the challenges the new dominions faced. One challenge in particular, was that international focus and resources were focused on rebuilding Europe and subsequently, coming to terms with the Palestine-Israel divide.

Photo-Elsa Ruiz,#4181-011__smallerDue to the aforementioned challenges, the International community has largely overlooked the historical study of Partition, despite the fact that it is one of the world’s largest humanitarian displacements. At present, forced migration and the impact of refugee populations is a major topic of media and academic interest in the 21st century. Partition is an exemplar and precursor to contemporary forced migration. Professor Leaning emphasized that a historically sound and deep understanding of the phenomena of forced migration and refugees require proper attention to the Partition. 

At the event, Prashant Bharadwaj (Assistant Professor, Department of Economics at the University of California, San Diego) shared his teams’ proof of concept. His team has been developing the use of machine learning for sentiment analysis of hate speech in India and Pakistan.

Photo-Elsa Ruiz,#4181-019_smaller

Karim Lakhani (Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; Director Harvard Innovation Science Laboratory) channeled his expertise on crowdsourcing in a Partition-era oral history collection project. Lakhani is working with LMSAI Director Tarun Khanna (Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School).

Lastly, researcher and graduate student Diane Athaide (MAUD Candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Design) presented an update on her work with Rahul Mehrotra (Professor of Urban Design and Planning, Harvard Graduate School of Design and Principal, RMA Architects of Mumbai.) She shared with the audience the different effects of Partition on urban development in three pairs of cities: Dhaka and Kolkata; Delhi and Lahore; and Karachi and Mumbai. The research to date has noted the diverse resettlement policies used by the Indian government in terms of housing colonies in Delhi vis-a-vis Punjabi migrants and that of then-Bombay towards its influx of mostly Sindhi refugees.

An instructive Q & A session brought out the real heart of the research, beyond the methodological bent shared by many of the presentations. One question prompted Professor Lakhani to clarify that they are interested not only in stories of migration but also the factors behind the choice to stay. Some factors include the intersection of ideology and socioeconomic status in local context for many Muslims in different parts of India. Social location was a key driver of experience through the Partition. Caste and class differentially affected the loss of assets and access to rehabilitation. Professors Lakhani and Khanna emphasized that their plan to collect thousands of oral histories is producing new data. Using various techniques from the social sciences, the team will analyze the data in an unprecedented way. Historians will be in conversation with the voices documented from the oral histories.


Photos by Elsa Ruiz

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Partition is a Wound for South Asia

In an interview with LMSAI, visiting scholar, Nabil Khan, discusses the modern day relevance of the Partition and his experience handling sensitive topics on a multinational team .

After graduating from the Harvard Divinity School, Nabil Khan joined the Partition Project in May 2016.  He works primarily with Jennifer Leaning on the humanitarian aspect of Partition, with a focus on West Pakistan. His role is to look at primary documents in the UK and US; papers and letters and government records. He also conducts interviews of survivors from the era.



Why is the Partition Project an important area of research?

Partition is a wound for South Asia. Of course, history has some form of bias, wherever you are from and wherever you live. Particularly in South Asia, people grow up with very nationalist forms of history. Now, with the resurgence of nationalism in many parts of the world, there is even more impetus to understand the origin, impact and complexity of nationalisms in South Asia, and their connection to migrations, which is a major human experience and a shaper of modernity. 

The fact that the Partition Project is multinational and multidisciplinary is unprecedented.  Our researchers are in and from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and the South Asian diaspora, with a mix of South Asians and non-South Asians. The diversity of perspectives speaking to each other does not usually happen in South Asia. Even for the researchers it has been valuable for us to learn each other’s histories and perspectives. I hope that this will open up and more channels for understanding and communication across the borders.


What is it like to work in a multi-national team?

Our team has had conversations about sensitive topics. I have learned a lot about the Indian and Bangladeshi perspectives and vice versa. It has been valuable to share a Pakistani perspective since the media does not usually portray well-meaning, peace-centered Pakistani perspectives. Since we recognize that we all have our biases, it has been significant to engage in shifting our perspectives and understanding the others’ side.


Has anything surprised you during your research?

Going through the Pakistani newspapers, I have been surprised at some of the things that I have learned about Pakistan. For example, from spending a lot of time in the U.S., I know that many people revere Gandhi. However, as a Pakistani-Muslim, I did not grow up hearing Pakistanis talk about Gandhi because he was a Hindu-Indian and therefore, not one of us.

In early 1948, a right wing nationalist assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, not too long after Partition and in part because of Gandhi’s response to Partition. After he was assassinated, there were days of mourning held for him in Pakistan. The Refugee Minister of Pakistan said that Gandhi’s actions were an inspiration to people working in refugee relief, that Muslims owe him a lot and will always remember him. To learn, in this particular way, that Pakistan had honored and appreciated Gandhi during Partition was at least somewhat surprising and touching, and speaks to the importance of looking at archival materials and material history.   


Could you describe a meaningful moment as a research assistant on this project?

There is a trope in the literature that people who have lived in Partition have not talked about it about because it is traumatic and they just want to move on. However, these folks are now in their late 70s, 80s and 90s and it means a lot to them to share their stories. It has been an honor to be there for them. It touches me how willing people are to share themselves, driven by a sense of leaving a legacy, that their experiences may be valuable for others.

This one gentleman that I interviewed. He was from Jammu and was fleeing to Sialkot in Pakistan which is a short distance. Some people attacked their convoy and killed members of his family. He was a child at the time and he still has a scar on his face. He opened his shirt to show me the scar and on his upper body. It was powerful to see a physical marker of the Partition on somebody’s body. That image has stuck with me.


There is an event coming up on November 30th in NYC, what do you see as the benefit to having a cross-national event series?

The conversations! Both during the event and then after with the audience. There is a deep emotional yearning in a lot of the South Asian diaspora who come to our events or even the non-South Asian folks.  The rise of nationalism in the US and in South Asia amplifies this yearning. It has been 70 years and people want to understand the roots of the Partition, and make sense of identity (a search which has a cultural but also ethical character).

As researchers, we learn from each presentation. We refine our questions as we engage with the different people that come to our events.  For our audience, it is meaningful to share personal narratives. We learn from their stories, each person gives you one more data point in terms of what the Partition meant for people.

Partition was one of the world’s biggest humanitarian displacements. However, in world history, World War II and the formation of Israel largely overshadow Partition in terms of attention and grappling. Partition is a major world event that indirectly has contributed to much of the world’s politics. There are many connections to Partition such as the Cold War to the War on Terror to issues in the Middle East; there are many connections that people want to make between Partition and everything else that is going on around us.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


On Thursday, November 30th, 2017, the Partition Project Research team will present on their work at Asia Society in New York City.

Tickets at $20 members; $22 students/seniors; $25 nonmembers

Asia Society Program Website


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Spotlight on Saad Azmat: Babar Ali Fellow

On Monday, November 27th, 2017, Babar Ali Fellow, Saad Azmat will give a talk about his work about financial inclusion in Pakistan.

The seminar will focus on how different modes of financial inclusion have helped or hindered poverty alleviation in Pakistan. Azmat will examine factors such as psychology of the households and the institutional environment of the country, which may impact the effectiveness of policies geared towards poverty alleviation.

Saad Azmat spoke to LMSAI about the inspiration for his research and his hopes for how his work might impact Pakistan.


Where are you coming from before this?

I’m coming from Lahore University of Management Science.  I’m an Associate Professor of Finance there. And before embarking on my sabbatical, I was also the Associate Dean of Research.


Can you describe your current line of research in a few sentences?

My research focuses predominantly on financial inclusion. The underlying focus is the debt contract and if there are alternatives to the debt contract that we can use.  In the aftermath of the financial crisis, the focus on the debt contract has increased significantly in the literature, where researchers are trying to understand if there are any other viable alternatives. One particular alternative is risk sharing, where two people rather than one party, bears the risk.


Can you describe the risk-sharing contract, for someone who may not know a lot about finance, how it works?

To be honest, we are trying to understand risk-sharing ourselves.  The contract is very simple, it is the implementation of the contract which is problematic. The contract is easiest to understand in terms of a new firm or venture that is starting. The debt contract would require this new venture to pay a periodic return to the bank for the loan. A new business in its earlier years is not making a lot of profits, there is a possibility that their profits could be really high and low.  A risk sharing contract, on the contrary, promises the lender a portion of return of the business. If the business is doing well, the lender would get a bigger amount and if the business is not doing very well, the lender would also bear a loss. In a nutshell, it has more in common with an equity contract than a debt contract.


Can you tell me about when you first became interested in the risk-sharing contract?

My mother had a domestic helper who has been with us for as long as I can remember, she is an old lady.  I remember engaging her in a conversation, when she was cooking food. I started asking her questions about her life, how things have been, in her village life etc.

In those days, I was doing some research on capital structure and how firms borrow and so I asked her out of curiosity, how do you borrow in your village? She said that there is this very ‘nice guy’ in her village and they go and ask him for money. You have to understand there are no formalized banks in their village to borrow from and microfinance is still very new and hasn’t really permeated through the villages. I asked her if she could tell me about a recent time when she had to borrow?  She said, there are two events when the need to borrow is the greatest, one is during a wedding and the other is during a funeral; moments of extreme happiness or extreme sadness. She said during her daughter’s wedding, the need to borrow was the most, it’s a cultural thing, where dowry still exists.

She mentioned the instance when her cousin had to borrow, and again I’m talking about more than 10 years ago. Her cousin had borrowed about one hundred thousand rupees. I asked at what rate, she said at a rate of fifty percent a month. This was a time when the rate in the US was touching 0% a year. And there is this lady, who needs money and is borrowing at a rate of 50% a month. So I asked her,  isn’t the rate too high and she said it was much better than what other money lenders were charging in the market. I asked, how much does this guy make and she said he makes about fifteen thousand rupees a month. So you do the math,  fifty thousand rupees a month is the money that he has to return. I asked her, why she borrowed in the first place and she responded, as opposed to what, not getting my daughter married? That was her response.

It was very difficult to understand her decision, but one thing was very clear, that the debt contract may not serve their needs of the very poor.  you know the person who was offering the contract was doing everything right. I did the pricing myself and anyone who would want to make some money from lending to the poor would charge a very high rate.  So you know, you want to bring the poor into the financial sector, but at the same time you would also want to help them out.


Ideally, what do you hope will be the impact of this work?

People are trying to understand risk sharing for bigger businesses and they feel that if risk sharing can be implemented, it may have repercussion for financial stability and may be evading a possible financial crisis. It is a very tall claim to make, but that’s what has got many researchers interested. During a crisis you want people to take risks and that’s the time when people are most frightened, they are reluctant to take risks because they don’t want to bear losses. In a risk sharing contract, for the venture or borrower, the downside is curbed; it encourages people to take risks during the time when the economy needs it the most.

Secondly, it would allow the small and medium enterprises to be financially included. The banks are risk averse, if you look at India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other South Asian economies you will find that banks are not interested to lend to small and medium enterprises, they’re more interested to lend to bigger companies or the government and partially because they feel that the smaller enterprises are risky.  Risk sharing contracts can help small and medium enterprises get funding from the banks.  They are risky, but since the banks are partners in a way, if some of these bigger ventures end up doing well then the banks will benefit from that and they would get a higher chunk of their profits.


How do you hope to implement your research when you return?

Some of the projects are going to take at least 3 -5 years to implement, I have already started a few of them.  We have started running lab experiments and we are trying to test them in a lab setting to identify the challenges associated with that. But the bigger project that myself and Asim Khwaja are interested in is testing this product in a field setting. Now the next step would take place six months to a year down the line, once some of the challenges that we’ve seen in the lab setting are neutralized. We would encourage banks to test this product in a smaller setting and to see the challenges.   If we can show that this product can work in a smaller setting, and we if we can identify and iron out some of the problems with this product, then we can encourage this product to be implemented in a large setting. As an academic, my focus would be to work with these banks and to identify the upside and downside of this product.

The other way to go about it would be to apply to potential donors and get some funding. Two years ago, we got some funding from the State Bank. The idea hopefully is to go back to our donors so we can implement this product on the village level.  So imagine you give a risk sharing product to a hundred villages and to another hundred villages you give a debt product, in 3- 4 years you will understand how the risk sharing product impacts their lives and their economies. This has not been done yet, at least not in a published study that I know of.


How might these risk sharing contracts be perceived and received in a predominantly Muslim country like Pakistan compared to your work in North America and Australia?

Earlier, I talked about the idea of financial inclusion. One of the challenges of financial inclusion has been that people have concerns regarding the debt contract. Some of these concerns are religious concerns, primarily the prohibition of “riba” meaning interest.  Basically, the foundation of the debt contract is interest, which is a predetermined return. If you look historically, not just in the Islamic faith but in other faiths, usury is prohibited. In a predominantly Muslim country, a risk sharing project where returns are not fixed or they are not predetermined to be technically correct, a risk sharing contract would neutralize concerns emanating from faith and more people would be able to utilize that financial product.

Let me give you another example, Islamic finance has become very popular in many of the Muslim countries. In Malaysia, it’s about twenty five percent.  I have worked with Islamic banks, they are also looking for alternative products. Currently, some of Islamic banks are using products that have much in common with conventional products with debt like features. This creates an ambiguity in the minds of the customer. A risk sharing product is a completely distinct product so the ambiguity in the mind of the customer would be clear if the product gets implemented.



The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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Francis Wade Speaks to LMSAI about his Upcoming Panel


Village burningPhoto of Village Burning in Myanmar courtesy of Cresa Pugh


On Monday, November 20th, 2017, LMSAI, Asia Center, and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study are co-hosting a panel discussion on the Rohingya crisis. Since late August more than half a million Rohingya Muslims have left their homes in western Myanmar, in what the UN describes as “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”

The panel for “Mass Violence in a Changing Myanmar” include journalist Francis Wade, activist Kyaw Hsan Hlaing, refugee Mohammad Mustak Arif and moderator Kate Cronin-Furman, who have all undertaken extensive research on the ground in western Myanmar.

Francis Wade spoke to LMSAI about his motivation for organizing a panel discussion and the reception of his recently published book “Myanmar’s Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence And the Making Of A Muslim ‘Other.’”


Why did you decide to discuss the Rohingya crisis in a panel?

Although it’s only recently that this issue has come to public attention, there is a sizeable community of scholars and activists, both inside and outside of Myanmar, who have been watching developments in the country for a long time now and who can offer valuable insight into the crisis from various angles. I and the organisers were particularly keen to have both Rohingya and Rakhine come together and speak on this issue, and we’re very lucky to have been given the rare opportunity to do so, particularly given how stigmatised and, frankly, dangerous it is for people from either side of the communal divide to interact right now.


You have been on a book tour, giving seminars and panel discussions regarding your book. What have been the most compelling questions that you have been asked? 

The hardest question always revolves around where we go from here. The situation is Myanmar is incredibly complex and multi-layered, and the growing resentment coming from inside Myanmar towards the international community regarding this crisis makes engagement increasingly difficult. My belief is that acquiring a nuanced understanding of how these deep prejudices have developed, and what the various motivations behind the military’s campaign of violence against Rohingya are, is the first step towards finding a path forwards. There seems to be a broad understanding among the crowds I’ve spoken to that the more material responses being tabled by governments—sanctions, economic development, and so on—will do very little to tackle these deeper processes, although I’m not sure to what degree that’s registering in policy circles. So my response to this question invariably begins with the need to better understand the many layers of the crisis. But after that, so much of the work needs to be done from within the country, not outside. The leverage that foreign governments have is very limited.


What are common misperceptions about the Rohingya crisis abroad and within Burma?

There seems to be a popular belief that this is primarily a religious conflict, I think particularly as a result of the role of monks in goading violence against Rohingya. But that misses the fact that there’s also a volatile ethnic cleavage at play here, as well as political motivations. Nationalist politicians see incentives in driving violence such as this, given how it often causes ethnic constituencies to rally around representative leaders, and which can then theoretically translate into support for ethnic-based parties. What’s also been realised too late I think is that Aung San Suu Kyi and her party—and what we used to call the pro-democracy movement—share many of the same prejudicial convictions that we thought to be largely the domain of the military or other conservative forces. This is the one issue that seems to unite people across other conflicting lines of interest.


What does Myanmar teach us about experiments in democratization?

Firstly that democratisation is often an incredibly fragile process, where different visions of what a democracy should look like, and which democratic gains will go to who, are contested, and violently so. Moreover, in Myanmar’s case, it’s been a moment of realisation that the so-called pro-democracy movement that was breathlessly supported by western nations during military rule contains influential elements that have a deeply illiberal, conservative agenda, particularly when it comes to ideas of equality among communities that many had I think presumed to be an obvious component of its vision for a democratic society.


How has your book been received in Myanmar as compared to Western countries?

It’s tough to say because I’ve had a hard time finding outlets that will sell it inside the country, given the subject matter, but I’m working on it. I hope it will be read. A book allows for room to explore the nuances of this crisis in a way that journalism often doesn’t, and I’ve purposefully featured a lot of voices of a key constituency that isn’t getting much air time in the general coverage, which is the perpetrators or supporters of violence against Muslims. Understanding their motivations, without excusing them, is key to understanding the crisis.



The panel discussion will take place Monday, November 20th, 2017 at 5pm in Tsai Auditorium.

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Kudiyattam Lecture, Workshop and Performance

Kudiyattam is the last living performance tradition of Sanskrit theater in the world. Recognized by Unesco as preserving “masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity,” this visually powerful tradition is performed by the troupe Nepathya, from central Kerala in South India.


NOVEMBER 8, 2017

NOVEMBER 9, 2017
7:00 PM

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