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News Category: News


Highlights from the Harvard India Conference


unnamedThe annual Harvard India Conference, which SAI co-sponsors, was held at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School on February 11 & 12.

Videos from the event.

The following article was written by DiyaTV.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Diya TV) — Two days, 90 speakers and over a thousand attendees at one of the largest student-led conferences about India in the U.S. For the last 15 years, every February, eminent personalities of India from political, entertainment, business and science milieus descend on the Harvard campus to share their stories, visions, challenges and missions to infect the young Indian diaspora in the US with an idea of a better India in the global context.

India Conference 2017 was aptly themed, ‘India – The Global Growth Engine.’ A United Nations report forecasted India to be growing at 7.7% in 2017 besides a global recession (just 2.2% in 2016). However, most speakers cautioned the audience from undue fervor as the country continues to reel in poverty—23.6% of the total population lives under $1.25 per day on purchasing power parity. Multitude of the panels like those discussing agriculture, entrepreneurship, urbanization and women’s rights, kept the focus firmly on the challenges with a smattering of success stories.

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Report: Exchanging Health Information


Network map of health data flow from paper records to consolidated databases, from the sub-center level upwards.

Network map of health data flow from paper records to consolidated databases, from the sub-center level upwards.

In September 2016, the Harvard South Asia Institute, with support from the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies, organized the two day seminar, Exchanging Health Information: Setting an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda. A new report contains a summary of the seminar deliberations and a roadmap for prioritizing research and policy formulation for health information exchange in India.

The seminar brought together experts in medicine, computer science, data science, public policy and law to identify a research and policy agenda that addresses implementation barriers to health information exchange. Building on international standards in health systems interoperability and learning from best practices from other industries, seminar exercises employed India as a use-case to anchor deliberations.

SAI recently spoke with seminar organizer Satchit Balsari, Fellow at Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and Chief at Weill Cornell Global Emergency Medicine Division, about the seminar and its potential impact.

SAI: Why was it important to bring together an interdisciplinary event, with experts from a variety of fields, to address implementation barriers to health information exchange?

Satchit Balsari: We have observed in many sectors that new technology best succeeds when it is in tune with user behavior and regulatory frameworks. When all three are in sync, we see widespread adoption. Problems come up when one of is out of step. The high level of provider dissatisfaction with some of the larger electronic medical records in the US, for example, is largely because front-line clinicians have had little input or control over the design and implementation of these EMRs. Standardization and interoperability to allow patients to move their records from provider to provider, or across institutions required legislation and incentivization. Retro-fitting has been expensive. Yet patients and doctors will tell you how incredibly important it is for health data to be more portable than they have typically been. Legitimate concern for data privacy thwarted portability in early years, when there may have always been technical solutions to legal concerns. Bringing together a wide range of stakeholders from clinical practice, law, policy-making and computer science allowed folks to understand the needs and limitations of each discipline, while formulating an inter-disciplinary approach to health information exchange in emerging economies.

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Student voices: Understanding the role of fathers in their young childrens care, health, and development


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This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Joshua Jeong, Doctor of Science Global Health and Population 2019

Through the generous support of the South Asia Institute’s Winter session Research Grant, I was able to travel to Pakistan this January to launch a primary qualitative research study, which will comprise one chapter of my doctoral dissertation. More broadly, my dissertation utilizes a variety of methodologies to better understand how fathers contribute to their young children’s early well-being in specifically low- and middle-income countries. For my qualitative study, I am focusing specifically in Pakistan and employing both in-depth interviews and direct parent-child observations with mothers and fathers to understand drivers and experiences around parenting in the particular cultural context of rural impoverished Pakistan.

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Student voices: Achievement gaps in state-regulated Madrasas in Bangladesh


This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.W17_Faiyad Zayan

By Zayan FaiyadHarvard College ’18

Faiyad conducted field research during winter session to identify root causes of achievement gap in state-regulated Madrasas in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, 13.8% of total primary school and over 20% of total secondary school enrollment are in Islamic schools, popularly known as Madrasas. An overwhelming majority of Madrasas are in rural areas, comprise primarily of students coming from low income families and are known to have a persistent achievement gap. Over winter session, I conducted interviews in several state regulated schools (Aliya Madrasa) across 3 districts: Dhaka (2 schools), Mymensingh (3 schools) and Chandpur (7 schools). I conducted interviews with 2 officials from the Madrasa Education Board in Dhaka, Madrasa administrators (mostly school principal or next point of contact), teachers and students.   

Experience with interviews: Although we had received prior commitment from 13 Madrasas allowing us to visit and speak with stakeholders, 1 male-only Madrasa denied our request to enter. The only admin official present in the premises said that that he was not informed about our arrival and the principal (our contact) was unreachable by phone. Other institutions were relatively welcoming. Some institutions had pre-designated which teachers we could speak to while others allowed us to interview any and all teachers. About half, generously allowed me to sit in classes and follow the lessons. Administrator and teacher responses varied in openness: most answered our questions with sufficient details, some sounded more guarded in their response and a few asked us what we hope to do with their answers.

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Student voices: Tiger reserves and nature preserves


YinThis is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Mei Yin Wu, Harvard College ’17

This wintersession I interned with the Wildlife Conservation Trust as a fellow working in the economics division. Having had traveled a fair bit, I was surprised to find Mumbai a beast of its own. During the first couple of days in the city, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of people and traffic. Mumbai is one of the ten most densely populated cities in the world (8 of which are in the Indian subcontinent). Due to the enormous size of the population, there is a large demand for motor vehicles, which inevitably contributes to higher levels of particulate matter in the air. Issues such as air pollution and water sanitation safety, however, are by no means unique to India. Most developing countries face these problems and in fact, most developed countries have experienced these issues in the past. But generally with consistently high growth rates, like the ones India has recently enjoyed, comes increased expectations of standards of life. I believe that India will face increasing pressure to combat the environmental issues that seem inherent to the process of economic development.

Despite the initial discomfort that came from adapting to new traffic patterns and air quality, I grew to appreciate the abundant diversity of Mumbai. Being a financial hub, Mumbai attracts people from all over India and as such, is home to many diverse cuisines and religious practices. I was able to sample Southern Indian street food at Matunga and “sizzlers,” Chinese Indian fusion dishes, in Nariman Point. According to my peer fellow, Pooja, people celebrate all religious holidays in Mumbai. In her circle of friends, her Muslim friends would invite her over for Eid, and she would return the favor when it came time for Diwali. Many people I spoke to seemed to disbelieve the claim of religious differences being the primary factor behind Indian-Pakistani conflict and instead viewed the conflict as a matter of politics. While the conversations I had were by no means necessarily indicative of popular opinion, it was interesting to hear local perspectives as a supplement to the views posited by Western professors.

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Looking back, informing the future: Reflections on Partition


20170203_183238By Apoorva Gupta

The Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI) organized a focused group discussion to reflect upon the mass dislocations during the Partition of British India in New Delhi on February 3, 2017 at the India International Centre, New Delhi. Titled ‘Looking Back ‘Looking Back, Informing the Future – The 1947 Partition of British India: Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies,’ the discussion was focused on facilitating a personalized dialogue about Partition. The event was a part of an ongoing SAI project to create an accessible archive to digitize the stories, records, and reflections of the 1947 Partition of British India in crowd proportions.

Meena Hewett, Executive Director, SAI, introduced the session and shared the background of the project and the ongoing efforts. She talked about Prof. Jennifer Leaning’s work on demographic and humanitarian consequences of conflict, which led to the birth of this project and shared Prof. Tarun Khanna’s (Director, HSAI) idea of collecting personal stories with regard to Partition through a crowdsourcing format. This project, she said, will not only provide crucial perspectives about the past but also be instrumental in giving insights about the future, especially with respect to the patterns of migration. Hewett invited the participants to share their impressions of the Partition and how they remember the event. She introduced the speaker and facilitator for the discussion, Prof. Uma Chakravarti, noted Historian and Professor of History.

Prof. Chakravarti deftly contextualized the project and highlighted the importance of documenting personal stories and recollections of Partition and sharing them with the community. Providing the historical background of the Partition of India, she established its importance as the largest exodus in human history and underlined the urgency of collecting stories of survivors, as very few of them remain. She also emphasized the relevance of the work in order to enrich historical knowledge and realities experienced. Prof. Chakravarti also highlighted how these stories connect us to our present and inform our understanding of history, nation, community and religion. She elaborated upon the importance of archiving and following the paper-trail in government records to understand how the events of Partition were documented. This also helps us in identifying the gaps in the narration of history. The other point of emphasis was on the significance of including stories of Partition from the Eastern border, which have largely been absent from the mainstream accounts of Partition, especially its consequences in the form of economic displacement.

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International Photo Contest Winners


Congratulations to the following Harvard College students, who were chosen by SAI as winners for the Office of International Education’s Annual International Photo Contest. Each year, undergraduates submit photos from their summer travels around the world, whether from study programs, grants, or internships, and SAI selects winners for photos from South Asia. The winners were announced at a reception on February 10.

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SAI to host weekly seminar series on Partition of British India


0126 Partition Seminars_The Harvard South Asia Institute is pleased to announce a weekly seminar series focusing on the Partition of British India every Wednesday evening through February and March. The series, part of the SAI research project ‘Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India – Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies’ will explore issues that have often been ignored in the context of the Partition as well as discuss their relevance and impact today, both in South Asia and in other parts of the world. Through two-hour seminars spread over eight sessions, faculty, students, and community members will be brought together to explore the various facets of this complex historic event.

SAI will produce a podcast series based on the seminars, in which distinguished faculty and visiting scholars explore the history, context and continuing impact of the Partition.

All seminars will be from 5:00 – 7:00PM in CGIS S050, 1730 Cambridge street, Cambridge, MA. Add to your calendar. *Locations subject to change, please check our site for updates.*

The seminars are free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Seminar resources.

Letter by SAI Director Tarun Khanna: “We are embarking on a major research project to understand the history, context and continuing impact of Partition”

Join the conversation: #SAIPartition.

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Research Assistant needed: South and Southeast Asian Art


Professor Jinah Kim (History of Art & Architecture) is looking for a Research Assistant to help her with various research projects, which includes an exhibition on Nepalese Buddhist art, a visual database project, a bibliographic project on the history of Indian painting, and a symposium on South and Southeast Asian Art.  Familiarity with one or more Indic languages (especially Sanskrit) is desirable but not required.

An ideal candidate would have strong organizational and management skills. Web design/ site management experience would be a plus. Hours are flexible, but the job will demand at least 4-5 hours per week with an option of being a 20hours/week position. Salary range: between $14.50-18.50/hr. Job Duration: Spring 2017. Open to both graduate and undergraduate.

If interested, please email Jinah Kim, jinahkim@fas.harvard.edu.

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Student voices: Forest Practice in India


House_inside_areca_garden_at_Kabbinale,IndiaThe following report was written by Aaron David Mendonca, Master candidate in Design Studies, Energy & Environments, Harvard Graduate School of Design. Mendonca is the founder of the Craftsmen, the runner up in SAI’s 2016 Seed for Change Competition. The Craftsmen is small forest enterprise facilitator that creates new value chains, provides year-round employment, and trains communities in sustainable harvesting practices.

Mendonca received a summer grant from SAI to conduct further research on forest practice in India. The following is a report based on his summer.

The deadline to apply for this year’s Seed for Change Competition is February 15.

Organizations In The Field

Meetings and engagements were held with various entities ranging from Forest Communities, Village Economic Development Committees,  Producer Companies, Cooperatives, Self-help Groups, Chief Conservative Officers, Divisional Forest Officers, the Forest Research Institute Dheradun, Tourism Bodies, Research Organisations, Forest Product Enterprises, Investors and Support Institutions.

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