This article originally appeared on the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology website.
By Sophie Blum
Annie Arrighi-Allisan (Harvard College, Class of 2015) applied to the Harvard-Bangalore Science Initiative (HBSI) because, “as a neurobiology student, I wanted to gain experience in the lab, and as a curious young adult, I wanted to see the world.”
MCB’s Venkatesh Murthy, member of SAI’s Steering Committee, founded the Initiative in 2007 with SEAS Professor L. Mahadevan and Professor Vijay Raghavan, then-director of Bangalore’s National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS). “I started this initiative with two simple goals,” says Murthy: first, “to expose students at Harvard to science in a very different setting (culturally, economically, and geographically) to illustrate how universal it is, and second, to establish ties with leading institutions in India for potential collaboration among faculty and researchers.” Each summer since, the HBSI has sent a batch of 3-10 undergraduates to India for a 10-12 week research internship at one of Bangalore’s world-class scientific institutions.
Thanks to financial support from The Harvard University South Asia Institute, the David Rockefeller Foundation, and room and board generously provided by the NCBS, the internship program runs at cost with no additional fees to students other than off-campus expenses.
In 2011 Murthy recruited Ryan Draft, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies, Neurobiology, to help administer the program. Draft’s own international experiences influenced him profoundly throughout his career, and he enjoys sharing that eye-opening opportunity with his undergraduate advisees. For the first two weeks, Draft accompanies students in Bangalore, helping them find their bearings at the research center, master the logistical challenges of living abroad in India, and settle into their labs.
Students reside in dormitories on the NCBS campus surrounded by mango and eucalyptus groves. As ordinary members of their lab, interns attend lab meetings, journal clubs, and weekly lectures. While such lectures are not mandatory, attendance is high among the close-knit NCBS community and, as Ryan Draft observes, HBSI interns are soon and swiftly swept up in the lab culture. NCBS’s relatively small lab-size (10-15 people) and central café contribute to students’ rapid integration as they hob-nob with grad students, postdocs, and faculty over tea and snacks.
Weekend excursions, often a highlight among students’ reminiscences, are neither prescribed nor supervised, and largely depend on students’ interests and appetite for adventure. Reliably, lab-mates are happy to recommend tourist destinations, hidden gems, rugged treks, and travel routes. Arrighi-Allisan, who completed her internship two summers ago, recalls, “While we were promised to our host labs during the week, we used our weekends to travel around Southern India and explore our less-cushioned surroundings. We saw the grand palace at Mysore, lounged by the picturesque beaches and toured the fragrant spice plantation in Goa, explored the backwaters of Kerala by houseboat, and toured the hidden ruins of Hampi.”
HBSI is open to students from all areas pertinent to the biological sciences, including, but not limited to, the life sciences, chemistry and biochemistry, physics, mathematics, and computer science. This summer’s interns tackled everything from predicting protein structures using computational molecular biology, to the neurobiology of behavior, looking at fear learning in the amygdala. Other projects employed atmospheric chemistry—characterizing aerosols and radiative forcing—or mechanical engineering, motor control, and robotics.
While recommended for rising juniors and seniors, the program admits students of all ages, from those just starting out in the sciences to those who know exactly what they want to work on. 2013 intern Michael Drumm recommends the program to “those who look forward to being put slightly outside of their comfort zone with the hope of greatly expanding that zone by the end of the summer.” Drumm himself testifies to having transformed over the course of the summer: Overwhelmed by the environmental displacement, “The first few weeks I was completely lost [but] by the end of the summer, I was completely comfortable and extremely enjoyed navigating the bustling streets of Bangalore to find some late-night chaats, taking one-way tickets to weekend getaways, finding my way back somehow, and conversing in broken Hindi to people on the street.”
At Harvard, the vast majority of study-abroad programs are humanities-based. While the mind-broadening perspective stimulated by experience abroad “is an essential part of undergraduate education in the 21st century for all students,” according to Draft, “these programs often lack any element of professional development for science students.” “In as much as the enterprise of scientific research is an international one,” he continues, “the sooner we educate students to think globally in training and collaborating as a scientists, the better.” As Drumm puts it, even when “the work is similar to that which you can find in the States, the people you work with come from different backgrounds and can impart different insights and knowledge to the same problems.”
While the HBSI internship is going strong, the initiative’s fundamental mission of international collaboration and intellectual exchange allows for ample expansion. Ideally, Murthy anticipates, “I would like to see bidirectional exchange of scholars at all levels—for example, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from Harvard establishing collaborative projects and spending time in Bangalore, and complementarily, scholars from Bangalore coming to Harvard.” The future is promising; Murthy notes that “the Harvard South Asia Institute has taken a keen interest in catalyzing these ideas, and I am working closely with them to make these ideas a reality!”
Join the South Asia Institute for three interactive webinar events with Harvard University Fellows on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.
South Asia is particularly vulnerable to disasters, from terrorist attacks, to floodings, to earthquakes that can affect large populations. In order to address these humanitarian crises, the fundamentals of mass casualty management are critical.These interactive webinars will highlight the work being done to systematically improve the response to emergencies in urban settings.
How to participate:
PREPARE: Visit SAI’s website to find articles and readings to prepare for the webinars.
WATCH: One the day of the webinar, watch live on SAI’s website
INTERACT: Tweet your questions and join the conversation on Facebook
Twitter: @HarvardSAI, #SAIWebinar
Facebook: Harvard SAI
Wednesday, October 1
Shawn D’Andrea, MD, Instructor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Fellow, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
This seminar will teach incident command, which is a simple organizational structure that allows a coordinated thoughtful response when the needs of the crisis overwhelm the resources.
8:30 AM in Cambridge, 5:30 PM in Pakistan, 6 PM in India, 6:30 PM in Sri Lanka & Bangladesh
MASS CASUALTY TRIAGE
Wednesday, November 19
Usha Periyanayagam, MD, International Emergency Medicine Fellow, Department of Emergency Medicine, Brigham & Women’s Hospital; Harvard Medical School
When there are many injured people in an incident, non-medical personal might be needed to begin care of patients. This seminar will teach triage, a simple way to determine the priority of patient treatment, and the basics of treatment of patients.
8:30 AM in Cambridge, 6:30 PM in Pakistan, 7 PM in India, 7:30 PM in Sri Lanka, & Bangladesh (* Please note the time variation due to US Daylight Saving Time)
PLANNING AND PREPAREDNESS
Mass casualty responses work best when there is a well-rehearsed plan. This seminar will cover planning for a disaster, preparatory drills, and debriefing, drawing from the experience of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
If your school or organization has video conferencing capabilities and you would like to host a site for this webinar, email us! Host sites will have the opportunity to ask the professors questions in real time. We welcome participation of sites throughout South Asia.
Made possible with generous support from the Pakistan Higher Education Commission.
Harvard University, established in 1636, celebrated its 378th anniversary on September 8th, 2014. Coincidentally, Chennai (formerly called Madras) in Tamil Nadu, India, celebrated its 350th anniversary on the same day with week-long festivities. In partnership the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI), the Harvard Club of Chennai celebrated the historic event in a unique gathering that included a cartoonist, pianist, and a quiz about famous Harvard quotes.
Although light-hearted, the event skillfully brought out threads of commonality between the iconic institution of Harvard, the oldest institute of higher education in the United States, and the historic city of Chennai, the oldest modern city of India. Through art and music, the event displayed how both have the potential to catalyze social change.
The event was held at The Forum, a leading art gallery in Chennai where cartoonist Biswajit Balasubramanian and pianist Anil Srinivasan joined forces to produce a music-and-cartoon event depicting the humorous side of the often serious business of life in Chennai. Also on exhibition were a collection of over 100 Chennai-themed cartoons drawn by Biswajit over the years. Anil Srinivasan is a classical pianist, best known for his collaborative work with Carnatic vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan.
- “It might be said now that I have the best of both worlds. A Harvard education and a Yale degree.” - John F. Kennedy
- “Harvard makes mistakes too, you know. Kissinger taught there.” - Woody Allen
- “A Harvard Medical School study has determined that rectal thermometers are still the best way to tell a baby’s temperature. Plus, it really teaches the baby who’s boss.” - Tina Fey
- “Harvard takes perfectly good plums as students, and turns them into prunes.” - Frank Lloyd Wright
The audience participated enthusiastically, and the quiz set the mood for the second half of the program. Anil played music by various veterans of Tamil music while Biswajit showed slides of his cartoons-in-progress. Anil played well-known pieces by famous musicians of Tamil Nadu like M.S. Subbulakshmi, Illiaraaja, A.R. Rahman while humorous caricatures were displayed.
The event was organized by Kapil Vishwanathan and Sridevi Raghavan of the Harvard Club of Chennai, with Payal Narain of the Harvard South Asia Institute.
On August 13th, Tarun Khanna, Director of the South Asia Institute and the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School, led a discussion on“Mobile Technology: Spurring Social and Economic Enterprise in South Asia,” during his visit to Bangalore. The event was hosted by Rajiv Mody,the Chairman and Managing Director of Sasken Communication Technologies, at his residence and drew an eclectic audience of technologists, entrepreneurs, investors, Harvard alumni, and thought leaders.
Professor Khanna opened the discussion by addressing how the use of mobile technology phones has become ubiquitous in South Asia- not only as a tool to close the information gap, but as a powerful device to promote economic growth in emerging markets. The discussion hoped to broaden the understanding of mobile technology and how it can enable economic and social mobility, particularly for those most in need, through improvements in healthcare, education and financial services. Professor Khanna focused on the society-changing potential of mobile technologies and, in particular, on specific mobile applications currently used in developing markets, such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India, that have demonstrated a proven impact on social development.
Professor Khanna posited that while developing mobile technology is important, what remains the most compelling and complex issue is to understand the needs and the behavior of the societies that the mobile technologies are aiming to serve. Professor Khanna used examples of mobile projects centered on health and banking to provide insights into what makes mobile solutions successful and scalable. Examples cited included India’s Novopay, Bangladesh’s bKash and Kenya’s M-pesa that provide mobile banking solutions; India’s Janacare and Bangladesh’s Grameenphone that use mobile technology to deliver healthcare solutions.
While mobile technologies have enormous potential, Professor Khanna felt that there are still a lot of open questions. For example, social-business projects need sustainable business concepts, which in turn require substantial financial support and investment. Since governmental support in the Indian economy is crucial, the added value of collaboration between governments and social businesses is important, as without collaboration, governmental regulations may limit innovation. Professor Khanna’s research found that in African countries where regulations have not been enforced or introduced yet, entrepreneurs have quickly turned lack of regulation into beneficial business opportunities.
The data and research work done during the Kumbh Mela was also discussed, which provided insights for further research and teaching on understanding social networks and behavior through studying large data gathered from cell phones used at this mass gathering. Issues about governmental, institutional and regulatory guidelines were addressed to highlight the existing tension between data privacy, sharing of data to promote scientific research, and the potential insights this data may be able to generate. (For more information on the Kumbh Mela Big Data project please visit http://southasiainstitute.harvard.edu/mobile-technology-background/)
Professor Khanna closed by communicating that mobile technology is one of several interfaculty projects SAI is coordinating over the next several years; teaching and learning about neuroscience and addressing gender violence in South Asia are others that are ongoing with partner institutions in India.
Discussion on “Effective Implementation of Primary Education Policies in India.”
As part of the “Best of Harvard in India Series,” the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI) and Harvard Business School (HBS) partnered with the Central Square Foundation (CSF) to host a Round Table Discussion on “Effective Implementation of Primary Education Policies in India” on August 1, 2014. CSF is a non-government organization focused on improving the educational outcomes for low-income children in India. The discussion, held in Delhi at the Taj Mahal Hotel, was moderated by Professor Akshay Mangla, Assistant Professor, Business, Government and International Economy Unit, Harvard Business School, and Member of SAI’s Steering Committee.
The discussion was based on Professor Mangla’s extensive field research that focused on the Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand (UK) and Himachal Pradesh (HP). The event was well attended by other experts in the field, both governmental and non-governmental, including Mr. S.R. Mohanty, Additional Chief Secretary, Primary education, Madhya Pradesh, Shabnam Sinha, Senior Education Specialist, World Bank, Colin Bangay, Senior Education Advisor, DFID, Madhav Chavan, Co-founder Pratham and others.
Professor Mangla shared with the group his on-ground findings on the present day system, based on the Central Government’s education policy which includes the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, as well as the midday Meal Program and the Right to Education. In the course of his surveys, Prof Mangla has conducted over 500 interviews at the State and district level, as well as at the village and school level. He compared his findings in the Northern states of HP, UK and UP.
There were dramatic variations in school attendance and literacy rates even in these contiguous states, with HP forging ahead of the others because of some innovative social policies. Professor Mangla’s study showed that a progressive and flexible mindset with greater autonomy produced a more effective education system, whereas a rigid bureaucracy proved less effective.
The discussion, with a goal to try to resuscitate the Indian education system – the largest public education system in the world – and make it relevant to Modern India, was focused on three main areas: 1) How to promote deliberation and learning within the state; 2) How to recognize, adapt and upscale best practices: and 3) How to strengthen the public educational institutions.
Several key problems were identified by the group of experts, ranging from lack of leadership in public schools, teacher absenteeism, lack of an accountability and monitoring system to an absence of innovation and incentives. What was clear was that more detailed discussions with recommendations for solutions were needed for the main problems identified. This round table discussion is the first of the series of such research-based workshops organized around this subject.
Of the 543 MPs who were elected to the 16th Lok Sabha, 61 are women. Although this is the highest number of women MPs elected in history, these women will make up only 11 percent of the political body.
On Thursday, May 8, SAI hosted a webinar about the role of women in Indian politics, with Lakshmi Iyer, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, who shared her extensive research in studying how to get more women involved in politics.
Iyer’s research shows that electing more women to political office results in a range of policy changes and development outcomes. Iyer also addressed several methods for increasing political representation of women, including quotas.
SAI checked in with Iyer and Meena Hewett of SAI to get their perspective on what the election results mean for women:
“This is an interesting analysis in all respects. Given my research interests, I was most interested in seeing the share of women in this recent Lok Sabha. While it is good to see 61 women elected to the Lok Sabha, the highest number ever, it is disheartening to find that the fraction of women in the Lok Sabha is still only 11.3%, having increased from 5% in the first Lok Sabha in 1952.
“This is extremely slow progress. A proximate determinant of this is the extremely low participation of women as political candidates: in the 2014 election, only 8% of Lok Sabha candidates were women, up from 7% in 2009. Civil society and political parties should be considering more effective ways to include women in the political process.”
-Lakshmi Iyer, Associate Professor of Business Administration,Harvard Business School
“Even though it is the highest number of women MPs ever elected to the Lok Sabha, the percentage of women representation is still low given that women make up approximately 40% of India’s population. In the previous election, the rate of increase of women representation was 3% compared to an increase of 0.3% this year. Is this progress? Not really. The status of women in India continues to remain low in every area of human development. Real progress will require gender mainstreaming in political representation.
“Specific measures would include reservation of seats in the political arena for women to give them equal opportunities in decision making at all state, district, and local Panchayat levels. Progress will also happen when national and state budgets are gender-focused and government’s investment and expenditures benefit women and girls in rural and urban areas. Public investments should ensure safe access to schools for girls and boys, and families should be encouraged and compensated for sending girls to school.”
-Meena Hewett, Executive Director, South Asia Institute
What do you think about the gender makeup of the 16th Lok Sabha? Share your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #SAIwebinar.
Congratulations to SAI Founder and Former SAI Director Sugata Bose on being elected to the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat in India’s national election. Bose won the seat in West Bengal as a Trinamool Congress candidate. Bose’s mother, Krishna Bose, was a MP three times, and he is the grandnephew of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Bose is the Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs in the Harvard History Department. His field of specialization is modern South Asian and Indian Ocean history. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. His books include His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011) and A Hundred Horizons: the Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.)
Bose told the New York Times, “I began to think this was a historic election, probably our most important since independence,” he said. “The Congress was going to be defeated badly, and I didn’t want the forces of religious majoritarianism to be the only alternative,” he added, referring to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
“As an educationist, I would like to put education at the very top of our educational agenda,” he said. “We proudly talk about demographic dividend, but it could turn into a demographic disaster if we don’t educate our citizens. Given my background, that will be a major priority,” he told the New York Times.
This year, with the generous support of the Prasad family, the South Asia Institute has funded four Harvard College undergraduate students from various disciplines to study and complete internships in India this summer on issues ranging from the role of media in Indian democracy to environmental governance.
This is the third year that the Prasad Fellowship has supported Harvard College students. The opportunity has helped students from many disciplines learn from some of the most innovative and impactful initiatives in India and enrich their academic experience. Each award recipient will have the opportunity meet Mukesh Prasad in the fall, and he will serve as a mentor for the students as they continue their studies.
Mukesh Prasad graduated in 1993 from Harvard College. He is an Associate Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology at Weill Cornell Medical College and is an Associate Attending Otolaryngologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
2014 Prasad Fellowship Recipients:
Zeenia Framroze, Government, 2015
Research: How should the Indian media function to preserve Indian democracy?
Brenna McDuffie, South Asian Studies, 2015
Research: Hindi language study at American Institute of Indian Studies in Jaipur, India.
Ekta Patel, Environmental Science and Public Policy, 2015
Research: Urban-Population Vulnerabilities, Environmental Change, and Environmental Governance in Surat, India.
Sara Melissa Theiss, Psychology, 2015
Will intern at VidyaGyan, a leadership academy for the most promising underprivileged students of rural Uttar Pradesh.
From February to March 2014, Kanchi K. Gandhi. Senior Nomenclatural Registrar at Harvard University Herbaria, traveled throughout India to give 10 botany-related talks at colleges and universities. At the Indian Institute of World Culture in Bangalore, Gandhi was greeted as the “Guest of Honor” with a classical dance program with former student Mrs. Anupama Jayasimha.
At Tumkur University, Gandhi participated in a tree planting event organized by Prof. Chandrakant S. Karigar, Prof. Y. N. Seetharam, Prof. B. R. Shalini, Prof. K. L. Ravikala, and Prof. D. Poornima. Two cannonball (Couroupita guianensis) saplings, donated by Dr. B. K. Sadashiv Singh, were planted by Prof. Rajasab (Vice-Chancellor) and Gandhi in front of the Vice-Chancellor’s office.
The following blog post was written by Michael Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit, Harvard University, about the International Vedic Workshop, the most prominent get-together of Indologists involved in the study of the Vedas the world over, which took place in January 2014.
Following up on the SAI-sponsored attendance of 3 Sanskrit Harvard graduate students and Prof. WItzel at the 12-day 2011 Agnicayana ritual in Kerala, the 6th Intl. Vedic Workshop in Kozhikode (Kerala) was organized in January 2014. SAI again sponsored one graduate, Finnian Gerety, to travel and attend the conference.
The 6th International Vedic Workshop was held at Kozhikode (Calicut), in Kerala, India, from January 7-10, 2014. Exactly 117 persons had registered and 57 scholarly papers were delivered during these days of proceedings, see http://www.ivw2014.org/images/IVW-Program-Format.pdf. Speakers came from India, Europe, Japan and America, with about equal numbers for each of these four areas. One of the two Harvard graduate students who participated was sponsored by Harvard’s South Asia Institute, for which we are grateful.
As I have experienced myself, and as I have also heard from many participants, all of us were extremely pleased by the smooth organization of the conference and of the cultural performances connected with it. The meetings were held in a cooperative and extremely friendly atmosphere that did not allow any extraneous intrusions of matters that were not linked to the four Vedas. As a result, the Workshop was held in the same scholarly manner as at any of the previous locations over the years (Harvard University 1989, Kyoto University 1999, Leiden University 2002, University of Texas Austin 2007, Centre for Eurasiatic and Afroasiatic Studies, Bucharest 2011).
SAI Summer Grants
SAI offers a variety of in-region opportunities for Harvard students through the SAI grants program. Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to apply for research grants to support independent and thesis field work. SAI has partnered with over 50 organizations in South Asia to offer internships to Harvard students.
Click here for an interactive map showing where Harvard students will be this summer (provided by Google Maps).
Undergraduate Internship Grants
Jennifer Chang, Mechanical Engineering, 2016
Harvard Bangalore Science Initiative, Bangalore
Louise Eisenach**, Chemistry, 2016
Harvard Bangalore Science Initiative, Bangalore
Jacqueline Ma, Human and Developmental Regenerative Biology, 2016
Harvard Bangalore Science Initiative, Bangalore
Annie Rak**, Applied Mathematics, 2016
Harvard Bangalore Science Initiative, Bangalore
Sara Theiss, Psychology, 2015
VidyaGyan Leadership Academy, Noida
Undergraduate Research Grants
Zeenia Framroze, Government, 2015
How should the Indian media function to preserve Indian democracy?
Brenna McDuffie, South Asian Studies, 2015
Hindi language study at American Institute of Indian Studies, Jaipur.
Ekta Patel, Environmental Science and Public Policy, 2015
Urban-Population Vulnerabilities, Environmental Change, and Environmental Governance: Surat, India.
*Cosponsored internship with the Institute of Politics
** All or partially funded by the Office of Career Services.
Graduate Internship Grants
Arthur Bauer, MPA, HKS
Center for Microfinance, Thanjavur
Sarah Bolivar, MLA, GSD
Kopila Valley Children’s Home and School, Surkhet
Madhav Khosla, Government, GSAS
Center for Policy Research, Delhi
Graduate Research Grants
Mou Banerjee, History, PhD, GSAS
The Baboo, the Babi, and the Padri Sahib: Christianity, Colonialism, and the Creative World of Indian Intellectuals, c. 1813-1907.
Jahnabi Barooah, MTS, HDS
Sanskrit Study, American Institute of Indian Studies, Pune.
Kyle Belcher, MAUD, GSD
Mapping Post War Resettlement in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka.
Sourav Biswas, MLA, GSD
Productive Landscapes of Peri-urban Kolkata: Mapping the resource-recovery processes in the East
Todd Brown, MTS, HDS
Sanskrit Language Study in Kathmandu, with particular focus on Buddhist textual materials.
Gregory Clines, Religion, PhD, GSAS
Braj Bhasha and Early Hindi Workshop of Bansko, Bulgaria.
Namita Dharia, Anthropology, PhD, GSAS
Jugaad Development: the politics and experiences of urban growth in India’s National Capital Region.
Vineet Diwadkar, MLA/MUP, GSD
Modeling Mumbai: Human Architectural Currencies.
Laurel Gabler, MD, HMS
Role of community mobilization as it relates to neonatal and maternal health emergencies in Nagpur, India.
Kanishka Elupula, Anthropology, PhD, GSAS
Ethnographical engagement with caste in modern spaces: Social lives of Dalits in private corporate sector.
Daniel Feldman Mowerman, MAUD, GSD
Mapping Post War Resettlement in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka.
Kayla Kellerman, MTS, HDS
Hindi Study, American Institute of Indian Studies, Jaipur.
Joseph Kimmel, MTS, HDS
The Kingdom of God among Nepalese and American Clergy.
Ian Maccormack, Religion, PhD, GSAS
The Contributions of the Regent Sangye Gyatso to Buddhism and Polity in Tibet.
Aditya Menon, Comparative Literature, PhD, GSAS
Sanskrit Study, American Institute of Indian Studies, Pune.
James Reich, Religion, PhD, GSAS
The Relationship between literary theory and religion in pre-modern Kashmir.
Sarika Ringwala, Public Policy, PhD, GSAS
Evaluating Initiatives to Improve Public Service Delivery in India.
Heather Sarsons, Economics, PhD, GSAS
Dowry Payments and Female Welfare in India.
Lauren Taylor, MTS, HDS
Assessing the Relationship between Spiritual Practice and Community Health Outcomes in Rural, Southern India.
What role does engineering education play in our modern society? According to Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, engineering is crucial to a well-rounded society.
On Thursday, February 27, SAI hosted its first webinar of the semester, titled ‘Societal Grand Challenges and the role of Engineering Education in the 21st Century’ with Professor Narayanamurti, who described engineering as “the ultimate liberal art” because of its role as a linking discipline.
Using videoconference software provided by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC), 15 sites in South Asia were able to participate live and interact with Narayanamurti. Viewers were also able to watch the webinar live on SAI’s website, and submit questions via Facebook and Twitter.
Narayanamurti started by describing the importance of engineering at leading universities like Harvard, saying that “we want renaissance engineers who not only know how things work, but how the world works.” He explained that all of the major accomplishments throughout history have happened because of engineering, and the economic impact of engineering is huge. “Engineering underpins the economy,” he said.
Explaining the role of engineering as a linking discipline, Narayanamurti said, “engineering is not applied science; it is science that is applied engineering.” He made a strong case for a well-rounded education in all fields, and said that we must encourage students to learn the creativity and innovation of entrepreneurship.
Another ‘grand challenge’ of engineering education is getting women involved, which Narayanamurti explained is vital for societies. He explained that women’s access to science education is more of a challenge in the developing world, but not one that cannot be overcome. Having women leaders in all fields is an important step: “Can women be renaissance engineers? Yes!” he said. “We need more women role models so that it is an accepted reality.”
Narayanamurti spent time explaining what skills are vital to engineering education. From teaching his own class, he has learned that creativity, as well as analytic and problem-solving skills, are essential. Since Harvard has a strong global presence, it can serve to be a leader for this sort of education.
Throughout his presentation, Narayanamurti emphasized the importance of merging the study of engineering with biology, by combining the perfection of biology with the creativity of engineering, because “nature perfected how human beings and the living world were created.” Technology is evolving to become more human-like, which means merging biology with engineering is more important than ever.
After his presentation, Narayanamurti took questions from students and education leaders at the participating sites, as well as questions on social media from viewers in Pakistan, India, and Australia.
The universities participating live were: Bahria University Islamabad, Bahria University, Karachi, Comsats Institute of Information Technology, Attack, Dadabhoy Institute of Higher Education, Fatima Jinnah Women’s University, Rawalpindi, Institute of Space and Technology Islamabad, Kinnaird College For Women, Lahore College of Women University, Lahore, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, NED University of Engineering and Technology, Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences Islamabad, University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore, University of Malakand, and University Of Sargodah, Sargodah.
Mariam Chughtai, Ed.D. Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education, moderated the discussion, and Meena Hewett, Executive Director of SAI gave an introduction. Erum Sattar, SJD Candidate, Harvard Law School, tracked the discussion on social media.
SAI’s webinars are made possible with the support of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC).
When teaching kids about basketball, the importance of rebounding is always included. But what about teaching this skill in the classroom?
According to Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy, these types of basketball skills are just as applicable on the basketball court as they are off the court for many kids in India.
Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy is an international basketball program in India committed to teaching basketball and to providing educational opportunities for its participants. Based in Chennai, India, Crossover uses basketball as a tool to help kids succeed in the classroom.
SAI recently talked to Jonah Travis, a junior at Harvard College studying government and economics, about his experience working at Crossover last summer. Travis is a member of the Harvard men’s basketball team.
Travis got involved with Crossover at the urging of some of his assistant coaches who were familiar with Shaun Jayachandran, the founder of Crossover. Despite never having been to India, Travis found that the experience made him realize the power of basketball: “It opened my eyes to see exactly what this game can do,” he says.
Travis served as a counselor at the camp, and worked with participants who ranged in age from 7 years old to juniors in high school. He helped the volunteers teach standard basketball skills – passing, dribbling, shooting – but took it a step further by teaching them critical skills for the classroom. Skills like teamwork, discipline, hard work, dedication and rebounding are important in basketball, and Crossover recognizes that these skills are just as important in life as they are in sports.
For example, Travis recalled asking the children about how they can make their basketball jumping better. The kids answered by saying that they should practice more, which provided Travis with the opportunity to explain that the same idea could be applied to school work like reading and writing. The same could be said for skills like discipline and teamwork.
“We are able to teach them different life lessons that basketball teaches them, and show they that you can apply basketball to what you learn in other aspects of your life,” Travis says. “You don’t have to be so tunnel-vision with the sport.”
Not only was Travis able to share his basketball skills, he was also able to serve as a mentor and an example of someone who has gained educational opportunities because of basketball; playing basketball professionally does not have to be the only way to succeed. Crossover uses basketball as a tool to provide necessary skills to succeed in higher education.
When asked why basketball, as opposed to other sports is able to have such an impact for kids in this area, Travis explains it is because of accessibility: “You can pick up and play anywhere and you can even make your own hoop. It’s everywhere.” Playing a game does not require any shared language.
In India, Travis explained that basketball is seen as separate from education, and in general, a revenue-generating activity. In the US, in contrast, sports are seen as going hand-in-hand with educational opportunities, and Travis’s experience at Harvard serves as an example of what basketball can provide. Crossover tries to present the youth in India with an alternative way to approach sports.
In Travis’ experience, the children at the school were extremely enthusiastic to learn more about both basketball and life skills. Some walked for miles each day to attend the camp, and he says that although some of the children did not even have shoes, they were still extremely enthusiastic about playing.
“If I can give them an idea of what basketball can do for them, it might spark their interest, and they might pass that to the next person,” he says. “They were so eager to learn everything.”
Moving forward, Travis and Jayachandran hope to continue growing the organization and possibly start a more formal partnership at Harvard.
The Harvard University South Asia Institute collaborated with the World Bank and the Government of India’s Department of Public Enterprise to organize a four-day Executive Development Program titled “Non-State Players in Human Development – Achieving India’s Goals” The workshop took place at the Harvard Business School Classroom (a replica of a Harvard University campus classroom) at the Taj Land End Hotel in Mumbai, India.
From February 3rd to February 6th, 2014, the workshop was conducted by Harvard Professors V. Kasturi ‘Kash’ Rangan, the Malcolm P. McNair Professor of Marketing at the Harvard Business School, Tarun Khanna, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School and Director of the Harvard South Asia Institute, and Ashish Nanda, Robert Braucher Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School, currently serving as Director at IIM Ahmedabad, his alma mater. Assisting with the program was Shashank Shah, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of Management Studies. The 47 participants were mainly top-level managers and executives from the large and medium-sized Indian public sector corporations, and some private sector companies. In India, public sector units have a great potential to effect social change due to their size and reach.
In view of the legislation on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in India, the main objective of the program was to strengthen the capacity of a cadre of senior managers of corporations. Through the case study approach, best practices and strategies in CSR development were highlighted. The workshop was modelled after the highly successful Strategic CSR executive education program developed at the Harvard Business School. It includes case study sessions, sharing of ideas, experience and opinions via discussion groups and opportunities to recap and reflect on the learning.
The 12 cases studied were from across the globe – examples of best practices, as in the case of Charles Veillon, S.A., a Swiss mail order and retail company, and the highly evolved business philosophy of India’s home grown Jain Irrigation Systems Limited, as well as cases showing instances of business failure and collapse due to the complete lack of social responsibility as demonstrated in Bolivia’s Cochabamba Water case and the case of India’s Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Ltd. Questions on personal ethics and leadership were brought to the fore through the Harvard classic – ‘Parable of the Sadhu.’
The best-of-Harvard faculty included Kash, Tarun and Ashish, who are all leaders in their field. They brought their brilliant, complementary and inimitable teaching styles to the table – testing, tweaking and cajoling the interest and enthusiasm of seasoned corporate bosses.
The main takeaway from the workshop was that a strategically planned and managed socially and environmentally responsible code of ethics by corporates, not only results in increased profits, but will also sustain the business in the long term. Such a code of ethics should be embedded in corporate policy and should be followed in letter and in spirit. Several suggestions to facilitate true CSR ensued.
Tarun Khanna, Director of the South Asia Institute and Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School was interviewed by Live Mint/Wall Street Journal about the role of corporate social responsibility in Indian companies. Khanna says that Indian state-run companies are much better placed to implement meaningful programmes of corporate social responsibility (CSR) than their private sector counterparts, owing to the large scale on which they operate and their accessibility to the government.
Khanna is currently in Mumbai for the the Executive Development Program titled “Non-State Players in Human Development – Achieving India’s Goals” that SAI sponsored with the World Bank.
In this rapidly changing world, a world-class transformational education experience is what today’s youth aspires to obtain. Excellence in teaching and research standards and holistic learning for societal improvement is the endeavour of all leading universities. Three eminent Harvard University faculty members presented their views on ‘Building World-Class Education: What Lessons Does Harvard Offer?’
The talk, interactive session and reception were held in Mumbai, India on January 16, 2014, hosted by the Harvard Club of Mumbai, the Harvard University South Asia Institute (SAI), the Harvard Business School India Research Center, and the Harvard Alumni Association.
The Faculty included Jorge Domínguez, Vice Provost for International Affairs at Harvard University and Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico; Jacqueline Bhabha, Director of Research, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights; Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health; the Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School; Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School; and Ashish Nanda, Robert Braucher Professor of Practice, Faculty Director of Executive Education, and Research Director at the Program on the Legal Profession, Harvard Law School; Director, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
Speaking to an audience of mostly Harvard alumni and senior Indian educators, Vice Provost Jorge Dominguez started the conversation to talk first about Harvard’s mistakes – in his opinion, to be truly a world-class institution, the institution would have to be free from the folly of dogmatism, arrogance and labour market protectionism; student bodies should have universal representation, and in general adopt a more inclusive approach. His vision for Harvard is to be a truly public university, open to all, with excellence as the only criteria, accessible to all with varied locations and in many parts of the world.
Ashish Nanda cited his personal and matchless Harvard experience first at the Business School and then at the Law School. This world-class experience instilled a sense of autonomy, of stretch – a desire to excel, and a sense of connectedness, of community, of growth through knowledge and empathy.
Jacqueline Bhabha talked of how diversity within the institution could promote excellence in the product. The institution, to be world class, should lead by example, to make the world a better place for diverse groups with tolerance for and freedom of speech for each one. Opportunity and equality without bias for all – student groups and faculty, with equal reward for excellence, both in teaching and in research.
Dialogues such as these will continue to contribute to achieving excellence, as real-life learning can provide many lessons.
Watch a full video of the event here:
On November 25, 2013, SAI hosted a webinar titled “Tackling Gender Based Violence in South Asia – What Options Do We Have?” as part of SAI’s ongoing webinar series. The interactive discussion featured sites across Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. To make the webinar interactive across the globe, SAI utilized social media to take questions and monitor the discussion online.
The event was made possible using live conference technology with the Higher Education Commission in Pakistan, which allowed the various sites to participate in the discussion live and ask questions during the event. The participating sites included universities in Pakistan, including in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Karachi, Multan, as well as centers in Pune, India and Dhaka, Bangladesh. Each site had around 20 students watching live and asking questions. The event was also streamed live on SAI’s website.
The faculty speaker was Professor Jacqueline Bhabha, FXB Director of Research, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School and Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. After an introduction by Meena Hewett, Executive Director of SAI, Professor Bhabha gave a presentation about the issue of gender violence, and possible paths to prevention.
Professor Bhabha touched on several methods of prevention, including better police training, which also means an increase in accountability of elected officials. “For many women, this is a form of domestic terrorism,” Professor Bhabha said. There needs to be a shift in attitude about how sexual violence perpetrators are viewed, including increased impunity for offenders. She also advocated for increased protection for survivors, including support, rehabilitation, and a recognition of the effect on mental health. Medical workers must be better trained to recognize signs of domestic violence.
Professor Bhabha gave the example of an Indian journalist at Tehelka, who was recently accused of sexual harassment but claims to have done nothing wrong. This is an example of the social norms that govern societies in South Asia. As a political society, Professor Bhabha said it is also on the responsibility of everyone to try to change these norms.
In order to prevent gender-based violence, social norms must change. Professor Bhabha explained that gender norms have become skewed over the century. For example, many boys in South Asia grow up with a sense of entitlement that is learned from school, movies and on the street. The burden does not fall on one particular group or sector; rather society as a whole is to blame. Professor Bhabha also addressed the education system, which is not truly coeducational. She said that from a young age, many girls live in discreet gender worlds, which makes it hard to become familiar with normal social exchanges. It is vital that both girls and boys form normal friendships at a young age with the opposite gender and develop a sense of normalcy.
Professor Bhaba also discussed another troubling norm in South Asia: the apprehension to talk about sexual and reproduction issues, even among close family members. Discussing sexual health is seen as illicit. Sexual violence should not be seen as “a private shame, a guilty secret for the woman.” Access to contraception was also discussed, which Professor Bhaba described as an important right for a woman to be able to control her own fertility.
The gender hierarchy also plays a factor in social norms around gender violence. From a young age in the home, boys are encouraged to play and do homework, while girls spend their time working in the home. This is especially true in rural communities. Many boys are also influenced by peer-group pressure, which can result in boys becoming violent who would have not have otherwise participated. To combat this norm, Professor Bhaba explained that it is important to “make it cool to be kind, not to be aggressive,” and incentivize good behavior by making it the cool thing to do.
Going forward, Professor Bhaba shared several other strategies. She explained that the media can be an important ally when used correctly. For example, changing the dynamics of popular soap operas, telenovelas, in Latin America was seen as an effective way to reduce violence against women in that society. The development of new adolescent curriculum is vital, which is already underway in some areas. Professor Bhaba explained that groups of women organizing through activism can be very powerful.
Overall, Professor Bhaba explained that change must come from within communities, not from top-down. This is why many of the policies related to gender violence has failed to change the situation. Women, as well as men in communities, must work to change these social norms. Social and economic conditions that contribute to poverty must also be addressed in order to truly combat gender violence.
This issue, which has been making headlines around the world recently, is an important one for South Asia. This webinar helped to promote further discussion about prevention methods and showed that there are many people across South Asia who want to tackle this issue and promote change.
Mariam Chughtai, doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and SAI intern, moderated the discussion. Erum Sattar, SJD Candidate, Harvard Law School and SAI intern tracked the discussion on social media.
Blakeman Allen, who is the director of Pakistani Educational Leadership Project at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire wrote to SAI, saying, “Thanks again to SAI for providing more opportunities that address changes in societal norms. With the project encompassing 238 alumni change agents, and focusing on grassroots mobilization through educational leadership – and with over 75% of the alumni female leaders – the webinar resonated. And the Pakistan real-time inclusion was wonderful, too.”
SAI will host more interactive webinars in the spring semester of 2014. Please check SAI’s website for future updates.
The Indian economy has been teetering on the brink for the past few months. The most manifest of these problems has been the crash of the Indian rupee, which has shown a decline of approximately 20% against the US dollar in a short period of time. Tarun Khanna, Director of the South Asia Institute at Harvard University and Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School, offers some insights into the causes and conditions at play.
Zeenat Potia: Can you give some context around the downturn of the Indian economy and how it applies to other emerging markets?
Tarun Khanna: First of all, I’ll say that this isn’t a crisis, but a significant correction. It’s the result of a general reduction in confidence in the Indian economy and, in turn, has fed further angst. The fall of the rupee comes at a time of corrections to other emerging market currencies such as the Indonesian rupiah and the Brazilian real. A common cause of these price movements is shifts, or expected shifts, in US monetary policy. The United States is still the big gorilla in the global currency field, and when policies are tightened at home, resulting in the dramatic withdrawal of money from emerging economies, the smaller economies pay the price. The problem is exacerbated by continuing structural weaknesses in developing countries where foreign investments are not necessarily anchored in long-term commitments to infrastructure or projects that require physical plant equipment, but often are more portfolio-like in nature and somewhat footloose and fancy-free.
ZP: What are some of the causes of the decline that are specific to India?
TK: Due to large-scale economic liberalization since 1991, India has had a nice long run of reforms that drove increased investment, both by local entities and foreign investors, but when times are good, people tend to assume that they are everlasting. Sadly, reality isn’t so compliant. During flush times, people borrowed excessively beyond their capacity to repay their debts, which is a common cause of corrections in emerging markets. Now under sobering conditions, people are scrambling and realizing that it’s tough to refinance their debts. For instance, a landlord of an apartment building in Bangalore has a short -term loan in dollars that is being serviced or paid for in rupee receivables. In other words, the landlord still gets the same rent in rupees from his tenants, but that money just became 20% more expensive in the global currency market. So what is she to do? The options aren’t appealing: Default on the loan or change the business model by possible refinancing. As you can see from this example, the current Indian economic crash has real microeconomic consequences causing consternation for companies, small businesses, and entrepreneurs.
ZP:Do you think the Indian political climate has contributed to the current economic situation?
TK: Absolutely. India has, sadly, become notorious for policy paralysis. Laws are often tabled in Parliament, and they get pushed from session to session, despite their urgency. There is a rampant lack of clarity and leadership from the major political parties. The main opposition party, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), recently announced Narendra Modi as their candidate for Prime Minister. The party currently in power, Congress, in the form of the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, does not have a clear successor PM-candidate. Parties are preoccupied with their own internal affairs and not attending to the business of governing – a state of affairs that surely deters serious longer-term investors.
ZP:Are you saying that China would be a better choice for that?
TK: There is a biblical saying that advises one to use a period of feast to prepare for a famine. In the Indian context, if, as was the case in China, adequate investment had been put into roads, bridges, and power plants, I suspect that a much larger fraction of the money coming into India would have been productively deployed into longer-term fixed assets, securing it against the volatility of global currency markets, particularly the tightening supply of the US dollar. India’s economy still has many strengths compared to China, especially thriving entrepreneurship at the grass-roots level, but it’s been sadly overshadowed by the less-than-sterling performance of the state, to put it mildly.
ZP: On a different note, any thoughts on the rising price of onions in India?
TK: This is very bad news for the incumbent government, since the price of onions is a harbinger of electoral distress. It is a bellwether consumer price in India, given its status as a consumer staple, and it indicates potential economic distress for the common man and woman. The Indian government recently passed a massive food security bill, which is an attempt to provide subsidized food to the poorest of the poor and to raise their level of welfare. Nobody can disagree with the need to alleviate the suffering of the hungriest, but the issue in India is that the mechanisms to distribute food to the most vulnerable people are inept and corrupt. The most charitable estimate I’ve seen is that for every rupee of subsidized food, sixty-five paisa doesn’t reach the intended recipient, and the least charitable estimate is that eighty-five paisa goes awry. This speaks to a very large leaky pipe, into which the government is pouring more resources in the futile hope that the pipe repairs itself. The fear is that this is an election sop, before next year’s national elections, in order to boost ratings. If so, it would be a poor use of resources compared to using funds to repair the broken infrastructure. Since sizeable commitments of this sort can further exacerbate the fiscal deficit, already high, it can worsen an already weak fiscal situation. As Indians say, we’re on a sticky wicket, to use a cricket analogy.
Updates from the Radcliffe University Workshop on August 29 and 30, 2013
By Lisa Chase, Research Associate, Harvard Business School & Harvard Graduate School of Design
The spirit of collaboration and community that made this year’s Kumbh Mela festival so successful was on vivid display at the Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral City workshop August 29 and 30 at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. This gathering of government officials from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh responsible for planning and managing the Kumbh Mela, faculty and students from FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard Divinity School (HDS), Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) and School of Public Health (HSPH) ; Harvard Business School (HBS); the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI) and Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), epitomized the spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration and academic curiosity that inspired the HGHI and SAI to sponsor the workshop. Representatives from Uttar Pradesh included Higher Education Secretary Devesh Chaturvedi, Professor and Head of the Department of Community Education Shraddha Dwivedi, Mani Prasad Mishra, District Magistrate and Mela Chief Officer, and Deputy Inspector General of Police Rajesh Rathore. Mela Inspector General, Alok Sharma, joined the team from India via Skype.
The Kumbh Mela workshop commenced with a discussion, led by Professor Diana Eck, HDS, FAS, on the governance and religious aspects of the festival, including the inclusive nature of the event, which included ethnic and religious groups from across India, Asia, Europe and beyond. Professor Eck invited the administrators responsible for planning and executing the Kumbh Mela to contribute their insights into the intricate process of accommodating more than 32 Hindu sects, “tourists” of various faiths drawn to the festival, and the political considerations of allocating space for and catering to the unique needs of influential religious groups, including the Akharas. The workshop progressed to the practicalities of acquiring almost two thousand hectares of land from the Indian military, farmers and the railway department to accommodate the approximately 80-100 million pilgrims over the course of the 55 day festival. GSD Professor Rahul Mehrotra and Uttar Pradesh officials explored the considerations of apportioning parcels for the diverse array of Kumbh Mela pilgrims, including fielding and screening applications to determine the credibility of their spiritual – as opposed to speculative real estate – interests, assigning parcels with an eye to their proximity to the primary bathing areas, while encouraging connections between geographic regions, ethnic and religious groups.
Following lunch, HBS Senior Lecturer John Macomber led a discussion on the infrastructure implications, including the environmental impacts, of the Kumbh Mela. Macomber queried the administrators about the process of laying out the roadways, electrical, sewage and water infrastructure over the grid of the Kumbh Mela landscape. The exchange revealed the complexities of designing and constructing a temporary settlement that draws on a legacy of British urban planning and accommodates the variable environment imposed by shifting water levels and dry land, with the Central and State governments taking responsibility for the macro level infrastructure and leaving the details “inside the tent” to private sector and civil society organizations. A discussion of organizational structure and economy was led by Director of SAI and HBS Professor Tarun Khanna and Assistant Professor J.P. Onnela of the HSPH, focused on their cell phone data study of mobile phone text and voice messages from the Kumbh Mela, and the relationship of these communications to human social behavior. The applications of the data, and what it reveals about human communication patterns and networks, are myriad, including enabling epidemiologists to study disease vectors in new ways, planners to design transportation improvements, and environmentalists to examine human impacts. HSPH Professor Jennifer Leaning and Research Fellow Satchit Balsari closed out the day’s panel discussions with an examination of the numerous public health considerations, including ensuring access to safe drinking water and toilet facilities, providing healthcare and hospital services, planning crowd control and security, and protecting against the spread of infectious diseases. Professor Leaning highlighted the success of the health clinics and public health infrastructure in caring for the Kumbh Mela pilgrims, and the lessons the administrators and government officials may apply to healthcare delivery for the general population outside of the festival.
The workshop’s second day focused on spatializing and mapping both the planning and construction processes of the Kumbh Mela and the deconstruction and “disposal” phases of the event. Under the Kumbh Mela administrators’ direction and led by Felipe Vera from the GSD, faculty and students laid out every facet of the infrastructure planning, design and construction, along with management and governance functions, on physical site plans and drawings constructed by the GSD students. Mapping included documenting the sequence of architecting the land’s grid layout, planning roadways and transportation, engineering electrical delivery and water access, and framing the chain of governance and oversight. The mapping exercise underscored the administrators’ deliberate and detailed approach to framing every facet of the Kumbh Mela, guided by the primary goal of ensuring a safe and satisfactory spiritual experience for every pilgrim, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Following the mapping activity, Namita Dharia, a Ph.D. candidate in Harvard’s Department of Anthropology, framed a discussion about the almost monumental task of deconstructing the Kumbh Mela’s temporary city, including reclaiming and reusing construction materials, taking down electrical and lighting systems, removing sanitation systems and toilets, and dismantling temporary bridges and girders. The deconstruction process was rendered more complex because of the various agencies and officials responsible for respective infrastructure components, including private contractors and a diverse range of employees and volunteer labor.
During the workshop’s concluding discussions, Harvard faculty invited the Kumbh Mela administrators to share anecdotes and “lessons learned” from the festival’s planning, execution and deconstruction. Perhaps one of the most striking takeaways was the success of the central and state governments’ public service campaign urging pilgrims to follow safe hygiene, sanitation and security practices, including environmental conservation and protection. The effectiveness of the public relations scheme was evidenced by the absence of any major communicable or water-borne illnesses at the Kumbh Mela, while environmental damage from plastic trash and water pollution was significantly reduced from previous festivals. At the workshop’s close, Harvard faculty and Uttar Pradesh administrators discussed the potential for a continuing collaboration between Harvard faculty and Kumbh Mela administrators. The partnership would enable Harvard faculty and researchers to continue studying and learning from Uttar Pradesh officials and their festival management, while potentially advising administrators on how to refine aspects of the Kumbh Mela and associated religious celebrations and extrapolate their infrastructure planning to the wider Indian population. As Diana Eck described it, the Kumbh Mela process is never finished, but continues as an iconic story of spirituality and community, of which Harvard University hopes to be an ongoing participant.