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News Category: India


SAI and Tata Trusts Begin Social Enterprise Partnership in India


 

Harvard Faculty Jacqueline Bhabha, Conor Walsh and Satchit Balsari

(l-r) Jacqueline Bhabha, Conor Walsh and Satchit Balsari

 

A wide range of India-focused research, innovation and social entrepreneurship projects are under way, led by leading Harvard University scholars and academic colleagues from two other world-class educational institutions: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), in an unprecedented collaboration with Tata Trusts, one of India’s largest and most important philanthropic organizations.

This is Phase II of a long-term partnership between Tata Trusts and the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute (SAI), Harvard University. Phase I was a series of successful pilot projects over an 18-month period, in three areas: women’s empowerment, rural livelihood creation in the handicrafts sector, and the use of science and technology for livelihood creation.

“We have a lot to learn from challenges on the ground while sharing what we as academics uncover through our deep dive research on issues affecting entrepreneurship in India. This partnership with the Tata Trusts is laying the foundation for innovative knowledge exchange between academia and practitioners.” – Professor Tarun Khanna, Director, SAI, and Professor, Harvard Business School.

“We’re looking forward to continuing our partnership with the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute at Harvard University, which has a unique capacity to gather together the best minds from a wide variety of disciplines, all dedicated to solving the most complex social problems in India.” – Manoj Kumar, Head of Innovation, Tata Trusts.

The projects, described below, are firmly rooted in India and based on rigorous field research on the ground.

 

Projects:

 

Prototyping Wearable Robotics for Physical Disability

Faculty: Conor Walsh (Harvard)

The development of a series of consumer-oriented, affordable, wearable devices, to address physical disability in India.

 

Task-shifting, Training and Technology: Validating the 3T model

Faculty: Satchit Balsari (Harvard)

This project will prototype the 3T model for primary healthcare delivery, through the use of mobile and digital health technologies.

 

Project Prakash

Faculty: Pawan Sinha (MIT)

Treatment for curably blind children, illuminating fundamental questions regarding the brain and learning.

 

Low-cost Toilets in India

Faculty: Rahul Mehrotra (Harvard)

An examination of the issue of public sanitation in Mumbai, with a special focus on community toilets in the city’s slums and informal settlements.

 

Unpacking Prevention: Community-level Strategies to Build Child Protection and Rights in India

Faculty: Jacqueline Bhabha (Harvard)

Field research in West Bengal, Bihar and Telangana.

 

Deflouridation Water Filters

Faculty: Ashok Gadgil (University of Berkeley, California)

India has over 66 million people facing risk of developing fluorosis and it is also home to the 5th largest bauxite deposit (3037 million tonnes). This study systematically investigates the factors governing performance of diversely-sourced bauxite ores.

 

Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition:

Faculty: Chris Duggan (Harvard)

The SAI team would act as the platform on which entrepreneurs in the nutrition and food industry could come together and learn from global experts in the field to design and fund new industries and/or new commercial products that are well designed for mother and children.

 

Cook Stoves

Faculty: Ashok Gadgil (University of Berkeley, California)

Berkeley has stove designs that reduce fuel consumption per meal by 50%, cost US$20, and produce 50% less smoke than a traditional biomass fire.

 

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Student Voices: Education in Maharashtra and Gujarat


 

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

This Winter Session, Cole Scanlon traveled to India to conduct fieldwork for his thesis which will include a cross-country comparison of school leaders in India and the USA. 

Scanlon is passionate about equity in education around the globe. Over the past two years, Scanlon and his collaborator, Luke Heine, have worked together to create a Harvard students’ guide aimed at leveling the playing field in college admissions, and have launched the nonprofit Fair Opportunity Project.

 

Transcript from Cole Scanlon’s Vlog

 

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Harvard College International Photo Contest Winners


Congratulations to the following Harvard College students, who have been 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 – from study programs, grants, internships, and so on – and SAI selects winners for photos from South Asia. The winners were announced at a reception on February 2, 2018.

View past winners.

 

Special Prize: “Washing Machine” by Beverly Brown, Mumbai, India 

“Two summers ago my sister and I went on a backpacking trip through Asia. She had just graduated college, and we wanted to take advantage of her time before she started work. After much debate, we decided to go to India and Japan. We had traveled together through Europe before, but for this trip, we were looking to broaden our horizons and experience new things. 

In India, we got a taste of a completely different way of life. This laundry service in Mumbai washes the clothes of hundreds of families. Workers walk around the neighborhood collecting clothes and bring them back to wash. They get to know these families so well that they have no problem keeping the clothes separated by family since they know who owns each piece of clothing. I love how this photo captures the movement of the workers. The two men in the foreground are rinsing clothes while the man slightly behind them is throwing the cloth against the stone in the same way a washing machine would tumble its load.”

 

“Washing Machine” by Beverly Brown

 

 

 

Honorable Mention: “Festival of Saint John” by Emma Seevak, Goa, India

“I spent the summer living in Goa and interning at Sangath, a research NGO that works to improve mental health for people of all ages. One innovative strategy that Sangath uses is training lay people to deliver mental health interventions under the supervision of professionals. I spent the summer working on a qualitative project called Lay Health Workers Experiences in Task-Sharing, which focuses on the experiences of lay health mental health counselors across India.

This photo was taken during the Festival of St. John in June, around the start of monsoon season. During the festival, people traditionally jump into wells and other bodies of water. It’s a very colorful and joyous time. This photo came from a village called Siolim, which is famous for its colorful boat races. I learned so much from my time in Goa and feel so grateful for the experience.”

 

“Festival of Saint John” by Emma Seevak, Goa, India, Internship

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Sanjay Kumar Celebrates One Year as SAI India Country Director


SAI India Country Director Sanjay Kumar

 

SAI India Country Director Sanjay Kumar recently celebrated his first anniversary in the role.  Kumar is responsible for expanding SAI’s presence in the region. He has initiated a monthly India Seminar Series, beginning in January 2018. 

In addition to his work as SAI India Country Director, Sanjay recently wrote a powerful op-ed in The Hindu about food wastage as a “social delinquency.”

 

How did you first connect with the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute? Could you describe your career path?

I started my career in Delhi as a grassroots organizer at SEWA, one of India’s largest organizations for women. I worked at SEWA for nearly two decades, leading the expansion process as SEWA Bharat Director in five Indian states. As a passionate photographer, I also documented the lives of women workers in the informal economy.  I exhibited my photos at many international art galleries, including the House of Commons in London.

Towards the end of my time at SEWA Bharat, I was looking for a career-building challenge. I spent a year at the Harvard Kennedy School as a Mason Fellow, where I received a Master’s in Public Administration. At Harvard, I realized the potential for translational research and that the synergy between action and knowledge in India is lacking.

I participated in key SAI events while I was at Harvard. When I heard about the opportunity to work as the SAI Country Director in India, I quickly realized the position would be the right platform for me to facilitate the connection between knowledge and action.

 

Could you describe your experience as a Mason fellow?

During my time as a Mason Fellow, I was looking for new ideas and connections. The program is ideal for people who want to spend a year in school learning new skills and building relationships. It gave me an opportunity to interact with classmates from 85 different countries, and learn about their cultures and the challenges they face. We made important connections and built foundations for future collaborations.

The Mason Fellowship Program trains Fellows to understand public administration in a humane, effective and democratic way. I acquired a diverse skill set and values that have shaped how I engage with my current responsibilities as the SAI India Country Director. My formative years at SEWA made me an effective, grounded, and responsible community leader and the Mason Program enhanced my ability to collaborate globally.

 

You are celebrating one year on the job. How has the SAI India office changed over the last year?

I am fortunate to be the first SAI Country Director in India. When I accepted this position, I knew that setting up a new office would be challenging. I had gone through the same process for SEWA, as I was responsible for setting up its new office in Delhi. The difference is that with SEWA, I had the job for many years and had a large team. With the SAI India Office, I came out of my comfort zone to build up a new office with just one other team member. Thankfully, we received a tremendous amount of support from our Cambridge office, especially from SAI Executive Director Meena Hewett and SAI Faculty Director Tarun Khanna.

Our first office space was temporary and we have since moved to a more permanent home. We are now in the process of building our India office team. This past year, I have been involved in nearly every aspect of the office, from organizing talks by faculty to facilitating connections between students from Delhi, Mumbai, Jammu, and Kolkata with Harvard alums, government, and private sector contacts. 

 

What are your hopes for the Delhi office in the next several years?

I would like to see the Delhi office become an intellectual hub and platform, in which we engage with people from academia, the government, civil society, and the private sector. Since SAI is a multidisciplinary platform within Harvard, I would also like to reach out to faculty and invite them to do more work in India.

The SAI India Office plans to follow the example of the Cambridge office and conduct interdisciplinary work that engages with the arts, sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Through innovative training with our faculty members, we hope to support researchers, academic leaders, administrators, and students in India. Furthermore, I would like to see our projects, programs, and the knowledge generated by our faculty members inform the actions of policymakers, the government, and civil society organizations.

 

Could you tell me about the India Seminar Series?

We just launched our India Seminar Series, which brings together Harvard faculty, affiliates, and thought leaders from India and around the world to share their work in Delhi. This Seminar Series will help the Delhi office build a robust intellectual community.

The first seminar was held on January 15, 2018. Professor S.V. (Subu) Subramanian spoke on “Childhood Stunting in India: Lessons Learned and Future Directions”, and was moderated by the Head of Nutrition, UNICEF India. The event was attended by approximately 75 people from various international development organizations, academic institutions, and others.

The next seminar is on February 22, 2018. Professor Richard Cash will speak about infectious diseases, those that have disappeared and others that are new or re-emerging. The seminar is titled, “Goings and Comings: The Changing Patterns of Infectious Diseases in India and South Asia”.

 

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The Challenges of Using Wastewater to Grow Crops in India


Bus stop sign in Ahmedabad that reads “Sewage Farm” in Gujarati

 

Alka Palrecha Rawal is currently a SPURS Fellow at MIT and an SAI Research Affiliate. She is Director of People in Centre, which provides consulting services for developmental programs. She holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. With more than 20 years in community development with a focus on water resource management under her belt, she is currently interested in policies and institutional processes for the safe reuse of urban wastewater for agriculture in the outskirts of towns and cities in India. 

 

How did you first become interested in studying water?

I first became interested in water while I was in school to be a landscape architect.  After I graduated, I found the practice of landscape architecture in India to be quite narrow, too often catering to the interests of a private and elite sector.  This practice conflicted with my desire to serve the interests of a larger public.  My first foray into public water rights and usage was with ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’, an anti-dam movement in India.

Then some years back, during my visits to neglected service areas of my home city, Ahmedabad, I found a bus stop surrounded by vast lush green agricultural fields, unlike anywhere else in the city. To my surprise, the bus stop sign read ‘Sewage Farm.’  As I continued to explore, I found a ‘Sewage Farmers’ Cooperative’ signpost and office. My curiosity grew, and I contacted the farmers to learn more about ‘sewage farming’ in India. The farmers and others across Gujarat taught me about wastewater use for irrigation in India as well as the challenges to realizing the resource potential of wastewater use.

 

What is a common misconception about safe reuse of wastewater and what strategies are you using to address public health concerns?

The public, many experts, and the government see the reuse of wastewater for irrigation as unacceptable. The first step in making wastewater ‘safe,’ is education through scientifically-sound studies from reputable sources that prove that wastewater irrigation is not a health hazard. In fact, municipal wastewater is replete with nutrients.

Farmers who grow with wastewater also consume their own produce. I have found no difference in incidence and occurrence of diseases of the farmers consuming food grown using wastewater versus farmers who consume freshwater-irrigated produce. However, further studies are required to understand the health impact of wastewater used for irrigation in India’s tropical climate. During our field visits, some incidences were found in which farmers who work with wastewater had contracted diseases.

Legalization and de-stigmatization will help establish safe practices for farmers. The stigma of re-using wastewater results in farmers not disclosing their practice of wastewater irrigation. If disclosed, they fear consequences from the government as well as consumers. Despite the stigma, however, farms are increasingly using wastewater.

The ‘safe’ use of wastewater is dependent on two variables – the contaminants in the wastewater and the crop that is irrigated. Continuous monitoring and reasonable constraints of these variables are required for safe use. City managers, farmers and pollution control authorities should work in tandem to ensure standards of safe practice.

 

What is the benefit of safe wastewater reuse?

City populations in India are growing, thus the wastewater generated is increasing. Municipalities already find it challenging to dispose of this excess wastewater.

Furthermore, increasing freshwater scarcity has led to a proliferation of unregulated wastewater reuse.

The solution is to design an affordable wastewater treatment with a simple compliance mechanism for farmers. This will turn wastewater into a valuable resource for city governments, farmers, and pollution control authorities.

Overall, wastewater can annually irrigate around 1.5 million hectares of land area and has the potential to contribute about one million tons of nutrients and 130 million days of employment.

 

What excites you most about coming to MIT and Harvard?

MIT is a hub of technological innovation and social venture! My mission is to change perceptions and practices of wastewater irrigation.  MIT is helping me acquire the necessary technological, institutional and managerial skills to actualize this mission. My goal is to learn about low-cost treatment technology for farm irrigation and make scientifically-sound comparisons with different kinds of wastewater usage.

The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute has provided me with opportunities to connect with other fellows and faculty at Harvard. Here, I am able to connect with like-minded fellows who are interested in collaborating on the project after my fellowship is over. The T.H. Chan School of Public Health is a valuable resource for scientific studies on the health impact of wastewater reuse. Dr. Richard Cash, who has a vast knowledge of sanitation and related diseases, has kindly agreed to mentor me.

 

How might you implement your research when you return?

There are immense opportunities to network in Cambridge. In India, I am trying to form partnerships with local governments, farmers, and authorities to promote wastewater irrigation. When I return to India, I will be able to bring technical knowledge, scientific guidelines on safety with a public health perspective, and a simple compliance mechanism.

 

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Organizers Discuss India Conference 2018


Three women sitting next to each other on a bench

India Conference organizers Namrata Saraogi, Anjali Mathur and Snigdha Kumar

 

SAI is one of the partners of the student-run India Conference, which will take place on February 10-11, 2018. Three of the organizers spoke to SAI about their involvement with the conference and this year’s theme of “Disruptive Innovators.”

Anjali Mathur manages operations, Snigdha Kumar works on media and marketing, Namrata Saraogi works on seeking financial contributors and Prateek Kanwal oversees the management of panels. 

 

What is the India Conference and how did you first become involved with it?

The India Conference brings together students of Indian origin from across different schools for two days in February to discuss policy and business issues in India and South Asia.

We joined the conference team because of the opportunity it provides to meet people from different schools and professions, and because it brings over 200 speakers from India to have conversations about the country that we love.

 

What is “Disruptive Innovations” and why it is important in 2018?

In the last few years, India has witnessed remarkable innovation across sectors. Aadhaar, the Unified Payment Interface, technology-based education and health delivery, and low-cost solar power are a few examples of this trend. In our daily lives, innovations are changing the way we consume news and entertainment, and have wide-ranging implications within the political and social spheres. This year, we not only want to celebrate innovations taking place in India, but also shine a spotlight on areas that will benefit from such disruption.

The India Conference will bring together major stakeholders in different industries for a weekend of enriching discussion and insights. We have managed to bring together a stellar line-up of speakers, including Kamal Haasan, Barkha Dutt, Amish Tripathi, Sabyasachi, Poonam Mahajan, Nidhi Razdan, Adil Zainulbhai, Divya Spandana, Kavin Bharti Mittal, Byju Raveendran, Punita Sinha, and many more. 

 

What was your process for choosing the speakers?

It is a very decentralized process. Once we decided on the theme of the conference, we recruited a team who pitched their panel ideas. We then went through proposals for speakers who have worked in the sector and whom we thought would be able to enrich conversations.

 

Who are some of the speakers that you are most excited about and why?

We are excited about many speakers including:
• Bezwada Wilson, an Indian activist, who will bring varied perspectives on complex challenges confronting contemporary India and the costs of rapid urbanization.
• Barkha Dutt, who will be delivering a keynote about her journey as a woman in the media.
• Paro Anand and Amish Tripathi, who will talk about disruptions in literature.

 

How has the India Conference evolved over the years? 

The India Conference has grown immensely since it began 15 years ago. It is one of the largest conferences about India in the US and has a legacy of bringing together government officials, business leaders, academics, artists, athletes, and philanthropists.

 

What impact do you hope this conference will have?

Through this two-day immersive program, we hope that students, professionals, and leaders across industries can continue to have discussions, generate ideas and find tangible solutions to help address some of the key issues the country is facing.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Learn more about the conference here. 

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Seed for Change Winning Project Update


Seed for Change

Sutopta

About Seed for Change | Apply | Inspiration

 

Sutopa Dasgupta is part of Sakhi, the team that won SAI’s 2017 Seed For Change competition. She spoke to SAI to update us on the status of Sakhi’s project – the development of high-quality, affordable, and environmentally safe menstrual cups for people in India.

In 2018, Sakhi will launch its pilot program with the Sri Likhi Women Welfare Association in Vishakapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India.  Each program will include a site-specific training curriculum.  Sakhi custom designed and tested their FDA-approved menstrual cup and sterilization case in collaboration with Casco Bay Molding.

Sutopa is currently a PhD student in South Asian Studies at Harvard University. 

The 2018 Seed for Change application is due on February 15, 2018.

 

What fueled your interest in menstrual management in South Asia?

 

My research is on South Asian religion and culture.  Specifically, I have been looking at the social construction of the auspicious and the inauspicious—and related to this, what gets designated as taboo and why. I look at the way ideas and values have traveled and changed over time.

Through my research at Harvard, I have found that the characterization of menstruation is as something inauspicious and polluting. Menstruating women as impure or taboo in many social contexts have long histories in South Asian culture and this continues to perpetuate stigmatization today. For example, women are prohibited from entering the temple during their periods and are prohibited from touching certain foods or being in certain spaces in their own homes.

Tackling the issue of menstruation in the real world was a natural progression of my research. My project, funded by SAI, addresses the challenges menstruating women in India face today—with the idea that we cannot address issues of stigmatization without also helping women feel empowered in their menstrual health management. Thus, we have a two-fold approach: first, putting an environmentally sustainable and safe menstrual management product in every woman’s hand and secondly, by raising awareness around menstruation so that women feel empowered to manage their menstrual health and resist taboos that are detrimental to their safety, mobility, and agency.

We have to empower women to get them engaged in managing their own menstrual health. So much of the stigmatization has to do with patriarchal perspectives, including the lack of inadequate sanitation in workplaces and schools.

 

How has your project progressed?

I have spent the last few months building relationships so that our project can manufacture and distribute culturally-specific menstrual products and establish menstrual health programming in India. Designing menstrual products that are customized for the Indian market, FDA approved and safe for the body. It facilitates managing menstruation safely and with dignity. Since the menstrual cup we have designed and manufactured allows single inserts that last all day, it also alleviates the problem of absenteeism at school or work; the sterilization case that we designed helps maintain privacy and sanitation in water-scarce environments. Both are reusable and there is no environmentally polluting disposal required. You cannot do that with a tampon or a pad. This menstrual cup and case could last a woman ten years and so is economically much more viable too. I really want women to feel empowered with the use of these products, and to feel a sense of ownership of their bodies.

I am building a social enterprise model where women will take these subsidized cups that the grant is funding, and sell them to establish an income for themselves. This last mile distribution model is key to raising awareness and putting women in charge of the sale and distribution of these products. A culturally-specific training curriculum accompanies the distribution of the menstrual management kit—so there is plenty of support in place.

 

Can you talk about some of the challenges you have faced during this process?

Addressing a stigmatized area such as menstrual management involves a complex process of raising awareness in order to change the social dynamic.  Women are afraid to talk about their periods and how they manage them in public; it is a taboo subject. We have worked with our advisor, Dr. Langer, in conjunction with specialists at the Harvard School of Public Health to help us deal with these challenges.  We are also partnering with local community leaders so that they are the ones leading the training sessions. Setting up your own business, distribution and teaching women how to use the product one by one to help the business grow is not easy—so each effort is locally managed and emerges from local demand.  

Even in the USA, talking about menstrual health management is not easy to do. We talk about condoms all the time, for which, by the way, there is no tax levied. Whereas menstruation is penalized, as we have to pay taxes on menstrual products. Why do we have to pay a tax on an item that is a necessary and natural part of managing women’s health? There is an enormous inequity with respect to managing menstruation for women across the globe. Eventually, I would like to expand this project, but for me as a South Asian, tackling the challenge in South Asia is the first step.

 

What has been the impact of receiving this grant money from Seed for Change?

Harvard’s Seed for Change support allows this aspiration to make a difference in women’s lives in India to become a reality. It has also broadened the impact of my research interests and given it greater scope and application. The first thing I did when I got the grant was to attend the Society for Menstrual Research Conference in early June where I presented on this project and got great feedback. There is a collective of researchers, activists, public health professionals and politicians trying to create policy around this important topic. With Harvard’s support, I was able to take this project to the next level.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Spotlight on Harvard Fellow: Shalini Singh


Picture of Shalini Singh

Shalini Singh

 

Shalini Singh, a 2018 Nieman Fellow, has worked for the Indian news magazine The Week and the national daily, the Hindustan Times, with a focus on gender, culture and environmental issues. She is a regular contributor to the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) and a founding trustee of CounterMedia Trust, the nonprofit that owns PARI.  

Shalini Singh spoke to SAI about her career in journalism and her goals as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.  

 

As a part of the People’s Archive of Rural India, could you tell what impact you have seen the organization make? 

 The People’s Archive of Rural India is a digital repository founded by the well-known Indian journalist, P. Sainath. I was his student many years ago. We believe that rural issues do not get as much attention in the mainstream as they should, and so some of us joined hands with him and formed the People’s Archive of Rural India in 2014. In less than three years, the site which goes beyond being a news-site to include oral histories and dying occupations has picked up eight awards. Nationally, PARI has inspired Janaavishkaara, a People’s Participatory Portal, in the state of Kerala in India. Over 30 district newspapers in the state of Karnataka that don’t have a web presence are carrying PARI’s stories. Publishers such as LeftWord plan to bring out readers on PARI’s stories, others are republishing its stories in children’s textbooks. There has been a request for help with design in setting up a people’s archive of township jazz in South Africa, while a People’s Archive of Nova Scotia is ready to roll out.  

In November 2016, when demonetization happened in India, the mainstream was mostly focusing on what it meant for urban folks. They were not looking at the people who depend completely on cash, the poorest of India’s population. The People’s Archive of Rural India sent out a handful of reporters, some already stationed in rural areas, to investigate how this change completely upturned rural livelihoods. While the mainstream was looking at what was happening to the urban population, we were looking at people who were the worst affected.  

 

Could you describe a meaningful experience you have had since being a founding member of the People’s Archive? 

Last June, I mentored a young journalist named Stanzin Saldon working out of Kargil, the site of the India-Pakistan war in 1999. She wanted to do a story on two local women from different castes and religions who opened up a tailoring shop together. It was going to be a warm story about how in this sensitive region, these women had come together, but she was worried about how to ask them personal details about their lives, such as their age. Part of my role was to help her break her barriers and be more confident in her reporting while having sensitivity. It was interesting to see what she was comfortable with, and how I could learn from her.  

 

How do you see the People’s Archive growing in the next several years? 

India can be looked at in 95 historical regions, and we would like to have one journalist in every region plus fellows covering climate change, manual scavenging etc. The money we have raised so far takes care of about 10 journalists or one-tenth of what we need. In the next five years, we hope to have enough money to fund the full 100 fellowships. Visibility is important, but at the end of the day, it is about the field reporting and groundwork. 

 

How did you become interested in working with rural populations? 

When I first became a journalist, I did not want to write about celebrities, gossip, and fashion, which many editors would want you to. There is nothing wrong with these topics; however, because a majority of the country does not have access to these lifestyles, it was always on my conscience to bring out untold stories. Journalists are in a position to give voices to a large number of people who otherwise don’t get heard. 

I applied to the Nieman Fellowship to reflect on my value as a journalist and to think about next steps.  

 

Can you talk about your goals as a Nieman Fellow?  

As a Nieman Fellow, I want to look at the arts to inform my work. A couple of months ago, I was at a local independent music performance and one of the artists used clips from the Charlottesville violence. It became a somber performance and inspired me to reflect on how arts are drawing from current events. 

This past fall, I saw WARHOLCAPOTE, a play at Harvard’s A.R.T. It was a real-time conversation between Andy Warhol and Truman Capote adapted into a theater piece. The intersection of a journalistic story and theater is one of the things I would like to explore going forward. 

In my first semester at Harvard, I took a theater class where we learned how to study someone’s subjectivity. It was a theoretical look at how to get under the skin of another person, how they think, and what informs them. It was not about learning how to act, but more about how to fine-tune empathy.  

 

 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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Students in India delve into the Complex Genome


 

Student receiving diplomaThe following article, originally published in News Karnataka, covers the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute’s Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning Program (B4)’s most recent workshop. B4 aims to build a scientific research corridor and will engage scientists from India and Harvard through exchange programs: 1) Science and Technology Fellowships at Harvard and other peer institutions in the Boston area. 2) Two-week courses on Biosciences in Bangalore. 

 

Bengaluru: From over 220 applications, 25 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students from across India were selected to participate in a residential two-week workshop in ‘Genomics in Healthcare and Translational Research’ from December 2017. This workshop was under the aegis of the B4 (Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings) Program, funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, and supported by the IT/BT Department, Government of Karnataka.

The aim of the Genomics workshop was to “introduce 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,” said Professor M. Vijayalakshmi, IBAB, who was instrumental in developing the curriculum for the workshop.

Genomics and Next-generation Sequencing technologies have influenced scientific research and medicine significantly, and have 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.

Distinguished faculty and postdoctoral fellows from institutions such as Boston University, Harvard University, Broad Institute (Boston), ACTREC (Mumbai), IGIB (Delhi), CCMB (Hyderabad), IISC and NCBS (Bangalore) trained the participants on both the experimental aspects of genomic sequencing and computational analysis of sequencing data, through didactic research lectures and hands-on sessions. The workshop concluded on December 23 with a panel discussion on ‘Genomics – Trends and Opportunities’.

Following the workshop was the valedictory event of the first phase of B4. The keynote address was delivered by Dr. VijayRaghavan (Secretary, DBT), who highlighted the current and future study and practice of Biosciences in India. He emphasized the need to build a science-based ecosystem that is sensitive to the nation’s needs.

Dr. VijayRaghavan’s talk was followed by a panel moderated by Prof. Venkatesh Murthy, Chair of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Harvard University, and lead faculty of the B4 Program. The discussion focused on the impact of the program in India. Panelists included Aditya Murthy, IISC, and three B4 fellows, Parvathi Sreekumar, Ramya Purkanti, and Gayatri Ramakrishnan, who have recently returned from a year at Harvard.

The closing vote of thanks was delivered by Prof. N. Yathindra, Director, IBAB, who spoke of the value of the B4 Program for the young Indian scientists and the bridge created between academic institutions in the US and India. He also emphasized the value of translation of knowledge from academia to practice.

(Originally published on News Karnataka on December 26, 2017)

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


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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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