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shamikaravi
On the Record

‘Confident on the future of the think tank community in India’

Editor's Note:

This interview with Brookings India Research Director Shamika Ravi first appeared in On Think Tanks. The views are of the author(s).

Author

Dr. Shamika Ravi is the director of research at Brookings India and a senior fellow of governance studies program, at Brookings India and Brookings Institution Washington D.C. She was interviewed by On Think Tanks as part of a series on South Asian Executive Directors.

OTT: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Shamika Ravi: I am an economist who has been researching India for the last 20 years. My focus areas have been financial inclusion, health, urbanisation, farmer suicides, gender inequality and political economy. I have a PhD from NYU and regularly publish in peer reviewed academic journals as well as national and international newspapers. More recently I have become a member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council.

OTT: What have been your key learnings as the director of research at Brookings India?

SR: My key learnings have been twofold: (1) Building a high calibre research team is difficult in a ‘thin’ market like India, given the scarcity of highly trained human resources, and (2) Policy impact requires a think tank to constantly “translate” its rigorous academic work into accessible briefs and white papers for outreach and dissemination.

OTT: How has your interaction or work with your Board members been?

SR: Exceptionally good- they have been my greatest champions. They have also given constant suggestions and advise to address the problems described above.

OTT: How do you plan when choosing a domain or a project? Is there an specific agenda or method that you follow?

SR: The research or project is chosen by a scholar’s interest. My decision to focus on health and gender inequality in India comes from my early empirical findings, which fuelled further interest in me. The initial success that our health studies received have also been encouraging.

OTT: How has the think tank community or landscape changed since you joined Brookings India? What do you think the future holds for it?

SR: It has been 4 years since I joined Brookings India. In this time, the think tank community has evolved significantly, enjoying greater professionalism and impact. Several leading institutions are working closely with governments and hosting massive international platforms for cross-border engagements (Tracks 1.5 and 2). I am very confident on the future on the think tank community in India. However, given the needs of the country, there is an enormous capacity gap when it comes to research/evidence-based policymaking. This gap is also felt in the larger public space, where speculation and opinions abound with little in-depth scholarly basis. We need to inform and engage with government, industry and society for the overall development of our country.

OTT: As the director of research, could you share some tips on how you manage projects at different levels and with different stakeholders?

SR: At Brookings India each scholar manages her or his own project with full support from the administration and operations team. Before publication, however, my role is to put them through a thorough peer review process to ensure the publication is of the highest quality. Internal consistency between the grants and outcomes for each project is managed by the finance and development team within the institution.

OTT: Can you share a success story?

SR: The Brookings India Health Monitor has received over 300 citations from media and policymakers. It is being used by NITI and state governments. The Health and Morbidity Report became the “go-to” document for the Ministry for Health, the Family Welfare (MoHfw), and others working on health in India.  Our work on energy has been cited by Piyush Goyal, the (former) Minister for New and Renewable Energy, as well as various senior officials in this government.  Ravishankar Prasad quoted results from our study on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in India. Our Foreign Policy book became the background for comprehensive Modi-Obama joint declarations – both visits. Our farmer suicide paper was carried by several local newspapers and has changed the narrative in India on “debt deaths”. There are several others that we are very proud of.

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