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SIPA Events – Interdisciplinary Talks

SIPA is a very busy place.  Each week there are 10-15 events that feature interesting speakers and panels on a variety of topics.  The following entry was contributed by Erisha Suwal, a second year student at SIPA.  Erisha is working in our office this year and she, along with several other students, will be contributing posts throughout the year.


While having lunch over lamb and rice with hot and white sauce, my Pakistani friends encouraged me to join them for a talk titled “ Pakistan 2010: The most dangerous decade begins.” The talk was organized by the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion (CDTR). It is a Center that was founded after SIPA won a competitive grant and its main objective is to examine religion’s role in politics and international relations. The title was very intriguing and only the day before I had had a discussion   on how Pakistan seems to be in a constant state of turmoil. More than any other country. Perhaps even more than Afghanistan.  I joined them.

Christine Fair, Assistant Professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown, was one of the panelists. She was speaking on ‘India and Pakistan in Afghanistan: Opportunities and Constraints.’  She argued that India had a strong interest in staying in Afghanistan especially to monitor Pakistan. She questioned why no one talks about India running intelligence operations in Afghanistan and why no one challenges India when it build schools very close to the Pakistani border. She claimed that the Pakistani Army personnel, particularly those in the lower ranks, want the U.S. out of Afghanistan because they believed that the American presence intensified Taliban presence in Afghanistan. Her talk led to a rich discussion on India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

At the talk, I found out that Terry Eagleton was coming to speak the same evening   on “The New Atheism and the War on Terror.” Eagleton is an influential literary theorist and Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the University of Lancaster, who has written more than forty books. He gave an entertaining and insightful talk. The poster said, seating was on first come first serve basis. Usually I do not follow these warnings, but I’m glad I did this time. The room filled up very quickly and I ran into some SIPA professors. I saw Mahmood Mamdani, who teaches Political identities, State and Civil Wars in Africa and Theory, History, and Practice of Human Rightsand Professor S. Akbar Zaidi was also present. He teaches Political Economy of Pakistan: State, Society, and Economy.

Eagleton started off asking, “Why are atheists obsessed with religion as Puritans are obsessed with sex?”  He commented that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whom he dubbed Ditchkins, were engaged in anti-god diatribe with zero conception of faith and theology. He also argued that rise of Islamic fundamentalism was similar to “chickens coming home to roost.” Eagleton delivered provocative and controversial but witty statements and entertained his audience.

CDTR co-organized Terry Eagleton’s lecture with Heyman Center for the Humanities. I missed going to lectures outside of class. It is easy to immerse oneself in course-works and socializing, Wednesday’s two lectures reminded me of how being in Columbia exposes you to cutting edge discussions in whatever field it might be.

Summer 2010 Internship – Post 3

This is the third entry in our recap of summer internships completed by SIPA students working in the Admissions Office this year.  Brittney Elise Bailey is a second-year SIPA student pursuing a Master of International Affairs degree with a concentration on Economic and Political Development (EPD).


From New Delhi to New York: The Perils of Internship Transitions

As of Spring 2010, I was still on a leave of absence from SIPA working in New Delhi and the idea of finding yet another internship for the summer, preferably back in the western hemisphere, was a bit daunting.  Where do I want to go? Do I want to pick up a new skill?  Where would I get the most face time and knowledge transfer from my supervisor if I end up making little-to-no salary for 3 months?

Although I planned on staying at my job at the Micro Insurance Academy – an Indian NGO that utilizes a community-based approach to risk management for low-income populations in South Asia – I wanted another opportunity to apply some of my new knowledge of livelihoods (and microfinance) to education.

lrbp4Children at youth center associated with a SEWA (community-based financial services)

After receiving a few summer internship offers  from larger micro finance institutions and relevant NGO’s, I decided to return to New York in July to work at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), an organization within the International Rescue Committee (IRC,) that provides applied research and advocacy on protection programs, specifically for refugee women and children.  I became the Displaced Youth Initiative intern with the WRC’s Protection Program.

I had four main reasons for working with the WRC as opposed to some other organizations that may have been larger or more well-known.  First, I had heard a lot of great things about the IRC and in turn the WRC, where the smaller NGO-within-an-NGO setting was rumored to provide much more substantive work prospects.  Reputation goes a long way in all career fields; however, I find that in the development sector because there are so many options to choose from-Multilateral/intergovernmental organizations, NGOs big and small, foundations, the private sector, the government, regional banks, etc.- much of what we have to go by as potential practitioners is reputation… and a few key contacts at our orgs. of interest (if we’re lucky!)   Also, former EPD students bragged about how great the Commission had been as a client for EPD workshops, where there was always a clear final project, good working relationships, and truly demand-driven and participatory results.

Second, I wanted to be aligned with an organization like the WRC that aims to serve the most vulnerable of the poor, even within refugee or internally-displaced communities, such as women, youth, persons with disabilities and children.

Third, substantive work and knowledge transfer between my supervisors and I were a vital component of my decision.  This was my first time working for free- a concept many of us in graduate school unfortunately still have to become familiar with- so I wanted to make sure that I could gain the skills and knowledge I desired.  Fortunately, my boss, an alumna of SIPA, felt the exact same way and made consistent strides to integrate me into all aspects of her work.

Lastly, my motivation to be at the WRC, in particular, had to do with the Displaced Youth Initiative(DYI) itself.

As a DYI intern, I worked between the Youth and Livelihoods programs, which among other things,  aimed to bridge education to income-generating programming for young refugees and IDPs in conflict and post-conflict settings.  Much of my work consisted of helping to produce DYI reports on education and skills-building, fine-tuning market-based assessments (for Southern Sudan and New York), M&E for WRC and IRC youth advocacy impact,  managing our Youth Advisory Board  and attending high-level meetings related to youth, education in emergencies and livelihoods.  In addition, I conducted comprehensive research-through mapping, desk research, surveys, interviews, etc.- on the most innovative non-formal education programs for youth worldwide.

In spite of my initial fears to leave India, to be further away from the field and settled into some skyscraper near Grand Central, to prioritize knowledge transfer over money and prestige this time around, I found that this type of applied research really suited me.  It was in fact what I was looking for in a summer internship.  I will most likely stay on at the WRC and IRC throughout this next year, working on education and livelihoods projects in some capacity. Between the connections made, skills built and summer reports of WRC research turned action in the field, I am positive that my internship transition was worth it.


What I Did This Summer: Entry #4

Sandhya Chari is a second year MPA student concentrating in Economic and Political Development.  I asked her to share about her summer internship and she wrote the following and sent along the pictures as well.


This summer I spent 5 weeks interning with ACCESS Development Services in New Delhi and Jaipur, India. After taking a micro-enterprise development course last spring, I was inspired to intern in livelihoods and enterprise development in South Asia. ACCESS, though started as a microfinance organization, found that livelihoods work was a crucial partner to microfinance, and so has devoted half of its efforts to small business development. It uses various methods to help empower the workers and help them become more profitable.

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My project was to understand the working conditions of the labor artisans making stone jewelry in Jaipur. In order to understand these conditions, I had to develop a questionnaire and conduct over fifty interviews in the urban slums of Jaipur.  This was particularly challenging because I had to ask the questions in Hindi, a language which I am just beginning to study. After conducting the interviews, I learned that the workers in this sector are severely exploited. They make an average of one to two dollars per day and work with very toxic and dangerous chemicals and equipment with no protection. They have little access to social services such as insurance, and there is a great deal of child labor.

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Finally, their work requires the use of very expensive machinery, so they experience added financial hardship to buy or rent their machines. I hope the final report containing these findings is useful in developing informed interventions to help these workers grow from informal, exploited laborers, to small enterprise owners.

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I was very happy with this internship because not only did it allow me to see the big picture of the project at a high level, it also gave me an opportunity to work at the field level, getting a grasp for what is really happening on the ground. I believe that this internship has significantly improved my SIPA experience, because I am now able to further contextualize my coursework, and I also know what areas I need to take classes in  based on what I didn’t know in the field.

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Learning that Matters: How a New Generation of Leaders is Making an Impact on Education

I like to be able to provide information to prospective SIPA students concerning the work of our alumni.  The following is an article on a project developed by 2006 SIPA alumna, Prathima Rodrigues.  The project was actually developed while she was a student at SIPA.

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“I want to be an accountant when I grow up,” says an eager Samir, as he expertly calculates the amount of profit his team has made selling hats as part of a business simulation activity. Samir is a grade eight student at St. Francis School, Bangalore, India and is part of a group of 25 other kids participating in a pilot workshop for Skills for Kids (SFK).

Skills for Kids (SFK) is a program that teaches the concepts of entrepreneurship to young children – concepts that are useful in everyday lives but are often not taught in schools as part of formal curricula. The SFK curriculum simplifies these concepts and brings them to the classroom through fun, learner-centric and experiential activities.


SFK was founded by SIPA 2006 alumna, Prathima Rodrigues while still at graduate school. During this time, Prathima was awarded the Sasakawa Young Leadership Fellowship Fund (SYLFF) from the Tokyo Foundation which laid the foundation for her initiative. “Receiving the SYLFF fellowship was a great honour for me”, says Prathima. “The Tokyo Foundation encourages fellows to work in international development and start their own initiatives. It was a good opportunity for me to leverage the SYLFF network and the fellowship has certainly helped me create and scale-up my entrepreneurial venture. Also, SIPA gave me a very good foundation for my work. I was able to constantly apply what I learned in the classroom.”


Prathima says that formal education in most schools in India for example, does not equip children with relevant skills. Though the demand for these skills is rising, both in tertiary education institutes and in the job market, preparation of youth for work and life is inadequate. Increasingly, firms want to hire young people who not only posses sound technical skills but have good communication and teamwork skills and who are creative and dynamic in the workplace – traits that are essential in today’s globalized economy.

From a small student led initiative, Skills for Kids has achieved considerable scale in the last few years. Prathima now leads a team of three – Badamjav Batsukh (SYLFF Fellow and Officer, Ministry of Education and Science, Mongolia), Sapruddin Perwira (SYLFF Fellow and Director, Project Hope, Indonesia) and Sunil Mathew (Senior Software Engineer, OPNET Technologies, Maryland, USA). “I met most of my team through the SYLFF network. Each team member brings his/her distinct expertise to the table and we are very open to each other’s suggestions”, says Prathima, “all of us are very motivated and do this apart from our regular jobs. We manage to coordinate quite well though we live in four different cities across the globe.”


“Activities that focus on life skills and financial skills, enable children to be more productive in the classroom, more self-sufficient and more inclined to contribute to their community’s social and economic development”, says Prathima. “Significant anecdotal and empirical evidence show that if encouraged at an early age, a targeted curriculum, pedagogy and faculty can catalyze the development of this entrepreneurial mindset among young adults. Teaching and learning in developing economies is based on a system of rote learning that in several cases, is alone not sufficient to actively encourage students to think on their own and take on responsibilities; traits that form the core of developing an entrepreneurial mindset.”

Skills for Kids follows an integrated model of entrepreneurial and life skills development, that equips secondary schoolscreenshot207 students with a set of marketable skills (See Figure 4). The 18 hours of the Skills for Kids curriculum encompass 8 modules; each module consists of a set of activities that develops both cognitive skills (such as in economics and personal finance) and non-cognitive skills (teamwork and communication) in young people.  “The unique aspect of the Skills for Kids model is that it is based on two parallel streams of learning – building tangible skills in economics or finance and developing behavioral traits such as decision-making, positive self-esteem and good communication.” says Badamjav. “Each activity follows this bi-channel approach and ensures that students grasp the core theme of each lesson but at the same time develop these traits.”

The first Skills for Kids pilot was coordinated by Badamjav and implemented in Mongolia followed by a second pilot in India, coordinated by Sunil.  “Many donors and academics come to the camp, to visit the children and on supervision missions. But this is the first time that students are learning a set of extremely useful skills.” says Ms. B. Danya, a senior teacher at the summer camp in Mongolia, where the pilot was held. “I want our teachers to be trained on how to teach this so that many more children can benefit from this program”.


The team believes that the children are an integral part of the program and the kids are constantly encouraged to express provide feedback on what they liked or disliked. Fifteen-year-old Tuya from Mongolia says, “The activities were interesting. I learnt a lot about business skills and I had a lot of fun. I do not get to do all this at school”. “We were very pleased, with the ingenuity of the students”, says Prathima, “They were able to understand and apply many of these complex concepts. They are so incredibly creative; there is a lot we can learn from them.”

screenshot206Prathima and her team represent a new breed of young change makers – individuals who, rather than only talk of what’s wrong, get together and try to make change happen. “We are extremely proud of what we have achieved”, says Prathima, “there is much that young people can do with a little creativity and a lot of hard work. I hope that our work serves as an example to other young people in various parts of the globe and motivates them to make a difference in their communities.”

Prathima Rodrigues is a SIPA 2006 graduate (MIA, EPD). At present, she works with the World Bank in the Europe and Central Asia region. Her previous work experience includes projects with UNICEF, U NIDO and the Development Gateway Foundation. Prathima also screenshot2451 serves as an advisor to Make a Difference ( and served as a judge for the 2009 Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC).  She has an engineering degree from KREC, Surathkal, India and a master degree from Drexel University, Philadelphia. Prathima is from Mangalore, India and presently resides in Washington D. C. Prathima was recently awarded a Youth Innovation Fund (YIF) grant from the World Bank to pilot Skills for Kids in Kosovo. She can be reached at pr2141 [at]

SIPA Faculty Member Comments on Recent Elections in India

It is not unusual to see SIPA faculty in the news and recently SIPA faculty member Arvind Panagariya joined Martin Savidge of World Focus to discuss the recent national elections in India and what the U.S. and Pakistan can expect from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his second term in office.  To view the full video and the accompanying story, please visit the World Focus Web site.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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