Indian parliment in New Delhi by night. Photo: iStock
Indian parliment in New Delhi by night. Photo: iStock

The world of today demands change – change that is positive and sustainable, change that can look tumultuous times in the eye, withstand the storms of uncertainty and emerge as a facilitator for a paradigm shift in society toward a better present and future.

The youth of today or the decision makers of tomorrow will serve as a powerful force, especially in a country like India, where our demographic dividend is one of our richest assets.

Aditya Kaudan is a mechanical engineer with four years of experience in both the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors. He has worked on such issues as lifestyle correction among urban dwellers, the rural-urban nexus, air and water pollution, restoration of natural water bodies, voluntary blood donation, mental health, emerging technologies and many others. As a public-policy scholar, he wants to stress the pressing issues of mental health and lifestyle disorders that, in general, don’t get the required attention despite their serious implications on both the physical and mental well-being of an individual.

In one of his projects with a leading automotive manufacturer, he and his team addressed the challenges involved in selling an electric car in India (both retail and customer satisfaction) and delivered a virtual-reality-based sales tool for an immersive and personalized sales experience, explaining about the technology and practicality of a niche product. He further stressed the potential of cross-reality-based tools or solutions for Industry 4.0, urban planning and capacity building, especially in the wake of climate change, stressing how technology could play a crucial role in addressing the problems of the present as well as of the future.

How does he plan to apply technology to public actions – a vital amalgamation?

“I am looking forward to learning about the nuances of public policy, and its impact from the perspective of different schools of thought. Technology is a part of today’s reality and every field/sector is highly dependent on it. It has already led to drastic changes in our lifestyle patterns, consumption of resources, and has made this world a more connected globe.

“The knowledge of public policy would help me in understanding and predicting the implication of technical intervention and, thereby, in analyzing the usefulness/viability of technology from the point of ethical framework and societal well-being. This would also help in having an understanding or knowledge of drafting policies/making recommendations regarding the adoption of technology in various sectors, as well as resolve issues like data privacy and its implications.”

Boijayanti Sarker is a political-science graduate. She previously interned with a prominent English-language news channel in India, where she worked on a weekly documentary program called India Matters, addressing issues pertaining to physical disability and drug problems in India. She also worked on the Seven Sisters Project,  a mobile-phone-based citizen news service for northeast India, besides contributing to Tatvagyan, an educational social enterprise working for underserved areas, and was involved in designing a school curriculum.

Sarker’s interests lie in the ethical use of technology and its impact on individuals, and most importantly communities, as well as collective consciousness and urgency about climate change in popular culture, where she wants to investigate how marketing strategies of companies, with tweaks in methodology, can help in nudging people to produce more climate-friendly behavioral and production patterns. She, in fact, holds a distinction certificate in a short-term course on water cooperation with the United Nations, besides participating in the Delhi Youth Summit on climate change.

The cause of physical disability lies close to her heart – a challenge she addressed while working on a documentary series rightfully titled “Enabling India.” It was about the lack of accessibility for differently abled people and the need for feasible solutions.

She said: “A line by someone – ‘All the “normal” people are just temporarily abled’ – really stuck with me as it holds so true. It is so important to develop awareness and empathy for the cause of those who are differently abled. For this, it is vital to ‘place ourselves in their shoes’ – understand the challenges they face and assist where and however possible. My work was great testament to the fact that necessity is the mother of invention and entrepreneurship, with communities coming together to make incremental changes, however small, in each other’s lives, with great empathy and humility.”

Why did she feel the need to study public policy, and how does she feel it can aid her in accelerating her capacities to bring about change for the cause she holds dear?

“Public policy feels like an infinitely challenging, sometimes frustrating, but a satisfying endeavor,” she said. “I used to feel ‘disadvantaged’ not having the appropriate ‘tools’ for solving pressing challenges. Now that I am studying the subject, it seems like a good start in the right direction. I am able to think multilaterally, while specializing in a certain domain. Policy currently affects people, for better or for worse; making it evidence centric and focussed on public good is crucial. The solutions we need to find for pressing challenges are dependent on our drive, focus, and how well we [are] versed about the cause.”

Shreeradha Mishra, a child-rights professional who grew up in Cuttack, Orissa, said: “The challenges that child rights face in our country are immense. One of the biggest is the status that it has been relegated: of being a non-issue in certain insidious ways. For example the [Indian federal] budget of 2019 shows an allocation of just 3.29% for the cause of children (who comprise 40% of India’s total population), whereas the National Plan of Action for Children recommends an allocation of at least 5%.”

Mishra holds a master’s degree in development, after which she started her career as a child-rights professional in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. She added: “Another crucial challenge, which also stems from a lack of awareness regarding child protection, is the absence of a nuanced understanding of child-protection issues while drafting laws and policies.

“For example, the recent amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act, which now mandates the death penalty for child rapists: Studies have consistently pointed out that in most cases of sexual abuse, the perpetrator is known to the victim, and is often a member of the family. In such a case, if the death penalty is a possible outcome of reporting the abuse, the issue is potentially muffled.”

So, what according to her are the solutions to challenges as multidimensional as these?

“A stable community is the first and foremost requirement for creating a safe space for children to grow and thrive in. Another solution that has also been stressed a lot, but not enough, is building the capacities of grassroots child-protection institutions like district child-protection units, child welfare committees, juvenile justice boards, shelter homes, and the police.” She also cities measures at an individual level: respecting the autonomy of a child, listening to her or him when an issue is spoken about.

Before commencing her studies at the Indian School of Public Policy in New Delhi, Mishra worked with the Aangan Trust as the Child Welfare Committee coordinator in Varanasi. Her role entailed training child-protection stakeholders in accordance with the Juvenile Justice Law in India. She has also worked on research studies conducted in Maharashtra with the objective of impacting child-protection policies, besides being a part of many child-protection campaigns including the pro-child campaign against the death penalty for child sexual offenders.

Mishra was also involved in the implementation of communication strategies, across social-media platforms, to create further awareness on various issues concerning child protection, in addition to managing a crowd-funding campaign for the cause, in her last professional engagement.

Why public policy and how does she plan to use her study to make a difference?

“Public policy is a tool that has the bandwidth to address most of the crucial development challenges,” Mishra said. “I plan to equip myself with the necessary tools through this program, so that I have a clear and working knowledge of the several factors that go into the creation, implementation, and management of public policy. I also see this program as an opportunity to connect with stakeholders who are equally passionate about coming up with mindful approaches for tackling urgent social problems, like the current state of child protection in India.”

The motivation that these journeys provide is immense. They help us understand that the most important point is not to doubt the capability of oneself, but of being aware of one’s strengths and consistently working on the areas one needs to work on by equipping oneself with the knowledge, know-how and wisdom that serve as the springboard for the change one wishes to see.

Sarah Berry

Sarah Berry is head of communications, Centre for The Digital Future, based in Haryana, India. She is also outreach adviser for the organization.

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