Diana Jue-Rajasingh

Meetings with the Big Guys

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on October 10, 2012

Whew, things have been getting busy out here in Bangalore. I haven’t been getting the time to sleep much, let alone write blog entries. But today I have a few hours in a remarkably tasty and tasteful coffee shop, and I feel more up to writing.

Monday was an eventful day. Steve has been really good about jam-packing my schedule (I’m not being sarcastic – I actually requested for him to do this for the sake of efficiency). We met up with five of Bangalore’s big guys in five hotels over five cups of coffee/tea. Needless to say, by the end of the day, my body was physically tired but my mind was quite buzzed on caffeine.

The purpose of these meetings was to introduce me, the Fulbright researcher, to the Centre for Contemporary Issues friends (research subjects?). Before launching into formal interviews, Steve felt that it was necessary for these guys to feel comfortable around me. We talked with a leader in education, a leader in water and sanitation, two real estate developers who has dealt with IAS officers, and an ex-IAS officer who quit just before retirement.

I won’t go into detail about what we talked about, since none of this was on the record, and a lot of it was small talk to make everyone comfortable. However, a lot of common themes did arise.

The first is that a lot of the knowledge and insights currently possessed by active and retired IAS officers gets lost. There is very little written tradition here. I think most of the men we talked with can speak an entire book verbatim, but they wouldn’t take the time to write it down. I suppose that’s where Steve and I come in.

The second is that India is filled with potential, but despite the potential, very little progress is being driven from within the nation. That is, money is being poured into higher education, but there are few tangible results. Why is this? The private sector guys – economic conservatives, definitely – have their own opinions here. Public sector guys would say otherwise.

The third is that systemic, institutional change within public organizations and an organization like the Indian Administrative Service is needed to sustain social good. Okay, this is a given. The more interesting question is how to implement such changes. What becomes the role and motivation of a public manager who 1) is a generalist, not a specialist, 2) frequently rotates postings, 3) can’t fire people, and 4) has so many incentives to not upset the status quo? How does a leader shape an organization so that it can run without him.

This morning, I was so pooped that I overslept by three hours and missed my meeting with a retired IAS officer. Fortunately, he was lenient with me; he’s retired, after all, and was hanging out at home. He also has daughters who are about my age and understands our limits. Steve and I met up with him later in the morning, and we talked about the entire system in which IAS officers operate. If we insist on looking at the big picture, though, then the primary question becomes: Where can we make the first change? On the theoretical level, that’s hard to figure out. But Steve has consciously decided to focus on IAS officers for the period of my Fulbright study. We’ll see what happens from there.


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