Diana Jue-Rajasingh

Visiting Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

Posted in India, Traveling by Diana on July 6, 2016

Earlier this week, Josh and I returned from a trip to Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Spiti is a part of the Himalayas and is located about 8 to 14 hours outside of Manali, depending on how fast you drive and whether or not you get stuck behind other vehicles on narrow, single-lane, mountain-hugging roads. The landscape is barren, as the terrain is rocky like a mountain and dry like a desert. It never rains in Spiti; the only precipitation it gets is snow. I’ve seen no other place like it.

When we talk about disconnected, remove villages in India, these small villages in Spiti would be exemplary. For example, we visited Komic, the highest inhabited village in Asia with 82 residents. Komic and other villages like it are completely inaccessible during the winter, when the roads are shut because of snow. (I also learned that winter activities in Spiti consist purely of eating, drinking, and sleeping.) If Essmart were to work in Spiti, I have no idea how the company would make money. Rural South India’s density and easy-to-drive roads make it a much easier market to serve.

Spiti Holiday Adventure, the company that we booked our tour with, prides itself in being a company run by Spiti locals. Hence, customers also get local guides, experiences, and prices. Our 7-day Innova Jeep Tour cost only INR 12,470 (USD 185) per person. The accommodations exceeded my expectations (e.g. when camping, I slept in a comfortable bed instead of a sleeping bag like I was expecting). We got to try non-touristy activities, like riding in a steel basket that’s used to connected two villages a gorge part from each other. I’m not even sure if the company profits from these tours (perhaps they’re being supported by public funds?). Either way, Spiti Holiday Adventure is definitely driven by the mission of bringing sustainable development to Spiti, and I would recommend going with the company if you’re planning a trip or a trek there. You can learn more about them on their Facebook page or by Googling Ramesh Lotey, one of the founders who’s been working to bring people to Spiti for the past 27 years.

And now, for some photos, which are mostly also on my Instagram account.

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When Stuff You Do Makes a Difference …

Posted in Essmart, India by Diana on June 16, 2016

… even when you didn’t really expect it to. I’ve been learning that empowerment — “the process of enhancing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes” (according to the World Bank definition) — is a powerful thing.

Lunch with these businesswomen in Pollachi.

Lunch with these businesswomen in Pollachi.

I’m writing this from Pollachi, a town of about 100,000 people that is located about 1.5 hours south of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, India. The surroundings are beautiful; they’re green and lush, with coconut trees sprouting out of every barren piece of land. Pollachi is the home of Essmart’s first Distribution Center.

I’m here this week because I had to follow up with some women whom we trained three months ago. The training was based on the United Nation Foundation’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstove’s Women’s Empowerment Fund’s Empowered Entrepreneur Training Handbook (that’s quite the mouthful), and it was funded by the same organization. Our goal was to encourage higher levels of women’s participation in business — namely, the women who worked in Essmart’s stores. We encouraged women’s participation in retail stores by first training the men on business skills while emphasizing the contributions that women can make. Then, we trained the women on business skills while emphasizing their own capabilities.

At least, that’s what we had planned to do. We managed to run two training sessions, one for men and one for women, but our attendance numbers were low. The multiple-day workshop setup wasn’t conducive to the busy lives of shopkeepers, so participants floated in and out of the sessions. All but one of the women worked on businesses outside of Essmart’s stores; technically, they weren’t our target audience. But we worked with what we had.

I didn’t expect that a three-day training session would make much of an impact on either the men or the women. I was more or less correct about the lack of concrete impact on the men — I think that their biggest takeaway was that it is critical to, well, speak to customers nicely (which I thought was obvious?). But the women — they surprised me. There was the young Muslim woman who broke out of her shell through this single training workshop. The sales of her door-to-door nightgown selling business increased by 50 percent, after she became more comfortable talking to potential new customers. Her utilization of technology — namely, WhatsApp groups — made a huge difference in reducing her gasoline prices, since she no longer had to show her designs door-to-door via scooter. The WhatsApp group also helped her gauge customer demand so that she wouldn’t waste money on inventory that no one buys. She now takes pre-orders based on responses from her WhatsApp group. Additionally, her WhatsApp group has eased tensions with her family, who were previously discouraging her business because it required her to drive around town alone. Her family members are now quite supportive of her. Way to go, sister!

Another woman works at her family’s motorbike financing business. After the training session that Essmart held, she went back to analyze her costs. She realized that the business was spending far too much money outsourcing repairs to a third-party workshop. They were paying Rs 700 per day for just the labor to fix broken motorbikes. This woman realized that she could spend Rs 7,000 per month on a mechanic who could fix many motorbikes. She ended up starting up a new motorbike servicing center that falls under the umbrella of the family’s motorbike financing business. She has three male employees who service 10 to 20 motorbikes per day. This new servicing business is earning more profits than the company’s core financing business.

A businesswoman with great ideas strikes a pose with her employees.

A businesswoman with great ideas strikes a pose with her employees.

Empowerment is powerful. Being told that you have something to offer — and then truly believing it — unleashes so much potential. Limiting beliefs are destructive, and our training workshops helped participants unearth the limiting beliefs they have of each other (mostly in the sense that men believe that women are limited in, for example, their ability to learn new technology) and limiting beliefs they have of themselves, which both women and men suffer from. Of course, there are much larger, societal issues at play here, and training workshops that emphasize gender equality are small steps. However, something good is happening through them, even if it’s in the lives of two people and their families.

Visiting Pondicherry

Posted in India, Personal, Traveling by Diana on June 8, 2016

After attending a second cousin’s wedding in Chennai, Josh and I went to Pondicherry (also known as Pondy or Puducherry) this past weekend. Pondicherry is known for being the headquarters of the French East India Company, so its French Quarter area, by the beach and separated by a canal, still has that colonial look.

Neither Josh nor I had been there before, and the town was on both of our must-see-in-India-before-we-leave lists. Despite it being early June during our visit (that is, near-deadly hot and humid), we took the trip. I thought I’d write about our trip there.

Transportation

Getting there: We weren’t sure how to get to Pondicherry from Chennai. There were air conditioned private buses that we found on Goibibo and Redbus, but those tickets were Rs 500 per person. We knew we could do better. Josh’s dad recommended that we head to Chennai’s government bus stand at Koyambedu and see if we could find any air conditioned public buses. Sure enough, we found the Pondicherry Road Transport Corporation buses that were located at the right side of the bus stand after entering through the main entrance. One ticket in an air conditioned bus cost Rs 200, and we could pay onboard with cash. Our bus left at 5:30pm, and it took us four hours to reach Pondicherry (one hour was spent trying to get out of the massive urban agglomeration that is Chennai).

Getting around: We rented pedal bicycles to get around Pondicherry’s French Quarters. There’s a row of bicycle rental stalls on Mission Street. I think we were overcharged for our bicycles, though — we paid Rs 75/bicycle/day, and I later learned that the going rate was around Rs 50. Alas. You can also rent scooters and motorbikes from some of these stalls, if that’s more your style.

What to Do 

What is there to do in Pondicherry? Josh and I aren’t the type to visit ashrams and temples, so to be honest, there’s not too much to do. Hence, it makes for a relaxing vacation. We also went during a very hot summer month, so we spent most of our afternoons in an air-conditioned cafe or our hotel room.

The beach and promenade: Pondicherry situated along the Bay of Bengal. However, the beach is a rocky one, not a sandy one. What’s nice about the beach, though, is that the road along the beach is closed to all vehicular traffic from 6:30pm to 7am. In the evening and early morning, it turns into a large pedestrian street with folks strolling along the paved road, sitting on the rocks at the coast, and little people climbing up and sliding down important monuments like the Gandhi statue.

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Josh and Diana at the beach.

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It’s like the entire town was out and about in the evenings and early mornings.

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The kids and Gandhiji along the beach.

The sunrise: One of my favorite activities was watching a sunrise at the beach. Josh and I woke up at 5am to head toward the beach by 5:30am. The sunrise was at 5:45am, but because of the clouds, we couldn’t see much until around 6am. The view wasn’t super spectacular (that really just depends on atmospheric conditions), but it was a fun experience. Afterward, we attempted to find a breakfast place that was open … and didn’t quite succeed. Pondicherry commercial establishments wake up late.

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5:45am-ish sunrise over the Bay of Bengal.

The French Quarters: We stayed in the French Quarters, and a highlight was riding our bicycles through the small streets of White Town and Heritage Town. The traffic was relatively light so that I, an unconfident bicycle rider, could still feel relatively safe. The tree-lined roads and heritage buildings were scenic.

The eats: This was probably my favorite part of Pondicherry. The French Quarters are littered with small cafes and restaurants. I wouldn’t say that the food is particularly cheap, but the variety is good. I’ve noticed, though, that restaurants shut down quite frequently or are closed during hours they’re publicized as being open. Try calling ahead before attempting to follow Google Maps to the location.

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Cafe des Arts had rave reviews on Zomato and Google, but it wasn’t open when we tried to eat there! Evidently, they’re closed for a month.

For pizza: I’m not sure why, but there are at least five pizza joints in Pondicherry. Of the ones that Josh and I tried, Cafe Xtasi on Mission Street is our favorite. The variety of pizzas on its menu is quite astounding (more than I’ve seen on menus in Bangalore), and the thin crust is actually crisp and not soggy. We went for lunch on a Saturday, and it was pretty crowded. Also note that the air conditioning doesn’t work if there’s a power cut, and their brick oven can make sitting indoors quite brutal.

For burgers: Canteen 18 on Canteen Street. I actually wrote my first Zomato review for this tiny restaurant, since I agreed to do so after the guy at the counter asked me to. Anyway, these beef burgers are juicy (unlike the overcooked ones I normally get in Bangalore), come with special sauces (I got barbecue), and are completely made to order. There’s only outdoor seating for perhaps 10 people, but at least there are fans that make it pleasant enough.

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Much beef burger juiciness at Canteen 18.

For croissants: Baker Street on Bussy Street. The quiches and sandwiches are overpriced, but the croissants are affordable and delicious. However, Josh likes to note the cafe’s confused identities: the place is named “Baker Street” and has signage that invokes Sherlock Holmes, it sells French foods, and there are paintings of geishas hanging indoors.

For gelato/ice cream: Gelateria Montecatini Terme (GTM) on Beach Road. This place probably had the best value for money for food items. I mean, Rs 40 for a legitimate cup of ginger and lime gelato is a great deal, and that little cup packed so much taste. The spread of flavors was very wide, including everything from mango and guava to mocha and more traditional and decadent Italian flavors.

For an air conditioned cafe: The Indian Kaffe Express on Dumas Street. The cafe sports a decent list of coffees and non-coffee beverages to choose from, as well as waffles and other small eats. Josh and I spent hours in there to beat the mid-day heat.

For South Indian: Surguru, in multiple locations. This is Pondicherry’s South Indian food chain. There was even a map of Pondicherry’s French Quarters on the door of the restaurant that we went to. Josh was craving a Tamil Nadu-style ghee roast, since they’re more difficult to come by in Bangalore. I wanted a masala dosa, and we were both satisfied. Service was meh, but the air conditioning was super strong.

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You can’t see it, but the door of this Pondicherry South Indian food chain has a map of Pondicherry on it.

For date night: Le Dupleix on Casern Street. This restaurant/hotel is the restored house of a French general. His mini-biography is in the restaurant’s menu, and it’s pretty sad, actually — by the end of his life, he was professional and personal failure. However, some smart people did do some beautiful things with his Pondicherry home, so I suppose that all was not lost! The food is a mix of Indian and “continental.” We had the French onion soup (not beef brothy-enough), the tenderloin (very tender), and the pork chops (covered with pesto sauce — good for me, not good for Josh). The highlight was the decor and also the white guy playing a violin. We made a reservation that evening, so we got to sit indoors (with air conditioning) instead of outdoors (with mosquito coils).

Risk-Taking and the Entrepreneur

Posted in Essmart, India, Reading, Social Entrepreneurship, Start Up by Diana on May 25, 2016

At the end of my and Jackie’s Echoing Green New Fellows Retreat, all of us newly minted Fellows received gray shirts with large white boxes across the chest. Below the white box were the words “matters most.” We were then given permanent markers and were asked to pick a word (or words) to write into the box. _________ matters most.

What to write in the blank was difficult for me to decide upon, but ultimately, I wrote “relationships.” I even wrote it with the “s” at the end, despite the fact that I was knowingly being grammatically incorrect. Now, Jackie first wrote “people,” but after our group photo, she felt uncomfortable with her chosen word and fetched a new shirt. Then she wrote, in big, bold letters, “RISK.”

2013egfellowsEchoing Green Fellows, Class of 2013. Jackie and I are standing on the right.

Risk. You know, despite the fact that it looks like I’ve taken risky decisions throughout my life (taking time off school, pursuing a start-up, moving to India), I never felt like I was a risk-taker. I’m pretty run-of-the-mill, to be honest. And every decision I’ve made has been … calculated. To me, the potential payoffs of starting up in South India were always greater than the potential payoffs of not (not necessarily financially, but definitely otherwise). I’ve never felt like I’ve actually “sacrificed” to do anything I’ve done. My faith plays a role in this, too; I go where I believe I’m called, which is the least risky thing to do in the grand scheme of things.

It’s popular thinking to stereotype entrepreneurs and pioneers as avid fans of risk — you know, the guy or girl who likes to live on the edge, never knowing exactly what tomorrow will bring. But from my own experiences, I don’t really think that most entrepreneur are like this. In my recent read of Adam Grant’s Originals, he doesn’t seem to think so either. Here, he’s writing about an investment opportunity into Warby Parker (the online glasses retailer) that he actually turned down because the company’s founders decided to keep their day jobs while starting up:

When I compared the choices of the Warby Parker team to my mental model of the choices of successful entrepreneurs, they didn’t match. Neil and his colleagues lacked the guts to go in with their guns blazing, which led me to question their conviction and commitment. They weren’t serious about becoming successful entrepreneurs: They didn’t have enough skin in the game. In my mind, they were destined to fail because they played it safe instead of betting the farm. But in fact this is exactly why they succeed.

I want to debunk the myth that originality requires extreme risk taking and persuade you that originals are actually far more ordinary than we realize. In every domain, from business and politics to science and art, the people who move the world forward with original ideas are rarely paragons of conviction and commitment. As they question traditions and challenge the status quo, they may appear bold and self-assured on the surface. But when you peel back the layers, the truth is that they, too, grapple with fear, ambivalence, and self-doubt. We view them as self-starters, but their efforts are often fueled and sometimes forced by others. And as much as they seem to crave risk, they really prefer to avoid it.

– Adam Grant, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

Grant continues to write that creative people and successful entrepreneurs essentially manage a balanced risk portfolio. That ability to create something new can only come from a place of security. As Grant points out, Pierre Omidyar started eBay on the side while he was a computer programmer, and he didn’t leave his job until the online business was netting him more money than his then-current job. Bill Gates waited a year to drop out of Harvard, even though he had sold his software by that point. He just took a year off to test out the waters. And those Warby Parker founders were well aware that they didn’t want to put all of their eggs into one basket before knowing if the startup was actually going to work. Entrepreneurs aren’t risk maximizers are much as they are risk mitigators. By the time they decide to go full-time into their businesses, it feels much less like a leap of faith and much more like a calculated decision.

Likewise, if I had racked up large amounts of student loan debt, then by no means would I want to be an entrepreneur. But since I was debt-free, I was free to try something different without fear of digging myself into a hole. Additionally, I had a Fulbright at the time to help support my time in India (and to give me another practical reason to be there), and an Echoing Green fellowship the following year buoyed my income so that I could stay.

I’m thankful that someone has recognized that risk aversion and risk mitigation aren’t dirty words for entrepreneurs and leaders. The heroism that exists in entrepreneurship (and especially social entrepreneurship, since sometimes outsiders see social entrepreneurs as sacrificing a lot for little returns) is truly unfounded.

The Countdown

Posted in Essmart, Faith, India, Personal by Diana on May 23, 2016

After nearly four years of living and working in India, I’ll be heading back to the US (along with my husband) to start a new chapter as a PhD student at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Although I’ve been living the social enterprise start-up life, it has honestly been taking a toll. I have a lot to unpack from my experiences on the ground, but I require the space to do this in an analytical and unbiased way. Being an entrepreneur provides very little space to question the work that we do (because I’m perpetually projecting “We are awesome, give us money!”), but my research-oriented mind tends to be more critical. Of course, I still believe in Essmart’s mission and its operations, and I’ll still be involved to some degree and through research, but I need the renewed perspective and refreshment of taking a step back.

My husband and I have about two more months left in Bangalore. I’m already starting the countdown to our departure. One of my Echoing Green chaplains said that instead of sprinting to the finish line, I should consider taking a “cool down” instead. Honestly, that term just justifies what I’ve been feeling already. By the time I leave, all of my responsibilities have to be handed off to other people, and I should effectively be doing nothing.

Additionally, the chaplain mentioned that I should be intentional about honoring the years that I’ve spent here, which have been life-changing for me. The Lord has been incredibly faithful, providing an excellent home-away-from-home through a new family (through my husband and his), a church family, and my Essmart family. I’ve learned a ridiculous amount — how to lead in a style that suits me in professional and faith/church-related settings, how to open my life and home to more people in a way that’s sustainable, how to think more about business, how to cook a number of foods from scratch, and so much more. There is so much to honor, and there are so many people to honor. I cannot easily leave this place, and for this I am thankful.

Money Tips for Fulbrighters (or Any Americans Living) in India

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on January 10, 2014

For many Fulbrighters, one of the biggest question marks about making the move to India was around money — the best way to bring dollars into the country without paying exorbitant fees, whether or not to open an Indian bank account (and whether this is possible), the use of credit cards and debit cards, etc.

I was fortunate enough to get a few tips before I left the US for India, and after living abroad here for over 1.5 years, I’ve picked up a few more tips. Here goes:

  1. The Debit Card : Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. With a $0 minimum, a $0 monthly service fee, and unlimited worldwide ATM fee rebates, this checking account / debit card serves as the quickest way for me to bring cash into India from a US account directly through ATMs, which are easily found in urban India. I also learned that wires received into Schwab’s brokerage account, which is linked to the checking account,  aren’t charged and can be moved over freely into the checking account. This was great for receiving a Fulbright stipend. Beat that, BofA.
  2. The Credit Card: CapitalOne Venture. Most fine dining establishments and retailers will take American credit cards. This particular card is for the traveler because it does not charge foreign transaction fees. The first annual fee of $59 is waived. You earn 2 points for every dollar on all purchases, and these points can be used to erase past travel purchases (and it’s super easy to get these rebates, too). However, some folks might appreciate a card that’s linked directly to an airline for the perks (as in the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card), such as a large number of points gained from signing up for the card and access to travel lounges.
  3. A Local Bank Account: Do it — it’s worth the hassle and the paperwork. If you come as a Fulbrighter, you’ll have to register as a foreigner because of your Research visa. With that proof of residency (or even just a lease agreement), you’ll be able to open a bank account. You’ll want an Indian bank account to make online purchases and to transfer money between individuals. American credit cards won’t work on sites like redbus.in (for the buses) or IRCTC (for the trains) or any of the mobile phone recharging sites. When picking a bank, go for a private bank that has a lot of branches, such as Axis or HDFC. I opened my account at an Axis Bank branch that was located near a university with a large foreign student population. The staff was accustomed to handling foreigners, so it was fairly easy for me to get the account opened.
  4. Transferring Money Between US and Indian Accounts: ICICI Money2India. I actually just signed up for this service, but I’ve heard great things about it. When I initiate a transfer from a US bank to an Indian bank, I’m generally charged $30/transaction (again, thanks BofA). However, this service will charge me a lot less — around $2/transaction (or so I’ve been told — I’ve yet to try it!). Regarding the exchange rate: what you see when you initiate the transfer is what you get, which is important because the rupee fluctuates a lot.
  5. Traveler’s Checks: Don’t do it. Do people still actually use these things?
  6. Bringing USD for Exchange on Arrival: Don’t do it. Most companies, especially those at the airports where people typically make exchanges, will rip you off. The bank fees aren’t terrible, so use an ATM. It’s cheaper and more convenient, too.

Hopefully you’ll find these money tips useful! And for those who are wondering where my research is — that should be coming at some point soon.

I(de)AS

Posted in Fulbright, India by Diana on September 11, 2013

I(de)AS is a collection of thoughts, lessons, and quotations from anonymous members of the Indian Administrative Service (current, ex, and retired) and anonymous members of the academic and private sectors who work with them.

Each post comes from the Fulbright-Nehru research of Diana Jue.

The research took place in Bangalore, Karnataka, India during the academic year of 2012-2013. It was done in conjunction with the Centre for Contemporary Issues and IIM Bangalore’s Centre for Public Policy.

Read it here.

A Quick Thought: On Indian Democracy

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on December 29, 2012

This is a very quick thought, but I’m recalling one conversation that I had with a private real estate developer and another that I had with someone who was in the IAS but then quit to enter the private sector. They both had general comments on Indian democracy and its inability to direct the government toward decisions that would be “good” for the entire country.

In their eyes, politicians promise a lot of things to the people to chase the “vote banks,” and as a result, most policies here are envisioned for the short-term and cater to the bulk of the population. Now, most of the population is rural, agricultural, more or less illiterate, and opposed to change. They’re easily won over by promises (this I have seen through my other work in Tamil Nadu – families are still holding out for free LPG from a particular political party that’s been promising it for five years). The rural population isn’t as supportive of policies that support industry or the foreign investment that is required to spur the industrial sector here.

Ultimately, it is the people who are supposed to hold politicians accountable. The people are consumers of public services, and they pay with their votes. But if the public isn’t well-educated or informed about policies that would help them in the long-run, then there’s no one holding politicians accountable for these types of decisions that may hurt now but are beneficial for the country’s future.

Well, I’m not well-versed on Indian government or democracy, so I don’t know how much this weight this issue holds. Nor do I know where you’d begin to address this problem. I mean, how do encourage decision makers to have a long-term vision when they’re not held accountable for that long-term vision? Or, how can you translate the long-term into something that helps them win votes in the short-run?

Risk or Perceived Risk?

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on December 29, 2012

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is whether or not IAS officers actually face real risk. A few weeks back, after I brought up my ideas on risk to my research adviser, he asked me, “But what do they really have to fear?” And then I was talking with a retired businessman (amazingly, he led the Microsoft India initiative), and during our discussion about public administration, he brought up the same point. In his opinion, it’s not that officers have much to fear. They just think that they do.

I contrast this view with some of the officers I’ve been speaking with – particularly the one who did end up in trouble with his political bosses. Some, but not all, think that being an IAS is particularly difficult because of all of the watchdogs and the centralized, hierarchical structure that, in my understanding, seems to strip away true authority and space to act. For them, being an IAS officer is like running a marathon in shackles. The public might be demanding that they do something, but for some reason or another, they cannot.

Now, is there real risk involved in taking decisions, or is there just the perception of risk? How do I even figure this out? I think that a lot of things must go on without my or the public knowing about them. And if there is no real risk, then why do so many officers think that there is? Where does this understanding come from? And how have those officers who have “stood up for what they believe in” done so? Did they just have an above average amount of bravery, or did they see something that others didn’t see? Were they privy to information that others weren’t?

I want to believe that there’s real risk involved and that this risk can be mitigated by granting more authority through decentralization and by letting IAS officers innovate through their positions by implementing risk management. I want to believe that a system can be created in which officers can be rewarded for doing something (despite the outcome) and punished for doing nothing (the system currently works the other way around). If there is no real risk but rather the perception of risk, then the problem and solution become different. We then focus more on the leadership capabilities of individuals – their management skills, ability to see opportunities, self-initiative, and courage. Then, I think, the process of becoming part of the IAS needs to be changed significantly.

Refining the Research Methodology: Short-Term vs Long-Term (Structural) Interventions (aka What am I Actually Doing?)

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on December 19, 2012

Since my research project changed after I stepped foot in India, the methodology and even the outcome that we’re aiming for have been quite hazy to me. I know that our study has to do with public administration, decision-making, and leadership. I know that we’re trying to understand why certain IAS officers take more initiative than others. But then I’m also told that we’re supposed to look at case studies of “effective” public leaders. And then I’m told that we’re supposed to provide recommendations to reform the IAS.

That’s where the disconnect occurs. Sure, we can look at case studies. But in the end, a case study is a one-off example; a single “good” officer is not representative of 5,000 mediocre ones. Case studies are also highly dependent on the individual, and individuals are not replicable. Training would be the best intervention in this case, but this does not affect motives or incentives. This is more a research project on management and leadership, not on public administration.

If we’re proposing systematic reforms, then we must assume that IAS officers are more or less independent agents who make rational choices, usually based on selfish behavior (a totally fair assumption; this is what all economic theory is based on, minus the new behavioral stuff). It is not possible to propose reforms based on case studies. Thus, I do feel like the data collection methods for this project are not conducive to producing the desired conclusions.

However, if we break our project into two parts, then maybe we can be more productive and much more logically organized — at least, more organized in my head. That way, we can formulate two sets of recommendations.

The first set would be short-term interventions that are easily enactable within the current civil service. We can take lessons from the interviews we’ve been doing and from case studies we’ve been (kind of) looking at. I’m still learning, but I do believe that the keys to motivating leaders to take initiative involve mitigating his/her own perceived personal risk while keeping him/her accountable for the actions that he does and, more importantly, does not take. This combats both fear and laziness, which seem to be the big obstacles for officers. Thus, short-term interventions that will address these two major barriers to action could include:

  • Training officers how to communicate with superiors / manage external relationships. In the long-run, it’d be best if IAS officers didn’t have to care so much about this because their positions would be set up differently. But for the time being, this needs to be a skill that IAS officers have. The “successful” ones that we’ve talked with all explain that when they set out to get things done, they always work on getting their superiors onboard first. 
  • Communicating and instilling organizational goals with officers, their juniors, and their organization’s middle management. In theory, a well-defined organizational goal on paper will mitigate perceived risk and speed up the decision-making process, thus getting stuff done faster and more efficiently. However, I’m not sure whether this would actually work in practice. Goals on paper are not the same as a go-ahead from the higher-ups, especially within the current system.
  • Exposing high-level officers to their field’s international best practices and ethics. This was proposed to me by a successful real estate developer whom I chatted with yesterday. Public agencies are run by their leaders, and these leaders, in the current system, more or less set the organizational culture and direction. Thus, if the leaders aren’t up-to-date on best practices and don’t adhere to ethical conduct, then their juniors have nothing to look up to and are pretty much sunk.

The long-term structural interventions are many, many more, and they may face resistance from those within the IAS community (SK Das says this, not just me!). I’m still reading through his book, but he provides a lot of recommendations: decentralizing the service, separating policy creation from policy intervention, evaluating “success” based on results instead of process, systems of accountability for actions taken and not taken, space for innovation (which is relate to risk management; the goal is to seek maximum results instead of minimum risk-taking), lengthening tenure at a single post while emphasizing specialization over generalization, and many, many others that I am personally much more interested in than the short-term interventions.