Giving and Receiving in India

When Duke students tackle rural poverty, knowledge is the key.
September 29, 2014

Under the stewardship of Anirudh Krishna, Sanford professor and associate dean of international academic programs, Duke’s educational outpost in Udaipur, India, has become a hub for research and experiential learning. This summer, Krishna launched the Summer School for Future International Development leaders, referred to in shorthand as the Internship in India program, a graduate program that combines coursework and fieldwork to address problems associated with poverty and inequality in rural villages.

“If you want to help those in poverty, you need to experience the hardships firsthand,” says Krishna, who also beta-tested the program in 2013 has led programs for Duke undergraduates in India. For the duration of the six- to ten-week program, each of the ten Duke students is paired with two students selected by the Indian Institute of Management Udaipur (IIMU), which co-manages the program. Students are based at the IIMU campus, where they take classes in development theory management, investigative tools and methods, poverty and health, and rural-urban migration. The student teams are assigned a village and a mentor from a non-governmental organization (NGO) who helps them identify a problem they would like to study while embedded in their village communities.

Krishna, who managed Indian Administrative Service programs related to rural and urban development for fourteen years, says he relishes the give-and-take fostered by the students’ work. “What has been heartening to me, personally, is to see some of what I wrote about disproved by my students,” he says. “They’re finding things I missed, and that’s very intellectually stimulating.”

One former student set out to research a topic Krishna knew well: the differences in quality of education in private schools and public schools in India. The result—that private schools are not inherently better— was later confirmed by two World Bank studies. “Twelve days of field work, two years of undergraduate work, and a year later, two large studies showed the same result!” he says, delighted.

Krishna says he looks for deeply curious students who are also able to withstand the 100-plus degree heat and difficult conditions of village life. He found an ideal candidate in Bahari Harris, an M.P.P./M.B.A. student pursuing a certificate in international development at Sanford. Harris says the experience taught him “that solutions and interventions must be conceived at a grassroots level and be combined with an effort to plant and grow locally based institutions in order to be sustainable.” His team was charged with developing an income-generating strategy for the women left behind when the male members of the family leave for migrant work.

“I had to rely on the knowledge of our academic and field mentors, and on the cultural coaching from my teammates, and the generosity of the Indian villagers,” he says. “Even out of their relatively minimal resources, they selflessly offered me whatever they had to give. It was humbling and heartening to be both a receiver and a giver.”

Krishna says there are plans to enhance Duke’s research presence in the area, as evidenced by the five faculty research collaborations between Duke and IIMU, and the Duke Semester in India program that will launch in Udaipur in 2015.

  • Louise Flynn is the associate editor at Duke Magazine.