BY ADYASHA MOHANTY
Adyasha Mohanty is a second-year international development student focusing on social policy and programs. She is from India and is passionate about finding solutions to urban challenges in the developing world.
The IDEV Summer Internship Series highlights the experiences of IDEV students participating in internships this past summer. Each year, IDEV students intern with various development organizations around the world. These internships are generously funded by SAIS donors, and offer valuable opportunities for students to gain real-world experience between their first and second years at SAIS.
Perspectives: Where did you intern this summer?
AM: The summer of 2019 took me back to my motherland India. While there, I was equipped with a professional opportunity and a renewed personal curiosity to learn about the complexities and developmental challenges faced by my own country. Working with Athena Infonomics in Chennai, I joined a team of social scientists who use various research methods and ICT tools to address pressing developmental challenges in sectors such as rural development, women’s empowerment, WASH, vocational training, and public finance.
Perspectives: How did you find this internship, and what was the hiring process?
AM: The International Development Program at SAIS is committed to helping students cross the gap between the classroom and valuable professional opportunities in development organizations. I discovered the opportunity at Athena thanks to the IDEV faculty. After developing solutions to a case study challenge posed by the client, for which I used both econometric analysis and my background in economics, I was invited to a phone interview which secured my three-month internship at Athena.
I recall enthusiastically meeting with Athena’s director Mr Vijay Bhalaki in Washington D.C. to discuss projects in the organization’s urban development practice several months before my internship officially began in Chennai. Mr Bhalaki is also an adjunct lecturer in the IDEV program and teaches a course in Public-Private Partnerships. He guided me from the very outset towards urban development research projects, which excited me not just professionally, but also personally.
Perspectives: Was there previous coursework or work experience that you found especially useful during the internship or the application process?
AM: Over the past few years, I have developed a strong academic interest in issues of urban development, and particularly, in those of urban transport and mobility. Coursework in classes such as Organization & Regulation of Infrastructure and Digital Development in Emerging Economies have helped me take a deeper dive into issues of urban mobility through the lenses of economic policy and technological innovation, respectively. Moreover, engaging in a class on Principles for Evaluation of Development Projects helped me understand the methodological choices that influence research design and data interpretation while designing an evaluation framework for a data-driven development project aimed at safer public transportation.
Perspectives: What were your primary responsibilities? Describe the projects you worked on.
AM: My work at Athena focused mainly on a project set at the nexus between urban mobility policy and children’s welfare. To this end, I conducted extensive literature reviews, discussed potential research roadmaps with the project managers and prepared case studies, as part of the discovery phase of the project. Additionally, I developed a comprehensive quantitative survey research instrument to support two larger projects looking at safer and more inclusive road infrastructure for schoolchildren in the proposed Smart Cities of India.
I found myself evaluating my own research approach from various lenses by interacting with urban planners, architecture and design experts, economists and experts in social inclusion – all of whom are part of the Athena cadre. In the process, I independently delivered knowledge transfer sessions to the entire team of the organization, receiving feedback and refining the scope of my research. This was indeed an excellent way to understand the dynamics of the development consulting industry, which requires one to be open-minded, creative, and display excellent communication skills.
Perspectives: What were some of your key takeaways from this internship for your academic and professional interests?
AM: Children’s mobility in the urban setup of India has recently begun to receive widespread policy attention. But much research is needed to implement a shift in transport planning models, build child-friendly environments, ensure successful cross-sector synergy with experts in health and education, and influence the pertinent law and enforcement mechanisms. Tackling such questions each day at work in Athena has only strengthened my interest in the governance and socioeconomic aspects of urban development in the developing world.
Perspectives: What should future SAIS students interested in this internship know?
AM: Future SAIS students who take up such an internship would see value in having clear learning expectations and goals, for which it is important to take initiative and ask questions.