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Changing The Way Policy Research And Development Works: Meet Dr. Arunabha Ghosh

There is less visibility for the research work in the grass root unless it is translated into actions. We work with the people at the grass root level who are expert at that.

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Changing The Way Policy Research And Development Works: Meet Dr. Arunabha Ghosh

Dr. Arunabha Ghosh is one of the pioneers of independent research of international credibility and quality. In his career he has wore many hats  in areas of international relations, global governance and human development, climate, energy, water, trade and conflict. In his present capacity as the CEO for CEEW , an independent, policy research institution in India, he advises governments, industry and civil society around the world on energy and resources security; renewable energy policy; water governance and institutions;  climate governance (financing, R&D, geo-engineering); energy-trade-climate linkages; and international regime design.  

NGOBOX caught up with Dr. Gosh, to understand the finer nuances of the policy issues, the challenges for the think tanks and the current scenario of environment and sustainability. Here are some of the excerpts from the interview:

 

Think thanks are not very popular as compared to traditional NGOs and research is not the primary choice while working in the development sector. So what motivated you to take up research and start with a research institute like CEEW 

The journey began a little over more than 5 years ago. I was at that time a fellow at Princeton and had a joint position at Princeton and Oxford, where I was running a research program in climate change governance.

Essentially I don’t consider myself as climate change expert, though I am heading the country’s leading climate change think tank. I see it in a larger context where all my allied interests intersect. 

In my career I have gone through a range of different issues on which I have worked, from terrorism, extremism, issues of  indigenous people, issue of water and sustainability, conflicts associated with natural resources, international trade. Against this background, I wanted to do something for the country but two things worried me a little. One was that the integration of all these issues was not explicit. Most of the institutions working in this field only work on one issue in climate change. For example, there are institutions largely focused on energy and then dabble a little on climate change. I felt there a need to bring all this together and that’s how the idea of CEEW came into existence..

The other issues that worried me was that when working in the development sector, one is also expected to work on the ground. For example in environmental sectors, it translates in putting up solar panel, digging up wells. The short term solutions are easier for impact assessment. But while I was deeply inspired by the work that was happening on the ground, I felt that there was a gap between the grass root work and development policies made at the state level or the country level. This gap is the translation of policy into action and translation of action into more informed policy. And this is where I felt I can contribute effectively, with an independent institution which can provide quality, timely and independent research to the issues.

 

There are two aspects to research, it can be either result- oriented or it can be independent in terms of its agenda. How do you balance these two dichotomous objectives of research at CEEW? 

The independent position of CEEW allows us to develop our own research agenda and research plans based on what we think are important questions. These questions might or might not be on the agenda of the policy maker at that particular time. Therefore the independent position is important for research to not be just result oriented or to be answering only particular type of questions. We are developing new messages for new audiences. I also believe that independence can come only from within and then it translates into other aspects of work.

 

How does CEEW bridge the gap between the grass root problems and the policy making? Research work being not every popular or understandable to general public, how does it trickle down to the grass root? 

There is less visibility for the research work in the grass root unless it is translated into actions. We work with the people at the grass root level who are expert at that. And then, we also work with the people who actually develop the policy, i.e. the Government. We submit information and ideas from the ground to the policy makers.

We have initiated a new independent organization called CLEAN (Clean energy access network). There are a lot of social enterprises working on the ground in the sector of decentralized energy. So CLEAN is the network or industry association of the enterprises and organization. It provides policy advocacy, access to finance, skills and trainings, technology etc this network of organizations is working at the grass root. 

To action our research we have to work with local partners on the ground but our element is still analytical in a manner that it helps us scale up.

 

Can you give some examples as to how you are engaging at the grass-root level? Also, any specific ways, in which you are collaborating with the Sustainable Business organizations, especially in the context of the new CSR law? 

We are working in Meerut district, where there is both urban and rural population. We are trying to identify about a thousand traditional water bodies (ponds etc) from which people are drawing water. If these water bodies are not maintained properly or are not identified then probably we will have a shopping mall coming up on one traditional water body. It will affect the aquifers and the overall water sustainability of the larger town. Mostly the core town will grow with the structural development, benefiting the urban population. We are doing this in contact with a local NGO that has credibility on the ground, working in the villages. While we have the credibility of precision, data, measurement, mapping digitizing. 

With CLEAN (Clean energy access network) we work at the grass root level, as I mentioned before. It aims at creating a ecosystem approach and work with the sub sector of renewable energy, connecting all the stakeholders and value chain under one umbrella unit

 

How difficult is it to maintain the independent status of a research organization, especially when working very closely with different stake holders?

Independence comes from the credibility of our work. We have our own research plans, and have worked with different stakeholders; we don’t have any party affiliation. In development sector each stakeholder has a specific role. Our research papers are publicly available for free. Organizations working on the grass root and the government can use our research alike. Our job is only to develop evidence based research and be a facilitator for a more informed decision.

 

In the recent times there has been a lot of debate on climate change, are people finally taking environment seriously? What is your experience, especially in the Indian context?

Environment is woven into our civil society. From wildlife and nature preservation point of view, we have had movements like Chipko, conservation movements for protecting animals and wildlife. It might not be main stream but it has developed very strong roots. That environmentalism has spawned into two other kinds of environmentalism, the environmentalism of the rich and the environmentalism of the poor. For rich it is associated with the quality of life, air pollution, water quality etc. And the environmentalism of the poor consist all this and the access part of it. Appropriate management of land and resources, pricing of natural resources, displacement because of coming of large structure are some of the main issues under this kind of environmentalism. Each has different priorities and we have to find the balance and common ground between these two, and then finally try to address that. The convergence of these two is what is required.

 

What would be your word of advice for the start ups, think tanks and social entrepreneurs?

One should maintain their independent status, which is fundamental to any objective research.

 In doing so, you might have to limit the work, as one cannot do everything. I would emphasise on the building of the capacity. I would say that a great team is an asset. Think tanks are often seen as inverted triangles where one person’s ideologies and work is at the top. Capacity has to be built and think tanks should not be used to drive political agenda. There should be emphasis on institution building and not just one man show.  CEEW is an institution and it’s the work of the team that has helped CEEW reach this position. I hope that as a catalyst the work that we started will be taken ahead in future.  

 

 
Ashmeet Kaur (Team NGOBOX) Ashmeet Kaur (Team NGOBOX)
A feminist at heart and a vegetarian by choice, Ashmeet loves travelling and reading. With a bachelor’s degree in Literature from Delhi University and a Masters in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, she has experience of working and interning with different social organizations. Always found reading, she believes that stories have the power to change us. Through this segment, she wishes to capture and share some of the most inspiring stories.
 
 
 
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