Academics, Researchers & International Organisations

Dr. D. Dhanuraj, Chairman, Center for Public Policy Research, Kerala, on cross disciplinary studies, alternate career options for law graduates & starting your own Public Policy Think tank

Dr. D. Dhanuraj is a policy researcher and entrepreneur who is currently the Chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Research at Cochin, Kerala. He holds a Ph.D in Science & Humanities from Anna Univserity, Chennai. Dr. Dhanuraj started his career as a Research Associate in 2003. Over the years, he was promoted to Research Team Lead and Research Fellow. He has handled various social research projects and has extensively traveled across the country to manage projects of various kinds. He works in the fields of urbanisation, education, health, livelihood and law. He has worked with different state governments and international and national NGOs and corporate houses

 In this interview we speak to him about:
  • His experience in pursuing academia across the sciences and humanities.
  • His training as a Research Associate.
  • Consultancy work, think tanks and his experience in starting his very own public policy think tank.

 

Most of our readers are law students and young lawyers. How will you introduce yourself to them?

I am a policy researcher and entrepreneur who believes in the power of innovation and knowledge dissemination. I chair Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), a policy Think Tank operating from Cochin, Kerala. I strongly believe in popularizing Research & Development labs of public policy among the general public.

 

You have a Masters in P hysics and Political Science, a Diploma in International Business and a Doctorate in Philosophy. Tell us about your journey through the various universities and training experiences in India and abroad.

I was a young fellow in the Indian Institute of Science from 1997 to 2000. The exposure and interactions in IISc had a tremendous influence on my career. After completing my Masters in Physics, I opted for an IT job. After spending eight months in that company, I resigned and took admission in the Madras Christian College to pursue an M.A. in Political Science, as I felt I could contribute more to social development outside the glass cabins. Right from my IISc days, I started understanding political systems and how decisions taken by the Government impact millions. At times, I used to wonder how they arrived at these decisions and who took such decisions. Then I understood the fallacy of democratic processes in India and how non-representative the system was. These thoughts encouraged me to inspire a motivated group of my friends from college to set up CPPR in 2004. Subsequently, all of our efforts were dedicated to understanding how the Governance system worked and how public policies were deliberated, debated and delineated in this country. We had the opportunity to travel across India and abroad and undergo training provided by experts in the field. In India, we collaborated with leading Think Tanks while in the USA and Germany, I was trained in think tank management and public policy discourse. Such experiences gave us more exposure and opened our eyes to reality. Of course, having an academic background of interdisciplinary learning at different places helped a lot in understanding the real time issues of the public around. It helped in analysing theories and identifying philosophies with practitioners. It has also helped to build better research methodologies.

 

One of your early experiences includes working at the Center for Civil Society for a year, as a Research Associate. What was that like?

CCS helped a lot in the beginning of my career. They were very flexible in the work arrangement. We were given a lot of space to exercise our own discretion and work however we felt comfortable. I worked as a research associate for about eighteen months and traveled across the country extensively.  In the beginning, we planned a working paper series on the ‘Community Management of Natural Resources’. The highlights were the Study on the Olavanna Water Distribution model, a study on community management of fishery resources in Pulicat lake, etc. I have also dealt with subjects like Forestry Management, Uneconomic Schools of Kerala, 1957 Education Bill of Kerala, etc. Overall, it helped me to understand the philosophy of policy making, how to conduct policy research, how to interact with Government institutions, etc. These were very important lessons at the outset of a career in policy research.

 

The Center for Public Policy Research (CPPR) was formed in 2004 by individuals who believed in the Freedom of Expression, Rule of Law and Right to Livelihood. Tell us something about the nature of your work, the kind of people you came across, etc.

Our group was passionate about research and how it could influence public policy making. It was in this back ground that we set up CPPR in 2004. At the same time, we believed that decent careers were possible for researchers. By conducting research, researchers not only contribute to academics but also help and facilitate communities solving the issues and problems they face. The ability and skill to understand the world around you is a crucial parameter for a successful researcher cum public policy expert in this domain. We do carry out research, conduct surveys, publish papers, and write articles, host seminars and workshops. We have worked for different Government departments and institutions, academic institutions, civil society organizations, corporate houses etc. in the last nine years. I had the opportunity to work with a wide spectrum of personnel starting right from homeless people on the streets to the ministers in the cabinet.

 

It is a position that carries tremendous responsibility and requires a lot of effort. What are the major challenges that you have faced at work? Have there been any hindrances in work by people or organizations who disagree with your view of equality and equity?

The challenges are at two levels; one is at the academic level of involvement and the other one is at the administrative level of the organization.

At the academic level:

Only in recent times have public policy dialogues and research gained understanding and acceptance at the Governmental level. It was mostly the media that worked on the forefront of public policy debates outside the Government in this country for many decades. Otherwise it was handled by bureaucrats. With a liberalized economy, the flow of information is unparalleled and it has helped to set a background for public policy researchers. Even then, the centralized planning and the rigid systems in the political party functioning, are challenges to the policy makers. In India, the conservative outlook towards private agencies and individuals getting involved in governance is another challenge. The delays and the lack of transparency in the decision making process at the level of the government is yet another challenge. To find the right kind of wavelength with the policy community is another challenge as it is still a small traction to work with.

At the organizational level:

The entrepreneurial challenges are at the forefront. To find like-minded groups and individuals to support our efforts is a challenge. To find the right kind of a team ‘fit’ for the projects is another difficult task. To find the market demand, funders and investors are yet other challenges. To coordinate and find solutions for both, administrative and academic challenges demands a collective action from the team. Luckily, I have a very enterprising team working with me.

 

You are also the Managing Director at Civitas Consultancies Pvt. Ltd. Tell us something about the nature of your work there.

In Civitas, we do consultancy work in three different areas; urban, legal and market advisory. We have a team of consultants working with clients in all of the aforementioned areas, offering the most market friendly solutions. Innovation and ideation are the buzz words in Civitas.

 

You’ve worked very closely with the government at different levels and NGOs in addition to corporate houses. How did you adapt to different work environments?

It is really challenging at times. We are researchers and how good you are at presenting your findings is the key. We believe in focus studies and primary research. We demonstrate the causal factors for each social issue. We argue to the extent of challenging conventional wisdom and regular practices. All of this needs to be done in a very simple way so as to enable the audience to understand easily. We also use the technique of two way interaction while presenting the facts and figures.

The biggest challenge is when we work with the Government. Frequent transfers of the officers and political inaction can cause delay and sometimes will kill the initiative. Sometimes, the change agents will be one or two in a system. So the success depends a lot on how powerful they are. Unfortunately in India, doing business with the government is very difficult, irrespective of what the sector is.

 

Do you think this is an area which holds opportunities for law graduates, seeing that it deals with rights, duties, rules, freedoms and equality?

A law graduate can do a lot and there are many opportunities. One can look at their neighbourhood and understand how flawed our system is. Many laws are redundant or obsolete. Millions are suffering because of this lack of vibrancy in law making. Law graduates can start on their own. They can assist the local municipal councilor to MPs in the legislative businesses. They can help the poor by advocating for their rights and duties. In fact, there is no avenue in governance where a law graduate can be ignored.

 

You are also an avid blogger at MindTEXT, where you deal with issues of social and political relevance. How do you balance your hectic schedule? Is blogging something that helps you relax after a long, busy day?

I like observing different ecosystems. I try to understand the different rules and regulations and various types of players in these ecosystems. Then I try to understand how one ecosystem interacts with the other ecosystems. How do each one of them react to various situations? Once I have a clear picture, I share my thoughts on them by writing in MindTEXT. It is so natural to me to express random thoughts.

 

What are your hobbies apart from writing?

I like to read and watch sports, games.

 

With the diversity of career options evolving, what would be your advice to current law school students and graduates?

There is no dearth of opportunities in this country. In fact, the country needs millions of law graduates. Each one of you can be a specialist while being sensitive to the society around you. It will be an interesting journey if one finds the root cause of social problems. A law graduate can contribute immensely to find solutions to these social issues.

Observe and understand the society first before opting for legal interpretations. Laws are evolving and subject to change. It is important to understand how the society responds to the existing laws and how legal systems respond to the changing times. Emphasis shall be given to reading and debating on the changing times.

 

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