An Engineer Experimenting in the Social Sector

A loud cheer and generous applause expanded the space of the college auditorium as the last speaker made her way down from the podium soon after finishing the speech with the words “The future of India is in your hands, be prepared.” It marked the end of a two-day Trilingual National Debate Competition but perhaps, for me, the beginning of a new journey ahead, holding blurred dreams, bold aspirations, and high hope.

Having attended many debate competitions and listened to a diverse set of speakers on social-economic issues has always imbibed me with a sense of curiosity to unravel the ground realities. It was my last year of Engineering, and I felt this curiosity had deepened with time. Holding it strong, I joined student organizations that were working in the social sector. Being part of these student organizations provided the opportunity to observe some of the ground-level problems. A visit to the slum area left me with a huge impact, and I was shocked to see the other side of the world. In some instances, one experience can altogether give a new direction to life, and for me, it was this visit.

When my Engineering degree was closer to the end, I had firmly decided to make the transition to Social Science and got filled with a great passion for working in the social sector. It was a few months before completing my graduation when I applied for a fellowship program that sends fellows in rural India for contributing at the grass-root level. Reaching into the last round but not making it in the final list grossed me to self-reflect upon my entire interview that was quite detailed and taken by a panel of six. A thorough analysis suggested that what I possessed at the end of my graduation was the passion, interest, and motivation to work in the social sector but is that sufficient? Perhaps not!

An impactful career in the social sector is propelled by a specific skill set, detailed understanding, critical thinking, and empathetic engagement. Passion and motivation solely can not work unless supported by the correct knowledge base, and I was fortunate enough to perceive this early. Rather than directly jumping into the social sector, I invested considerable time to figure out different opportunities that can support to acquire the knowledge base of this field and finally decided to pursue MA in Development.

The decision to shift my career trajectory was not an easy one but rewarding and fulfilling in terms of deciding what I absolutely want to do, setting the goals, and making the best efforts to achieve them. The course MA in Development aided me in multiple aspects of understanding the social sector and introduced new perspectives of approaching it. I support vast levels of inquiry and experimentation in this discipline that can head us to new concepts, innovative ideas, and evidence-based theories. These should act as guiding principles for actions in development practice. Social sector space is a Science Laboratory where permutation-combination with the existing knowledge can invent something extraordinary, but the only question is: are you ready to experiment?

Aman carefully balancing a 12-foot-long bamboo stick on his finger.
Learning the art of bamboo balancing during my visit for a scoping study on an Eco-Tourism Project in Tamil Nadu.

Aman is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with IFMR Lead in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. For his fellowship project, he is piloting an initiative to institutionalize and scale up tested approaches to gender integration and transformation using women’s federations under the National Rural Livelihood Mission and State Livelihood Missions. Aman is a recent postgraduate with a Master’s in Development. He holds an undergraduate degree in Engineering and has six months of work experience in the corporate sector. “How will an ideal society that we dream of look like and what would it take to build that society?” has been an unsettling question for him for years and a driving force for him to make the transition from Engineering to Social Science. He has the experience of carrying out research studies in semi-urban and rural settings, which supported him in understanding the challenges faced by different marginalized social groups. It also encouraged him to brainstorm about the ground-level complexities of the social sector. He conducted a research study about “(de)coding human development through the use of technology in a digital village” in the first digital village of Haryana. It was an attempt to establish an inter-linkage between technological intervention and human development components and how social interactions take place in an information society. The outcome of the research study emphasized on the need to “localize the digitalization” and to move from “service delivery to sustainable deliverable.” Aman enjoys working in a multidisciplinary, cross-functional environment where he can execute a multi-pronged strategy to solve a problem. He is often excited by the use of empirical methods to address social problems. His special interest lies in preparing the socio-economic analysis of development interventions. In his free time, he likes exploring the realm of experimental and non-experimental research methods for program evaluation of development interventions. He considers the AIF Clinton Fellowship opportunity as a training ground to explore, experiment, and test whatever he has studied in books and theories about the development sector.

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