Coworking Rules!

Posted: April 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

How I became a coworker and why I love it.

My recent story published by Swissinfo.ch (By the way, it is ‘coworking’ and not ‘co-working’ as I learned the hard way, after I got trolled by some of my coworkers!!)

Nearly half of the Swiss workforce are no longer be bound by location due to digital technology and the sharing economy. These trends have fueled a rise in coworking. I joined the bandwagon and here is why I ‘co-work’.

As an Indian journalist, I have been schooled in noisy newsrooms with excited fellow reporters and hovering editors. Even in my life outside of journalism, few offices were quiet, where reflection was genuinely valued. That’s not true with co-working spaces.

As any coworking evangelist will tell you, first and foremost such spaces are more about communities they host, than merely the physical space they inhabit. In such spaces, people work, together or individually, but often not for the same employer.

Coworking or hot-desking as it is sometimes called reportedly began in Berlin in the mid-1990s and took shape in San Francisco before becoming a global movement spreading around the world. Switzerland has also witnessed a mushrooming of coworking spaces as an alternative to traditional workplaces with the number now reaching about 100, up from 25 two years ago.  Predictably Geneva and Zurich have the greatest concentration, but interestingly there has been a surge in new spaces in suburban areas too, according to the association, Coworking Switzerland which represents nearly 80 such communities.

Finding the ‘space’

My journey into such a community began nearly two years ago in the midst of a career transition of sorts. It was also preceded by another solo journey. On a day long boat ride on the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar a few years ago, I had finished reading Susan Cain’s bestseller, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’. Cain questions the “new groupthink” that has come to emphasise collaboration and open offices. What people really need is a quiet place to actually think and work. In an earlier interview Cain says: “The way people, particularly introverts like to get work done is by focusing for chunks of time and getting into a psychological state called flow.” The book spoke to me.

When I found Work’N’share, a modern space, flooded with light and soft colors, I knew I had found my refuge. A big, open office – formerly a garage and an architect’s studio, close to the shores of Lake Geneva in the beautiful city of Lausanne – has coworkers from diverse fields doing their mostly ‘chosen’ day jobs. While there are about 100 enrolled people, on an average day there will be about 25 of us.

The community is an assorted mix, from entrepreneurs launching food and beer companies, to coders, geeks in tech, life sciences and a few marketing professionals. I have also had the pleasure of working alongside scientists and designers, making special friends along the way.

Window seat

I usually sit by the window. There is no fixed space really, but somehow it has come to be my spot whenever I am at the ‘office’. Of course, one can rent a desk, grow roots and become a resident. Or you could simply be a ‘nomad’, come as often as you want. You can even wander in once a month and just pay for the day, and perch yourself at one of the many spots at the tall tables. We even had a trader who worked standing.

The place is full of adults who give each other space, and are fluent with the codes of respectful, quiet working. It will be hard to find bickering colleagues here. The atmosphere is congenial, perhaps because we are not competing as some colleagues would. While it is ‘too quiet’ for some, it is a paradise for those like me in the business of writing, and others, among them coders and developers.

Take a break

Once in a while, you will hear squeals of laughter and a lot of French (Lausanne is in French-speaking Switzerland) in the coffee space. Workdays are punctuated with small conversations ranging from uncomfortable political conversations to sharing experiences on raising venture capital. Some might step out to stretch their legs, go for a smoke or simply take in the fresh air. Come midday, folks end up having lunch together, or go running by the lake. If it is a Friday, you can grab a beer with the gang, or even do Yoga midweek.

“I love the ambiance here with a lot of people working independently,” fellow coworker Arthur Veenhuys, who runs a company offering carpentry design for offices, told me. “They enjoy what they do and are happy to go to work. It’s also nice to be exposed to people in such a wide variety of fields, which helps me get out of my world of construction.”

Events are also held to connect like-minded professionals belonging to other coworking spaces and others who may be interested. Such spaces are becoming important urban conduits with potential for creativity and innovation, when people meet others outside their work context often resulting in unexpected collaborations. Registered as a non-profit association, Work‘N’Share has a model where the operation is sustainable through scale – the more coworkers the better. The community expands when others visit the space for  such events, my coworking colleagues explained.

A 2016 Deloitte Report, The Workplace of the Future found that one in four people in Switzerland currently works as a freelancer. Among the remaining, a third would prefer to become freelancers in a year. Deloitte predicts that in future, half of all Swiss employees “would be able to perform their jobs on a mobile basis”.

Karl Frank Meinzer, Head of Real Estate Services at Deloitte Switzerland told swissinfo.ch that there are three driving forces behind the growing global trend of co-working that also apply to Switzerland. “The transformation of the economy towards a service-oriented, knowledge-based economy and the growing importance of digital technology have led to increasing numbers of people that can work on a mobile basis, unrestricted by location,” Meinzer says. In addition, the rise of the sharing economy has increased the number of freelancers which has also boosted the demand for coworking spaces, he adds.

More productive

The report found that companies have come to recognise this trend. Flexible work arrangements can reduce costs, make more efficient use of space, and lead to more productive employees.

Meinzer suggests that companies can also expand their external networks and benefit from the knowledge of others by offering coworking spaces themselves.

The trend in Switzerland is maturing although not yet saturated and “is no longer an underground option for bloggers and programmers,” says Jenny Schäpper-Uster, president of Coworking Switzerland.

Coworking is also a privilege, provided you are not tied to an employer who needs you to be at a traditional office every day.

Distractions

And working from home is not always a good alternative since it can be lonely or distracting or both. “Those who find it lonely miss the social interaction and discipline of a workplace. It is also easier to set limits between work and private time,” Schäpper argues.

There are several factors coming together – sociological, cultural, and economic – that favour coworking. The future of work may have arrived already.

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929, in ‘A Room of One’s Own’. Woolf may well have been alluding to a modern day coworking space, albeit not only for women. I think she would have been happy.

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Going Solo

Posted: October 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

A friend describes it as “manic confidence”. But most people use unsure euphemisms such as “brave”. A few months ago, I ‘renounced’ a fairly well-paid UN gig in Geneva. There were several reasons, but none more powerful than the need to take complete control of my time and my life. I was unabashed in my enthusiasm for this decision.

It has been a few months, and my sense of optimism remains undiminished.

It seems that I was heading this direction for a while, but I was not really paying attention. A 13 hour boat journey on the Irrawaddy in December 2013, spurred a few dormant, radical ideas. I was reading this life-altering book called Quiet, that introduced me to myself. Apparently, I had not fully recognised that I am an introvert. And that I treasured working alone to tap into what I really wanted to do.

I turned 35 this year. And somehow that felt, extremely empowering and a great milestone to cross. I wanted to actively take steps to shape my life – and to make my life “simple and slow”.

I had worked as a freelancer when I first moved to Switzerland a few years ago. It was incredibly tough, and frustrating, since I had always worked as a full-time reporter till then. But those experiences actually emboldened me, for it seemed that I had already faced the worst side including finding gigs that were not sustainable and chasing people for paltry sums. This led me to maniacally pursue well-paid positions in other sectors. I sought them, and won.

But it turns out, that there are diminishing returns on money. It just did not matter after a point, how much I earned. I had hit middle-age, it was too comfortable, I could effectively not jog my brains, go to work and get paid. I had forgotten what it was to think.

I believe one of the toughest questions to answer, in life is – really – what is it that one wants to do. I took several months, (perhaps even years subconsciously), to articulate a well thought out, considered, deliberate response to this question.

By this stage, I knew what made me happy – a basic standard of living, some books, some food and solitude and most importantly the latitude to do what I wanted.

Being an immigrant imposes several limitations. But there are different, equally constraining limitations back home. So on balance it is pretty much the same. So this excuse was eliminated in my mind.

Years of facing unclear job prospects due to local language inadequacies, economies in recession, and a media industry in turmoil, had made me vulnerable, but it also taught me to live with uncertainty. Before I realised, there was a mental shift that had taken place – to be ok without the reassurances of a regular income. I believe, that was deeply liberating. Yes, there is insurance and pension to think about, but the challenge really is to define what you perceive as success – after cutting out noise such as position, power, business trips, big bucks and a professionally defined identity.

I quietly went about acquiring skills and getting another master’s degree, and working out of my comfort zone. In the process, gathered enough confidence and insights into how the world works outside of journalism. It was fascinating, but I was often guarded and watchful about what I was doing, despite meeting with reasonable success.

Soon I realized that I was not telling a story that I was meant to tell (not entirely clear yet what that exactly is!) I was not able to craft my work the way it interested me, the way I thought about the world and my role in it – with minimum middlemen and women, in some sense.

Given my multi-disciplinary interests and my inter-disciplinary academic background (which is such a burden in a world with strong disciplinary vocations, by the way) – I decided to go solo. It is alright to have diverse interests, it is alright to be bored working on only one thing, it is alright to be me. Quite simple actually, come to think of it. But it took several years in preparation to reach this point when I could kick the bucket and take flight.

I have not felt as alive as I have in these last few months – as I did, when I first started out eager to make a difference of sorts. It has been such a warm, humbling experience to accept limitations and yet work everyday as if there are no limitations.

I am fortunate to have a mobile profession, where all I need is motivation and an internet connection. I do not require tools, teams and machinery.

Another big part of this happiness is finding an amazingly quiet place to work. I feel like a citizen of the new world, by working alongside my “co-workers”. We are living this 21st century approach to life and work, that apparently first originated as a concept in San Francisco. Worknshare is one of the many co-working spaces here in Lausanne close to the lake in this beautiful city. I work alongside scientists of all stripes, developers, and others like me, who cannot be categorized into a box.

I read more, I write more. While I am concerned about money, I am peaceful. I have reclaimed myself to some extent. While the searching has stopped, the yearning has just begun.

A full circle?

Posted: February 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

Its been about a year or more, since I began working in public health. This post is to consolidate what I have gathered during this period.

To continue in the direction of my master’s research project on which I have blogged before, I was hoping to do more work in the area of natural resource governance. But that was not to be!

In parallel, I had also done several rounds of meeting people in WHO and public health related NGOs in Geneva. Health was not completely off the radar for me, in any case, since I had spent a good deal of time at The Graduate Institute in Geneva, trying to understand access to medicine issues – both trade and intellectual property aspects. I had also analysed the impact of the policies of the World Health Organization on the private sector, for a trade law firm I was working for.

Eventually, I sort of stumbled on an opportunity to work in the one of most neglected diseases in public health – tuberculosis.

I took the opportunity to learn more about a disease that kills more than 1.5 million people every year, or 3 people a minute, to be more precise. And India, has the highest burden of TB in the world.

I did not realise I would have to dig up deep into the reserves of my mind, going back to the days during my bachelors’ when I majored in microbiology, genetics and chemistry! I figured, life did come a full circle. Nervously, I poured over a basic epidemiology text book. Yes, I had to know what ‘smear-positive’ and ‘prevalence’ meant, but it was more than that. My work is less about the science itself, and more about locating the science or public health in a certain context: political, economic and legal.

It has been a great vantage point to see how public health campaigns are built, to understand the dynamics of health financing, to see how political processes can be shaped so that countries to sign up for commitments on public health, and to witness the over-arching debates on price, procurement and access to medicines.

It has been an interesting explorative process to engage with questions such as what would spur investments into R&D for drug-resistant TB, at a time when antimicrobial resistance is widespread? Or which is the best way to integrate TB into national public health systems, so that more patients are diagnosed and treated? Do the solutions to combat a curable disease, lie outside the realms of public health, such as urban planning and high level political choices such as universal health coverage? And importantly, why has the world failed in stopping the spread of a disease that has killed nearly 2 billion people over thousands of years? Or simply, why does HIV/AIDS get far more funding and attention, than TB? Complex questions all. A myriad of actors all over the world are trying to answer these challenges.

A part of my work, also involved converting scientific information and numbers in layman’s terms, while preserving accuracy and lucidity. In trying to do so, I was struck, for the first time, about the importance of design and communication in public health. It led me to a whole new science or art, if you wish, on how information can be structured. Fascinating!

This has surely given me invaluable perspective on why health is political, and more.

 

Gray, black, MONEY

Posted: February 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

Cannot believe that I have not posted since over a year. It also goes to show how exciting life has been in some ways during this period, in addition to my undisciplined blogging!

Let me pick up from where I left. Or at least try to. It is almost as if I have to write two simultaneous blogposts albeit on very different subjects.

In the fall of 2013, on winning a scholarship, I headed to London for a course in ‘Investigating Illicit Finance, Financial Secrecy and Asset Recovery’ organized by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and Tax Justice Network at the City University of London. In the week long program, a bunch of investigative journalists and researchers from many parts of the world, were thrown in together to get primed on all issues related to illicit financial flows, shell companies, and tax evasion. It was an honor to meet the pros and several high profile journalists, who were writing and investigating this issue for years now.

Around the same time, I started freelancing for the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation’s Swissinfo.ch which is based in Bern. (In the past, I had written on the subject intermittently for an Indian newspaper on similar issues.)

This was also the time when tax evasion in India was gathering even more traction than before. It has since become a huge political issue, reinforced by the global campaign to crackdown on illicit financial flows.

At that time, fresh from my research about mining in Eastern India, I was blazing with curiosity trying to connect the dots between abusive resource extraction, loss of revenues for governments and huge untaxed profits siphoned off to tax havens, only to be round-tripped back home as foreign direct investment.

This will continue to be an evolving issue. For now though, it seems that tax evaders are moving funds faster than the cops and campaigners engaged in the fight to beat economic crime.

Platforms like the G20 and the OECD have played their part and contributed to this movement gaining critical mass over the last few years. Organizations like the Tax Justice Network and Global Financial Integrity are at the forefront of this crusade.

It seems reducing tax evasion has the third most effective benefit per dollar spent in various development targets in the context of post 2015 agenda.

What makes it more fascinating for me, personally, is to be writing about this, from Switzerland – the center for low corporate taxation (like The Netherlands), a tax haven (losing its position to London, Singapore, Delaware, Florida among others), a heaven for commodity traders and bankers etc etc. (Check out ICIJ’s expansive investigation on HSBC ‘Swissleaks’)

I wish to write more about this stuff, but I do this in addition to my full-time job in public health in Geneva. More on that, in the following post.

I spent a better part of this year reporting, doing research and writing a paper on mining in Eastern India. The process of research is alienating and tiring, but at the same time exhilarating. At first it felt like I was in a vast desert. After much walking and thinking, getting lost, I eventually found myself at the foothills of a large mountain. Navigating the terrain, till one completed the journey, was trying to say the least. I make it sound so exciting and adventurous!

Wanted to put my thoughts here, for posterity and for beginners like me who find themselves conducting research.

Well, I think the only thing that keeps any researcher going, is the belief that one is thinking along the right lines. The challenge is always to see your work objectively, to critique it, as you go along and not be completely absorbed by it to the extent that you overlook obvious shortcomings. I am not sure I was completely detached in the whole process. While it is important to listen to yourself, it is also important to seek and ask for advice, while there is still time for it. One should not be too convinced and too sure of what they are doing. I am writing this in hindsight, but in reality, there was a constant pressure to meet deadlines, in order to complete the task efficiently and smoothly. There is no doubt that it is better to plan and divide the work consistently during the period of execution. May be because I am older, I cannot overwork myself in the last minute! More importantly, the process of writing itself is so beautiful, that one would not want to rush through it, even if it is something as dry as mining laws! I believe, the process of rewriting is even better.

To quickly lay out what the process of writing my master’s dissertation entailed, let me recap the last one year beginning June 2012. It began with understanding first, what would hold my interest for a year or more. Apart from interest, one also considered the feasibility of executing an idea, examining the constraints in terms of potential advisors, time and money to organize a field trip, in addition to what your schedule allows you to do.

I took this as an opportunity to understand what the Indian Constitution provides for in terms of protecting the environment. How did our laws evolve to protect the environment? It helped that the issue of illegal mining has been very current, so solutions to the problems are being forged even as we speak. As a journalist, it makes for a fascinating story to pursue, but as a researcher, it was difficult to keep up with the flow of information and fall back on already existing analysis on the subject.

There are two ways of approaching this. One is to first finish literature review and then do the fieldwork. And the other is to do literature review, before and after the fieldtrip. Well, the ideal thing is the former. But I believe, no amount of literature review can prepare you for fieldwork. So, in my view, it would perhaps be better if information gathered during fieldwork, prior to extensive literature review, guides subsequent research. What people tell you on the field, is irreplaceable, even in the face of a zillion journal articles.

There is a meta-narrative when one begins to pursue a subject. But there are so many layers and colors to the narrative, that it is impossible to put it all together in a linear fashion. It is only when the adrenaline rush of meeting people on the ground is over, and the countless pages of literature review is complete, that one can begin to assess the scope of what needs to be done.

Then there is a small matter of the theoretical framework! It is a big deal for an academic paper in the social sciences. Since I was not trained in political science for example, I did not give it as much importance as I should have. (My basic training was in the biological sciences and we approach things differently!). The idea is one employs theories relevant to the topic. A hypothesis is proposed and tested, to see if it holds good after taking your final data and findings into consideration. The theoretical framework, in other words, lays the foundations of your paper, based on which you construct your arguments and make a case.

The fieldwork is always difficult to organize. Establishing the actors in the problem and getting in touch with them is a big part. Seeking their time and convincing them to speak to you, is another. It was not easy to organize meetings while being in another country. However, in today’s world, one can easily identify potential sources pouring over the internet. These primary contacts lead you to others on the ground. My friends in journalism and my family, gave me important introductions and helped book tickets and manage logistics. When time is limited, one needs to execute the fieldwork as efficiently as possible. Truth be told, I had not fixed a single meeting a week before I was arriving for fieldwork, but had a broad idea about the people I would be meeting based on preliminary email exchanges. But eventually, people give you time, you organize stay and transport, things fall into place. Things go wrong, of course, but one some how manages to pick up documents, squeeze in one last meeting, and get on that damn flight home!

I also found it interesting, how enjoyable the process of listening to interviews was, when I got back. Ok! Not that much fun! But one looks at the issues differently, listening to them later. A big part of journalism was listening and talking to people. Loved going back to that. Never ceases to amaze me, how strangers can set aside time, and speak to you to tell their part of the story.

It was certainly painful to write and transcribe them, and then to fact check with interviewees. But it is vital aspect for establishing credibility. As an aside, it was also helpful to keep noting down findings and other insights as one went along, even though I was nowhere close to the end.

I must admit getting overwhelmed at the scope of the paper, when I began writing it. And realized the importance of narrowing down the terms of reference at the stage of research design. This was one of my biggest learning experiences during the process. Building the research design and defining the scope of the research, is done in negotiation with an advisor or  an organization one is doing the project for. But to be able to do this negotiation, it is important to know the terrain of your subject well.

Also, the point at which one must stop reading and start writing, is a difficult decision to make. But one way would be to write as you go along. So if your research can be compartmentalized into various parts, and if it is possible to write them separately, it is highly advisable to write soon after one has read enough about each part.

The findings are the most original part of the paper. One relies on instinct and interpretation as much as raw information. To make connections, across interviews, data and research is vital. This is a fulfilling process. In some cases, it reinforces your earlier assumptions about research and in others, you are humbled at the limitations of your understanding that you had at the beginning of the process.

It is indeed a celebratory moment, when a rough first draft is ready. For then you know the animal you are grappling with. Once a first draft is pinned, there is a great deal of rewriting and more research and more writing. So in total, one typically writes, almost twice the amount of the expected word length. I believe there are more efficient ways to do this, but I carry this practice from my days in journalism. Good research is a given, a necessity, but good writing can better communicate good research.

It is tiring and seems endless. It is a long haul and its best done consistently. I gave up writing on days it seemed impossible and stepped out to clear my head, or read stuff which was far away from my topic. I believe it was helpful.

Once it was done, there was a void for a while and I could not stand editing or looking at my paper one more time. After a few months, I have now got back to it and will try my best to get it published sooner than later!

Till then, so long.

Research on mining

Posted: March 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

Happy to report that I have  finished with classes in school. I would be lying if I said, I will not miss sitting in a class and engaging in it. Even reading a book can be political, someone said.  Being in a class, is not far behind. But all good things come to an end, and therefore, perhaps, there is progress. There just a small detail of writing a 100 page thesis, over the next few months!

I was away in India executing fieldwork for my research on mining. It was absolutely amazing to meet a whole gamut of people from bureaucrats, company folks, lawyers and  activists, who resignedly, painted the unfolding dynamics of the mining industry in Odisha, a state in Eastern India. As is typical of these stories, it’s a mineral rich region, with poor development indicators. There have been lots of investments, lots of violations with respect to the environment, authorities have dragged their feet to implement what are fairly decent provisions in law. Meanwhile, the plight of local communities has deteriorated, even as there is a split right through the middle, on whether industrialization as a result of mining is the preferred model of development in the agrarian state.

So I will be busy analysing the legal framework that entails unfettered investment in mining in the state and the resultant regulatory challenges. I need to come up with a report, sooner than I think it will be.

If you are interested in the subject, a good starting point would be ‘Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel’ by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das. I am yet to finish it, but struck by the link the book makes between the aluminium industry and dams!

The issue in Odisha and in 10 other Indian states, is not about mining per se. Its a whole set of factors intertwined to give rise to this hellish ecosystem where development means displacement of people and deterioration of the environment.

On another note, it is always a pleasure to go back home to India. One is hopeful and pessimistic at the same time. Hopeful because one did not get run over by errant drivers; and pessimistic, because even if one did, there would be little recourse to justice. There is truth and exaggeration in this depending on where you are standing.

I have come to become obsessed with being too deterministic about what law can do for us.

Risk Theory

Posted: October 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

Risk: a seemingly common word that pervades our lives. I spent all summer researching on risk theories, risk cultures and risk perceptions in India and China. During my internship with International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) I wrote up a paper on how Indians and Chinese perceive risk. What factors contribute to risk perception among people?

To describe my project briefly – factors such as trust, institutions, government policies, public participation, were examined. I was absorbed by sociological, anthropological explanations on the subject. From Mary Douglas to Ulrich Beck, to Ortwin Renn, all were fascinating to read.

I have never visited China, but in the course of my research, I was struck by how similar and yet different are the compulsions that Indians and Chinese face. The motivations of risk-takers and risk-givers are diverse and have a certain dynamic. There almost seems to be a supply and demand of risks – a point that I make in the paper. (The project is a work in progress, but would love to put it up when it is final.)

My research was categorized in different parts including perceptions of nuclear power, natural hazards, environmental disasters/choices, genetically modified crops, industrial accidents, health-related risks among others. I had to take a certain incident and deconstruct it, analysing the causes and effects and how risk perceptions were altered in the process. Risk cultures seem to be a function of both technology and time.

Coincidentally, tensions were hotting up at the nuclear power plant in Southern India, where the Indian government booked 8000 cases of sedition against protesting villagers. It culminated in the fall, with the death of a protestor. The case captures the confusion the government has created. The power plant operator has not made public entirely, environmental impact assessments, safety reports of the plant fuelling mistrust.

Over and over again, I found that public engagement was routinely neglected in both India and China. So when a technocratic state imposes its notions of say, energy security and independence on its people, it invariably leads to a flashpoint.

It also encapsulates the evolution of cultures. Is it culturally ingrained in certain countries to trust institutions, to trust science, to not question authority, to not demand the right to know? Whatever it is, things are changing and fast. The way risks are perceived, processed and disseminated, has got better, and some would argue, worse. Ulrich Beck, followed up on his Risk Society, with World At Risk. Both highly recommended readings. Amazing how inextricably linked, science, economics and sociology is.

I thought about complex decisions policymakers have to solve in the face of scientific uncertainty and risk, for example with respect to GMOs. Intuitive as life is, I was led to this brilliant paper, that elucidates, the distinction and scope between scientific uncertainty and risk – written by Jorge E. Viñuales. I have the great privilege of taking his class on International Environmental Law this semester at The Graduate Institute.

This brings me to the present. Diving into what seems like an exciting and hectic last leg of school till December 2012. Plunging deeper into law and development, specifically the ramifications of foreign investment on environment.

As always, the shores of the serene Lake Geneva give the much needed respite from all the course work, but my heart is away in India and all the exciting mess that is unravelling back home!

Health diplomacy

Posted: July 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

I am back again, after a long hiatus. Well, the months flew fast and I stopped gasping on how quickly half a year went by.

Lots to say, but in this post, I will just record one of my more serious engagements in the past few months. I happened to take a course on global public health, purely by chance, as is typical of courses you enjoy the most. It was not listed for my program and I spotted it by accident.

It was a superb introduction to the way health policies of countries get affected by trade. It took a few days to make connections between trade and its implications on health. You will find more on the course here. It was interesting to see  the differences in governance and motives of  the WTO and the WHO, and more importantly how they have repeatedly come together to address common issues of interest. The choices that nations have to make acceding crucial policy space in order to trade with the world, even as they struggle to protect public health concerns, was the crux of the discussions in class.

Only recently, this predicament was encapsulated in a superb piece of reporting by an old friend Adi Narayan, for Bloomberg Businessweek. So here is the deal: it has been reported that India is an epicentre for new superbugs – multidrug resistant bacteria. Not surprisingly, the government did not exactly come clear on this and in fact weighed down on a brilliant microbiologist who brought it to the world’s attention. Why? For fear of jeopardising the big ticket medical tourism industry in India. Read the Bloomberg story here: Drug-Defying Germs From India Speed Post-Antibiotic Era. This is a story that will scare you. I do not know what is more lethal, the new germ or India’s barely existent public health infrastructure.

Have put up my work for the course here, which essentially deals with how trade has impacted access to medicines: A presentation on how bilateral trade impacts access to medicines (Free Trade Agreements and how they subvert the flexibilities enshrined in the TRIPs agreement) a policy brief on how trade contributes to the spread of  non-communicable diseases and what countries must do and an analysis of the FTA negotiations between EU and India, and what it means to public health.

All of this, beautifully (if I can use the word) ties into what I am doing over the summer. Working on a paper on risk cultures and governance in emerging economies at the International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) on the EPFL campus in Lausanne.

Conflict & Development

Posted: March 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

Ever since school resumed last month, I was figuring out my schedule for the next few months during this semester. Now its sorted. A bunch of interesting classes this time. For starters, I have opted for the conflict and development track. It makes for some very fascinating and informed reading on the economic compulsions for war, for example. Aslo pouring over Red Sun by Sudeep Chakravarti on Maoism in India to accompany my learning about the interface between conflict and development. Suddenly becoming aware how conflict is intricately, inevitably linked with so many aspects of contemporary reality.

Reviewing a bunch of papers for an assignment examining the links between conflict and climate change. Most use econometric tools and analyses to arrive at conclusions. Thankfully I am also wrestling with economterics, so I read and understand this stuff as I go along.

The other course I am excited about is ‘corporate responsibility in transnational law’. There is a lot of discussion about Alien Torts Statute and questions about liabilities and whether companies should be treated as individuals. Will blog separately about it.

Interesting that all of this converges together. It amazes me that almost everything I read characterises what is happening back home in India. Here is Arundhati Roy’s latest essay in the Outlook that somehow ties it all together – Capitalism – a ghost story.

A senior journalist in New York (former WSJer, immigrant) I admire very much, once scoffed at me for being too fixated about India. This was when I had just left the country. I now see why he did that. I am now slowly beginning to make sense that whatever is unravelling in India is part of a much wider narrative and history. In some ways, none of it should be surprising. Rent-seeking behavior among elites and the by State has been happening for ages and has manifested around the world. The harder thing to understand is when and how all of this will reach a flashpoint? What will be a watershed moment?

The ‘I’ in Journalism

Posted: February 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

Nilanjana Roy on How to be a journalist.

This is an interesting perspective: whether journalists must remain invisible while producing their stories. Roy talks about how Katherine Boo’s work defies the general trend that ‘I’ is everywhere.  It is a good professional habit and culture to inculcate for long form reporting – to remain absent from your story.

I was just talking to a scientist friend of mine at the NIH, in D.C., about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. While the book is an astonishing effort in science journalism, one gets the feeling, that there is way too much stuff about the author in the book. Do we really need to know about the tribulations the author faced while writing the book?  (For sure, as a journalist, I liked to read about the way Skloot was persistent and the very real challenges she faced in getting the Lacks’ family to talk.) But for a regular reader, I don’t think it matters.

I have not read Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, but I take Roy’s word for it.