I am currently an MPP student at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government, concentrating in political and economic development. This summer I will be working on the TIGR2ESS Project (Transforming India’s Green Revolution by Research and Empowerment for Sustainable food Supplies), run through the University of Cambridge’s Global Food Security research center. This blog and internship project were made possible by the generous support of the Women and Public Policy Program’s Cultural Bridge Fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School.
The entire TIGR2ESS project endeavors to develop and strengthen alliances across a network of UK and Indian experts in crop science, hydrology, social science and policy, creating a two-way knowledge exchange partnership. For my internship, I will be working with Dr. Shailaja Fennell (Centre of Development Studies at University of Cambridge) on one of the six TIGR2ESS flagship projects that she leads. This project employs the framework of education, employment, and female empowerment and entrepreneurship (4E) to analyze how sustainable agriculture can improve wellbeing in rural and urban communities across India, with a specific focus on women’s livelihoods and workforce participation. To assess the impact of TIGR2ESS’ interventions, the project will design and pilot innovative intervention models in Maharashtra, Odisha, and Uttarakhand. The goal of these intervention models will be to understand how sustainable agriculture extends beyond crop yields to improve Indian communities’ food security, nutrition, health, and livelihoods. In turn, these interventions will help the larger project define a theory of change for sustainable agriculture in India that promotes economic growth, productivity, and sustainable environmental outcomes.
I am passionate about improving gender equality in the development space, and the TIGR2ESS internship will provide me with an excellent opportunity to work on issues focused on closing gender gaps in rural areas throughout India.
Previous studies have shown that in rural India, men tend to dominate decisions over resources, farming practices, and how women spend their work and leisure time. Throughout India, 85 percent of rural women depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but only 13 percent own land, and many are denied institutional support from banks, insurance, and government departments.
“We have been doing farming for ages. My mother in law did it, I am doing it, my daughter and daughter-in-law will do it. But what we need and will cherish is an identity of our own.”Bholi Devi, Harpur Village, Bihar
The TIGR2ESS Project is specifically focused on promoting gender equality by providing female smallholder farmers with smart technologies to increase crop yields and improve women’s health and nutrition. The project also aims to increase female empowerment and entrepreneurship by providing women with knowledge on basic business strategies (including accounting, financial book-keeping, marketing, etc.) to encourage female entrepreneurship and autonomy in decision-making.
One pivotal component of this research will involve asking women in these communities to complete “time use diaries” in order to analyze how TIGR2ESS interventions impact women’s overall working lives. Specifically, we will ask: do additional resources and smart technologies that allow women to participate in work that improves crop yields or livelihoods lead women to simply increase the length of their workday to perform this new work in addition to existing household duties, or do they lead to household work to be more equally distributed to men? Time use diaries will provide more detailed information on how the project’s interventions impact gender disparities than simple surveys would be able to provide.
The project also incorporates the use of mobile teaching kitchens that allow women to lead their communities in combatting malnutrition and improving overall health. One study found that, given financial support and choice in crop selection, women farmers preferred crops that would contribute to household dietary diversity and promote food and nutrition security, whereas men were more likely to use the farmland for cash crops. This project will ensure that state resources and services, and knowledge resources, are equally accessible to women farmers.
I believe that my past work on gender-focused issues will help inform my approach to incorporating a gender lens throughout this project. Most recently, I have been working at the development-focused startup Thrively Health (based at the Harvard Innovation Lab) that addresses barriers to maternal and newborn healthcare for Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand. Thrively uses an AI-augmented chatbot application to help women identify symptoms and warning signs in the postpartum period, providing short vignettes to clarify common questions women have asked in the past, and allowing the user to ask additional questions. The application provides women with access to information about the closest local clinic and how to receive coverage and care at that clinic.
During my work at the economic and healthcare consulting firm Charles River Associates, multiple projects have focused specifically on disparities in health outcomes for women in different disease areas and geographical areas. For example, I worked on one year-long research project to investigate the socioeconomic impact of multiple sclerosis (MS) on women in Europe, including sensitive questions to determine the impact of disease progression on women’s employment, relationship status, mental health, and quality of life. I worked on an additional project to conduct interviews with women assessing the impact that severe postpartum depression has on their day-to-day lives and the social stigma surrounding seeking treatment.
I hope to use my past experience on gender-focused issues to better inform my work on designing the TIGR2ESS interventions, in order to empower female farmers to fight malnutrition and lead their communities in entrepreneurial initiatives.