BSc Philosophy & Economics
What made you apply for the Tata Social Internship scheme?
I tried to approach my choice of what to with my last summer before graduating (I was a third year when I applied) as logically as possible. What could I do with my last summer as a bona fide LSE student that I couldn’t do in the future? The Tata Social Internship really fulfilled this objective for me; rarely, if ever, do you get the chance to go to a country radically different from your own, but with a support structure like that offered by the scheme. Not only that, but for me it dovetailed nicely with my personal interests and (cliché I know) I happened to be reading Midnight’s Children when I applied so I was already pretty fascinated by India as a place.
What is your project about?
My project when I got to India was to evaluate an online financial literacy course. Financial literacy here is all the boring stuff that we take for granted when we interact in the banked economy everyday — how to open a bank account, how to read a tax return, what an interest rate is etc. The challenge for Tata Capital was to create something that would enable kids to learn an admittedly dry topic in a course that was easy to use and deliver. This course was called Dhan Gyan, aimed at children age about 10-17, and fulfilled a government initiative to increase financial literacy too.
What does your project involve you doing?
When they set up the course, they essentially found that there was demand from sectors outside the original intention, but that were in tension with the way the course was designed at the start. So, for example, it turned out lots of skilling institutes (like UK adult FE colleges) were using the course and wanted some offline content. This is great, but there are obvious costs to taking bits or even all the course offline. There were a bunch of other tensions like this, and my job was to think about how to try and resolve them. So, in essence, I was doing a feasibility study. Its worth mentioning a difference to some of the other projects was that this was pretty much all desk based.
What skills and knowledge are you using?
Since mine was a desk based project, doing a piece of analytical work I was using lots of skills that are quite standard in the workplace and LSE. My output was a report, so I was trying to clean up a dataset of users for quite a lot of the time and parse out conclusions from the numbers. Indian offices work much differently from UK ones in a bunch of ways, so you have to really learn how to communicate in a way that is appropriate for the audience. And by communicate here I don't mean language really but more things like its always better calling instead of emailing, things like that.
What did you enjoy most?
I found my favourite thing was the people. I was lucky (although I found that all the interns were “lucky” in different ways) in that I really got along with a couple of recent graduate trainees from the office. They introduced me to their friends and from there, I found myself at a bunch of birthday celebrations, Bollywood themed nights out and even a homecoming of sorts. Actually going through the process of meeting so many people, learning about the way things are done in a different country, different mannerisms and the like was a really fun experience. Of course, Indian hospitality is legendary and it really lives up to this stereotype for sure. And of course, when you mix this hospitality with some of the best food in the world, it makes for some fantastic meals!
What did you find most challenging?
For me the most challenging thing is difficult to articulate precisely. I initially found being in India frustrating. There is a lot of pollution, quite a lot of poverty (though with a burgeoning middle class, and extremely wealthy elite) and the systems are just very different from any Western country I was familiar with. What that meant in practice is learning to relax and let things take their time. In Hindi there’s a word, jugaad, which is like “finding a way through” or “making things happen” and that’s really what I had to force myself to learn. My conception of what an ‘official’ or a ‘good’ process I had to completely unlearn and realise that these processes and systems might look different from the Western outside perspective but actually they work pretty well. For example, the traffic is very loud (beeping is practically the national sport), there’s basically no concept of a ‘lane’ and if you let it, you would have road rage for the whole time. But once I realised that the beeping is just a way of letting other drivers know you’re there, that lanes don't really work with rickshaws on the roads, and that I’d never actually seen any accidents everything made more sense. I had to learn to relax and have faith that things will work themselves out by jugaad.
Anything surprise you about your time in India?
I was surprised by two things I shouldn’t have been. The first was how good the food was. I’d heard it was good, but even canteen style food that in the UK would be terrible was really so good. So many of the dishes you could literally have put on some nice crockery and sold for £20+ in a London restaurant. The other thing is the diversity within India. I wasn’t totally ignorant of the size and scale, of course. I had dimly assumed that the languages of India were dialects, maybe with differences based on religious or ethnic lines. So, I was surprised to learn that Marathi is a whole different language from Hindi, so that literally two interlocutors could not communicate with each other.
What did you learn/how does the internship fit with your future career plans/helped you think about the future?
After the internship, I knew I was going to start working for the government. I think that doing the Tata Internship has given me a different perspective on how you can positively impact the way that people’s lives go, without some of the constraints that being in Government rightfully imposes on spending money and working on services. It was also important for me to experience another culture “from within”, in order to gain some of the humility that comes from understanding and appreciating a different way of doing things. I hope that this will help me both professionally and personally in the future.