The story so far...

This is my first ever blog, and what better place to start writing it than in OR2K, an Israeli restaurant in Kathmandu, Nepal. The food here is great, and comes highly recommended. All the tables are low (ideal for slouching), and there is a wide open window at the back which gives the illusion of clean air, away from the dirty streets of Thamel, the tourist hub of Kathmandu. (The streets are even dirtier elsewhere in the city.)

As I indulge in a plate of shakshuka (eggs cooked in tomato sauce), I'll start with my itinerary so far.

5th July: arrived in Bombay!

7th July - 28th August: internship at Tata Steel, Jamshedpur, Jharkhand as part of the Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (TISES) 2009

5th - 6th September: couchsurfing in Chennai, Tamil Nadu

7th - 22nd September: volunteering at Sadhana Forest, Auroville nr Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu

24th September: crossed the India-Nepal border... just in time!

25th September - present: Kathmandu, Nepal - including Jazzmandu Festival (8th - 14th October)

Sunday, 4 October 2009

What is TISES?

Here’s some info on the scheme that brought me to India. I hope it’s not too dry. I promise the next post will be juicier (with photos)!

The Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (TISES) is an internship programme organised between Tata Group and (presently) two universities, the University of Cambridge, UK and the University of California, Berkeley, USA. That’s the ‘International’ part; the ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ part refers to the subject matter of the internships: Tata’s ‘corporate sustainability’ projects, i.e. its work with local communities.

I was one of five students selected from Cambridge and was posted to work at Tata Steel in Jamshedpur, an industrial city in Jharkhand, one of the poorest states in India (until August 2000, it was part of Bihar, the poorest and (reputedly) most lawless state).

My project was an impact assessment of a four year agricultural project, a series of interventions across 16 villages in the Sareikela-Kharsawan District. The interventions included:

  1. Installing irrigation and water harvesting structures;
  2. Providing agricultural training and other capacity building – such as the use of high yielding seeds, more productive cultivation methods, and other income generating activities (e.g. livestock, fish, etc.);
  3. Establishing village-level institutions to oversee the new developments and maintain dialogue between TSRDS and the village communities; and
  4. Environmental projects – such as plantation of wasteland areas and the provision of renewable energy sources (solar panels and biofuel).

In short, the project aimed at stabilising agriculture across the year (reducing rainfall-dependence), increasing productivity, diversifying rural income generating activities, and ensuring personal, economic and environmental sustainability.

The experience was a first for me in many ways. It was my first time:

  • in India
  • in a developing country
  • doing field-based research (collecting personal information… from Indian farmers… who do not speak English… and then trying to analyse that data… was a steep learning curve!)
  • doing anything vaguely scientific or numerate
  • studying agricultural development
  • writing a scientific-ish report and presenting it in a seminar…

But, despite - or, rather, because of - that, it was an amazing experience.

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