Home

Working Toward Socioeconomic Change

Simi Mehta, a Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Fellow and CEO of Nexus Incubator-trained IMPRI, talks about her think tank and its work on the management of homeless shelters in New Delhi.


Given the large number of homeless people in cities like New Delhi, efficient management of permanent and temporary shelter homes is imperative. A New Delhi-based think tank, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), has conducted an audit of the city’s shelter homes and provided suggestions to the Government of NCT [National Capital Territory] of Delhi to improve the management of these shelter homes. IMPRI, which has received training at the Nexus Incubator start-up hub at the American Center New Delhi, seeks to create socioeconomic and political impact through research, focusing on critical development issues like homelessness, affordable housing, water and sanitation, education, nutrition and gender justice.

The chief executive officer and editorial director of the institute is Simi Mehta. As part of her Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research Fellowship in 2015-16, Mehta was affiliated with Ohio State University, where she worked on U.S.-India agricultural cooperation, with a focus on food security.

Excerpts from an interview.

 

How did you become interested in working on socioeconomic transformations in India?
I have had a humble upbringing and have known what lack means. Encouraged and motivated by highly-educated parents, I committed myself to excelling in academics and, thereafter, using my training to pursue evidence-based research for solving socioeconomic, political and environmental challenges in India. I interned with UN Women, New Delhi, in 2013, where I received training to pursue my passion to promote a positive and egalitarian community, with a focus on empowering women and girls and creating leaders who are bold, determined and committed to achieve socioeconomic and political emancipation. I have also been engaged with civil society movements for access to better health, education and vocation for the unprivileged and underprivileged.

Please tell us a bit about IMPRI and its work.
Having committed to the cause of creating socioeconomic, political and environmental impact through research, Arjun Kumar and I established IMPRI as an ethical, independent and non-partisan think tank. I am the CEO and I also lead the editorial division of IMPRI. We were privileged to be selected as the South Asia representative of the South Asia Connect entrepreneurs training program at Nexus at American Center New Delhi. From this cohort, we were selected for the Nexus pre-incubation program for two months.

At IMPRI, we engage in research, monitoring and evaluation, and impact assessment. We specialize in qualitative and quantitative analysis. These are sought to be attained by strengthening analytical frameworks for actionable solutions by pursuing three types of activities.

Building dynamic evidence: Through cutting-edge research, evidence-based impact assessment, monitoring and evaluation, and advocacy.

Deepening public debate: By leveraging its research, IMPRI facilitates the engagement of an informed citizenry with academia, industry and the government through seminars, workshops, conferences, lectures and media presence.

Catalyzing transparent and accountable governance: IMPRI collaborates with the government, academic and research institutions, NGOs, businesses and the civil society for research and advocacy for transparent and accountable governance.

IMPRI moves beyond just fact-finding, into recommendations to influence policy at all levels of government. We communicate with both expert audiences and the public through peer-reviewed research and pieces in the general media. Our core strength lies in the network of diverse and credible research professionals from different fields with a commitment to provide cost-effective and high-quality analysis.

Could you tell us about your work on the management of homeless shelters in New Delhi?
Working for the homeless citizens has been on our priority list, as we believe in the right to a dignified and respectful life for all. We were engaged by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board of the Government of NCT of Delhi as the third-party inspection agency for overseeing the implementation of contractual obligations of works of operation and management of night shelter clusters in NCR [National Capital Region] of Delhi. We submitted the report on the request of the chief secretary of Delhi.

In New Delhi, there are 220 night shelters. As part of our assignment, we created an exhaustive questionnaire and carried out daily inspection of these shelters run by NGOs, called shelter management agencies. Some of the dimensions that we considered were: manpower requirements, maintenance of records, water, sanitation, hygiene and cleanliness, equipment and fittings, retiring facilities, safety and security. This was done for all the 220 night shelters for children, persons with disabilities, drug addicts, families, women and recovery shelters.

Apart from New Delhi, we are also involved in the audit of night shelters in 15 districts of Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

I firmly believe that independent monitoring and evaluation of sensitive issues of public importance must continue. In the wake of the human and economic toll presented by COVID-19, it becomes even more important because the lives of millions of homeless in the country are at the mercy of public health and other rescue packages.

How was your experience as a Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Fellow in 2015-16? How did your studies in the United States inform and influence your current work?
I believe that the Fulbright Fellowship was a turning point in my career. I received invitations from six universities, and I selected the Ohio State University at Columbus as my host institution. Interviews with American and Indian experts and specialists from the field of agriculture, conducted as part of the field work, was indispensable for adding value to my work. Discussions with Ambassador Richard F. Celeste (former U.S. Ambassador to India), Ted Celeste (former Governor of Ohio), David Speilman at the International Food Policy Research Institute headquarters, Professor Bill Smith and Romuald Afatchao (University of Idaho) and subject experts at Ohio State University and University of South Florida St. Petersburg provided an immeasurable depth of experience that enabled the completion of my Ph.D.

I am still in touch with many of these experts and, as required, I continue to seek their suggestions and advice. I must emphasize that they continue to be responsive and appreciative of my work. This is truly heartening.

 

Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.