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A Robust Research Experience and An Opening to Higher Possibilities

Shweta Singh elaborates on how her journey as a Research Fellow at the CSIP was positive and inspiring, even amid a global pandemic

A friend in the social sector told me about the CSIP Research Fellowship. It was almost immediately after the first wave of COVID-19, and good opportunities were rarely present in academic research. I was still reluctant to apply as it appeared too good to be true. If it was true, it had to be too competitive to get through. But with some push from my friend, I applied within the deadline.

To my surprise, I was on their shortlist. Now, I had to write a more detailed proposal. I scoured through a lot of literature on philanthropy and fine-tuned my idea. I had already chosen Family Firm Philanthropy in my initial proposal. I proposed to study it in Uttar Pradesh through in-depth interviews of promoters of 30 leading family businesses (Yes, I did realise later that 30 was an unrealistic number given the type of respondents I needed and the time I had at hand!).

I still remember being elated on seeing the mail of selection late at night on my phone. I communicated my acceptance at that very instant. It was 1 AM, but I did not want to wait till morning.

The formal onboarding began with a one-on-one call with Dr Lina Sonne. She was the Interim Research Director at CSIP at that time. Her designation and credentials were intimidating, but she was warm and friendly. She could put anyone at ease—even over a Zoom call. The same held true for other CSIP team members I e-met over the next ten months. Since the Fellowship was entirely digital, everything was online. It was a new way of working. Being an ardent advocate of personal space and time, I loved it. However, I still had my doubts concerning peer learning and interactions in the digital mode.

I got to know other fellows in the cohort in the first online workshop. It was a vibrant group of people, each with their own expertise and experience. Needless to say, the interactions that followed during the Fellowship through online workshops and meetings were rich and intellectually elevating. Peer learning happened just by hearing everyone discuss their work. These discussions were also oddly comforting as each fellow talked about similar roadblocks and challenges that I was anticipating—placing our broad research ideas in an appropriate theoretical and operational framework, getting the adequate number and type of respondents in a digital design, access to the right kind of literature and resources, etc.

As the Fellowship progressed, my initial doubts fizzled away. It would be wrong to say that the best guidance was just a call away. That is because, in our case, we did not even have to make that call. The team at CSIP was always a step ahead of us and arranged workshops and trainings that were instrumental to our work. For example, the technical Workshop on qualitative research design was extremely helpful in structuring our study and concretising our methodologies. In addition to this, each fellow had one-on-one catch-up calls with the team to discuss any issues specific to their work. We also had full access to Ashoka’s digital library.

Since my topic was on philanthropy by family firms, I had the chance to attend a Masterclass on Family Business by Nupur Pawan Bang, Associate Director, Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise at the Indian School of Business (ISB). It was great to know that the CSIP team, including the Director, Ingrid Srinath, took a personal interest in our work (she had suggested this session). The masterclass was insightful and gave me a more nuanced understanding of how family businesses worked. I am sure other fellows got similar support.

The cohort was well-prepared to start the final data collection. That is when something completely unexpected happened. The second wave of COVID-19 hit India more intensely than the first. Although our fieldwork was supposed to be digital, it seemed impossible to get any respondents during such a time. Once again, CSIP walked the talk. They asked the entire cohort to hold off on the fieldwork until things got normal. Despite the delay, we always received our payments on time. Even when we got back to work after the impact of the second wave subsided, the team was extremely considerate. Each call or meeting started with a sincere check on everybody’s well-being before moving on to work.

Now came the big question that I should have considered earlier. Would 30 industrialists spare an hour(or more) to talk to a researcher over a Zoom call—that too in the hectic post-Covid phase? The team suggested bringing this number down to a more realistic 15. I ended up interviewing 19 prominent business leaders in the state. I am pretty sure this would not have been possible without the endorsement from CSIP.

It would be an understatement to say that the CSIP Research Fellowship enriches my profile not only as an academic but also as a professional. I thank the entire CSIP team for their stellar work and wish the best to the current and future fellows.

(Shweta Singh was a Research Fellow with the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy in 2021. She completed her Ph.D. as a JRF scholar from Banaras Hindu University and has worked closely with the state government in two states as a communications expert)

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