Phase IV Alumnus Leads Emergency Response

Flood recovery last fall demonstrated the vital importance of the public service corps in India, where Maxwell is in its third year providing policy training to government managers.

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One of two Indian administrators who oversaw rescue and recovery efforts was Pratyaya Amrit (above, center), an alumnus of Maxwell’s training program in Mussoorie.

When the Kosi River in the north Indian state of Bihar suddenly changed course last August, flooding an area of 3,000 square kilometers and displacing more than 2 million people, India faced one of its worst natural disasters since its independence. But a massive rescue and relief effort, led by Pratyaya Amrit and R.K. Singh of Bihar’s disaster management department, helped the state avoid worst-case scenarios. That effort began with a mass evacuation involving thousands of boats — transported from all over Bihar into a normally dry agricultural area — and the establishment of hundreds of mega-camps that offered flood victims not only shelter, food, clothing, and health care but schools for more than 50,000 children, vocational training, cultural activities, and sports.

In recognition of Bihar’s effectiveness in managing the crisis, India’s CNN-IBN network jointly nominated Amrit and Singh as Indian of the Year in public service, citing the way these government officers “took the bull by its horns and worked in seamless coordination to . . . rescue and ensure rehabilitation of the victims of the Bihar floods.” The recovery effort is considered so successful, in fact, that several other Indian states are now studying it for lessons to apply to their own disaster-response teams.

Amrit works within the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and is known to the Maxwell community as one of the first participants in midcareer training offered by Maxwell in partnership with the government of India. Amrit attended the inaugural year of the training program in 2007 along with 120 other IAS officers — all with 15-plus years of experience in district, state, and sometimes national governments. In intensive sessions based at the Indian government’s elite training facility in the Himalayan hill station of Mussoorie, the participants honed their public policy skills with faculty members from Maxwell and the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. The program also included a two-week visit to South Korea, arranged through Maxwell’s partnership with the KDI School of Public Policy and Management, where the Indian officers explored the dynamics of public policy in a fellow Asian democracy. “I must say that the program was very well structured,” reflects Amrit. “I immensely benefitted from the interactions.”

“The government of India faces increasing expectations at home to address concerns about poverty, infrastructure development, and education.”
—Steven Lux, director, Executive Education
The Mussoorie program is part of the Indian government’s larger initiative to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency of its civil service — which, as the Bihar flood showed, is sometimes a matter of survival. “We all recognize that India is a growing force in the global economy and world politics,” says Steven Lux, director of Maxwell’s Executive Education division, which oversees the Indian program. “At the same time the government of India faces increasing expectations at home to address concerns about poverty, infrastructure development, and education. The IAS and other services are looking in every direction to improve the knowledge and abilities of their civil servants, and we are fortunate to play a small role in that process.”

The aim of the Mussoorie program, says Dan Nelson, international projects coordinator for Executive Education, is to “assist the officers to challenge their previous assumptions of policy formation and implementation, build their knowledge in key policy areas, and work through a capstone project that links the program to real issues they address in their postings.” In the capstone, the officers collaborate in small groups to analyze an important public policy issue — in sectors  ranging from disaster management to education and urban development — and present their findings to expert panels of scholars and practitioners during a three-day conference in New Delhi.

This summer marks the third year of the program, and about 150 IAS officers and a dozen Maxwell faculty members will travel to Mussoorie for the eight-week program. Larry Schroeder, professor of public administration, is among the Maxwell scholars who have been part of the program since its inception.

“I and my colleagues probably learn as much from these experienced IAS officers as they learn from us,” says Schroeder. “We live side by side and eat together. . . . This provides for numerous opportunities for interactions outside the classroom, where we learn of the challenges these administrators face on a day-to-day basis and the strategies they have used to cope with the issues. Many of these real-world experiences and lessons then become a part of my teaching back here in the Maxwell School.”  

— Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers is a contributor to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and the author, most recently, of The Complete Singer-Songwriter.
This article appeared in the spring 2009 print edition of Maxwell Perspective; © 2009 Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail dlcooke@maxwell.syr.edu.

 

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