This piece was written by Paul Sherman, Harvard Kennedy School.
Ramesh Singh was a visiting fellow at the Hauser Center from September 2010 to May 2011.
Like Confucius’ proverbial thousand-mile journey that starts with a single step, the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations was the latest stop on Visiting Fellow Ramesh Singh’s journey.
Having finished 27 years with the poverty-fighting NGO ActionAid International, culminating in six years as its CEO, Singh came to the Center in September 2010. He busied himself with research while here, all the while figuring out what his next step would be.
“Coming to the Hauser Center was a conscious decision to do something different, take a step back and reflect on what I want to do and where I want to live next,” Singh says.
Born in Nepal and trained as an agronomist, Singh has spent significant time working in Vietnam, Gambia, Ethiopia, Thailand and South Africa. His Cambridge setting may be new, but, as he points out, “I’ve been working with people at the Hauser Center for a number of years, people like (senior research fellows) Dave Brown, Peter Bell and (Humanitarian and Development domain manager) Sherine Jayawickrama, and in the past I’ve also been to executive course given jointly by the center and Harvard Business School.” Similarly, the focus of Singh’s attention has not changed.
“My research is primarily focused on international NGOs, and it focuses on two things,” he says. “One is the trends and trajectories in that field. What are INGOs doing? Where are they going? How the world has changed for them.
“Obviously, the world has changed over the years. This decade in particular has been very difficult, with all the crises we have had—finances, fuel, economy, food. We’re living in a much different world than we were a decade ago, and there is a new breed of nonprofits that is emerging. So I’m exploring what are the trajectories of change.
“The other thing I focus on is: what are the changing roles and the nature of international NGOs’ work itself? My starting point is that the whole narrative of development is very different now compared with 10-15 years ago. And there are huge geopolitical shifts.”
As part of his fellowship here, Singh participated in a Harvard Business School case study about ActionAid International, spoke at the Hauser Center-facilitated NGO Leaders Forum in December, made presentations at various student events (including study groups) and audited classes. For example, in spring 2011, he sat in on two, “Strategic Management for Public Purposes” and “Global Governance.”
A year at the Hauser Center not only granted Singh access to what Harvard has to offer, it also allowed him to connect with nonprofits headquartered in Greater Boston, such as Oxfam America, and with leaders passing through the Harvard Kennedy School. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to interact with those people,” he says. He hopes his work here will result in two journal articles, one focusing on ActionAid International and the other on the international NGO trends he’s identified.
And if even Singh is exploring his next project and challenges, he realizes the value of his year at the Hauser Center. “What’s happening here is really a lot of non-linear learning for me,” he says of the mix of research, classes and off-campus opportunities. “It’s surprisingly very busy.”