The Takshashila Institution, an Indian think tank based in Bengaluru, is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organisation. Nitin Pai, co-founder of Takshashila, was interviewed by Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, editor at large for South Asia at On Think Tanks.
Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander: Why and how did you start the Takshashila Institution?
Nitin Pai: Takshashila was created to “build the intellectual foundations of an India with global interests.” As the country addresses its developmental and social challenges, its policies and actions increasingly affect the entire planet. We founded Takshashila to fill that need.
AR: What are the current trends in policy research in India?
NP: There have been a couple of positive changes on policy research in India over the past few years. First, we see an increase in the use and analysis of data. Second, there is a larger number of professionals without backgrounds in social science working in research. On the negative side, we have also seen that policy research has become more partisan and more inclined to supporting the establishment’s perspectives.
AR: Why do we need evidence for policy?
NP: Any decision that affects the lives of millions of people should be backed by evidence.
AR: Can you share a success story?
NP: Let’s just say that the more successful the story, the less we talk about it. Good policy advisors provide recommendations to decision-makers privately. If the result is success, decision-makers will often take credit for it.
AR: How do you plan on choosing a policy issue to work on or a project? Is there a specific agenda or process that you follow?
NP: We decide on a few broad research areas and let our research fellows and analysts explore those that are of interest to them. If we find these have potential, we assign more resources to the project. We prefer to invest in the study of issues that are three or five years ahead. We are currently working on international relations, public economics and technology policy.
AR: What key lessons have you learned as the executive director of Takshashila Institution?
NP: Simply put: “if you want to think, don’t start a think tank.” The amount of time required for managerial, financial and fundraising is grossly underestimated.
That said, what was really positive is that we decided to be an ‘institution’ from the start, rather than a collection of individuals. We have a good Board, a good panel of Advisors and a great multidisciplinary team. There is tremendous value in getting this set-up right.
I’ve also been vindicated in my belief that the real shortage is in talent, not funding. Takshashila is a talent magnet, so if you have experience in any field and have enthusiasm to tackle the world’s toughest problems, we want you!