Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, editor at large for South Asia at On Think Tanks, interviewed Antardhwani’s chief mission officers Seethalakshmi S and Rahul Nandan in December 2017.
Annapoorna Ravichander: Can you please provide a brief background about yourselves?
Seethalakshmi S: I was the City Editor (Bengaluru) at The Times of India until November 2017. I am a seven-time award winner for excellence in journalism and have written more than 2000 articles, news features and interviews across different subjects during my years at the Times of India (TOI). I am also a recipient of the prestigious IVLP scholarship from the United States Government.
Rahul Nanda: I was a journalist with a decade-long experience in various national newspapers such as The Times of India (TOI), The Indian Express and The Statesman. I was deputy news editor in the special projects team of TOI Delhi and Bengaluru until I decided to do something more meaningful and fulfilling. I was among seven journalists selected in India by the US Department of State for the prestigious foreign press reporting tour on “Emerging women entrepreneurs in America”. I continue to write for various newspapers as a freelance author.
AR: Why and how did you start Antardhwani? What are key areas that you are working in?
SS: During my years in the media I realised that I needed to be involved and engaged in policy making, specially in health and education. I wanted to go beyond writing what others have said or done and be a part of making it. This propelled me to switch careers and start a think tank under the aegis of South Asia’s leading cancer hospital – HCG (Healthcare Global Enterprises Ltd).
RN: The desire to get involved and engage in the change-making process and work with like-minded people led me to join hands with HCG to nurture Antardhwani and launch it early this year. Our primary areas of engagement are health, education and improving livelihood in India.
AR: What is your funding model? How easy or difficult was it for you to get funds in the initial stage?
SS: Antardhwani was born out of the vision of noted oncologist Dr B S Ajai Kumar, who is the chairman and CEO of HCG Ltd. Antardhwani is an arm of HCG, the parent company which takes up public policy issues. Since Antardhwani is the brain-child of the founder and chairman, finding funds was not a problem.
RN: Antardhwani is fully supported by HCG as an independent entity. We have recently started working on an appropriate and sustainable funding model.
AR: What is your experience working with policymakers? Are they receptive to your suggestions?
SS: As a senior journalist with 17 years of experience reporting on public issues, working with policymakers is not a challenge for me. Because I was engaged in political reporting, I am familiar with the nuances in governance. If the suggestions are well-meaning and in public interest, they are receptive. To achieve this, it is crucial for think tanks to structure their proposals and do thorough homework on every issue they embark upon.
RN: As a think tank we must work along with the government to bring changes. We work with the conviction that policymakers should be receptive to well-meaning suggestions intended for public good.
AR: Being a fairly young think tank what best practice have you have adapted?
SS: I am in the process of learning and collaborating with more experienced think tanks. From working with India’s largest media house, I have learned that one needs to have clarity from end to end in every issue that we take up. Solid research coupled with disciplined execution is the key to achieving end goals.
RN: Best practice is the backbone of any social organisation. Being a young and spirited think tank we are exploring global best practices to put in place. We are also open to new and innovative ideas. However, right intention, integrity and action are the foundations of our institution.
AR: Is there any particular strategy that you have planned or chartered with reference to your future (say in the next 10 years)?
SS: Clearly, Antardhwani should not be another NGO. In my view, a think tank is beyond an NGO. Merely producing research reports is not the path I would like to tread. Action oriented and systemic development and work is the goal and the strategy. The areas of my work must see a visible change.
RN: Antardhwani aims to bring evident and meaningful changes in the sectors of health and education through real time action at the grassroots level, policy intervention and strategy.