October 7, 2019


Sunita Narain, Director General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi, India. CSE researches into, lobbies for and communicates the urgency of development that is both sustainable and equitable. Sunita Narain is the Director General of CSE. Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, editor at large for South Asia at On Think Tanks, conducted this interview. 

Annapoorna Ravichander: What are the main functions or activities of Centre for Science and Environment and what is your role?

Sunita Narain: CSE is an independent public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi. It researches into, lobbies for and communicates the urgency of development that is both sustainable and equitable. It works on the areas of pollution mitigation and public health, low carbon development and natural resource management. I head the organization as its Director General.

AR: What were the main challenges you or your organization CSE face?

SN: In almost every green issue, there are conflicting interests at play. In air pollution mitigation, for instance, one has to navigate the conflicts of interest between the needs of industry and those of public health. It’s the same with the pesticides debate. Even in tigers there is a conflict of interest in terms of ideology and thinking between ‘conservation’ and wider development concerns. The challenge is: how do you change mindsets and get people to sit up and take notice?

The poor are more sensitive to environmental degradation while the rich of India are resource ignorant. The problem is convincing the rich and middle classes that they too will pay a price in the long run. The real challenge is overcoming the mind. We are increasingly getting confined within our own bubbles – reading what confirms, reaffirms our own opinions and ‘unfollowing’ those whose opinions are hard to digest.

AR: In your opinion, what are the best ways that think tanks can work together? Is there any best practice you would recommend?

SN: Think tanks typically have a clearly carved out space and focus. However, their coming together often leads to definite policy actions. It is therefore important to respect individual institutions’ stances, but at the same time, create platforms for cross-learning and sharing for advocacy.

AR: How do you see the space of women in think tanks? Equally represented? Or are some areas male dominated and others female dominated? How does the revolving door work for men and women? Are there any differences?

SN: I don’t think it matters in my field whether you are a woman or a man. I don’t think we have the excuse any more to say that we cannot do something because we are women. We are very bright — some of the brightest people I have worked with are women. We are very dedicated, very honest to our work and we have the ability to succeed.

About the author:

Annapoorna Ravichander:  Head of policy engagement and communication at Public Affairs Centre in Bengaluru, India, and On Think Tanks Editor at Large for South Asia.

Read more from: Annapoorna Ravichander