Tuesday, November 17, 2015


 Jade, Usman, Seun, Vijay, Zaigham, Karn

At the Indonesian stall on Cultural Night!

 Kim Gove, one of my classmates in Social Policy Design

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Visit to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

 Vibhat and I went to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in the north end of Singapore on an outing organised by the MPA Class Committee (thanks guys!). Gorgeous place ..

Johor Bahru of Malaysia, across the straits


This small snake we saw freaked Vibhat out. Need to spend time with him to educate him about animals so he can be at home with them  

 I was very happy to see mangroves for the first time..

Crocodile. I guess. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Photos - visit to a ceramic factory


Click through for photos from a visit to the Thow Kwang ceramic factory in Kranji

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Urban greenery in Singapore

One doesn't hear much about Singapore's urban greenery, but I find it one of the more spectacular things here. Singapore is fortunate to be at the equator and blessed with lush greenery. But in making Singapore a world city, they could have easily de-emphasised that. Instead they've beautifully incorporated that greenery into so many aspects of the urbanity. By far the best of the cities I've seen. One of the best parts of this design - forest walks that are at a height above the ground so you can see the trees from a height. Sometimes called canopy walks.
We went on one such today, a zig-zag of an elegantly designed metal walkway that coursed through some forested areas. At multiple points you have an option to get off the walkway onto a hiking trail on the ground below.
Design in Singapore in general is truly of the highest standard.

The spectacular Hendersen Waves walkway

Epiphytes - plants growing on a tree. They're everywhere in Singapore

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Barbecue at East Coast Park

Seun on the right is Nigerian and a natural dancer and bonded with Vibhat. He's now Vibhat's dance godfather. Zaigham from Pakistan is on the right

China, Japan and Vietnam !

The MPA group's outing to East Coast Park in Singapore for a barbecue. The MPA class has gotten distributed between lots of electives so we don't meet much as a class, so this was very good to connect with people. And Priya and Vibhat joined and got introduced to my classmates which was very nice.
Most photos by Anton Arcilla , from our class

Friday, October 16, 2015

Vibhat is going to school !!! Its called the Global Indian International School. Its about 5 km from home and Priya is currently dropping him and picking him up. He did very well on the admission test. But now he has a challenge - Hindi ! We chose that as his language, but he hasn't learnt much of it at his previous school. Neither Priya and I know much.
He was quite sad and stressed on his first day and cried three times, he told us. And the second day one time, so getting better :-). His previous school was the Earth School Montessori was very .. Montessorian (calm, quiet, teachers are very sweet) and its a bit of an adjustment for him to a mainstream school and this one in particular. Poor kiddo!

Thursday, October 08, 2015

"Prof, no one is reading you"

Prof. Biswas with Prof. Eduardo Araral, who chaired the talk

We had a talk on 23rd September by Prof. Asit Biswas. Prof. Biswas is very well-respected in the water sector and a recipient of the World Water Prize. I'm taking a course on water policy and governance with him, which I'm finding a great opportunity to crystallise and synthesise many fragmented thoughts and experiences from working in the water and sanitation sector and capturing them coherently on paper. Doing that is proving unexpectedly challenging, but I think I'm improving!

Dr. Biswas's talk was on people from academia creating impact by writing in the popular media, more specifically writing op-eds. Op-ed = 'opposite-editorial' ; the space in newspapers given to experts and others to give their independent views on matters of public importance. They're called op-eds because they're often run next to the newspaper's own opinion pieces, the editorials. While the talk was aimed at academics, the points are very relevant for people from the NGO sector too.

Dr. Biswas started off by talking of the increasing irrelevance of academic publishing for public policy and impact. From the blurb about the talk (http://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/OP-Eds_Writing-Publishing-and-Impacts.pdf): "Latest statistics indicate that 80% of papers in Humanities do not attract even a single citation. Also, if a paper is cited, it does not mean the person citing it has read the whole paper fully. We estimate an average paper in Humanities is read by no more than 10 people".

Dr. Biswas did an op-ed in the Straits Times, the primary newspaper in Singapore on this very topic - "Prof, no one is reading you". Amazingly, it has become the most read article of the Straits Times with 65000 online shares, 7000 tweets and even translated into other languages. Apparently it resonated with many people (http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/prof-no-one-is-reading-you)

Points from the talk:
- From the article above: " One effective model is Project Syndicate, a non-profit organisation, which distributes commentary by the world's thought leaders to more than 500 newspapers comprising 300 million readers in 154 countries. Any commentary accepted by Project Syndicate may be translated into up to 12 other languages and then distributed globally to the entire network.". Prof Biswas has now an agreement with Project Syndicate to distribute four of his op-eds each year.

- Ministers and policy makers pay attention to what gets published. A typical method of doing this is for the Ministers' staff to create a roundup of all relevant news across key media outlets every day. Prof Biswas cited examples from his personal knowledge from Canada, India and Qatar for Ministers who do this

- Examples of recent impact from op-eds:
    An article he wrote on Think Tanks in the "Diplomat" magazine (http://thediplomat.com/2015/09/the-rise-of-asias-think-tanks/)  was shared by the wife of the Prime Minister of Singapore on her FB page, and presumably reached the PM too
    An op-ed in the Straits Times on the haze (http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/to-tackle-haze-win-over-the-indonesian-public) got a response from the Singapore Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrishnan, that he liked it and that his minstry is seriously looking at the suggestions.

- Media needs a peg. There was once a request from a Chinese publication for an article on drought, followed by a urgent communication that rains had started and unless they moved really quickly the article could not be run until the next drought!

- Media needs you to take a stand. No 'on the the one hand, on the other hand' business. The job of the editor is to sell newspaper so if you want to get published you have to be aligned with that. Being controversial does not hurt and if fact helps! Winston Churchill said: "You have enemies? Good. That means you have stood up for something in your life"

- Media's deadlines are significantly more demanding than for academic publication and you need to be prepared for that. Prof. Biswas has stayed up late nights on occasion to do what was needed to get a piece out in time to a media outlet.

- A corollary  is that media will occasionally edit what you say even without asking. Sometimes that results in significant distortion of what you meant. Again, something you have to be prepared for. 

- Invest your time in developing relationships with good newspaper editors and journalists. They get a lot of submissions and reject 95% of them. If you have a relationship with them, they will trust you. Occasionally have lunch/coffee with them to understand their challenges,what they need, what they're looking for etc.

- One way to get their attention in the first place is to be active on social media. At least 300 media personalities from many countries follow Prof. Biswas on LinkedIn. 

- Op-ed sizes are coming down and nowadays they are looking for around 650-700 words. You must be able to make your points in that space

- Nowadays Prof Biswas writes an average of one op-ed a week.

- Prof. Biswas writes a lot op-eds with graduate students, which gives them visibility and training and many of them go on to do a lot of such writing on their own. He expressed some disappointment with the general graduate student body at the School. Students do not seem to be interested in taking up this valuable opportunity to get trained in writing op-eds and thus improving public policy