Turning Research into Action

For the past 30 years, Anirudh Krishna, associate professor of public policy and political science and associate dean for international academic programs at the Sanford School , has studied poverty and powerlessness.  His recent book, One Illness Away, examines why people become poor.

Krishna’s research has led him to become an activist at the local level in a cluster of small villages in India. He has helped some talented, ambitious young people make the leap to entry-level, career-building positions. Those launched enter a written contract with him that they will offer a hand up to someone else who comes from a similar background.

Study AbroadThis spring, he will have the opportunity to expand his research and his activism as faculty director in India during Duke’s new Global Semester Abroad program with the theme of development, environment and public health. Two groups of Duke students from diverse fields of study—public policy, global health, engineering, economics and political science—will spend half of the semester in India or China, then switch countries mid-semester. The students will attend classes in their assigned country for part of each week before field testing the academic theories they’ve learned by living and working in a poverty-stricken area, residing with a nongovernmental organization.

“I’m hoping that several of the students will come up with smart ideas for effective interventions,” he said, “and they will come back and spend the summer or the next semester there and put some of those plans into action.”

While he’s in India in the spring, Krishna intends to recruit volunteers to find achievable career paths for qualified young people who would otherwise have no hope beyond irregular employment in unskilled jobs. Then he’ll need mentors and role models from the community who can perpetuate an upwardly mobile cycle. Once he has perfected a model that will work across cultures, he plans to seek grant funding to set up the programs in poverty-stricken areas.

“Breaking out of that cycle of poverty requires role models, and how to develop role models has not been part of the development agenda,” Krishna said. “But it’s a very critical part of the agenda."

More information about Krishna's work can be found at the website Listening to the World's Poor.