Nidhi recounts experiences of studying MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the Development Planning Unit
Originally from New Delhi, India, with a Bachelor’s degree from National University of Singapore, I commenced my graduate degree at University College London in 2009 to pursue a Masters in Environment and Sustainable Development at the Development Planning Unit.
Prior to my academic sojourn, I had six years of work experience in the business and development consulting space working across projects in South and Southeast Asia and Europe. I was able to contribute towards public, private and civil society sector projects such as a market entry strategy for a corporate retailer, a corporate responsibility policy for an energy conglomerate, evaluation of a UNICEF programme and the sustainability strategy for a national environmental agency.
Some of the organisations I worked with in Analyst and Consultant roles included Euromonitor International, BrandAsian, KPMG Aid and Development Services India. I had also been a keen enthusiast for social development at a personal level through voluntary pursuits linked to child rights and development.
While my work experience had helped me grow personally and professionally and understand some of the practical nuances of working with governments, multilateral agencies and NGOs to plan and implement business and development projects, I was keen to combine my passion for development with academic rigour and knowledge linked to one of the world’s foremost challenges – urbanisation and sustainability.
I was looking to enhance my skillset, broaden my horizons of international development and connect with a valuable global network of like-minded academics and practitioners. Coming to UCL was one of the best decisions of my life and my time in DPU was extremely fruitful as it helped to imbue me with the grounding, leadership skills and competencies to move forward with confidence in a career in sustainable development.
Over my stint in the Development Planning Unit (DPU), I had an opportunity to strengthen my action research, project management, academic writing and critical thinking skills, gain a deeper knowledge on issues such as urban governance, climate change adaptation, urban food security and work with some fantastically diverse teams of students and academics. My academic learning was complemented well by field-level action research experience in Hackney (in London), Ghana, and India.
Besides securing an overall distinction for my academic coursework in DPU, I also received the David Thomas Scholarship Award (2009-2010), available through the department, to support my Masters thesis fieldwork. Some of my academic research assignments were centred on topics such as: making a case for urban-poor housing to be a policy priority in Delhi, participatory planning in Kitale, Kenya and its impact on political sustainability and reviewing the sustainable master planning policy, and the absence of citizen voice in the case of Dongtan Eco-City, China.
I focused my Masters dissertation on the review of a 5-year DFID supported programme on urban poverty alleviation and local government reform in Bhopal India as part of a research internship with GHK International. My topic was ‘collective strategic action for environmental justice in gaining access to water and sanitation’ and how citizens could collectively engage with the political process to further their room for manoeuvre for enhanced political empowerment and a sustained improvement in quality of life.
After I finished the MSc in 2010, I joined Save the Children as a Climate Change Adaptation Adviser where I contributed to policy and programme development of child-centred resilience, risk reduction and adaptation projects in several countries across Asia and Africa with some breakthrough initiatives in East Africa and Bangladesh. I served as the organisational focal point for a number of inter-agency networks (humanitarian and development streams) including DFID funded coalition grants such as the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance. I also had an opportunity to serve as the interim acting head of the Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction team within the Programme Policy and Quality Department with senior leadership and line management responsibilities.
After two years of working in Save the Children, I am currently on a career sabbatical to have some time for reflection to further my interests in sustainable development. Children, Climate Change Adaptation and Urban development continue to be my core passions and I am exploring academic research, program development and consulting opportunities with a focus on South Asia.