UCL alumna, Ritwika Deb, shares her academic journey from studying the Social Development Practice MSc to driving positive change through her work with the United Nations Development Programme.
I am an Indian national and an alumna of the Social Development Practice MSc cohort of 2020-2021. Currently, I work with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) where I look after the Global Fund Partnership team’s Knowledge Management efforts.
Academic Journey and Specialisation
Before immersing myself in the world of international development, I spent over ten years contributing to the marketing and social responsibility initiatives of private sector companies across three geographies. During this time, I studied strategic marketing and communications at MICA, India (known as the school of ideas) where I honed my skills in brand management. In this initial phase of my career, volunteering with NGOs in parallel and working on projects focused on inclusive planning, equitable transport systems, and capacity building of children in at-risk communities ignited a passion for identifying more opportunities that drive positive social change, and at scale.
Guided by the belief in the hedgehog concept — the proverbial sweet spot where one’s passion, talents, and market needs come together — I sought a Masters programme to equip me with the knowledge and skills to build a career specialising in the paradigms of development. The Social Development Practice MSc at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London (UCL) emerged as the perfect fit, offering an excellent combination of course components, an opportunity to engage with a diverse academic community, and the international recognition of a university ranked #8 globally (QS World University Rankings, 2020).
Time at UCL
At UCL, I earnestly embraced the MSc’s particular focus on ‘people-centred’ approaches. It was helpful to first study the social theory around identity, inequality and change processes and then engage in real-life practice to advance inclusive design and planning in Indonesia, through a process of remote knowledge co-production. During the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE), we gained insights into our own practice by working with others whose perspectives and needs were different from our own. Specifically, it encouraged us to increasingly become more sensitive to the concept of 'inclusion', both in terms of the case and in terms of how we conducted our work.
One other standout aspect from my time at UCL was the consistent collaboration with the members of the Staff-Student Consultative Committee (SSCC) to meet the challenges of a largely remote learning environment. Being honoured as the Bartlett Academic Rep of the Year 2021 and receiving recognition for my commitment to student support and effective communication reinforced my belief that the capacity to recognise and respect different needs and the ability to deliberately and thoughtfully promote genuine participation are important skills for a social development practitioner.
Undoubtedly, pursuing a Master's amid the challenges of the pandemic presented unforeseen hurdles. There are moments when I reflect, yearning for a different time that would have allowed a more comprehensive experience, where I could have savoured the social fabric of university life a lot more. Yet, this distinctive experience, despite its unconventional nature, has proven to be an invaluable preparation for the evolving post-pandemic landscape, particularly in navigating the dynamic intersection of hybrid work and development environments.
Life after UCL
Post-UCL, I find myself supporting UNDP in the planning, designing and implementation of health development programmes to strengthen national responses to HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It has been truly inspiring to witness the organisation transform the lives of millions of people through its relentless commitment to realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and cross-cutting approaches to development.
As I look back, my journey so far has been a tapestry of diverse experiences, guided by a steadfast commitment to creating sustainable and socially just communities. The Social Development Practice MSc at UCL was a transformative chapter of this journey that shaped my approach and deepened my understanding of the complexities of the development landscape. I am grateful for this ongoing adventure, contributing to initiatives that resonate with my passion for making a positive difference.
Advice to future students
To future students - embrace the challenges, relish every unique twist in your path, and seize the opportunities. As you embark on this journey, remember that every experience, no matter how unconventional, adds to your personal growth.