Kalyan Tanksale is studying a master’s degree in Power, Participation and Social Change. Here he reflects on his IDS journey so far.
Watch a short video excerpt of Kalyan’s interview or read the full transcript below.
Why did you choose to do a master’s degree?
My experience of working with rural and tribal communities in India was both inspiring as well as disappointing. It was inspiring because I could see a lot of common people, ordinary men and women, at the grassroots have so much power. And at times, at places, they are doing a lot to change their realities. But, the same people often feel powerless, or they’re not able to deal with the power, or those who are in positions of power. Therefore they’re not able to bring in the change that they want to see. I was particularly struggling to motivate people, to mobilise people, to help them develop their collectives. Through experience, by intuition, I knew some techniques but I wanted to have a more grounded approach. I wanted to learn new perspectives and techniques, and I began looking for courses which could help me do this. Then I came across the Masters in Power, Participation and Social Change, or MAP as we call it, at IDS.
What made you choose IDS?
As I said, I was primarily interested in understanding ways to deal with power to enable participation and social change at the grassroots. IDS is the only institute in the world which offers this Master’s in Power, Participation and Social Change. That’s one reason. But, the other is that I was inspired by IDS even before I started working in the development field. Ten years ago, when I was doing my first master’s at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, I was introduced to participatory rural appraisal, which is an approach to participatory research and learning, largely developed by IDS’s Robert Chambers. Since then, I have studied Robert’s books and I have referred to his work. And because of Robert, I kept visiting IDS websites and that’s how I came to know a lot of other equally useful and intriguing work that IDS is doing.
Are you here on a scholarship?
I’m a Chevening Scholar. Chevening Scholarships are provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the government of the UK. The scholarship is meant for young aspirants who wants to study abroad, but also want to contribute to their own societies.
What did you think when you first arrived?
When I first arrived at IDS, I was a bit lost. This was my first time in the UK. This was the first time I saw so many non-brown people around me, people coming from different parts of the world, people speaking English but in many different accents. But everyone was very charming and very much willing to talk to each other. So, there was a warmth in the atmosphere.
Did you get any support to help you settle in?
Yes, a lot of support – and well before I came to IDS. Answers to almost all your questions are there on the IDS and University of Sussex websites. When I arrived, there were people to receive me at IDS, the University of Sussex Library, and the Student Support Centre. I was helped from day one in terms of understanding my course and life at IDS and Sussex, finding accommodation, and getting in touch with the Health Centre. I have been a diabetic for the last ten years so I was worried about my health and what kind of support I would get. The Student Support Centre put me in touch with the Health Centre. I think all the support that I needed in the beginning was provided in the first two weeks, and everybody was willing to help me – I mean, I didn’t have to struggle for that, I didn’t have to wait in the queue.
Tell us about the modules you are taking and the focus of your action research project.
The MA in Power, Participation and Social Change is structured into three terms. The first term is common for all students. In the second term you can choose modules as per your own interests and need. I have chosen two modules. The first of which is further divided into two sub-modules. The first is about creative and reflective practices for social change which is about how one can reflect critically about one’s own behaviour, one’s own attitude, one’s own personality and how it relates to social change. The other sub-module is about unruly politics, which is about how people around the world use different ways to express themselves and to work together for collective human flourishing. The other module is about research methodology. We students of the MA in Power, Participation and Social Change, have a different orientation for research. We are introduced to action research: research in action, research for action. This was a very interesting and exciting module, and very different than conventional, quantitative and statistical, boring research.
A special component about the MA in Power, Participation and Social Change is that each student collaborates with one organisation or community and develops an action research project together with them. It’s not an internship programme. We do not gather data and analyse it at our end, for our benefit alone. We develop even the research question and make the inquiry together with the organisation. We then do the analysis in collaboration with them in such a way to help the organisation directly and lead to some action – all while we are still ‘in the field’. We call this process Critical Enquiry into Practice (CEP).
For the CEP, I had a choice to go back to my country and work with my own organisations and community. But, I deliberately chose to stay in the UK, because I wanted to learn from this society, know it’s contemporary challenges and make a tiny contribution to it while building some meaningful and enduring professional relationships here. So I’m looking at sustainability initiatives in the UK. I’m working with a forum of 40 different organisations, which are working towards sustainable development. But at this point in time, they’re also advocating for local councils to declare a climate emergency. Because they are coming from 40 different backgrounds, they have different interests and different ways of working, so I’m basically working with them to understand how they can help each other and eventually form a collective where different community members will also join us and we will learn from each other together.
How is studying at IDS different from studying at a traditional university?
IDS is not an academic institute only. IDS is also a thinktank, and that makes a lot of difference. In traditional universities, students many a time find academic classes boring and sometimes not relevant to what their world is, or what problems their world is facing, or what their career ambitions are. Here at IDS, the faculties, the teachers are researchers. They are practitioners. They are working in different parts of the world on a range of different projects on various topics. And therefore, IDS has a wealth of experience and expertise grounded in practice. They train you on the cutting-edge issues that global society faces today and approaches to dealing with those issues. Another interesting thing is that IDS is house to students from more than hundred different countries. So people with all different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences, come together and learn. You not only learn from your teachers, but you also learn from your peers. And because they are coming from different parts of the world, the reference to your learning is always global.
How do you hope the course will transform your world in the future?
I’m already working with grassroots communities in India. When I go back, I’ll continue working with them. Just before coming here, I had initiated the process of creating an organisation which will facilitate this work, so I’ll be working with this particular organisation. The year at IDS so far has challenged my own position, my own perspectives. And the major thing that I’ve learned from IDS is that nothing is sacred, everything can be questioned. So, after going back I think I’ll be more critical about myself, critical about my context and critical about my work. That will transform the way I used to work. Secondly, here at IDS I have learned practical ways to analyse and catalyse power. Through my project work, I’m trying to combine this learning with my experience of working with social systems. I’m hoping to be able to develop a set of tools which will be useful in facilitating the work I’m going to do in India. Apart from that, the network of friends – now I’m part of a global network and that will be immensely useful in generating support for work in India and for translating it to a different context.