Internalizing BSG-ism

I took more than a week’s time to pick a title for this blog-post. Finally I decided to settle with the word ‘internalize’, which is indeed a ‘gifted word’ from Professor Paul Collier to our MPP cohort. Without going into that story, let me write six lines for the outside-BSG readers what I am going to inscribe.

All the BSG (Blavatnik School of Government) students are currently engaged in their respective summer projects, which is the last component of our Public Policy degree. It is a bit difficult to explain what we do currently as we are neither students, nor fulltime professionals. My old friend Arup compares this time with the nine month period of a pregnant woman, when she is not officially a mother, but witnessing the joy and pain of raising a baby. For me, the joy and pain of my pseudo professional life are heavily influenced by the thoughts and ideas I internalized as a BSG student. I have realized that I continue bearing the BSG tensions, using the school acronyms and seeing the world through the BSG lenses. Continuing this BSG-ism might act as an impediment for a successful migration to a different school of thought (read as ‘real’ world), and I have realized this mantra under some unusual circumstances.

The first boat of Amsterdam Gay Pride Parade 2014 in memory of the MH17 victims, 193 of which were from the Netherlands. Image source: Manjit Nath
The first boat of Amsterdam Gay Pride Parade 2014 in memory of the MH17 victims, 193 of which were from the Netherlands. Image source: Manjit Nath

First day at the Summer Project

1st July 2014 – I got up as early as 4:30 in the morning. No, not to start this auspicious day with a ‘Surya Namaskar’, but to make some headway into my two summative assignments due in 48 hours. My progress was directly proportional to the data expected from a government official of Bodoland Territorial Council in Kokrajhar (India) and the India vs Pakistan’s economic comparison data between 1947-51, that I was expecting from one historian friend, who was then in Brazil enjoying the soccer world cup. To sum-up in one sentence, I was in a terrible situation with practically zero progress and the only thing occupying my head was to get a mobile phone connection so that I can follow up with my information sources.

This tension accompanied me throughout the day. During the nine hours at office, I was briefed by nine support staffs about the mission, ethics, IT systems, facilities and several other aspects of the organization which would become part of my daily life. But BSG-ism kept diverting my thoughts to Bodoland and Pakistan. Three of the staff members asked me, “You seem to be in deep thought. Do you have any feedback on my slides?”

However, the big ‘event’ was waiting for my homeward journey. While going office in the morning, my flatmate volunteered to walk with me and we shortened the 3 kilometre route by taking many shortcut paths. When I came out after completing my first day at office, I was only relying on my morning memory – something my classmates would call ‘optimism bias’. With all similar looking buildings, numerous canals and with no access to cell phone, I was lost somewhere on the streets of an unknown city. My hard core Northeast Indian accent pronunciation of the Holland addresses was almost impossible to make people understand where I was heading. To cut the story short, I reached home around midnight when my flatmate was considering visiting the local police station. I cursed myself for being ‘BSGed’ and neglecting the real-life housekeeping stuffs.

But the BSG assignments didn’t stop chasing me; later they appeared in my dreams.

Acting as an ambassador of BSG

I (and my cohort-mate Intan Natasha) probably had the most difficult place among my batch-mates to be considered an education destination for the summer project. When I told people I would go Amsterdam for my internship, most people reacted – “Are you serious? You are the first person I know who is going to Amsterdam with an academic purpose”. After witnessing this stereotype several times, I decided to act as a committed BSG ambassador and spread some flavours of public policy into the air of Amsterdam. Soon, I landed-up in some unwanted situations.

To my utter surprise, many people here have not even heard about Oxford University. Being from India, it was difficult for me to imagine that some people working in some leading organizations of the world would ask me the question “where is Oxford?” Even a ten year old kid or an illiterate village grand-ma of India knows where Oxford University is (effect of colonization??). After this initial jolt, I had to alter my role to become an ambassador of Oxford instead of BSG on several occasions. On a lighter note, now I see there is a logic why UK does not want to be part of the European Union.

I am sure many of my batch mates encounter this question – “Public Policy, very good! But which part of policymaking – health, education, labour?” My answer has been typically, all aspects of policymaking that are required from government’s point of view. Here came one disproportionately passionate gentleman at office, catching me in between my energetic speech about BSG and MPP, “You perhaps know Amsterdam is famous for the red light district and the weeds, don’t you? How would you view this issue as a policy student? I mean, not your opinion, but from evidence based policy perspective, as you just explained”.

Bingo! This is a perfect example of making your own coffin.

After internalizing BSG-ism, there is no question of giving up. Hereby my first visit to the red light district and coffee shop happened because I had to gather evidence to defend my policy argument against a gentleman, with whom I had no business to deal with – in present or in future. Please don’t be surprised to know that I did setup a follow-up meeting with the gentleman and put forward my arguments along with the personally gathered evidences. And yes, I wore the BSG t-shirt that day. Eventually, I stopped doing these over-enthusiastic adventures as our school Programmes team reminded me that I also have to write the 6000 words summative assignments due on 1st September, in addition to diligently carrying out my responsibility as a BSG ambassador.

A world better led, served and governed

This beautifully crafted BSG tagline left some psychological effects in my brain. Whenever I discuss, think or analyse any public proposal or an event, the only thought hovering over my brain is whether that will lead to a world BSG-ism aspires to achieve. The situation is made worse by the MPP students’ initiative to publish a ‘future’ book, where every article starts with the theme of a world better led, served and governed. By the time I finished writing my article for the book, I completely internalized the theme of changing the world. This was all fine though, until, I met my supervisor for the summer project.

She explained what her team had been doing and what was expected out of me in the coming eight weeks. Then she asked, “So, what do you think about the assignment?”.

What do I think? I know the proposal is great, but how the hell is this going to change the world? This is my first project after BSG and I must do something radical. I remembered my first meeting with our school dean after arriving at Oxford and the numerous questions I asked her. No, I have to ask this question.

“May I know how will this affect other people, other communities, other nations, and probably the world? Can this lead to a world better led……?”

Today I can’t believe myself that I actually asked that question. I know that was a bit stupid, but you had to appreciate the level of satisfaction of my mind after asking the question. My supervisor smiled, may be with the thought “one more intern to change the world!” Nevertheless, that question led to a very fruitful one hour discussion about how the definition and interpretation of ‘changing the world’ are different from different perspectives. Change is a constant journey – everything we do with an honest heart is a step towards that aspired world.

Was I convinced? Yes I was, but later realized that was only for eight weeks. Now that I have to decide my future after BSG, I am having a super difficult time. But uncertainty has its own joy and excitement – my most important takeaway from BSG’s Science module is a life saviour here.

As I am running out of words to conclude my blog-post, I just want to send my love and best wishes to the faculties and Programmes team at BSG, and to my beautiful batch mates who belong to a rare breed of wonderful people I have met in my Oxford life. May God bless all of you!

Manjit Nath is from MPP 2013 cohort and belongs to the north-eastern region of India. Manjit mainly blogs about the BSG school life. Find him on Twitter @manjitzing

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