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Making migration safer: setting up collaboration

Watch Susan Thieme explain how she and an NGO set up a project to improve the situation for Nepalese migrant workers in Delhi, India.
How do you set up a transdisciplinary project? How do you decide on its goals? There are many answers to these questions. In this video, you will discover how we did it in the case of Nepalese migrant workers in Delhi. The project brought together many actors, an NGO, researchers, and the migrants themselves. Let me start with the research. For my PhD, I studied the general conditions governing Nepali migrants in Delhi. How did social networks influence their access to work? How does the migration between Nepal and India impact their livelihood in the Indian city? How did they get work and necessities like shelter? Migrants need money to migrate, to repay debt, or to send home.
What are their possibilities to get credit, manage debts, and to save money for remittances? What role do social relations play in their daily lives? To answer all these questions, you need a transdisciplinary approach. And in fact, transdisciplinary collaboration was part of my PhD.
I did my PhD in the framework of the Swiss National Centre of Competence and Research North South. This was a long-term programme dedicated to research on sustainable development and transdisciplinary approaches. It was financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. This context encouraged me to introduce collaborations actively into my research. Starting my PhD in 2001, I went to do fieldwork in Delhi in 2001 and 2002. There I got to know a group of young activists from Nepal and India. They assisted migrants from Nepal who were fighting for their rights. We started to collaborate. Raju Bhattarai was one of the key persons for the cooperation.
He and his colleagues had been active for quite some time. The possibility of cooperation, however, encouraged them to form an official organisation, the South Asia Study Center. Raju Bhattarai became the head of this NGO.
During my fieldwork in Delhi, I also interviewed Nepalese watchmen. They told me that in their families people had migrated over generations. However, within these families, the knowledge about the migration process was negligible. Some of these watchmen were also very interested to learn how to advocate their rights. Thus, the first step in the transdisciplinary project was done. People started to collaborate. An NGO that had served as partner had been founded.
A project obviously needs financial support. Knowing that my research programme funded transdisciplinary research, the South Asia Study Center and I developed a project proposal. It combined the NGO’s practical expertise with the insights I had gained through my study. Our project addressed Nepali migrants who mainly were employed as watchmen or domestic workers in Delhi. The project would provide training for these people. They would enhance their financial literacy and learn about labour rights. The project would also encourage watchmen to form an organisation in order to make their voices heard.
We developed the project idea jointly and wrote the proposal together. The South Asia Study Center drafted a proposal, and I finalised it being a little more familiar with the proposal terminology of the research programme. A lean structure would define our roles. As a researcher, I would provide scientific backstopping and follow the project closely. My own study would benefit from process and outcomes. The South Asia Study Center in Delhi would implement the project. The NGO included students and activists, some of them coming originally from Nepal. Their existing close contacts to migrants in Delhi would facilitate the cooperation with them during the project. Even if the South Asia Study Center would mainly be responsible for implementation, we brokered the project goals together.
We also agreed that they would systematically document their work. In addition, they would provide a survey of the people who participated in the project, collecting migration-specific data. I could in turn use this data and documentation for my research.
The proposal was successful. We received 20,000 Swiss francs for the first year. Then the project was evaluated and received an extension for another year. As an added benefit, the research programme allowed us to use its South Asia Regional Coordination Office in Nepal. There, Mr. Siddhi Manandhar managed all the financial issues as well as the auditing in the end. Raju Bhattarai, the former head of the South Asia Study Center, is now living with his family in Canada. In May 2019, I interviewed him about the NGO. He also described the harsh working conditions Nepali faced in Delhi. You find excerpts from this interview in the PDF attached to this step. Please read them in order to get the broader picture.
Nepali migrant workers in Delhi, India, face rough conditions. A researcher and an NGO developed a project to address this problem. In this video, Prof. Dr. Susan Thieme explains how the project was launched.

Not every transdisciplinary project starts in the same way. Different contexts offer different opportunities, and case studies help to illustrate diverse routes. The project of this case was set up to improve the living and working conditions of Nepalese, who worked in Delhi.

As the video shows, the project started out in the framework of a PhD. The researcher then met activists who knew well what challenges the Nepali migrants faced. Their experience and the scientific perspective of the researcher led up to a program that provided training in financial issues, labour rights, and organisation. The project received financial support from a Swiss research institution and also resulted in data that helped to advance research.

Prof. Dr. Susan Thieme takes you on the journey to the launch of this project. She describes that goals, roles, and process were the result of joint decisions. The partner who implemented the measures was the NGO South Asia Study Center in Delhi. After watching the video, please read the excerpts of the interview with Raju Bhattarai, former head of the NGO. He gives an impression of what the Nepali migrants faced in Delhi – and explains some of the measures.

We look forward to reading your thoughts and comments!

Educator: Prof. Dr. Susan Thieme

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Partnering for Change: Link Research to Societal Challenges

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