A recent Willy Brandt School Alumna, Harini Suresh, had the opportunity to interview Mr. Karamuttu Sundaram, also an Alumnus, about his work post-graduation and about his efforts in creating study opportunities for student from India. The following is their conversation.
Tell us a little about your life before the Brandt School and what led you towards the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.
My life has been a rollercoaster of choices. I have done a degree in Engineering, one in Psychology and I am also into filmmaking. I have tried very different things in my life and I still do. Europe has fascinated me, and my interest in international politics pushed me into doing a course in English in continental Europe instead of the UK or the US. My first choice was European politics. However, there were no good schools for that. My next option was international politics. WBS was then called the Erfurt School of Public Policy and it was the only good program in English that I could find.
What have you done since graduating from the Willy Brandt School?
I came back to India in 2006, after WBS. I could see that there wasn’t much of a think-tank culture in the country. The few think-tanks that were present were located in Delhi and there was nothing in South India. So, I started my own two think-tanks. I also got into filmmaking. Currently, I am working on a Tamil film which will be released soon.
What are the main activities in your current line of work? What do you like most about your work? What are the main challenges that you face?
There are two think-tanks that I am running right now; EICF, and the Indian Institute of Public Policy. Both organizations have different focus areas, energy policy in Tamil Nadu and foreign policy in our Delhi office. The director of foreign policy is pretty active and our Delhi office is very productive thanks to him.
The challenges that we face are mainly in South India as working with the Tamil Nadu government is really demotivating at times. The few projects that we have undertaken under the current government have not been satisfying and one must have extreme patience to work with the political wheel in the state. At the moment not much is happening on the energy policy front. The think-tanks haven’t become completely self-sustaining yet. However, we are expecting more funding for the foreign policy office soon.
How did the Brandt School contribute towards your professional growth?
The Erfurt School of Public Policy (WBS) gave me exposure to policy making and the different aspects surrounding it. I learned the intricacies of NGO management and developed my critical thinking skills there.
How did you come up with the idea for the EICF scholarship? What is the rationale behind it?
Here in India, we don’t usually pay much attention to the opinion of continental Europe. When people talk about politics they are focused mainly on Anglo-Saxon countries and the United States. Indians right now need a different form of thinking as well as newer perspectives. I want to promote this different line of thinking and encourage students to study social studies in continental Europe, as right now students only go there for technical studies for the most part.
Do you have any advice for our current MPP students?
Take your knowledge from here and apply it to your country context wisely. Develop a broader perspective of things. Be open, get a lot of exposure, and learn a language. Even within Europe each country has a different perspective, so try to network as much as possible and travel as much as possible. When I studied, I didn’t study just for the sake of it. I took many courses to gain very interesting experiences. Use the opportunity wisely. Be open to change. Don’t go with prejudices or preconceived perceptions.