04 November 2015

Leading government administration in India

I arrived at the Graduate Institute in October 1970, and spent the next three years attending a range of courses and seminars in international relations, economics and law. Those years were the most memorable of my life. It was a truly unforgettable and unique experience, with exposure to academic and practical international affairs, interaction with students from different parts of the world, long-lasting friendships and lectures from some of the most respected world leaders and academics. Just one example was during the 1973 oil crisis, when the Institute organised a series of high-level conferences on the impact this event could have on the world economy. These meetings were closely covered by the world media, there was always considerable excitement in the air and one somehow felt that one was close to the centre of all those tumultuous events.

Sheela Bhide (PhD in International History, 1995)

I decided to postpone my PhD in order to pursue a career with the Government of India, with a promise from Graduate Institute Administrative Director Jean-Paul Chatelanat that I could return to complete my doctorate whenever I wished. I still remember the keen interest he took in my career planning, advising me to take the opportunity to contribute to the development of my country.

As a young civil servant in India, I spent the next ten years in field-level district administration. This gave me first-hand exposure to the problems faced by rural people, helping me to understand their needs and presenting an opportunity to implement the government’s rural development and welfare schemes. The framework of economic development and in-depth knowledge of other countries’ development programmes helped me immensely in handling early challenges during these years. Later, I held posts at regional and national level in the Ministries of Commerce, Industry, Finance and External Affairs. I represented my government in various international conferences and negotiations, and had the opportunity to work on a development project in Bhutan.

I achieved a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University in 1987, and subsequently decided to finally complete my PhD at the Graduate Institute. The theoretical foundations of international relations, case studies from different countries and the exposure to negotiations within international organisations provided me with the tools necessary to overcome the challenges I faced throughout my working life.

In 2007, I was presented the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration. This is the highest distinction that can be bestowed upon a civil servant in India. I will be forever grateful to the Graduate Institute, to its administration, students and professors, and to Professor Harish Kapur in particular, for contributing so immensely to the success of my career.


This portrait was published in the new issue of Globe, the Graduate Institute's biannual review.