The first person Gauri Nandedkar interviewed for her PhD research was former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. Tomorrow (12 December) Gauri will graduate from the University of Waikato with her PhD and the Rt Honourable Helen Clark will be conferred an honorary doctorate at the same ceremony.
When Gauri interviewed Helen Clark, the former PM was Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and Chair of the United Nations Development Group. Her job related closely to Gauri’s study, Millennium Development Goal 3 – gender equality and women’s empowerment – and its translation into local contexts. “Ms Clark was able to give me a ‘big picture’ view of UN development programmes,” Gauri says.
For her PhD research, Gauri investigated and critically analysed a local life-skills education programme for adolescent girls, which took her back to India and very near to where she was born. “I felt it was important to find out how the UN programme was being implemented at a local level, and I was keen to see what was being done for adolescent girls as there’s been little research done in that field,” Gauri says. Her research took place in Maharashtra state, in the heart of India, where villages are small and traditionally girls have had little access to programmes that might empower them politically and socially.
Girls from different villages were shoulder tapped to attend 10-day modules, the first of which focussed on personal development. “I was basically a fly on the wall,” Gauri says. “And it was so interesting as these girls, who were nearing the end of secondary school, engaged in dialogue with the facilitators and learned about looking after themselves, often addressing issues that were difficult to discuss with their families.”
Gauri says the girls were given the confidence to make choices and drive positive changes in their own lives and then in their communities. The second module trained them to communicate and negotiate with officials and authority figures, and the third module taught them financial literacy.
“There’s a real expectation that these girls will become volunteers in their communities and bring about positive change,” Gauri says. “I found they are not only the subject of development, they are also agents of development and change.” She says her research revealed that while the UNICEF programme provided valuable skills for the girls, there was room for improvement.
“For instance these girls were tutored skills in money management and accounting for small businesses, but adolescent girls cannot open bank accounts, so there were a few things out of sync with reality, but the good thing was that the programme fostered empowerment, and that has got to be applauded.”
Before starting her PhD, Gauri lived in Germany for 20 years and completed her masters degree at the University of Chicago before that. “In Germany, I was working as a business development manager in education when I decided I’d like to study again. I looked at different universities and found Priya [Professor Priya Kurian] at Waikato, and emailed her and gingerly asked…”
She says Professor Kurian and her other supervisors Drs Patrick Barrett and Rachel Simon-Kumar “were the very best”.
“I knew I wanted to study gender and development, and they encouraged me to research more deeply exactly what I wanted to do. Then throughout my study they gave me fantastic support and guidance, always pushing me to strive to do better. ”
Gauri is now a teaching fellow and is working with Professor Iain White on National Science Challenge 11, Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities.