On the field or off it, Prerna Mukharya carves an inspiring storySaswati Mukherjee
Founder of Outline India, a group which conducts high-quality, authentic field surveys, Prerna Mukharya feels that women do not deserve to be treated differently merely for their gender. She agrees that it is indeed difficult for women to do certain things and given the Indian context, there are certain deterrents for working women.
This is exactly what bothered her and pushed her into what she loves doing today – field work. A research startup, Prerna along with her team at Outline India engage in field data collection, research and policy advisory for Universities, Government think-tanks and donor agencies.
Call it coincidence, currently a majority of team members at Outline India are women. So from field work to networking, bidding for projects and dealing with agency heads, women do it all themselves.
“Do something about it Prerna”
Prior to Outline India, Prerna was in the academia. There she had spent months cleaning data at one point. “We had spent many an evening building manuals, training surveyors, formatting and revising survey tools and yet the quality of data received was bad. I was frustrated and didn’t understand why this was so. I was frustrated as I saw a huge business opportunity in the development sector and no contenders.
It was at this point that I thought of setting up Outline India to change the way data collection is done in India- to bring in accountability, authenticity and incentives.
To set up Outline India, she ruminated over the idea for a few months. She had spoken extensively to her senior, at the World Bank office where he told her, ”Prerna, stop cribbing. If it bothers you, just do something about it,” she recalls.
An inspiring story
Was this what inspired Prerna to take up such a challenging work assignment? “Inspiration is everywhere. I have seen the animation Kung Fu Panda ten times and believe in its message: there is no secret ingredient, you have to go do it,” says Prerna.
“I started off with no contacts, about Rs 2 lakh in my bank account and a laptop. The laptop crashed three months into my startup and I thought the world would come crumbling down. At that point in time I learnt that these are small details in the bigger scheme of things. Chasing what you love takes you to a high like nothing else,” says Prerna.
For this young achiever, Outline India has meant sacrifices, and choices. Six months into Outline a Development consulting firm in Bombay offered to buy the startup and make her head of research there. This offer was not good enough to tempt Prerna.
Then there was crazy volumes of work, 1 am phone calls, no work for a whole week, fieldworkers falling sick, clients advancing their deadlines etc. But what kept the team going was validation from some of the best minds in the academia, some amount of recognition, lots of travel, an office space with a massive garden and bean bags.
“It also means three vacations for me in a year. I am currently headed to the Tomorrowland music festival in Belgium,” says Prerna.
“Its akin to what spiderman says – With great power comes great responsibility. I believe that with good data, comes social change,” says the committed social reformer.
Quality data needed
“I believe data is key and if are to build an inclusive growth model in India, we need to ensure quality of data is maintained,” says Prerna. At Outline India, they hire locally to ensure that the fieldworker has a sound understanding of the people, location and behavioural characteristics of the area.
“It is about engaging with them at an emotional level. We communicate to them how the study will impact their home, community, village and people in the long run,” says Prerna.
So be it building survey tools to piloting interventions, monitoring and evaluation services, hosting training workshops, focus group discussions and interviews to writing reports, Outline India does it all.
“We believe that our work feeds into policy decisions, revamping, evaluation and eventually formulation of social schemes,” says 29-year-old Prerna.
Outline India has been working extensively on these projects – Brandeis University’s study on religion and education in Kerala, Sesame street’s game testing content on digital devices with young children across the BRICS countries (they are doing the India leg of the study), University of Tokyo’s attempt to gauge risk-taking behavior among entrepreneurs using game theory, British Council’s attempt to understand political perceptions among the youth prior to elections in UK this year, with Indian Statistical Institute where they interviewed potato and dairy retailers.
“We are in talks for a World Bank study and with the Government in the North East for something bigger,” says this excited founder.
To know more, visit Outline India’s homepage: http://www.outlineindia.com/