Recently Mr Amitabh Kant- CEO of NITI Aayog, retweeted a tweet from the organization’s official Twitter handle that we are ecstatic about. Our very own, Dr.Kheya Furtado, Assistant Professor, Healthcare Management is featured in it- as a Rising Star!
For those of you who don’t know, NITI Aayog, known as National Institution for Transforming India, is the policy think tank of the Government of India. It was established in 2015 with the aim to achieve Sustainable Development Goals and to enhance cooperative federalism by fostering the involvement of State Governments of India in the economic policy-making process using a bottom-up approach.
We spoke to Dr. Kheya and here are excerpts from what she had to say about her time at NITI Aayog:
1. What was your job profile in NITI Aayog?
I joined NITI Aayog as a ‘Young Professional’ in the Health Division and was offered a promotion to the role of Research Associate/ Consultant after less than two years. The job profile envisaged providing domain-specific inputs on all the works undertaken by the Division and NITI as a whole. These included policy inputs to new and existing health schemes/interventions that required approvals from Committees of which NITI formed a part. NITI also undertakes special projects on its own as the policy think-tank. I functioned as a project manager for some of these and assisted the team on others. The scope of work was large and the teams were small, therefore all members of the Division worked closely on all works of the Aayog.
2. What inspired you to enter the healthcare sector and eventually join NITI Aayog?
Health was a sector that I always knew I wanted to work in, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be a doctor. I wanted to do things that would impact populations. Back then I didn’t know Public Health as a subject. I picked subjects that were most closely related to what I eventually wanted to do, graduating in Microbiology, which taught me about disease pathologies and human physiology. By then, I came across Masters in Public Health and went on to graduate at the top of my class and was awarded a DST-INSPIRE fellowship to pursue a full-time PhD which I did at the University of Pune, after completing a year of work experience. The PhD gave me the research skills needed for developing evidence-based policy. I applied for the position at NITI Aayog by the end of my PhD because I knew it was the perfect place to do what I had trained to do and was passionate about.
3. What was your role/contribution to NITI Aayog?
With regards to the special projects undertaken, I was responsible for three projects mainly, and worked with the team on several others. My largest project was the ‘NITI Health Index’(the first edition of which came out in February 2018), wherein we developed an index to measure the performance of all States and Union Territories in terms of health outcomes and outputs. States were further ranked on the basis of their year-on-year incremental performance. This project was initiated and encouraged by Mr. Kant to give the much needed impetus to the social sector in a spirit of competitive federalism and on the lines of the Ease of Doing Business rankings. We worked with the World Bank as a technical partner, were in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and also had a plethora of partner organizations in various technical and mentor capacities. I was the overall project manager for the Index, but was required to undertake technical and managerial aspects relating to the States/UTs and partner agencies. We also developed a framework for measuring the performance of ‘District Hospitals’ wherein I was responsible for developing the index and its finalization. The country-wide implementation was undertaken by my colleague. The third and one of the most interesting policy level works was the drafting of the ‘Three Year Action Agenda’ 2017-18 to 2019-20 to follow the Five Year Plans of the Planning Commission. I was responsible for developing the chapter on health at the division level and along with my adviser Mr Alok Kumar, drafted the sections on Public and Preventive Health and the Assurance of HealthCare.
As part of the policy inputs to schemes which form a routine part of NITI Aayog’s work, I worked closely with the team on the National Health Policy 2015, Cabinet Note for the National Health Protection Scheme (revised RSBY), formation of the National Health Authority and continuation of the National Health Mission for 2017-22.
I also published a paper, book chapter and few articles along with Mr Kumar on NSSO data interpretations, ‘Private sector engagement for disease surveillance’, ‘Options for organization of health financing and service delivery in India in the context of moving towards Universal Health Coverage’, ‘ Health financing in India – increasing efficiency of spending’ and ‘Policy questions arising from evaluations of the Janani Suraksha Yojana’.
4. How was your experience working with NITI Aayog?
Working at NITI was indeed an experience of a life-time. I was blessed to have a great team and incredible bosses to work with. The senior officers didn’t impose hierarchy, like you’d generally expect in a government body. There was a lot of room for what the youngsters had to say and wanted to bring to the table. I was even given international exposure and represented NITI abroad. There were various things that were new to me and challenging about the way Government works, and I took time to get accustomed to those, but the challenges are what make the work more enthralling, isn’t it? Other than that, we were directly associated with the highest levels Government. The stakes were high and we worked hard, day in and out. We were answerable to our bosses who were eventually accountable and answerable to the Prime Minister’s Office. So, there was no fooling around and everyone meant business. Everyone was there to make a difference and bring about transformation. Being a domain specialist, I was able to contribute through my inputs. The IAS officers brought in their intelligent cross-sector and implementation experience and practicality at each and every step. As a team, each one of us worked hard and used our skills to the best of our abilities to make things work together for the best.
5. Any words of advice for the present and prospective students? Especially ones that wish to venture into the healthcare sector?
I really wish for every student to realize where his/her passion lies, and that each one of them should take from their respective degrees the knowledge and skills one tries to teach them here. A Masters programme prepares you to be a professional, so every subject and supplementary course counts. Students tend to have pre-set minds about what aspects of the course they want to focus on and what aspects don’t matter. However, irrespective of what they currently think they need, they should internalize knowledge from all sources available to them because they’re going to end up needing stuff they didn’t think was important.
If you wish to enter the healthcare sector, remember you’ll be dealing with people and their lives at most points in time. People doing an MBA generally tend to have their focus on the for-profit business of healthcare, but when you work in public policy and administration, you impact the entire system. At NITI, one was exposed to all domains of healthcare. The private sector is largely influenced by the policy environment. All these come together to create the Health System and there’s much to be done for this System, especially in India (also globally). So learn as much as you possibly can, develop a passion, and work hard and smart to effectively bring about change wherever you are.