Redefining public service impact: A Q&A with Kira Intrator

Kira Intrator, an associate consultant in Dalberg’s Mumbai office, was awarded MIT’s Excellence in Public Service Award on June 6th, 2013. The award is given annually to recent alumni from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning who show strong potential in public service leadership and “are making exemplary contributions to public service.”

In the words of Kira, “This is an extremely exciting outcome for me, and I owe a lot to Dalberg for this achievement. My work experience at Dalberg has gone a long way to support my application. It is an honor to win, and a real boon that the award will pay off half of the outstanding loans from my degree.”

Here, Kira answers a few more questions about what led to this moment.

What drove you to pursue your degree? With what intentions did you seek a MA in urban planning within the International Development Group at MIT?

I wanted to approach international development through the lens of rapid urbanization and the physical, built form of cities, and to examine the connection between social, environmental, or economic policies and the tangible, spatial form of cities.

Mumbai train_Kira

Kira observes Mumbai’s built environment from a train

My work experience factored heavily into this interest. Prior to MIT, I worked on behalf of single slum-dwelling women’s housing rights in Mumbai, and more recently, launched workforce development nonprofits for young urban adults in Chicago and Seattle. Both of these piqued my desire to study the roles of physical inclusivity, low-income housing, and transportation in combating social inequities in urban centers.

MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning offered immense academic independence and. I was able to take courses that ranged from educational reform at Harvard, through to urban climate adaptation and resilient design at MIT’s School of Architecture.

What led you to Dalberg? How does working at the firm fit into your career goals?

As part of my thesis I was building a voice activated mHealth (mobile healthcare) prototype for disaster relief, with a case-study in Haiti. While doing research on mHealth, I happened upon work that Dalberg had recently conducted. It had the rigor of academic work but went a step beyond, suggesting new solutions and a path forward. When I discovered the breadth of development issues possible to address at Dalberg, I knew I had found the right fit.

One of my goals is to bring the language and concepts of urban planning and development into a more accessible and universal dialogue. The field has so much to offer to a range of issues, but currently remains primarily the domain of urban planners and certain academic circles.

Even as a recent hire, I have already observed the depth of expertise in each practice area at Dalberg—and the breadth of these areas means the firm deals with most of the aspects of thinking holistically about a livable urban environment. As global population trends continue to concentrate a greater percentage of the world’s people in cities, it will become increasingly critical to apply an urban lens to existing approaches in healthcare, education, and sustainability.

Kira Intrator facilitates an urban and peri-urban planning conference in Mumbai

Kira Intrator facilitatating an urban and peri-urban planning conference in Mumbai

At Dalberg, I have the opportunity to bring that urban development lens and language to pioneering ideas across these fields. Dalberg is also doing – and has plans to expand – exciting work specifically focused on cities and urban growth, which I hope to become particularly involved in.

Most of all, I love to learn and Dalberg offers abundant opportunities for it! As I leave academia behind, I’ve been delighted by the prospect of continuing to forge new ground through research, with a constant focus on the practical.

Has Dalberg influenced the way you think about development?

I came to Dalberg because of the complexity and importance of the development issues the firm addresses. The work here provides an opportunity to make large-scale impact and change in the international development arena, whether guiding Japanese investments in the Indian health care system or analyzing key barriers to scale up the clean cookstove market in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Even though I wanted to hit these challenges head on, the magnitude of some of them is massive. It is easy to become overwhelmed, but Dalberg has shown me a satisfying alternative: we undertake to boil down these major issues to manageable detail and concrete actions for our clients. When I review some of the projects I have worked on, I can also visualize the other direction: the way these specific, actionable plans collectively add up to move us, step-by-step, toward the firm’s mission of improving the lives of the world’s poor.

Were you surprised to win MIT’s Excellence in Public Service award?

It was definitely not a given! At first, MIT’s eligibility requirements for this award only included people working in the non-profit sector. After some conversations with members of the award committee I presented the case for a broader definition of development services – one that includes social enterprises like Dalberg – to be included for consideration. Ultimately, I was allowed to compete, as the committee recognized the impact of the kind of advisory services Dalberg provides. As a result of my application, the award committee exploring reframing the requirements and the way it assesses impact.

Of course, winning was an exciting honor, but apart from winning, I was thrilled to hear that that my application may influence a change in the way the Committee will assess impact in public service going forward. They are considering expanding their definition from ‘immediate/tangible’ impact to include longer-term systemic change, as well as including work executed by organizations that are not exclusively nonprofits. As the number of hybrid organizations, such social enterprises and B corporations, continues to grow, this shift represents a chance truly to reward service impact – via whatever methods are successful at achieving it.

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One Response to Redefining public service impact: A Q&A with Kira Intrator

  1. Pule Segale says:

    This is exceptional… I have a keen interest in development from the built environment perspective, that includes social welfare.

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