InSPIRE : Informal Sector Policy Interventions and Research Engagements

Dvara Research is pleased to announce the inaugural of our new platform called InSPIRE or Informal Sector Policy Interventions and Research Engagements. The mission of InSPIRE is to research and advocate for policy action to provide adequate levels of social and livelihoods protection for the informal sector in India.

We began the InSPIRE journey in April 2020, when Dvara Research began to host a series of conference calls every Tuesday, as a means of staying in touch with all of our partners in the financial inclusion and social protection arenas, and of informing ourselves about the significant challenges that were beginning to arise for low-income households and the informal sector in the early weeks of lockdown. During the months of lockdown and beyond, the fortnightly Tuesday conference calls became a venue for very productive interchanges among a diverse group of researchers and practitioners, from across the spectrum, India and abroad. In 2021, we are continuing this tradition under the InSPIRE banner.

The InSPIRE platform aims to accomplish its mission by hosting discussions among key stakeholders every fortnightly Tuesday, and using these discussions to learn about research and action-projects that are ongoing as well as to originate new ideas for research and action-projects that group members can individually or jointly pursue. All discussions will be off-the-record, and no press will be present. The spirit of engagement among group members will be collaborative and one of learning together so that the urgent challenges of social and livelihoods protection for the informal sector in India may be met with a sense of added urgency and joint purpose by the group.

The following table provides information on the sessions we have had so far. We do record the sessions but because of their off-the-record nature, we are not making the recordings available online. If you’d like to request the recording of a particular session, or seek to know more about a particular talk, please fill out the contact form below, or send an email to

Date Session Title Speaker Synopsis

Jan 19, 2021 

Building on LibTech India’s collective experience of working on NREGA and the three state (Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan) survey, LibTech India released a report titled ‘Length of the Last Mile: Delays & Hurdles in NREGA Wage Payments’ in November, 2020. The report is an attempt to document the perspective of the workers in accessing their own wages. In this session, Sakina and Rajendran presented some key observations from the report.

Feb 02, 2021 

Ecuador has a long history of migrant and refugee reception, where historical trend has grown in the last 5 years with large numbers of Venezuelans choosing to remain and reside in Ecuador. As of September 2020, Ecuador estimates 400 thousand Venezuelan economic refugees living in the country. One of their stories is that of “Nia” a young Venezuelan who participated in the underground financial remittance system made possible by Ecuador’s dollarized economy. In this session, Natalia Espinosa Tokuhama discussed the mechanics of the remittances scheme, as well as contrasted the financial health with that of internal Ecuadorian migrants to the city.

Feb 16, 2021 

The COVID-19 crisis has really tested the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In this session, Sharon Buteau discussed interesting insights gathered through a rapid periodic assessment of Indian microenterprises from June 2020 to October 2020 (GAME/LEAD collaboration), to shine a light on how they have navigated challenging circumstances posed by the crisis across multiple business dimensions and employment.

Mar 02, 2021 

As a follow-up to our previous work on exclusion in welfare schemes, Dvara Research, in collaboration with Gram Vaani (GV), undertook a study encompassing an analysis of complaints from citizens unable to access welfare benefits and the resolution pathways that were used by GV volunteers to assist such citizens. We covered welfare beneficiaries across seven DBT schemes, MGNREGA, PDS, and Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) in the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. The study highlights how a citizen/volunteer navigates the welfare labyrinth across the various administrative tiers of scheme implementation and underscores the need to revisit the design of grievance redress mechanisms in welfare delivery.

Mar 16, 2021 

Online needs offline: Architectures for digital inclusivity

Study: Last Mile Access to Urban Governance

Study: Restoring Agency: Modified Choice Approach

The Last Mile Access research is a year-long empirical, mixed-methods study conducted by Aapti Institute in partnership with Omidyar Network India and eGovernments Foundation. The study explores existing pathways to government services for marginalised citizens in the context of digital platforms. The key takeaway of this study is the role of offline architectures including human intermediaries, processes, and mechanisms that sit alongside tech to amplify reach and access for last-mile citizens.

Mar 30, 2021 

How has bank branch expansion changed in pace and coverage with different policies of RBI? We develop a novel measure of financial access at the village level by finding the Euclidean distance of unbanked villages to the nearest village or town with bank branch for each year from 1951-2019. We use this measure of financial access to study different bank branch expansion policies over last seven decades. Particularly, we observe how proximity to banks changes in four different regimes of bank branch expansion—pre-Social Banking Phase (1950-1969), Social Banking Phase (1969-1990), Liberalization Period 1 (1990-2005) and Liberalization Period 2 (2005 onwards). We find that social banking policy led to a rapid decline in distance and, thereby, increased financial access. These gains became restricted from 1990 to 2005 as the policy of mandatory quotas on bank branch opening was withdrawn. However, financial access improved again from 2005 onwards when RBI withdrew service area approach rules on lending in rural markets and introduced incentive-led policies for bank branch expansion. The results suggest that sound, predictable and incentive driven methods can provide both efficiency and equity of public service provision. The possibility to replicate our measure of financial access in other areas of policy is discussed in conclusion.

Apr 13, 2021 

Government of India’s response to COVID-19 pandemic – A demand-side perspective

The talk featured the results from the first two rounds of a demand-side study that MicroSave Consulting (MSC) is conducting. The first round was conducted in May 2020, the second in September 2020, and a third-round is planned for May 2021. The objective of this study is to gauge the demand-side effectiveness of state government interventions during COVID-19, and thereby to help central and state governments improve the implementation of COVID-specific measures to secure the poor and vulnerable from economic shocks. The demand-side study complements the work that MSC undertook in 2020 with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India, wherein the response and readiness of state governments to address COVID-19 was systematically tracked and periodic reports submitted to the MHA with a relative ranking of states and good practices for states to learn from each other. In all, four reports were submitted between April 2020 and July 2020, and widely circulated within the central and state governments.

Apr 27, 2021 

The world was not ready for Covid-19. But we could have been. We could have been prepared for the many climate-related disasters, famines, conflicts and global health threats of the past decade. We have the science and expertise to monitor and forecast risks, yet we still treat disasters as surprises. We have the financial know-how to have money in place when disaster strikes, yet households, communities, and even countries still end up passing around a begging bowl. This work harnesses lessons from finance, political science, economics, psychology, and the natural sciences to show how countries and their partners can be far better prepared to deal with disasters. The insights can lead to practical ways in which governments, civil society, private firms, and international organizations can work together to reduce the risks to people and economies when a disaster looms. Responses to disasters then become less emotional, less political, less headline-grabbing, and more business as usual and effective. The presentation will explore a range of solutions that have been implemented around the world to respond to disasters. It will give an overview of the evidence on what works and what doesn’t and it will examines the crucial issue of disaster risk financing and insurance. Building on the latest evidence from around the world, it will present a set of lessons and principles to guide future practice in this area with a particular focus on implications for India.

May 11, 2021 

Analyzing social security schemes – their role and reach during the COVID-19 pandemic

The talk presented and discussed the findings from three rounds of data collected by a collective of 60+ NGOs, called the Rapid Rural Community Response (RCRC). The data has been collected from 11 states. The three rounds were conducted in May-June’20, June-July’20 and Dec’20-Jan’21. To complement the data collected, we conducted consultation sessions with NGOs in some states to understand district level differences and find explanations for trends observed in the data. The objective of the study is to examine the reach and effectiveness of social security schemes, to inform better reach, simpler processes and responsive designing of government schemes. The effort brings together practitioners and researchers to inform policy-making.

May 25, 2021 

Using behavioral science to combat COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy – sharing learnings from the ongoing work in the United States and research in India

Vaccine hesitancy, according to the WHO, refers to a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccine services. With vaccines being a strong part of the arsenal in the global fight against COVID-19, it is the need of the hour to combat any form of hesitancy and encourage vaccine acceptance. Given the growing vaccine hesitancy worldwide, we, at ideas42, are applying behavioral science insights to support and optimize COVID-19 vaccine acceptance, follow-through, and service delivery. While this is an ongoing work and we are at the initial stages ourselves, given the wide interest and relevance of the subject, we would be sharing our research findings and early learnings. During this session, the speakers presented behavioral interventions that ideas42 has designed for implementation in the US and make a case for applying a behavioral approach to overcome the vaccine hesitancy challenge in India.

June 22, 2021 

Adoption of banking products by bottom of pyramid consumers: An empirical investigation 

Financial inclusion programs across the globe have focused on opening savings accounts. Several empirical studies have noted that the use of such accounts is low. What could be the reasons for this? An understanding of the mechanisms driving the usage of these accounts can be obtained by studying the adoption of the individual products available through them. Savings accounts offered under the financial inclusion programs make limited products available. For example, a Jan Dhan account has facilities for deposit, withdrawal, fund transfer, fixed deposit & ATM. It does not offer a cheque book, mobile banking or internet banking. We use growth models to empirically model the adoption of basic banking products like deposit, withdrawal, fund transfer etc. by bottom of pyramid consumers. We discuss the possible underlying mechanisms responsible for the different effects driving adoption.

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Sakina Dhorajiwala

Sakina Dhorajiwala holds a Master’s in Public Policy and a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Mumbai, India. Currently she is working with Liberation Technology (LibTech India) – a group of researchers, activists, and engineers that works on transparency and accountability of various government to citizen programmes in several parts of rural India. She has worked on matters concerning the right to food and nutrition and the right to work, among others. In particular she has been interested in rural citizen experience in times of technology mediated policy initiatives. Prior to this, Sakina was a Fellow with Teach for India (TFI) where she served as full-time teacher to children in two under-resourced schools for two years in Hyderabad. She is also the co-founder of WeSpeakOut, a group of Muslim women who have come together to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in their community.

Rajendran Narayanan

Rajendran Narayanan is an Assistant Professor in the School of Arts and Sciences, Azim Premji University, Bangalore. After completing his Ph.D in statistics from Cornell University, he has held academic positions at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, Cornell University, Ithaca and Ashoka University, Sonepat. He has been with LibTech India, since its inception in 2011. LibTech India, is an organisation that works on Research for Action pertaining to transparency & accountability of government programmes like NREGA, NFSA and Pensions. LibTech India is also keen on building on its learnings in NREGA for an accountability framework for other DBT programmes. Rajendran is also associated with various national campaigns such as the Right to Food, Right to Work campaigns and is interested in the politics of data and in understanding the implications of technocracy on people’s rights and participatory democracy.

Natalia Espinosa Tokuhama

Natalia Espinosa Tokuhama works as an online education liaison and researcher for Tufts University. This includes her earlier work for the Journey’s Project of Henry J. Leir Institute as the local member of the research process in Quito, Ecuador. Prior to receiving her Master’s degree in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts, she worked in a local city government in Quito, Ecuador where she managed projects in productive development, population and city resiliency, and the integration of informal economies. Natalia completed her undergraduate studies at New York University as a Scholar of Excellency – Becaria de Excelencia – sponsored by Ecuador’s National Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, leading her to her work for Quito’s public sector where she developed her passion for liaison and relationship building. She seeks to foment dialogue and information sharing between cities, international organizations, the private sector, universities and local governments and to do so in various disciplines of public service. As an interlocutor, Natalia continues to seek to bridge communication and information sharing between experts in the fields of economics, public policy, advocacy and law in order to produce holistic and successful development policies.

Kim Wilson

Kim Wilson is Senior Lecturer and Senior Fellow at the Fletcher School of Tufts University. Prior to joining Fletcher, she worked in finance and then spent 15 years working in Financial Inclusion for organizations like Catholic Relief Services, the United Nations Development program and the World Bank. She spent from 2001-2005 working in India, based in Kolkata. She had the opportunity to visit 19 Indian states and learn and support the self-help groups formed by NGOs and NABARD. She returned to the US to study and teach about financial inclusion. Since 2016 she has led a series of studies on the financial journeys of transcontinental migrants and refugees. A collection of reports, essays and financial biographies are available on the Journeys Project portal ( The Journeys Project findings will appear in a appear in a chapter for the book, Global Human Smuggling (Johns Hopkins Press, 2022) and in The Handbook on Migration (Elgar Press). Her teaching now focuses on qualitative research methods.

Sharon Buteau

Sharon is passionate about finding effective solutions to promote enterprise growth and development, and realising the untapped potential of micro and small businesses. As Executive Director of LEAD, Sharon’s devotes her time to understand how co-creation, collaborative processes, as well using the power of data from the ground up can improve socio-economic outcomes for individuals, households and enterprises Sharon has in-depth knowledge in “right fit research methods” and significant experience in the domain of financial capabilities and well-being, and small business and entrepreneurship development. Prior to joining LEAD, Sharon was an economist with Analysis Group in Montreal Canada. She holds an Msc in Economics from the Universite du Quebec a Montreal, as well as an M.A. in Social Research Methods from the London School of Economics.

Aarushi Gupta

Aarushi is a Research Associate with the Social Protection Initiative at Dvara Research. Her focus area is last-mile delivery of social protection and is currently studying exclusion and grievance redressal in welfare through various field projects. She is currently leading the team’s work on exclusion and is conducting state-wide surveys in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, and Chhattisgarh, involving multiple stakeholders from regional governments. Previously, she has worked as an Associate Consultant at Ernst & Young in their Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services team. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from National Law School of India University, Bangalore and a Bachelor’s (H) degree in Economics from Christ University, Bangalore.

Aishwarya Narayan

Aishwarya is passionate about building welfare systems which are equitably accessible by all. She is presently a Research Associate at the Social Protection Initiative at Dvara Research. Her recent work has involved expiring public private partnerships in public private partnerships in welfare delivery. She has also been looking into the intersection of social protection and digital systems. Aishwarya holds a Master of Applied Economics from the National University of Singapore. Her Master’s coursework involved extensive study of South-East Asian models of growth and development, and program evaluation methods. Previously she has worked as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Asia Competitiveness Institute at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore.

Sarayu Natarajan

Sarayu has a background in management consulting (McKinsey and Company), venture investing (Elevar Equity), program development and management (Gray Matters Capital), and academic research. She has a PhD in Political Science from King’s College London, a Master’s in Public Policy from the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, and a arts and law degree from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU).

Lakshmee Sharma

Lakshmee Sharma has worked in the Indian development practice and policy space with a focus on climate change and agrarian livelihoods, labour migration, and land and urban informal housing. She has previously worked with the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and Tata Centre for Development at UChicago. She served as an AIF Clinton Fellow (2016-17) with Gene Campaign, Uttarakhand. She holds a BA (Triple Major) in Psychology, Sociology, and English from Christ University and an MSc in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford

Samarth Gupta

Samarth Gupta is an Associate Fellow, NCAER. In this role, he has contributed in several key economic policy research studies. These include taxation policies for alcohol in India for WHO, business expectations survey, and investment prioritization framework for FCDO, Government of UK etc. He obtained his PhD in Economics from Boston University in 2018. His research interest include development economics and industrial organization. Particularly, he has explored how redistributive demands in developing economies affect firm performance.

Sandhya Garg

Sandhya Garg is Sir Ratan Tata Fellow at Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi. Prior to joining IEG, she was an Associate Fellow, NCAER where she undertook research in evaluation of Direct Benefit Transfer in key central and central sponsored schemes. She obtained her PhD in Economics from IGIDR in 2018. She is interested in public finance and development economics. In her work, she has explored the distribution of public goods in Indian villages.

Ritesh Rautela

Ritesh Rautela is a Senior Manager in MSC’s Government and Social Impact (GSI) Practice Group under the Digital Financial Services domain. He has over 11 years of experience in the field of management consulting, G2P programs and payment systems, banking, branchless banking, digital financial services, social protection, agriculture, financial inclusion, and financial literacy.

Kritika Shukla

Kritika Shukla is a Manager in MSC’s Government and Social Impact (GSI) Practice Group under Digital Financial Services domain. She is a development sector consultant with more than five years’ experience of working with multi-lateral and bi-lateral donor agencies, financial institutions in G2P programs and payment systems, financial inclusion, digital financial services, social protection, and agriculture.

Dr. Daniel Clarke

Daniel leads the Centre for Disaster Protection’s work with national governments and international organisations to improve how the world prepares and pays for disasters. He joined the Centre in 2017 as Chief Economist and became Director in 2019. His work has had a major influence on policy and practice at a global, country and organisational level, and his book, Dull Disasters? How Planning Ahead Will Make A Difference, published in 2016, is a seminal work on disaster risk financing. He was also a lead author of the Centre report, The Future of Crisis Financing: A Call to Action, which sets out a new vision and agenda for reform of the international crisis financing system. He has worked with more than 40 developing country governments, in close collaboration with bilateral and multilateral development institutions and the private sector, to develop improved risk finance schemes, including a public-private partnership to ensure that more than 400,000 farmers in Kenya now have secure and predictable insurance to protect their livelihoods. He has been an actuary at the Government Actuary’s Department, where he advised the UK government on fiscal risk management. Before this he was a Senior Financial Sector Specialist at the World Bank and a Lecturer in Actuarial Science at the University of Oxford. He has a D.Phil. in Economics from the University of Oxford.

Advaita R

Advaita Rajendra is a Ph.D. student at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in the Public Systems Group. She is currently working on policy issues in waste, waste-work and secondary education. Her research interests lie at the intersection of social hierarchies, environment and livelihoods.

Karan Singhal

Karan Singhal is currently working as a researcher at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad on topics in urban governance, education and early childhood, as part of an IIMA and UNICEF partnership.

Ankur Sarin

Ankur Sarin is a faculty in the Public Systems Group at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. His works include investigations of the effects of social and economic inequality on welfare outcomes of children and understanding the influence of technology on the social and economic life of the marginalised.

Preeti Anand

Preeti leads the South Asia projects of ideas42 and over the last four and a half years here, she has worked on a wide range of projects in Financial Inclusion, Health, Governance, WASH, Education and Livelihoods across South Asia and Africa. She comes from a management consulting background and before ideas42, she was a part of Grameen Foundation India’s project team.

Lee-Sien Kao

Lee-Sien Kao is a Senior Associate at ideas42, where she uses behavioral science to advance public health in the United States. In particular, she leads the US health team’s vaccine portfolio, which includes work on routine vaccines as well as the COVID-19 vaccine. Before joining the health team, she worked with the city of Chicago on behavioral science initiatives within city government agencies.

Susanti Vijaykumar

Susanti is a Projects Analyst based in India, where she works on applying the behavioral design approach across ideas42’s projects in governance, agriculture and financial inclusion across South Asia. Prior to joining ideas42, Susanti trained as a Materials Science Engineer before pursuing Liberal Arts and switching to the world of policy and behavioral science.

Vinay Kumar Singh

Vinay is a management consultant and a researcher with interest in policies related to financial inclusion and their impact. He has multi-business experience in retail banking, consumer lending and insurance. As a part of his advocacy efforts, he frequently contributes to OpEds in leading financial dailies on these topics. Vinay studied chemical engineering at IIT Kanpur, honed his management skills at IIM Calcutta and has recently finished his doctorate in Economics from MDI Gurgaon.