Harshe is using her UChicago Harris education to improve healthcare outcomes for women and children in India.
Headshot of Navika Harshe
Navika Harshe

Navika Harshe is an economist at heart and a policy professional by practice. After completing her Master’s in Economics from University of Hyderabad, India in 2007, she became one of only five students selected across India to intern at  the Parliament of India, studying the intricacies of political economy in the world’s largest democracy.

Harshe later became a Fulbright Scholar, where she chose to pursue her Master of Public Policy from University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. “I was drawn to the University of Chicago brand and the unique international and quantitative culture at Harris. At Harris, I recognized that policymaking does not occur in a silo. Policies have intersections and spill-over effects across every part of society.”

Given her background, it was no surprise that she ended up working as a Research Assistant (RA) at the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics. “As an RA, I worked on an experiment which dealt with early childhood education in the Chicago Heights neighborhood. I not only had the opportunity to run the experiment, but I also was able to see, with data, how behavioral choices impact the decisions we make. Choices which may not be obvious often have a huge impact on how a policy can be effectively implemented.”

After Harris, Harshe returned to India, researching efficient resource distribution between the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with the Planning Commission of India.  She then explored health policy: first at  Operation ASHA, an NGO which runs anti-tuberculosis Directly Observed Treatment, Short Course (DOTS) centers in Delhi, then as a consultant for  the Measurement, Learning, and Evaluation (MLE) team of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) where she worked on evaluations of health programs in the State of Bihar, and finally by leading a cohort study for maternal health with the research organization Neerman in Uttar Pradesh

As Senior Research Manager at Neerman, a leading research organization working in the fields of impact evaluation, monitoring, capacity building, and policy research, Navika conducted the first ever cohort study in India to track 400 women through their pregnancy to monitor nutrition related outcomes in collaboration with International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The cohort model helped develop a rapport with the subjects, increased the probability of getting honest answers, and allowed participants a chance to correct any data errors.

She also leads the health cluster at Agenda for International Development an online think tank focused on international development which provides a platform for young researchers and policy professionals to share their work.

 “Harris’ insistence on building a strong foundation of economic and quantitative skills has helped me navigate seamlessly across varied social sectors,” Harshe said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, India imposed one of the world’s largest and longest lockdowns—which has worsened the health scorecard of pregnant women across India, as well as hampered the schedule of vaccines for children.

“Every policy decision in India should be weighed considering its impact on the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society, which are disproportionately large in India… For developing countries, high quality data is critical. Harris gave me the skills and the patience to find and build high quality data sets to ensure the efficacy of my recommendations.”

Harris also provided Harshe a rich international perspective. “I would have these incredible debates about demographic policies with my friend from Japan, whose wedding I later attended in Karuiza. And while India was worried about skill and education of its large youth population, Japan was worried about providing care to its aging population. The contrasts excited me and motivated me to think more deeply about international policy.”

As a Harris alumna, Harshe said she is still very connected to the school. “I still use Career Development Office services to refine my curriculum vitae, and as president of the University of Chicago Alumni Board in India, I interact as often as I can with our recent surge in new members. Hopefully, I’ll be able to enjoy the Keller Center when I visit Chicago next.”

Harshe is the President of the University of Chicago India Alumni Board.