A Career in Development Communications

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Yamini Lohia

Yamini Lohia is a Communications Officer with the United Nations in New Delhi. She has worked for the Economist, Mint, Indian Express and Times of India. She is an alum of the University of Southern California.

1. You started your career as a journalist. What were you most interested in writing at the time?

I’ve always had an interest in international politics and foreign policy, so that was one of the first subject areas I delved into when I began my career. Over time, I became interested in other kinds of policy issues as well. Education and health, for instance, are so central to how we experience life, and social policy and the provisioning of services are the cornerstone of our compact with the state. I wanted to be a good citizen, and I think holding governments accountable is one of the most essential things you can do as a politically-aware person.

It wasn’t all matters of state though. One of my abiding passions is popular culture and how deeply it affects our lives, so I wrote a lot about Harry Potter and Manchester United, to name just two fandoms. I also tended to have a lot of opinions on the ways in which technology is constantly transforming how we act, think, argue and form relationships.

2. Why did you decide to leave the world of journalism and enter development communications?

While journalism was good to me, I wanted to experience communication from a different lens. I wanted to still create content and tell stories, but perhaps with the sort of longitudinal reportage that national media doesn’t always have the luxury of indulging in. Plus, it became increasingly clear to me over time that how development organizations are perceived by policymakers, civil society and the general public is essential to the success of their operations. And of course that perception is moulded in no small part by the communication strategies employed by them.

3. During your career, did you ever think that you weren’t making the impact you hoped for?

When you write for the editorial pages of a newspaper, your audience is extremely limited. That’s just a fact. Few people who pick up a newspaper read an editorial. And then the editorial pages of Indian newspapers are in general less influential than, say, the New York Times or the Guardian. So yes, I felt sometimes like I was writing in a vacuum, and that no one was bothered with what we were saying.

Then you’d meet someone who appreciated a particular editorial, or you would get traction on social media, or receive an email from a decision-maker. But really the thing to remind yourself when you felt demoralised is that your writing is important to someone, even if the bang wasn’t as loud as you’d like.

4. What is it like to work for the United Nations Development Programme in India?

When you work at a UN agency, you’re working with some of most passionate people around. They all have deep expertise and have worked quietly to deliver real change for decades. These are not people who seek the limelight; they really just believe in the work they’re doing, and it’s a privilege to be able to help make their work known a bit better. But everything you hear about the levels of bureaucracy involved is not, shall we say, terribly exaggerated.

5. What role has studying abroad played in your professional development?

Experiencing different pedagogies inculcates a certain amount of confidence, because you get the best of the more informal, didactic US-style classroom, and the lecture-heavy infodump that can characterise British and Indian classes. For me, it left me with very different questions to which I was then able to synthesise answers in ways that I couldn’t have without the benefit of the multicultural contexts in which these programmes were being conducted. I met people from around the world and various cultures, and that broadened my mind, opening it up to ideas that I might otherwise have resisted or worse, never even been exposed to.

6. Do you have any advice for young people who are interested in pursuing a career in Development Communications?

I think the most important piece of advice I can give is to not get disheartened and disillusioned. Change is slow and difficult to effect; it takes time and sustained effort. It’s important to recognise the boundaries within which you must operate, while not allowing setbacks to make you cynical about the importance of public service, or government, or development agencies.

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