Spotlight On: Studying International Relations with Akhil Suresh Nair

What did you study and how did you decide to pursue this?

In my undergraduate studies, I completed a Bachelor of Economics with Honours from India, but later decided to pursue a Master of International Relations degree to explore the geopolitical side of economics. I've always wanted to learn how different academic disciplines interacted with each other within the field of social sciences. My undergraduate dissertation was centred around the effects on labor markets by refugee crises within the G-20 economies.

Before I jumped into my Master of International Relations at the University of New South Wales, Sydney (UNSW), I spent a year travelling and volunteering in India. The experience and knowledge I gained from this period made me want to explore international relations in more detail. During this time, I also volunteered with the National Association for the Blind, Kerala (NAB-K) in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), India. I was extremely interested in how representation and voices from different sections of the society needed to be heard. I also travelled around India; Kerala and Maharashtra specifically, which introduced me to a wide array of issues in these regions. During these travels, I learned that there were many individuals and organisations (both regional and international) engaged in finding solutions for local, regional and national issues. I was particularly interested in the connection between domestic and international responses; something I have continued to explore through my studies.

How did your upbringing influence what you were interested in?

I am originally from the city of Thiruvananthapuram (anglicized as Trivandrum) in India, but I was raised in Ash Shariqah (anglicized as Sharjah), in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). My experiences of these cities have really influenced my interests and passions.

My parents migrated to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during the early 1990's as part of the latter stages of the 'Gulf Boom'. This period (and the one prior) saw a significant influx of expatriates, from different countries and communities, into the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It was widely acknowledged that the Middle East promised better socio-economic standards for its inhabitants; for both its citizens and the diaspora alike. As such, I grew up in a time and space where distinct cultures interacted with each other. In the early stages of my life I was introduced to the importance of societal cohesiveness and mutual cooperation. I have since come to learn that a similar pattern of immigration in pursuit of better living standards is part of Australia’s history.

What are the most eye-opening experiences in international relations and development that you have had to date?

I have worked on a variety projects that have shaped my learning beyond the classroom. I began with a research and logistics internship at an NPO based out in the United States of America (USA) called the International Police Science Association (IPSA) in Ash Shariqah (Sharjah). During this internship, I was involved in supporting their production of 'World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI)- 2016' in collaboration with the Institute for Economics and Peace, which highlighted the rates, reasons and responses to criminal activities in 127 countries. They included measures on the ability of police institutions to provide effective security services. Debates centred around introducing police reforms and revolutionising global public security has emerged in the field of international relations, and this industry experience has allowed me to understand the theoretical conceptualisations and practice applications of global security affairs.

I also undertook an internship in the travel and hospitality sector in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). During this experience, I developed a better understanding of the macro and microeconomic factors within the global travel industry.  For instance, I was introduced to the concepts of voluntary and involuntary migration into countries, and how private actors enabled this process. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the ‘Gulf Boom’ is an example of how private and state actors facilitated the movement of diverse populations. During this internship, I also learned about equity in the labour force, including the importance of gender diversity and strong labour relations in the workplace.

What are some of the global challenges that you think are most important now and into the future?

Some of the most pressing issues that I think at the most important are climate change, economic access and inequality, gender-based violence, social inequity, and the ongoing effects of market-based systems. A lack of understanding and inactivity to address these issues, in the field of development and the broader social sciences, would lead to more compounded challenges in the future. As an example, climate change induced risks threaten the lives and livelihoods of populations from Islands nations, coastal cities and their communities globally. Another example could be gender and social equity movements that are undermined by ineffective policy perspectives that are unsatisfactory for achieving change.

Addressing issues happens at different levels. It is important to take small and big steps to address these challenges: through individual thoughts and actions, group debates and interactions, uplifting civil society actors to engage, and utilising academic and professional researchers to inform policy.

What are you currently working on at your internship at IGD?

I have been working as a research intern with the IGD team for a project which analyses the patterns and drivers of poverty in Pacific Island nations. Through this research we intend to observe the uniqueness of poverty in the region. That is to say, how are the experiences of poverty in the Pacific different from typical definitions of poverty, often prescribed by international developmental organisations, aid agencies, and national governments. The initial stages of the internship involved collecting baseline data from secondary sources, followed by analysing policies and examples of social-safety nets in this region.

During my research I have come to observe that, relative to other parts of the world, the Pacific has been underrepresented in development research. Inaccessibility to social services with and within the islands, high cost of trade with other parts of the world and subsistence agricultural practices are all interrelated and form an important part of the challenges in the Pacific.

Another activity that I have actively pursued with this internship is to understand how the IGD functions at an organisational level. How does it work with communities and initiatives to be efficient? For many organisations, this focus on organisational change is needed more during periods of disruption, such as this year’s COVID-19 pandemic.

What websites and sources do you use to stay up to date with current affairs?

My everyday list varies from news agencies (Associated Press, Reuters, The Guardian) to new media platforms such as (The Caravan, The Diplomat, The Print). I have subscribed to a few current affairs magazines such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy and The Economist as well.

My top 10 are:

What advice do you have for others who might be interested in studying development/international relations?

International Relations is an exciting and enterprising field. It draws on other interdisciplinary disciplines; their thoughts and practices in order to respond analytically to critical global issues. I would say that any individual with a flair for world affairs, who is passionate to learn the intricacies involved within, would benefit from studying international relations. Fundamentally, studying IR involves social science research that transcends boundaries in order to learn.