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CPR Faculty Speak: Sabina Dewan

Sabina Dewan

December 9, 2022

Sabina Dewan is a Senior Visiting Fellow at CPR and Founder and Executive Director of the JustJobs Network. Her research focusses on delineating strategies for job creation and workforce development. She works closely with governments, businesses, multilateral and grassroots organisations providing critical labour market information to improve interventions aimed at generating more and better employment, and cultivating employability, especially for women, youth and marginalised groups. In this edition of CPR Faculty Speak, she talks about her work and interests at CPR, why they matter, what impact she hopes to achieve and more.

Tell us about your research work and interests at CPR.

“To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness.” With this quote, American philosopher and educational reformer, John Dewey captures the centrality of purposeful work to our lives. My life’s work is understanding labour markets. This includes examining the impact of major forces like technology, climate change, and the pandemic, on employment in India. At CPR, I focus on unfolding trends; for instance, how the proliferation of digital labour platforms affects women’s work; or how the pandemic affected small businesses and their workers. The goal is to ultimately suggest ways to manage the impact of these forces and to create better work, more resilient workforces, and an inclusive labour market.

Why do these issues interest you?

I believe that a healthy labour market is the foundation for everything from the well-being and development of society, to political and economic performance. Given the scale and heterogeneity of India’s labour market, the challenges we face are enormous. India has the largest youth population in the world. Over 90 percent of our employment is informal; and close to 70 percent of our businesses are unregistered. Our female labour force participation is among the bottom third relative to other countries. We must prioritize the provision of enough good quality employment for our large and growing youth population; improve women’s economic participation; and enable wider access to entitlements. My work is focussed on cultivating a deep understanding of these issues from the ground up, and to help find solutions to a range of employment challenges. We must lift these issues up as priorities in public discourse and policymaking.

How has this issue evolved in the country and globally over the years?

Over the last decade, the world has moved from a discourse centred on the impact of economic integration and globalization on labour, to a focus on how major forces such as climate change, technological acceleration, demographic transitions, and more recently the pandemic, are restructuring labour markets and upending traditional employment models. These changes are happening at a pace and scale that is faster than the ability of governance institutions — labour regulation, social protection, education and skills training systems, to keep up. India is also grappling with these challenges.

What impact do you aim to achieve through your research?

My work tries to understand the impact of these forces on the world of work and suggest ways to (re)design relevant governance architecture such as the labour codes and associated rules; social security provision; education and skills training systems; incentive and support for small businesses, to help build more resilient labour markets. My goal is to help move beyond reactionary policy and action to prompt a more strategic approaches to good job creation and workforce development.

What are you currently working on and why is it important?

The last two decades have seen a proliferation of digital platforms and the emergence of an ecosystem of digital work. One of my current projects looks at how work mediated through digital platforms is gendered; how it affects outcomes for women; and how it does, or does not, shift power relations for women in the economy, society, and in their own households. The many benefits of women’s economic participation are well known, and yet their participation rate in India remains low relative to other countries and relative to Indian men. We need to understand why this continues to be the case, and the opportunities and challenges emerging trends in the labour market pose for women’s work.

I am simultaneously working on a study that assesses the impact of COVID-19 on Indian small businesses and their workers. 63.4 million non-agricultural micro, small and medium enterprises employ just under 111 million workers and contribute to approximately 30 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Given these facts, understanding what factors helped some businesses survive the crisis while others failed, and the experiences of the workers in these businesses, is critical to securing businesses and workers against future shocks.

To know more about Sabina Dewan’s work, click here.