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The Most Reliable Research Centres To Watch in 2024

Research centers serve as hubs of innovation and knowledge creation, leveraging rigorous research methodologies to generate valuable insights that address realworld challenges. By conducting empirical studies, analyzing data, and engaging with stakeholders, research centers are able to uncover trends, patterns, and best practices that inform decision-making and drive positive change.

One such research center is LEAD at Krea University that is making an instrumental impact across the socio-economic segment. In talks with Sharon Buteau, who is the Executive Director of LEAD, we happened to discuss various facets of establishing a new-age, sustainable development research entity in the Global South.

A glance at the institution’s profile

LEAD is a well-recognized action-oriented research center that is affiliated with the IFMR Society. The organization focuses on utilizing research, innovation, and collaborative efforts to tackle complex development challenges. Alongside Krea University and other IFMR centers, LEAD emerges as a part of a research ecosystem dedicated to preparing humankind for an unprecedented future.

Specializing in gaining a deep understanding of socio-economic contexts, LEAD generates actionable insights with broad applications across industries, policies, and academia. LEAD develops innovative solutions using technology and analytics inspired from collaboration among experts from various disciplines. Through capacitybuilding and immersive learning programs, LEAD empowers aspiring researchers to gain hands-on experience in addressing challenges analytically and enabling enduring socio-economic impacts.

Moreover, LEAD cultivates strategic research partnerships, hosts knowledge platforms, and manages programs in areas such as financial well-being and social protection, small businesses and employment, institutions and society, and health systems and quality of life. Since 2005, LEAD has been a preeminent force in development research in India. The team has deep experience across geographies and sectors, having managed a portfolio of over 300 projects in collaboration with academic, policy, NGO, and private sector partners across the global level.

Creating the impact

LEAD is acknowledged for its unique research initiatives that have stimulated new opportunities and initiatives in various socio- economic domains through meaningful data-based insights for both public and private institutions.

For the past 15 years, their ceaseless efforts have focused on advancing access to essential financial services among vulnerable segments. Owing to their research competencies, they are able to map critical gaps and blind spots for policy, understanding gaps in last-mile delivery, and working with a range of practitioners to develop, test and fine-tune product offerings.

During the inception of LEAD, the primary research capacity in India was still unknown and underdeveloped. Due to their efforts, they have been instrumental in building local capacity to think more strategically about development challenges and articulating strong research hypotheses and questions. Also, they recognized the fact that in the present world data is a key tool to help them comprehend, contextualize and design effective socially impactful programs.

The focal points

Sharon notes that LEAD is highly focused on enhancing socio-economic prosperity for vulnerable and marginalized individuals, households, and enterprises. The organization is dedicated to curating ‘knowledge for impact’ by harnessing the power of data, aspiration, innovation, and co-creation to address complex development challenges.

Keeping empathy at the core of its operations, LEAD prioritizes being people-centric in its approach. As an action-research entity, it upholds rigor and maintains a high level of quality in its work. They recognize that research must be responsive, inclusive, and aligned with the decision-making cycles and development priorities of various stakeholders, including industry, government, and civil society.

Formulating solution-driven models

Referring to LEAD’s approach to problem-solving , Sharon explains how they create solution-driven models, “Many of the problems that we aim to tackle such as enabling nano and micro enterprises on a growth path and arresting the dip in women’s labor force participation are highly complex and require a multidimensional approach.

We are constantly looking for new ways of thinking about these ‘wicked’ problems. Primary data collected by our field operations team provides us with on-ground insights to inform our approach to policy and strategy, this is complemented with secondary data and strong innovative analytical knowledge to leverage and synthesize available information. We also work as a convening platform to tap into the expertise and inputs of our diverse stakeholder network and partner base.”

Reliance on data sources and methodologies

At LEAD, the team believes in using research methods and tools that are customized to the special needs of each research or policy question. This can include a variety of approaches, from quick dipstick studies and lean testing to more intricate randomized evaluations that unfold over several years.

LEAD’s core philosophy emphasizes iterative learning to address problems effectively. Sharon elucidates that they recognize the significance of deep qualitative inquiry, which allows them to uncover important aspects of complex challenges that quantitative data alone may not capture. This approach ensures that they can provide comprehensive insights and solutions to the issues they encounter.

Addressing the challenges

Under the leaders’ guidance, the team keeps up high spirits by being nimble and agile in every approach. To bridge critical gaps in knowledge and find solutions to complex problems, they come across several challenges. Working in the development sector is chaotic indeed: from aligning stakeholders on the scope and objectives of a project, to identifying how solutions can be scaled in different ways, the overall processes are quite challenging local contexts.

Sharon highlights, “The nature and pace of our development work have also been evolving, with new stakeholders in the ecosystem bringing in innovation. For example, during COVID, when in-person data collection was not feasible and access to data was critical to inform relief and recovery efforts, we were able to adapt and gather timely insights on the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable population segments, and different economic sectors.”

Collaborating with other players

The organization’s leadership has always been focused on fostering a culture of technological experimentation and iterative learning. To seek innovative and more efficient ways to inform policy and decision making, their efforts are aligned with building a more enabling ecosystem for collaborative research and challenging the ‘ivory tower’ model. In alignment with the core value of LEAD, every stage of a project, the team engages with stakeholders to identify problem statements, design data capture tools, and share learnings.

They maintain close collaboration with diverse stakeholders, including communities, civil society, industry, academia, and policymakers. This multidisciplinary approach ensures a rich exchange of ideas and perspectives that promotes quality of insights and solutions generated. By engaging with various sectors and stakeholders, they foster a holistic understanding of complex issues and facilitate the development of comprehensive and inclusive solutions.

Meet the driving force behind LEAD

Sharon Buteau commenced her journey at LEAD in 2008 with a steady zeal to bring a wave of change to society by producing impactful knowledge. During her very first visit to the country, she intended to work on a project for six months, at IIMB. As the end of her stay was near, she received an interesting job offer from IFMR. .Talking about this inflexion point in her career trajectory, Sharon states,

“When I was hired at IFMR, I intended to stay a few years and was particularly keen on understanding fieldwork to collect data and motivated by doing research work that is practical and can be impactful in helping people. A few years later, I was offered an interesting opportunity to work on combining a few research centers to form one research entity, which is known today as LEAD. This was a turning point in my journey.”

For the past 17 years, her leadership has been guiding the strategy and operations at the research institution known for its sharp focus on issues such as addressing financial exclusion, micro and small business development, and women’s economic empowerment.

About the cultural principles

Driven by a set of enduring values and beliefs, LEAD has established such cultural values that serve as the guiding beacon for all endeavors. The senior leadership never hesitates from investing in people, connecting talent with significant challenges. They have a knack for providing individuals with the necessary tools for critical thinking, autonomy in decision-making, and opportunities to reach their full potential. Bold thinking and mindful problem-solving are at the core of LEAD’s approach. Solutions are sought with the potential to drive large-scale, transformative change, requiring an understanding and demystification of complex issues.

Sharon clai ms that they are in constant stride to emphasize on the power of co-creation, LEAD collaborates closely with key stakeholders to tackle multifaceted challenges. Solutions are thus enriched with diverse perspectives, expertise, and agency, serving as a dynamic hub for innovative ideas, discussions, and unconventional collaborations.

Continuous learning, unlearning, and relearning are integral to LEAD’s modus operandi. Problems are approached with imagination, creativity, and adaptability to new technologies and emerging practices. Solutions evolve through iterative experiments, adapting to a dynamic environment. Above all, LEAD believes that work should be enjoyable where passion drives their endeavors, with a strong correlation between quality of life and quality of work.

In line with CSR

LEAD has established a sound reputation as a trusted research institution, renowned for providing evidence-based insights that drive proactive responses across a multitude of industries and sectors. Industry leaders and innovators regularly turn to LEAD for its rigorous, research-driven inputs, enhancing their capacity to make informed, datadriven decisions.

“Corporate social responsibility can be a strong force for empowering marginalized segments of the economy. We continue to thrive on this concept and are keenly aware that no entity can achieve impact on its own. As such, we have developed strong expertise to assist corporates in identifying the needs of the community and aligning CSR efforts to be focused where they would have the most impact,” highlights Sharon.

Words to convey on behalf of the leader

“Leaders can play a crucial role in instilling a culture of learning and innovation within organizations and encouraging cross-sector collaborations. This can foster innovation and agility in response to changing geopolitical, social, and business landscapes. I encourage you to invest in research and partner with stakeholders to understand the root causes of issues and test potential solutions. Bridging the silos can help organisations fulfill their corporate social responsibilities as well as have a multiplier effect within communities.

The private sector has a critical role to play in helping achieve sustainable development goals. We invite the business community to collaborate with us in driving the next wave of innovative impact solutions and creating a meaningful difference at the last mile.

We are keen to explore strategic knowledge and innovation partnerships that can accelerate the pace of problem-solving across sectors and areas such as inclusive finance, MSME growth, technology and data for good, improving health system design and healthcare delivery, and strengthening data information systems, among others.”

– Sharon Buteau, Executive Director, LEAD

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