Meet the IPM: Tarun Sharma

Meet the IPM: Tarun Sharma

Tarun SharmaTarun Sharma, Associate Member of the IPM, is the co-Founder of Nagrika, an indigenous research and advisory organization working specifically on issues of small towns. He has ten years of experience in the domain of urban policy research and consulting. He led the urban division at Ecorys, a research advisory firm and has previously worked with Deloitte, Indicus (now Nielsen-Indicus) and McKinsey. He has managed and implemented various government and donor-funded projects on issues related to urban renewal, housing, livelihoods, mobility and land titling. He has also worked with the Ministry of Urban Development and the Ministry of Housing on their flagship projects. He has been responsible for strategic business development activities as well as research, knowledge management, review and drafting of policies relating to urban local development. He is passionate about urban institutions and cultures. He holds a Master’s in Public Policy from National University of Singapore and Bachelor in Economics from Delhi University.


Tarun Sharma, you are the founder of Nagrika, an indigenous organization in New Delhi, working on urban policy research and practice. Can you tell us more about what Nagrika does?

Tarun Sharma: Nagrika is a niche urban research and advisory organization which focuses on the issues faced by small towns, presently in India. Approximately 30% of total urban population of India lives in cities less than 0.1 million. Another 28% lives in cities sized 0.1 to 1 million. Still the dominant urbanization discourse is shaped by bigger cities and the major existing urban stakeholders (ministries, civic agencies, consultants, civil society) are addressing urbanization issues faced by bigger cities. Solutions for these problems are also designed at a sectoral level i.e. physical infrastructure, health, education etc. We are committed explicitly to the issue of small town development.

“Inclusive growth for people means that everyone regardless of their skills, language ethnic, cultural, religious, gender, demographic or any other background benefits from growth.”

It is a sub-set of the umbrella issue of urban development but by targeting the small towns, we also address the issues in big cities which face drain on resources due to uneven concentration of population. Our offerings are three-fold: knowledge and thought creation, decision-making support and capacity creation. These offerings lie along the knowledge value chain where we first create information which can then be used as knowledge for decision-making. Eventually we create the capacity to sustain this knowledge, its uptake and enhance the decision-making quality. This knowledge is in the form of explicit knowledge (in form of documents such as policies, database, tools and toolkits, handbooks, contracts) or tacit knowledge (applied and experiential knowledge for programs, projects and implementation). Some of our current work in context of small cities includes classification and categorisation of cities, city level diagnostics, business models of service provisions, policies for economic development, social security frameworks, and governance structures.


You were involved in an industrial cluster plan for the state of Rajasthan for inclusive and sustainable growth in and around cities. What is “inclusive and sustainable growth” for you? How can it be achieved?

Tarun Sharma: For me, inclusive and sustainable growth especially in an economic development context such as industrial planning, is at two levels. One is at the level of places and other at the level of people. Inclusive growth for places would mean that places regardless of their size, functions, location, physical/environmental endowments, or other such distinctions, get pertinent share of growth. Sustainability of places would ensure that growth, industrial or non-industrial, would continue to replenish the resources of the place, be it human resources, physical resources, environmental resources or financial resources. The rate of replenishment may vary.

“Sustainability of places would ensure that growth, industrial or non-industrial, would continue to replenish the resources of the place, be it human resources, physical resources, environmental resources or financial resources.”

Inclusive growth for people would mean that everyone regardless of their skills, language ethnic, cultural, religious, gender, demographic or any other background benefits from the growth. Sustainability of people is intricately linked with sustainability of places means sustainability of their faculties as humans. The growth should ensure that not just mental, physiological faculties are sustained overtime but the cultural (and if needed, spiritual) faculties of people are also not eroded with growth.


You led a Project on Urban Entrepreneurship Development for Women in Delhi. What was the goal of the project and how was it structured? What have the experiences been with that after its completion?

Tarun Sharma: This was a unique project as its target was a very young cohort of undergraduate women. The goal of the project was to provide young women with the skills to become entrepreneurs. Another objective was to enhance the understanding of emerging livelihood opportunities available in an urban context.

The project had various techno-managerial modules imparted through workshops from experts and multiple exposure programmes to existing women entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial incubators and industrial and service clusters. We also provided them access to the government ecosystem of company registrations, regulations and incentives to start one’s own enterprise. The modules were imparted in live interactive sessions and were later converted into a curriculum. Modules included identifying business opportunities; market survey; designing business plan, financial plan and implementation plan; book-keeping and accounting; marketing and human resource management; soft skills and communications; e-trade and commerce and others. Students formed voluntary partnerships to design a business plan and financial plan for an enterprise they wanted to start.

“We defined a child-friendly city as one where children grow up in a pleasant, responsible, safe and dynamic manner via improvements in physical and social environments.”

Our experience was extremely positive with respect to the objective we started with-create and nurture the spirit of entrepreneurship and self-employment. At the start of the project, there was a huge demand for students to enrol and throughout the course as well, more students wanted to become part of it. Out of 26 groups, 8 groups started operations during the course. All the young women who were part of this course were very satisfied with the learnings. A short video about the project can be seen in this link.


You developed an urban planning framework for Child-Friendly Cities in India. What are the principles of a child-friendly city?

Tarun Sharma: There are two broad principles or approaches to consider a city as a child-friendly city. One is a right-based approach which focuses on child rights. It encourages (primarily) governments and other agencies to make decisions for children that can promote their rights to a stimulating, healthy, inclusive and enriching city. The other is an environment-based approach. This approach focuses on the physical and social environment in which children grow and suggests interventions in specific environmental conditions to help children grow holistically. We considered the latter approach and defined a child-friendly city as one where children grow up in a pleasant, responsible, safe and dynamic manner via improvements in physical and social environments. The components of the physical and social environments included housing, schools, open spaces, physical infrastructure (water, sanitation), social infrastructure (schools, hospitals), personal safety, traffic safety, mobility and ambient environment (air, water, noise). We defined baseline indicators as well as specific child-friendly indicators for each of the components of physical and social environment.


You are in the first year of the MSc in Place Management & Leadership at MMU. How did you decide to choose this course? How can such a qualification contribute to your work?

Tarun Sharma: Through the Place Management course at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), I was seeking a new paradigm of urban local development that was not hierarchical but symbiotic. In such a paradigm, instead of top-down policies, local actors along with other stakeholders could chart the development trajectories themselves. To further my understanding about Indian cities, I along with my partner, embarked on an 11,000 kilometres long journey around India, covering small and medium sized cities. This journey brought me in close contact with a diverse range of actors playing a unique yet understated role in shaping their place’s development including a local university geologist working as a heritage conservationist in a coastal town; an old car-mechanic advising the civil society; a woman working to transform the local economy of the UNESCO World Heritage town; and many more. I wanted to understand how such strong Place-People relationships were formed independently of a coerced regulatory intervention and how they can thrive locally and become sustainable. MMU’s Place Management program has provided me this perspective which is centred around such relationships.

I have been working in advisory and research roles in the urban development sector of India. In my work, I came across multiple approaches to understand cities including governance, planning and management which mostly created linear and vertical relationship structures. However, I was on a pursuit to understand cities from a new approach/es that could make these approaches more effective by creating bottom-up and horizontal relationships, especially amongst the local actors and institutions.

“I wanted to understand how such strong Place-People relationships were formed independently of a coerced regulatory intervention and how they can thrive locally and become sustainable.”

I also was looking for an established discipline which imbibed this approach and understood the local development dynamics of small cities especially by highlighting a functional role of various local actors and institutions. My pursuit was not for a purely academic course but a discipline that was driven by practice. It led me to MSc in Place Management & Leadership as its academic core has been built through the place management practice. It also focused on the roles of partnerships between local actors focusing equally on non-governmental actors. Most importantly, it provided me with a lens to understand small cities. My organization Nagrika is working specifically on the issues of small cities, currently on small cities in India. For these cities, we are building solutions for local development which are informed by local context, knowledge and stakeholders and developing place based partnerships, governance and management structures and leaders. The course fits well with my work as it has emphasis on all these aspects from a place based perspective.


What do you expect from the IPM as an Associate Member?

As I mentioned before, the institute and the course has offered a new approach to understand the development of cities from a place based perspective. It also has offered a paradigm to understand small cities and their development needs through formal and effective place-based partnerships. Such partnerships are relevant to small towns because the connect between people and places is much stronger and informal partnerships already exist.

By being part IPM and this course, I hope to enhance the regional and cultural scope of the field of Place management. I expect to be a useful resource from Asia to contribute to IPM’s objective of making the field of Place Management truly global and standardized. I also hope to actively contribute to institute’s efforts towards standardizing the performance measures of the Place Management domain, developing learning frameworks, creating new knowledge and thought and being part of its other endeavours.


The interview was conducted by Ares Kalandides.