A Passion For Social Issues

Dec 26, 2020 By Deepa Gopal
Deepa Gopal's picture

I was mainly raised in Chennai, India, and a large part of my childhood was focused on school. I did not particularly have a favorite subject; I enjoyed all subjects, except art!

In my last two years of high school, I started taking courses in economics, commerce, and accounting and really enjoyed them. 

As an undergraduate in college, I majored in economics. I participated in more extracurricular activities and was involved with the student government.

As I looked forward to the next few years, I realized that I did not want to pursue economics as a career. I decided to apply to management schools, one of which was the Institute of Rural Management, Anand, or IRMA, in the Indian state of Gujarat. 

Learning About Social Issues

I was accepted to IRMA and decided to attend. There were less than 200 students belonging to two cohorts (batches) at any time at the school.

During my time at IRMA, I gained an entirely different perspective on the social issues in my country. I participated in fieldwork, where I lived in local households in different rural areas around Gujarat and other parts of the country. Having conversations with the families and communities I lived with helped me get a better understanding of the life, priorities, and needs of these people. 

Before my time at IRMA, I accepted poverty as a fact of life and did not fully consider what caused poverty or what the structural issues behind poverty were. Participating in fieldwork allowed me to step outside my cocoon and question ideas that I had never really thought about before in great depth.


The main objective of the program I was enrolled in at IRMA was to help students use management skills in a variety of fields. As part of my study, I had the opportunity to choose different organizations I wanted to collaborate with to develop my management capabilities.

First, I worked with the largest dairy cooperative in India to understand the demand for single-serving dairy products used by airlines and hotels in India, and to define the marketing strategy for these products. Then, I worked with sericulture (silk-producing) farmers in the Indian state of Karnataka to understand their needs and advise the state government.

After my studies at IRMA, I worked on the resettlement of tribal populations resulting from a large dam project. Then, I joined a research foundation where one of the projects focused on establishing bio-villages where local people are taught skills to help overcome poverty, and work and live in an environmentally sustainable way. 

Determined to further discover my academic interests, I joined the Sociology department at the University of Maryland to pursue a Master’s degree in International Development. This helped me develop the skills to analyze large data such as the census or household surveys to better understand social concepts and associated relationships. I decided to study further and specialize in social demography: a quantitative method of studying populations and social and economic phenomena.