A faculty committee at the McCourt School of Public Policy this summer awarded its 2016 MPP Thesis Prize to recent graduate Amir H Jilani (MPP ’16) for his distinguished research into whether politician identity and party affiliation of legislators affects employment and welfare outcomes for minorities in India.
The MPP Thesis Prize identifies and highlights exemplary public policy research by a graduating student whose work is the culmination of knowledge and skills adopted throughout the degree program. The faculty committee critiqued students’ theses on the basis of their policy relevance, strength of analysis and writing. In addition to a certificate, the Prize also included a $500 reward.
After combining data spanning nearly two decades of close elections to state assemblies, Amir evaluated whether an increase in political representation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – India’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist party – has a meaningful and causal effect on Muslim employment outcomes and access to social security.
Using an innovative quasi-experimental method that exploits close election wins to India’s state legislative assembly, Amir found that greater representation of the BJP at the district level has an adverse effect on Muslim employment in the public and private sector while finding no evidence of this effect when analyzing the Indian National Congress (INC) party’s impact on Muslim development outcomes.
“Ultimately, I hope that results from this and similar research provides useful lessons for policymakers when devising strategies to target poor and marginalized communities and lift their socio-economic status,” he said.
He added that the rigorous evaluation technique necessary to explore these effects has made him more confident, both as a consumer and producer of applied economics research. Meanwhile, he said, his work has inspired him to further research questions related to discrimination, governance/accountability and service delivery in the public sector.
Since graduating, Amir has continued to refine and solicit feedback on his thesis from and at the encouragement of a number of faculty members, including Nobel Laureate Professor George Akerlof, who have taken a keen interest in his work and its strong potential for publication. In the coming weeks and months, he will be speaking with a number of researchers including at UC Berkeley to further this end.
“This encouragement and interest has really been overwhelming, but at the same time, provided some validation that my research question was relevant and topical and that my results will hopefully be useful for future researchers and policymakers,” Amir reflected.
In addition to being awarded the Thesis Prize, Amir recently earned the distinction of Teaching Assistant of the Year for his contribution to the McCourt School’s Statistical Methods for Policy Analysis core course.
During his first year at McCourt, Amir, along with a team of four other students, represented Georgetown at the University of Pennsylvania’s National Invitational Public Policy Challenge after winning the inaugural McCourt Public Policy Challenge for their proposal to develop a mobile-based application that would address absenteeism and poor performance in District of Columbia public schools.
While at McCourt, Amir served as a research assistant for the Georgetown University Initiative on Innovation, Development and Evaluation (gui2de), where he evaluated a series of projects throughout East Africa. He also founded the South Asia Policy & Research Initiative (SAPRI) at McCourt, a student-led initiative dedicated to raising awareness on the critical challenges facing economies in South Asia and promoting evidence-based policies in the region.
His report, ‘Signs of Discrimination: The Effect of Politician Identity and Party Affiliation on Development Outcomes for Minorities in India’, can be read online.