Akshay Mangla is an Associate Professor in International Business and a Research Fellow at Green Templeton College. His primary expertise lies in the comparative political economy of developing countries, with a regional specialisation in South Asia. His research focuses on public and private governance, institutional performance, and the changing nature of state-society relations in India.
Akshay’s current research interests are in the political economy of India, focusing on the institutional capacity and performance of the state. India is among the fastest-growing economies in the world, with globally-recognised firms, a comparatively young population and an expanding consumer base. At the same time, India faces many development hurdles, not least of all, the challenge of governing a large, heterogeneous and rapidly changing market. In addition, the nature of politics and business varies tremendously across India’s multi-ethnic federal democracy. How well the state manages these differences and administers its core functions has profound consequences for India’s business environment, societal welfare and prosperity.
Akshay employs innovative research designs and empirically-grounded methods to study the dynamics of governance. His research analyses variation in the performance of the state in India, across different regions and policy domains. Currently, he is conducting an in-depth study of the Indian police. The study investigates the norms, incentives and political conditions that influence how the police administer law and order. Akshay and his collaborators are using a mix of qualitative and experimental methods to evaluate the impact of institutional reforms on police behaviour, citizen perceptions and crime reporting.
Akshay’s previous research examined the delivery of public services in rural India. Drawing on more than two years of comparative fieldwork, he analysed the uneven implementation of universal primary education programmes, both within and across Indian states. This work has culminated in a book manuscript, entitled “Inside the State: Norms, Capabilities and Primary Education in Rural India” (currently under review), as well as multiple articles and working papers.
In his earlier work, Akshay researched private initiatives to govern labour standards in global supply chains. He carried out field research in apparel export factories to investigate when and how firms effectively monitor and enforce labour standards. He also analysed the efficacy of child labour interventions in India’s carpet supply chain, identifying the mechanisms by which non-state actors promote social change.
Akshay completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and received a B.S. in Finance and B.A. in Philosophy (summa cum laude). He earned a M.Sc. in Management Research (with Distinction) from the University of Oxford. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also taught a graduate-level course in qualitative research design and field methods. Prior to joining Saїd Business School, Akshay taught on the faculty of Harvard Business School, where he was an Assistant Professor in the Business, Government and International Economy Unit.
Akshay’s research interests are broadly in comparative political economy and development, with a regional focus on South Asia. More specifically, he seeks to understand when, why and how states acquire capabilities to govern effectively. To that end, his research analyses variation in state performance, institutional practices and related policy outcomes in India.
Akshay is involved in a new research project (in collaboration with Sandip Sukhtankar and Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner) examining police reform in India. In many countries, police agencies struggle to project authority, establish public trust and effectively enforce law and order. They often display institutional weaknesses and corruption. At the same time, public demand for more responsive and accountable policing has led to reform initiatives, which also provide an opportunity to study institutional change. Akshay and his collaborators are investigating police reform efforts in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, a context in which the police face significant resource constraints and political interference. Drawing on a mix of qualitative and experimental field methods, this research analyses the impact of precinct-level reforms on outcomes for police behaviour, citizen perceptions and the reporting of crime.
In analysing police reform, Akshay is engaged in a larger study of everyday policing, focusing on the institutional factors - norms, incentives and political constraints - that shape police behaviour. It is commonly assumed that the police in India are motivated by rent-seeking opportunities or else captured by political forces. By contrast, Akshay’s ongoing research suggests that there is considerable variation in how the police conduct their work and the strategies they employ. According to his preliminary findings, the ways in which officers prioritise tasks and balance competing demands from society is highly contingent on the mode of leadership and dominant norms that are reinforced within the police organisation. In addition, a desire for social status and legitimacy influences how officers make sense of their work and the kinds of actions they deem appropriate. This research, which draws on intensive field methods, aims to pry open the black-box of the Indian police. It incorporates comparative ethnography within precincts, participant observation of individual officers, as well as in-depth interviews of state officials, elected leaders and civil society actors.
Akshay’s prior research analyses the striking subnational variation in outcomes for primary schooling in rural India. In developing countries throughout the world, weak institutions generate an enormous gulf between the aims of public policy and its implementation. Such is the case for India’s primary education system. Subject to the same formal political and administrative structures, legal framework and national policies, state agencies in India vary dramatically in how well they implement primary education for the masses. Drawing on two and a half years of field research, (ethnographic methods along with 523 interviews and focus group discussions), Akshay connects this variation to differences in bureaucratic norms. Conceived as the informal rules of the game, bureaucratic norms guide state officials on how to understand and carry out their duties. Norms allow agencies to set priorities, define policy “problems” in a practice sense and determine what it means to “solve” them. Over time, norms inside the state also condition the expectations of citizens and their collective strategies for obtaining public services, which feed back into the implementation process.
Theorizing from the ground up, Akshay develops an analytical typology of norms (legalistic and deliberative) and delineates the causal mechanisms whereby they produce varied patterns of implementation. Against conventional theories, his research demonstrates that deliberative agencies are more effective in implementing primary education services, as they can adapt policies to local needs and elicit citizen input in public service delivery. By contrast, legalistic states, which adhere strictly to rules and procedures, provide school infrastructure well, but perform poorly when it comes to implementing services and weaken citizen engagement over time. The argument departs from much existing research that paints the Indian state as uniformly weak, clientelistic and corrupt. By shifting our attention from social spending to the everyday process of implementation, Akshay’s research offers new insights for when and how the state effectively secures social welfare.
Akshay’s research addresses questions that impact individuals and organisations at multiple levels. He conducts empirically-grounded, comparative field research. From conducting interviews to sharing his research findings, Akshay routinely interacts with policymakers, managers and ordinary citizens, whose perspectives help to inform his understanding.
Akshay has presented his research to multiple stakeholder audiences, including policymakers, development practitioners and business executives in India and elsewhere. He also engages with foundations, international agencies and policy think tanks. He has participated in policy panels and roundtable discussions on development and has contributed to reports for the World Bank, ILO and UNICEF.
Before joining Saїd Business School, Akshay was an Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School. While at Harvard, he led several initiatives on Indian politics and business. As a Faculty Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, he co-directed the Brown-Harvard-MIT Joint Seminar on South Asian Politics. He has been a Steering Committee Member of the Lakshmi MIttal South Asia Institute (SAI) at Harvard, assembling together leading thinkers and policymakers from South Asia. He also led SAI’s Education Seminar Series, which facilitated the exchange of ideas between academics and practitioners in the field of education.
Akshay teaches Global Strategy and Global Rules of the Game on the Executive MBA curriculum. He also contributes to other degree programmes, including the Diploma in Global Business.
Akshay’s approach to teaching is marked by an embrace of the Socratic method, which aims to stimulate critical understanding through dialogue. In the classroom, he seeks to direct students towards the central puzzles and questions at hand, while at the same time encouraging them to draw on their diverse experiences to interrogate and embrace those questions as their own.
In addition to teaching, Akshay has written several Harvard Business School cases, which are taught in various degree-granting institutions. These include cases dealing with the challenge of providing mass education in India and the development of Nigeria’s informal economy.
Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
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