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Poised to become the world’s third largest economy by 2030, the modern India we see today isn’t the same India that Anusha Chari remembers from childhood. “I grew up in India in the 1970s and ’80s, at a time well before the country had implemented the market-oriented policy reforms that would eventually transform it into an economic powerhouse,” says Chari, a professor of economics in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and professor of finance at Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

“I came from a privileged background – my father was a senior government official – but from the time I was a child, we would tour remote parts of the country where endemic poverty was acutely perceptible,” she says.

Through these early experiences, Chari began understanding the role of economic structures that inform policy and can alleviate poverty. This inspired her to work in economic development. Chari had her first in-depth exposure to American culture in the mid-’80s when she and her family accompanied her father to the U.S. for a one-year fellowship. The family returned to India where Chari completed her high school education. After studying economics in India she went on to get a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Balliol College at Oxford followed by a doctorate in international finance from the University of California, Los Angeles. Holding faculty positions at the University of Chicago, University of Michigan and University of California Berkley, Chari joined the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008, where she has pursued her dual passions for international economics and India.

In addition to teaching two courses at the Kenan-Flagler Business School and the economics department – one on international financial markets and one on open economy macroeconomics and international finance – Chari also maintains a robust research agenda exploring an array of topics, such as U.S. monetary policy spillovers to other countries; international financial markets and the impacts of financial globalization; corporate and sovereign debt; and the underrepresentation of women in economics. This summer, Chari was invited to speak on one of her research interests at the International Monetary Fund’s Summer Research Conference hosted by the Central Bank of Chile, where she delivered a presentation on the policy challenges facing emerging markets and measuring distress risk.

Driving Innovation conference bannerChari’s newest project is inaugural faculty director of the Modern Indian Studies Initiative, and she has organized an upcoming conference, Oct. 10-11, “Driving Innovation: Technology and India’s Rise as a Global Power.”

“Despite being the world’s largest democracy with a rapidly expanding influence, many Americans only have a cursory understanding of the India of today and less understanding of India as a global leader of the future,” Chari says. “With the Modern Indian Studies Initiative, our goal is to create programming, events, courses and more to drive awareness and a broader understanding of modern India, its challenges and its overarching relationship with the United States and North Carolina in particular.”

While much of the conversation around globalization focuses on outsourcing and jobs lost, little light is shed on the direct investment flows coming in from India, Chari says, with significant investment from Indian firms particularly in the Research Triangle of North Carolina. “Top firms in India have invested about $15 billion in the United States with more than 2,000 jobs created in North Carolina alone thanks to its advantages as a hub for research and innovation,” she says. “With this new initiative, we’re trying to create a better understanding of India’s ties to the U.S. and highlight the nation as a counterpoint to China in Asia in terms of geopolitical importance.”

The Modern Indian Studies Initiative will debut this fall when UNC-Chapel Hill hosts the initiative’s first conference.

Chari says the conference — which will bring to campus such notable figures as the Indian ambassador to the United States, the Indian Prime Minister’s chief economic advisor, executives and senior leaders from major companies and organizations such as RTI International and Infosys — will broadly focus on exploring India’s rise on the global stage, with close examination of how technology from India is helping to respond to challenges worldwide, and on trade and the global economy.

“I think Carolina has a lot of foresight in recognizing India as a major economy in Asia — the fifth largest in the world according to IMF estimates — and for promoting stronger awareness for its role on the international stage,” she says.

As director, Chari spearheads the initiative’s efforts to cohesively pull together a repository of faculty expertise on India from schools across campus and create unified programming to support awareness. For her, the initiative brings a much needed, fresh perspective to the country almost all of her family still calls home.

“What is the kind of information we receive in the U.S. about India? What comes to mind is interesting cultural stuff — history, religion, films, cuisine” Chari notes. “What people may not recognize is that being a former British colony, English is widely spoken, and that India is a democracy which upholds its tenets such as the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and so on. India has a lot more shared values with the U.S. than people recognize, and combined with being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, there just needs to be more awareness around the India we see today.”

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