College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences > Academics > School of Public Service > Faculty > Ramya Ramanath

Ramya Ramanath

Ramya Ramanath, Associate Professor and Chair of the International Public Service degree at DePaul University's School of Public Service, teaches graduate courses on cross-sector relations, sustainable international development, the management of international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and public policy implementation.

​Ethnographic methods have shaped the bulk of her research; many of which are situated in the very organizations that seek her inputs in their continuous improvement efforts. The three dominant themes of her research are:

1. NGO-GOVERNMENT RELATIONS: The principle of pursuing applied research found its first expression in her research on NGO-government relations in urban India. She examined two decades of multifarious relations between three leading housing NGOs and five governmental agencies negotiating to shelter the millions of Mumbai's basti (slum) and squatter residents. This historical analysis linked research on the urban political economy of housing to research on organizational life cycles and strategic institutional change and made contributions to three bodies of scholarship, namely institutional isomorphism, NGO-government interaction styles, and NGO development strategies.

Her U.S.-based research agenda on nonprofit-government relations began in West Michigan, a site that is home to vibrant faith communities. She studied the factors causing differences in the performance of small faith-based nonprofits contracted by the federal government to deliver social services over a period of five years. The longitudinal data contributes to neo-institutionalist arguments that attention to capacity and on capacity builders of faith-related nonprofits may explain the variable performance of this breed of organizations in public service delivery.

2. NGO-COMMUNITY RELATIONS: Her work in East Africa, in India and the United States focuses on community perception of NGO effectiveness. Ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the U.S. and in the Democratic Republic of Congo proposed that use of an ethical evaluation framework offers INGOs the best means to satisfy accountability demands and mitigate or avoid potentially serious, even fatal, errors. This very project is developed as a teaching case along with a video that accompanies it. Please email her for the password if you wish to use the video for classroom teaching.

Another study conducted in Mumbai yielded her first (2019) book titled A Place to Call Home: Women as Agents of Change in Mumbai. This book is the result of extended ethnographic fieldwork (from 2012 until 2017) conducted in Asia's largest basti (slum) resettlement site. Women, she notes, are often considered the most vulnerable “victims" of demolitions and resulting displacement but are rarely characterized as evaluative participants who actively make sense of (and give sense to) home and work. In the book's six chapters, she argues that within-community networks among women, even the smallest network comprising two women, their respective interests, situational preferences, and dealings offer a more powerful pathway toward disentangling how dispossession is experienced, resisted, and/or managed, and what the way forward might be.  

An emerging body of work in this segment of NGO-community relations focuses on examining the intersections between homelessness and the global forced migration crisis in urban centers in three continents. Cities are paradoxically both the sites of refuge and homecoming for displaced migrants and yet are the very spaces where those forcibly displaced face the risk of double displacement i.e., the loss of both a home and a homeland. The project responds to the need for greater clarity on what factors contribute to (or prevent) homelessness from the perspective of service providers assisting forced migrants in finding stable shelter in host cities. 

3. SMALL BUSINESS-COMMUNITY RELATIONS:  A recently (2023) concluded data collection focuses on the work of multiple small-scale for-profit developers of residential housing in the peri-urban districts of India's fourth largest metropolis. Although description of the decision-making processes in urban expansion could begin almost anywhere, this project treats the developer as the point of departure i.e., the creator who transforms raw land into residential units.

Her publications may be accessed on her personal webpage. Her works have appeared in Administrative Theory & Praxis, Religions, Voluntary Sector Review, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Nonprofit Management & Leadership, World Development, and Evaluation and Program Planning.

In the years prior to her academic career in the U.S., Ramanath helped start a micro-finance institution in Southern India and worked in housing finance and development agencies in both urban and rural India. She has a Bachelor's degree in Economics, a Master's in Social Work, both from India, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Design & Planning from Virginia Tech.