The Global Social Impact Practicum is a new course led by Booth's Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) and supported by the Tata Trusts, India’s largest philanthropic organization. Beginning with a trip to India and culminating at the end of Winter Quarter, students will work with the Trusts on a consulting project aimed at making bamboo a crop of choice for clean energy and as a potential driver of employment in rural India.

Here, Joan Spirytus, '17, discusses how the class is thinking about issues like impact measurement and scale.

Last week, the Global Social Impact Practicum was fortunate to host Booth professor Marianne Bertrand for a lively discussion about impact measurement and poverty alleviation as it relates to our work with Tata Trusts.

Professor Bertrand’s presentation explored the impact of the BRAC program, which helps break the cycle of poverty by providing the ultra-poor with productive assets (typically livestock) along with training and other support. This program is intended to help scaffold the transition from unsecure, itinerant work to stable, higher return employment. We reviewed the results of randomized control trials demonstrating the BRAC program’s impact and were struck by how compelling the evidence of program effectiveness was.

While we’re still in the program design phase of our project—working to create business models for village electrification through bamboo-based power—our conversation with Professor Bertrand helped the team think more deeply about key questions related to program costs and outcomes.

We’re in the process now of thinking about the impact and effectiveness of our own model and are building cost-benefit estimates of our bamboo-based power social enterprise.

As a first step, we’re working to size the potential social impact of electrification on villager livelihood. This includes both how much direct income-generating activity might stem from village electrification, as well as the socioeconomic effects that may not drive villager livelihood directly, but are important to quality of life and longer term economic stability and growth. In other words, how might access to electricity change the lives of Indian villagers immediately and in the future?

We then plan to weigh that impact estimation against the costs of generating electricity throughout the bamboo-based power value chain – from sourcing and harvesting bamboo all the way through conversion and transmission – along with other program administration and implementation costs. In short, the question we are trying to answer is: does the benefit of powering villages outweigh the cost?

But even if we develop a model that takes all this into account, its impact is limited unless it can be replicated in villages across India. So to test the scalability of our model we’re working to identify a village for a pilot and are starting to look at what other locations across India might be suited to replicating our model. To that end, we’ve undertaken a geographical analysis, mapping bamboo resources, current and expected grid connectivity, access to alternative sources of energy, and a competitive cost analysis under different scenarios for thermal, solar, wind, and hydro power options.

Not only did our conversation with Professor Bertrand help inform and refine our thinking about program design, but it was a reminder, too, about the importance of measuring and improving upon our pilot’s effectiveness. As the Trusts bring this sustainable model to villages across India, reliable data from our pilot will help them scale their impact in the future.