The Global Social Impact Practicum is a course led by Booth's Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and supported by the Tata Trusts, one of India's oldest and largest philanthropic organizations. Beginning with a trip to India and culminating at the end of the Winter Quarter, students worked with the Trusts as consultants on urban habitat projects by examining the impact of entrepreneurs on waste management and developing a plan to get entrepreneurs interested in affordable housing, education, sanitation and other basic services.

Here, Haven Leeming, MBA '18, shares insights from her trip.

When you work in social impact, the core of your scope of work seems straightforward: how can you create social change that positively benefits the community?

Well, it seems straightforward. Within the first few days on the ground in Bhubaneswar, India, my Global Social Impact Practicum class and I discovered how hard it is to pin down the idea of “social change.” As we learned about waste management and slum development, we quickly learned that everyone has a slightly different idea about what constitutes positive social change and the definition of community. Our core problem of waste management in Odisha refracted differently through each stakeholders’ lens.

Our project for Tata Trusts on urban waste management solutions involves three different stakeholders. In drafting and revising our scope, each day we altered our project mission depending on who we spoke to that day. Here are our main stakeholders and their influence on our scope of work:

  1. Local government officials. Even individuals in the same office may have different expectations about social change. While in Bhubaneswar, we met with the mayor, as well as the city’s administrative officer, an appointed official who controls the budget. The mayor spoke in broad and enthusiastic terms about the University of Chicago’s role in solving the city’s waste problems. On the other hand, the administrator shared very specific ideas about   integrating informal waste pickers into the formal waste management system. These two stakeholders left us with one broad scope and one narrow scope (as well as several newspaper articles excitedly announcing our involvement in Bhubaneswar waste management).

  2. Community members. We visited four slums, each of which had its own personality. In one slum—which had toilets, permanent concrete infrastructure, and clean water—the women told us with a laugh that if they had an extra day’s salary, they would purchase sarees and bangles. At another slum—which had temporary tarp infrastructure, no toilets, and was flanked by a pile of waste—the community matriarch told us that what the community needed most was a drain, so that the slum would not flood during the monsoon months. Neither slum pointed to waste management specifically as their main concern. Imagine our surprise that these stakeholders left us with a scope that did not involve waste management!

  3. Philanthropic Organizations. Our two main contacts at Tata Trusts gave us specific criteria of success: the waste management intervention should leverage free time of women, technology, and social capital; it also must improve the livelihood of people in the slums and be scalable to other slums in India. But building drains, as one of the women we met requested? Or including rag pickers in our project, as the Bhubaneshwar administrator suggested? We were on our own to figure out if and how these interventions would fit into the scope of social change.

On our second-to-last day in India, the GSIP class gathered in a quiet conference room, daunted by the thought of editing our scope into a manageable statement. How could we integrate the many viewpoints of our stakeholders in finalizing our project scope? After three hours of discussion and brainstorming, we decided to define “the community” as being members of slums, and “positive social change” as being 1) an increase in the livelihood of slum members and 2) a reduction of waste in the slums. We aim for our pilot to address rag pickers and utilize women’s free time. With this scope, we are satisfied that we have addressed the main concerns of our stakeholders.

We are acutely aware that part of our final deliverable to Tata Trusts at the end of this project is providing them with a pilot design that satisfies their goals for the project, but also one that they can then present successfully to the Bhubaneswar municipality, as well as slum members. Our work for this term is to ensure that our pilot is one that will get enough buy-in from these stakeholders to be properly implemented and supported. Our stakeholders—with their various needs and motivations—are the fulcrum for our success. And like any agents of social change, we have our work cut out for us!

GSIP 2016-17