Posted by Renuka Agarwal on February 23, 2017
The Global Social Impact Practicum is a course led by Booth's Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and supported by 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 are working with Tata 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, Renuka Agarwal, MBA '18, shares insights from the GSIP trip in December 2016.
Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to India with classmates from the University of Chicago Booth as part of the Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP) class. In its second year, GSIP is a social impact consulting class done in partnership with Tata Trusts, India’s largest philanthropic organization. The class kicks off with a trip to India to visit the project site, conduct on-the-ground research, and meet involved stakeholders, setting the stage for a quarter’s worth of work to devise implementable solutions for Tata Trusts.
Each year’s issue is selected by Tata Trusts, based on the work that they feel is most relevant; this year, they asked us to focus on the “urban habitat,” or the massive increase in rural to urban migration that has caused a rise in the population of informal settlements (often referred to as slums) and consequent issues such as livelihood, sanitation, and waste management. Specifically, we were asked to devise a solution for waste management in informal settlements in Bhubaneswar, one of the cities at the top of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s recent Smart City initiative.
I was thrilled when I was accepted to the class, comprising ten students, Professor Caroline Grossman, and the course coach, social entrepreneur and Booth alumnus Sandeep Vira. I have never lived in India but have been traveling to the country regularly over the past 25 years to see extended family. I knew that this trip would take me to unfamiliar territory within India, but even I was surprised at the amount that I learned about my own country and the degree to which I was humbled by the resilience and grit of its poorest members. This humbling realization proved to be my greatest learning on the trip.
In short, the key assets to social change in India are the target populations of social change movements, in our case the slum communities. During the class, we had the opportunity to visit four different slums in Bhubaneswar. Although individuals in these communities lived in poverty, their conversations with us were characterized not by depression but by optimism and openness. There was a strong sense of community between members and each slum had a leader, often a woman. Many of the women participated in pooled investing schemes, in which they would each contribute to a shared fund that a woman could withdraw from based on a specific need, e.g. paying her child’s tuition.
Work was also a key theme – either individuals wanted more work to do, or they prioritized the work that they had and found ways to handle their other responsibilities. The individuals we met were enterprising and knew how to make the little that they had go a long way. Thus, the key to any solution that we devise will undoubtedly be effectively empowering and mobilizing these individuals.
Beyond what we were exposed to as a class, I also learned a great deal from discussions with my classmates. In dealing with social issues as momentous as this one, where emotions factor in and there are no clear answers, it can be difficult to navigate conversations to reach decisions. The group handled these territories of discomfort with skill and sensitivity and opened me to new ways of thought. I have never felt more mentally stimulated than I did during that week. While the stakes to deliver an implementable and impactful solution at the end of this quarter are high, I am motivated to work with my classmates and am confident that we will rise to the challenge.