Posted by Priya Sridhar, '18 on May 24, 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 site visit to India and culminating at the end of the Winter Quarter, students in the 2016–17 GSIP course worked with Tata Trusts on an urban habitat project, during which they examined the potential impact of entrepreneurship on waste management and developed a plan to get entrepreneurs interested in affordable housing, education, sanitation, and other basic services.
Here, Priya Sridhar, MBA ’18, shares insights from her trip.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege to join forces with a small group of my peers in a Booth course supported by Tata Trusts to help tackle India’s seemingly unsurmountable waste management problem. Professor Caroline Grossman framed the problem and led our work during a field visit to Bhubaneswar, during which our team was struck by the magnitude of the issue. Solid waste, particularly in slum communities, is largely untouched by the city’s municipal services. To make matters even more challenging, these waste collection services are inconsistent even in developed areas of the city. As a result, residents dump their uncollected trash around the slums, where piles of rotting garbage the municipality ignores are growing quickly. It is a vicious cycle, and, given the rapid pace of urban migration from India’s villages into cities, the solid waste problems are on pace to grow.
As a student team, we debated where to begin. Being novices to the Indian social enterprise ecosystems ourselves, it was imperative to tap into the collective wisdom of the faculty and network of Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation (formerly the Social Enterprise Initiative) to guide us along our path.
Defining Our Scope
At the onset of our project, Chris Blattman, Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies at the Harris School of Public Policy, gave us guidance that would help shape our approach to the project. “A successful pilot will cycle quickly first through a series of failures,” he told us. He urged us to reframe our goal away from expecting to solve the problem immediately, but rather towards establishing a series of early pilots that would draw out key insights and could be iterated upon quickly.
Professor Blattman’s research focused on identifying the key constraints that a population faced and then selecting those constraints that could be addressed most cost efficiently. Many poverty alleviation strategies focus on skills training or microfinance loans, which prove to be costly strategies requiring significant upfront capital to implement effectively. His research explores less cost intensive solutions, such as unconditional cash transfers, which have proven equally, if not more, effective in serving certain poor communities.
Using Professor Blattman’s approach, our team identified the constraints that could be addressed most readily within the context of waste management within slums, and narrowed our focus to 1) optimizing for cleanliness within the slums, and 2) optimizing for value through market-based approaches that could monetize waste.
With our narrowed scope, we then met with Marianne Bertrand, Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and faculty co-director of Booth’s Rustandy Center. Professor Bertrand discussed the application of randomized controlled trials in evaluating the effectiveness of different types of interventions for the ultra-poor. Her research with the BRAC and GUP programs highlighted the importance of measuring the direct effects of isolated interventions in addition to the complementarities and spillover effects that are created when multiple interventions are paired together. Her research helped shape our approach to defining the social metrics related to improved waste collection. More specifically, Professor Bertrand helped us supplement our financial models with a social ROI framework that considered the health, wage, education, and CO2 reduction benefits that could result from our four proposed interventions: 1) door-to-door slum collection, 2) recycling processing, 3) recycling trading platform, and 4) small-scale energy conversion technologies. Professor Bertrand’s research also enabled us to build our SROI model modularly to better understand how these social benefits improved directly from each intervention, and how these approaches could be combined to create complementarities that increased the social benefits disproportionately higher.
Our team also was fortunate enough to have Seema Jayachandran, associate professor of economics at Northwestern University, come in to discuss gender roles in India. During our trip, we identified female slum dwellers as important stakeholders in our pilot’s execution. The role of slum community leader was almost exclusively held by women, and as such, important financial decisions were made by them. Additionally, many women stayed home while their husbands searched for day labor, and they sought income-generating activities to perform on their own. That said, there remain many social and cultural stigmas associated with handling waste and understandably, these women were not keen to jump into this role. Professor Jayachandran helped the team better understand the social nuances of female employment in India, particularly in lower-income communities. This was helpful in designing more effective behavioral and financial incentives that made the work more rewarding and dignified.
Professor Grossman also enlisted the advisement of Dhammika Dharmapala, Julius Kreeger Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School, to educate us on the Companies Act 2013, which requires large institutions in India to spend 2 percent of their net profits on corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects. Given the scale of India’s waste management problem, and the inherent need for equipment and labor to fund any waste management intervention, understanding the availability of funding was an important component to our project. Professor Dharmapala’s presentation helped us navigate India’s CSR regulations to identify potential sources of funding and pilot partners for Tata Trusts.
Robert Gertner, Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance, Edwardson Faculty Director of the Rustandy Center, and Deputy Dean for Faculty at Booth, was an advisor throughout and helped our team think about how our recommendations would be implemented and scaled. He led us through a discussion of the role of different types of institutions in leading broad social change, and helped us understand the role of Tata Trusts.
Ultimately, under the guidance of our invaluable mentors and social entrepreneur in residence, our team was able to deliver a comprehensive and cost-effective set of waste management solutions that addressed cleanliness and livelihood for slum dwellers. Our proposal included the development of a 1) door-to-door collection model tailored to the constraints of slum communities, 2) recycling processing center, 3) market exchange platform for trading recyclable materials, and 4) small-scale waste-to-energy plant to convert solid waste into biofuel. With sustainability and scalability at the core of our development process, we designed our interventions modularly to overcome the varying cost and revenue constraints each faced individually. We are hopeful that our solutions can help solve India’s waste management problem by providing basic service provisions for a marginalized community and uncovering the value created by the ultra-poor in the betterment of the community at large.