Posted by Erin Kelsey on May 1, 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, Erin Kelsey, MBA ’18, shares insights from her trip.
In the Winter Quarter, Tata Trusts, one of the oldest and largest philanthropic institutions in India, tasked a team of 10 Booth students with finding a solution to what occasionally felt like an intractable problem: propose real interventions to address waste management issues in India’s slums. Our GSIP class visited Bhubaneswar and had to distill observations and knowledge into pilots Tata Trusts could implement on the ground. Over 10 weeks, countless hours, and an invaluable experience in project planning and execution, the 10 of us reached a consensus on how to move forward.
Like all good Booth students, we began with research. We divided into four work streams to learn about waste and India. We shared observations and inferences from the trip and organized those insights into “personas” with individual needs.
Will Gossin, the Social Enterprise Initiative’s senior associate director, visited our class to lend his expertise in design thinking, helping us turn our observations into ideas. We used whiteboards and stickers to rank personas and needs by importance, creating a “heat map” of what was collectively identified as key to the project: the needs of people who lived in slums and waste pickers, who are the informal workers in the waste value chain. At the end of a fast and furious brainstorming session, each student selected their best idea and produced a storyboard of how it would function. We whittled 18 ideas down to 10 (with a ranking algorithm) and then seven, which we presented at the midterm.
With feedback from Tata Trusts, we decided to focus on interventions that would 1) clean up slums and increase the livelihood of residents and 2) extract more value from waste.
Divide and Conquer
We categorized our seven ideas into two general types of pilot interventions: a “ground” team worked to directly address life in the slums, and a “waste-to-value” team looked at ways to address the value chain holistically.
In the end, our class recommended four interventions to be integrated together. The ground team presented a cooperative model for daily waste collection, offering employment to slum waste pickers and health incentives to encourage proper waste handling. Once collection and waste segregation are established, the waste-to-value team proposed implementing a recycling center, a market exchange platform for waste transactions, and a waste-to-energy plant in the slums or Bhubaneswar as a whole.
The GSIP course was full of invaluable learnings and insights, but some of the most significant were focused on the process. How do you move from observation and research to generating ideas and from ideas to developed implementation plans? I’ve never taken a class that taught me so much about how to work and structure a project, and I know the lessons will serve me well at Booth and in my career.