Contemporary South Asia: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social & Economic Problems (University-Wide Course) - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Contemporary South Asia: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social & Economic Problems (University-Wide Course)

Course Number 1266

Professor Tarun Khanna
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
M/W 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
University-wide course
Cross listed at Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard School of Public Health
Classes will be held on Harvard University Cambridge campus
Enrollment: Limited to 30 HBS students within larger university-wide course enrollment

A video describing this course is available to the HBS community here.

This survey course focuses on several categories of social and economic problems faced by the countries of South Asia, with specific focus on the realms of Education, Health, and Financial Inclusion. Each problem category will be dealt with through a survey lecture, supplemented by assigned and recommended readings for those wishing to explore the topic further, and an in-depth look at several organizations, companies and non-profits that have attempted to address some of the problems within that category. The primary objective of the course is to engage students (in an inter-disciplinary and university-wide setting) with the modern day challenges affecting South Asia, and to examine a range of entrepreneurial attempts to solve these problems.

The course is designed for students from all parts of the University. The course will be listed at HBS, FAS, HSPH, HGSE, HLS, HMS, HKS and, time permitting, other Harvard faculties. Last year, the course attracted students from all over the University, including a number of advanced undergraduates. The mixture of student backgrounds is crucial for its success.

The lectures and deep-dive case studies are the core of the course, a must for all attendees; the course requirements are tailored separately to the needs of undergraduate and graduate students, with plenty of opportunities for cross-fertilization of ideas and experiences.

There will be an introductory and concluding module, interspersed with a module on each of the four problem categories, each lasting two to three weeks. In addition there will be a weekly section, mandatory for undergraduates, optional for graduate students, for a more in-depth exploration of selected readings and, perhaps, discussions of additional interesting cases of success or failure. Graduate Teaching Fellows (TF), with relevant knowledge of the material and geography, will run the small sections.

Lectures will review the available evidence on the incidence, causes and consequences of the problem in question. The lectures and sections will draw on a set of inter-disciplinary required readings, several case studies, and a host of recommended readings which will be available for deep-dives. Additionally, we will draw extensively on video and film materials when relevant. Case studies of each solution will examine whether and why it worked, and how it could have been improved, as well as compare the effort to other ambient successes and failures. Some overview lectures might be delivered by visitors; the case studies will be discussed interactively and might feature the protagonists wherever feasible.

Graduate students will be required to develop a project report. The idea of the project is to present a candidate solution - this may take the form of a business plan, a plan to build a non-profit, a plan to create a regulatory intervention, all of which are equally admissible - that solves a crisply stated, and significant, problem in a particular setting in South Asia.

Graduate students must self-assemble into project teams. Each team has to mix and match students from more than one Harvard faculty (thus, for example, a team of lawyers will not do, but mixing them with doctors or public health or public policy students will). Additionally, teams, once assembled, must make an effort to include any undergraduates who might choose to participate as full-fledged team members in lieu of their (undergraduate) final report.

After the course, but not as a part of it, teams that reach a threshold level of excellence in their project reports may be eligible for funding through the South Asia Initiative for exploratory work on their project. Sample projects from last semester include:

  • MOBLIZE! A project group working to encourage literary and technological knowledge by increasing the availability of modern library services to remote Indian villages by building mobile digital libraries (Team from FAS & HGSE)
  • South Asia Education Finance group which focused on becoming a pioneer specialized service provider to both public and private sector lenders in the educational loan market; enabling South Asian students to meet their financial needs through a larger, more streamlined and democratic system. (Team from HBS, HGSE & MIT)

Requirements for Graduate Students

The two main requirements for graduate students will be:

  • lecture attendance and participation, 30%
  • final project with an interim team-level report on the project. (30% interim report; 40% final report)

Please note that section attendance is not mandatory for graduate students. As regards grading, section participation can help the student's grade if she/he is on the margin between grades, but section non-attendance will have no negative impact. Graduate students may work with the appropriate TF to design an appropriate role for themselves within the sections, and, if they intend to attend section, should select into one at the beginning of the course.