22 Nov 2023

New Faculty Profiles: Robyn Meeks


HBS faculty comprises more than 300 scholars and practitioners who bring leading-edge research, extensive experience, and deep insights into the classroom, to organizations, and to leaders across the globe. We asked new faculty at HBS about their background, their new roles, and their interests.

Robyn Meeks, visiting fellow, Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society

What’s your area of research and what led you to it?
My research is at the intersection of environmental, energy, and development economics. A lot of my work is motivated by an interest in technologies and policies that are intended to help the environment—and ideally help the environment while aiding development— but might not, depending on how they interact with human behavior.

As I was finishing undergrad, I knew two things. First, I wanted to work on environmental issues in developing countries. Second, I did not want to sit at a desk. So I joined the Peace Corps and have been working on issues related to the environment and development ever since.

Why is your area of research important for society?
Through my research, I am collaborating with businesses that work to improve access to energy and electricity services in developing countries, while also playing active roles in mitigating climate impacts (e.g., large electricity utilities in Pakistan, Nepal, and Kyrgyzstan) and increasing the adoption of renewable energy technologies (e.g., startup companies promoting rooftop solar in India, solar mini grids in Benin, and biogas in Nepal). Understanding the impacts of their efforts is important for society because it informs not only the future decision-making of these companies, but it can also influence climate policy.

Where are you from?
Although I live in North Carolina, I still consider myself “from” New England. I was born in New Hampshire and grew up in the Boston suburbs. All of my higher education was at institutions in New England including my PhD at Harvard Kennedy School, so being back here this year feels like coming home.

What is something you like to do outside of your academic work?
Rowing. I rowed in high school and college. My teammates were these amazing women who really inspired me to keep pushing myself. Those same teammates are still doing incredible things. After a long hiatus, I started rowing again a few years ago. Now some of my former college teammates and I are training to compete in the Head of the Charles this fall!

What’s your favorite book, movie, or piece of art?
My favorite artwork tends to be things that I find when I am traveling abroad. I can’t tell you how many paintings I’ve brought home from different countries where I am doing research. I’ve been so fortunate to travel to many amazing places, and I love to bring home reminders

What will you be doing as a BIGS Fellow?
A lot of my work informs climate mitigation discussions. As a BiGS Fellow, I am trying to focus more on climate adaptation, as we know that many developing countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change and need to adapt. I am focused on adaptation among energy companies, particularly electricity distribution companies. The electricity distribution companies in Nepal and Pakistan—countries in which I have current research—face hard choices for adaptation. For example, they can invest in making the distribution system more resilient to extreme events—flooding, heat waves—and hopefully make electricity services more reliable and less prone to outages. However, upgrades to distribution systems—whether those systems are the main electricity grid in Karachi or decentralized mini-grids in western Nepal— are costly. If the companies invest in adaptation, these costs will be passed onto the consumers, which is difficult in settings in which households often struggle to pay their electricity bills. My BiGS fellowship work will be aimed at better understanding the climate adaptation tradeoffs and what works in different places.

What sort of impact would you like to have as a BiGS Fellow?
My hope is that insights from this work will inform decision-making in developing countries related to climate adaptation and resilience, as well as disaster preparedness and relief.

Post a Comment

Comments must be on-topic and civil in tone (with no name calling or personal attacks). Any promotional language or urls will be removed immediately. Your comment may be edited for clarity and length.