Expanding the Classroom with Social Impact in India

I came to Booth not only to build out my investing skill-set but to discover how to use those skills to better society. The Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP) is helping me reach that goal.

I remember applying to Booth back in 2016. The essay portion was so different from any other MBA program I was applying to. It was fun and creative – pick one of six different Booth experiences and write about it. The picture that resonated most with me was about a group of Booth students on a trip to India learning about the intersections of business and social innovation in the Indian educational sector. Three years later I had the opportunity to relive that picture as a participant of the Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP).

GSIP is an experiential learning course that explores the impact of social enterprise and philanthropy on India’s most pressing challenges. GSIP is supported by the Tata Centre for Development at UChicago (TCD), instituted by Tata Trusts, and facilitated by Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation. Booth students engage in a market assessment to identify where the biggest opportunity lies for social entrepreneurs and work to evaluate the potential for sustainability and impact of various technologies. The class teams up with Tata Trusts and MIT engineering graduate students to work on projects throughout the Winter Quarter.

I wanted to participate in GSIP to get hands-on experience to address problems affecting a society. I believe the learned lessons can be translated into solutions for another society. Specifically, to my own experience and background, I saw the parallels of working with rural farmers in India and farmers in my home country of Sudan. Like many developing countries, Sudan has a lot of opportunity; however, it is not a top destination for foreign innovation. But by getting the skills and knowledge we need, those of us who see potential in these societies can help bridge those gaps.

The class consists of 16 students, with four students working on 1 of 4 projects: 1) Turning agricultural residues into valuable commodities using biomass torrefaction, 2) point-of-use soil testing and nutrient management system, 3) low-cost, high temperature and pressure sterilization at one-sun – leveraging solar power to heat to sterilization temperature, and 4) robust point-of-care detection of urine-based TB biomarkers.

To get ready for the course, GSIP students took two trips. The first was to MIT where some team members met with the MIT engineers to learn about the technologies. The larger (and mandatory) trip was a week spent in India. It was an orientation to consumer and customer stakeholders, Tata Trusts, and the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in India. As part of the soil-testing team, I got to meet with rural and tribal farmers to understand their livelihood, needs, and challenges.

While it meant that I would miss Booth’s Ski Trip, it was well worth it. It was exciting to meet NGOs and community organizers, and it was truly humbling to interact and interview these rural tribal farmers, many of whom were living on $2 per day! The trip to India was unlike anything I’ve done before and as I work on my project, I realize just how valuable it was to actually meet the farmers and other stakeholders face to face.

Our midterm presentations just concluded where we got to present our key findings, problem statements, and hypothesis to our coaches, Tata Trusts, and MIT Fellows. Armed with their feedback, I’m excited to move forward with our project for the remaining five weeks of the quarter.

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