the world is your classroom: global social impact practicum (part II)

This is the second post of a two-part series, the first of which can be found here.

Last you heard from me, I was gearing up to jet off to India along with 15 of my classmates as part of the Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP), an experiential course at Booth in which students explore how social innovation can help solve some of India’s biggest challenges. As a brief recap, my group is partnering with a team at the Pritzker School of Medicine that has developed an oral cancer screening and diagnostic kit that they hope to bring to market in India.

Coincidentally, two days before our trip was supposed to begin, The University of Chicago Center in Delhi was hosting an international symposium on oral cancer, and our partners at the Pritzker School of Medicine were among the presenters. As luck would have it, our group’s front-loaded Autumn finals schedule allowed us to fly out early and attend the conference. Being there augmented our understanding of oral cancer’s reach—greatest in many developing countries, like India—as well as elucidated the most cutting-edge research regarding diagnosing and treating the disease.

The day proved valuable in orienting us within the problem now that we were in India. It was also neat to see a University of Chicago global research center and be reminded that the school’s breadth quite literally does make the world our classroom. And, with one free day before the trip officially began, we were able to sneak in a daytrip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, two beautiful and historical cultural landmarks.

Due to the oral cancer kit’s proven effectiveness and significant value proposition in detecting cancer at its earliest stage and through a non-invasive technique (unlike the current paradigm under biopsies, in which some tumor tissue must be removed for analysis), our pre-trip hypothesis was that this test had significant potential for impact in India. However, our goal for the trip was to determine at what price point the market would accept the product, as well as to develop a preliminary distribution strategy that would target serving the highest-risk populations.

Our itinerary for the week was to meet with a diverse group of stakeholders across Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru—including doctors at the country’s largest cancer hospital, members of a social innovation incubator, a doctor in Mumbai’s largest slum, and the manager of a private health insurance system. Through these conversations, we gathered information to help us begin to answer our questions about market viability and commercialization.

One of my personal highlights was meeting with Luis Miranda, a Booth alum, former financier, and current entrepreneur and philanthropist, who happened to be featured in a case study in my Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity class this past fall. It was exciting to hear how his Booth education had shaped his journey, as well as to see a real-world example of the crossover between two classes spanning the seemingly disparate disciplines of finance and social innovation. As someone who is returning to private equity after graduation but passionate about working with companies that drive value for underserved populations, I was inspired to see how Luis fused these two elements into a gratifying career.

The result of our week in India was a truly immersive experience. It prompted us to analyze and debate all angles of our problem with the understanding that the results of our final presentation would have real-world implications on how the oral cancer kit’s journey will evolve. Now that we are back in the classroom, we have five weeks to synthesize the information we collected and present our findings in a series of recommendations to our partners at the Pritzker School of Medicine.

While many classes at Booth more or less end once finals conclude, it is humbling to be working on a project with such potential for impact and a lifespan that will far exceed my time at Booth. The experience has served as a refreshing reminder about how much is going on outside of Booth’s bubble, and that once we graduate, we will be rejoining the workforce, armed with a Booth education, and dedicating our lives to all kinds of problem-solving, both big and small.

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