New Projects Diversify Social Impact Abroad

WHILE CONDUCTING RESEARCH in India over the past several years, University of Chicago Law School Professor Anup Malani repeatedly met government officials who were looking for help. Back in Chicago, he knew many talented students who were eager to make a difference but having trouble landing jobs that gave them much responsibility. The solution, he concluded, was to bring recent graduates to India to help government officials with their initiatives.

The International Innovation Corps, launched in June 2014, found a permanent home at Chicago Harris this past summer. In its inaugural year the program sent nine UChicago graduates to work with six Indian university graduates on three projects in India. The program has expanded this academic year, with 23 fellows – 13 from UChicago have joined 10 Indian university graduates to work on several new projects.

One new project, supported by the Tata Trusts, aims to improve the working conditions for Mumbai’s sanitation workers by redesigning facilities and waste separation methods. For another Tata-funded project, run in partnership with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, a team of fellows in Mumbai is working with the state energy department to set up solar-powered pump sets that will extract groundwater for irrigation, and to persuade farmers that their crops will grow better and produce greater profits with the new technology. The fellows are also working on an emissions trading platform for the industrial sector that will reduce emissions as part of a larger goal to improve environmental regulation in the region.

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has supported two IIC projects focused on education reform in the northern states of Rajasthan and Haryana. A collaboration with officials in Rajasthan aims to improve staffing and community engagement in schools, and to create a uniform pedagogy by introducing new materials and administering more frequent evaluations. In Haryana, fellows are helping to create a data management system to measure students’ success and improve staffing procedures, academic monitoring and communications.

The final and perhaps most ambitious project for this academic year is conducted in conjunction with USAID, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Department of Science and Technology, the U.K.’s Department for International Development, Wish Foundation and others. These partners have created the Millennium Alliance, a social-impact platform that invests in Indian entrepreneurs. The IIC fellows are helping to expand the Alliance’s support for innovators, improving the application cycle and fortifying the brand through improved marketing and communications.

Although this year’s work is far from complete, negotiations to help fund more projects for next year are already underway. Next fall, Malani hopes to put 50 fellows to work and expand the IIC’s footprint beyond India. 

– Robin I. Mordfin