Chawla wants to use the skills he refines at Harris to find answers to challenging problems and improve people’s lives.
Geet Chawla, Headshot at Keller
Geet Chawla

In 2018, Geet Chawla, MPP Class of 2021, was working with a team of researchers for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Evidence for Policy Design. They were studying the challenges India’s underprivileged population faced entering the formal financial sector. “I led focus groups with people who lived in underprivileged areas and whose income was below the poverty line. My goal was to diagnose the gaps that exist for populations living below the poverty line in accessing the available government-run safety net programs. Moreover, designing interventions to have them benefit these schemes through formal financial systems, bypassing corruption.

During this work, he realized a solution might come from something everyone had in their hand—a phone. “Even though these people were really poor, they were able to use the phone in their hands. I saw that even a mobile phone can do a lot of good to help the global underprivileged.”

Ever since that moment, Chawla has been interested in using technology-driven solutions to address development issues, and he considered Harris the best place to gain the data analytics and quantitative skills necessary to pursue his goal. “I liked the focus on quantitative tools. Plus, the ability to take electives in other schools at the university was appealing.”

So far, Chawla says his three favorite courses have been Program Evaluations with Assistant Professor Fiona Burlig, Stats II with Austin Wright, and Spatial Regressions with Pedro Amaral, a Fellow at UChicago’s Center for Spatial Data Science. “In Spatial Regressions, I was especially excited to combine my interest in geographic information systems [GIS] and econometrics.”

Chawla also noted Harris’ flexibility to focus on multiple policy areas encouraged him to pursue a Certificate in Data Analytics.

This past April, Chawla, along with Harris students Parth Khare (MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy Class of 2021) and Samiul Prantar (MPP Class of 2021), were selected as Clinton Global Fellows for their project that aims to use satellite images to track the existence and density of disease-causing pathogens in bodies of water. “This is something we think could help local governments, non-governmental organizations, and health care companies to deploy resources before there is an outbreak,” Chawla said.

Chawla's summer also has been busy—with a remarkable three internships.

As a Bartlett Fellow at the Energy Policy Institute at UChicago (EPIC), he’s been studying how providing money to migrant workers in India impacts their spending behavior, and how the pandemic has impacted these workers’ ability to provide remittances. Chawla also has been working for Assistant Professor Emanuele Colonelli at the Booth School of Business, studying the startup ecosystem in Sub-Saharan Africa to better understand what sectors stimulate the greatest investment. Finally, he served as a Lead Teaching Fellow for the International Policy Action Lab, teaching R to students attending China’s Peking University.

After Harris, Chawla hopes to continue working at the intersection of technology and international development to find answers to challenging problems that improve the lives of everyday people.

“A lot of organizations do a lot of work, but there can be a disconnect between what the organization does and its impact on the ground. I want to work on projects that really make an impact for the people on the ground.”