Planning out your Fall schedule? One class you won’t want to miss out on is Contemporary Developing Countries: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social & Economic Problems (GENED 1011), now available to students at Harvard College and Harvard graduate schools. [HBS 1266, GSE A-819, HLS 2543, HKS DEV-338, GSD SES-5375. Others may cross-register]. Meeting Mondays and Wednesdays (3:00–4:15 PM, Sever Hall 113), the class is taught by Professors Tarun Khanna (HBS), Satchit Balsari (HMS, HSPH), Krzysztof Gajos (SEAS), Rahul Mehrotra (GSD), and Doris Sommer (FAS).
Through the semester, students will examine salient economic and social problems of the developing world through the entrepreneurial lenses of the artist, scientist, and planner; each theme taught by one of the professors above. The class encourages students to hone their problem-solving skills by consciously adopting a multi-dimensional approach, drawing from wide-ranging case-studies around the world: Why did a computer scientist build a dairy in China? Why were street children in Venezuela being taught classical music? Why did the mayor of Bogotá replace his traffic cops with mimes? How did a city host 80 million visitors attending a religious fair? Through these and other case studies, students will learn to develop entrepreneurial strategies to tackle the most pressing challenges in today’s emerging economies: health, education, transport, energy, pollution, corruption, lawlessness, violence, food, sanitation, water, shelter, migration, and more. This course will push students to engage with each subject critically; to immerse themselves in the subject matter and reflect on their own thought processes.
“The philosophy of the course is that the problems of economic development … are very deep-seated, often somewhat intractable. So, the question is: how do we organize the mental effort so that our investigations are more productive?” says Professor Khanna. “In the course, we spend a little bit of time talking about the lay of the land in developing countries — the framework to think about what I refer to as the ‘institutional context.’ Is it going to be a problem like corruption? Is it going to be about teacher absenteeism? Pollution? The list of problems is endless.”
“If we somehow compel ourselves … to not be prisoners of our own biases and learn to see the problems not just through the lens that we bring to the problem, but through the lenses of others, it’s far more likely that we will have an encompassing view of the problem, and far more likely that we see potential pitfalls and potential opportunities to address that problem,” he continues. Learn more about the course (previously named SW47) by watching the video below with Professor Khanna.
But don’t just take our word for it — here’s what a few past students had to say at the end of the course:
“Favorite class this semester. You get to work on a passion project and other students are passionate and intelligent and a pleasure to work with. Professors are amazing and helped me grow as a person across multiple facets.”
“This is a really cool class, especially if you have a lot of interest in a specific developing area of the world/specific project in mind you would want to work on. The group project is incredible if you’re working on an issue you’re passionate about, so start about thinking the final project early.”
“This is an incredibly unique class, and getting to work with students from all of the grad schools is an opportunity that is definitely worth taking.”
“Take it. I was worried that I would need to have a good group and I was worried how much I would enjoy the class. But it really teaches you different ways of thinking … I never thought like an artist before and I never knew that curiosity and innovation can be scientific …”
In past years, students have entered their business plans into university-wide competitions, including the President’s Challenge and the Mittal Institute’s Seed for Change competition. A recent winner of the Seed for Change competition, Green Screen, was a project developed through the Contemporary Developing Countries course. The team created a zero-electricity passive air-cooling panel made entirely of agricultural waste that would be installed in the windows of urban slums in India. At a hundredth of the cost of a conventional air conditioner, Green Screen is working to address the issue of extreme heat and dangerous levels of pollution in urban areas. With the Seed for Change grant, they’re turning an idea from a class in Cambridge into a real-life product in India. To read more about the course and its objectives, click here.