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How a Harvard Team is Trying to Reduce Pollution in Delhi


By Gina Ciancone, MUP ’19

 

Green Screen co-founder Gina Ciancone with the latest prototype, at the UN in New York

 

New Delhi is not only one of the world’s fastest-growing megacities but also one of the world’s hottest and most polluted urban areas. The intense pollution and heat are interconnected problems, substantially attributed to the 27 million tonnes of agricultural waste annually burned outside of New Delhi, the smoke from which hangs over the city and traps in heat, producing the urban heat island effect on a massive scale.

Green Screen is a zero-electricity passive air cooling panel installed in urban slums, made entirely of agricultural waste. Earlier this year, it won The Mittal Institute’s Seed for Change competition, in which grant prizes will be awarded to interdisciplinary student projects that positively impact societal, economic, and environmental issues in India and Pakistan. Our team developed the idea in The Mittal Institute Director Professor Tarun Khanna’s class on Contemporary Developing Countries: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Problems.

A hundredth of the cost of a conventional air conditioner, it is an affordable, beautiful product that not only cools people, but also addresses part of why it’s so hot in the first place. Green Screen passively cools homes and reduces indoor temperature in two ways. One is through air compression from the funnel shapes in the panel itself. The second is through the evaporative cooling; it produces vapor that draws heat from its surroundings and cools the area. Since many of the homes in informal communities are made from corrugated metal with voids acting as windows, Green Screen can be attached with a hinge system and can be kept open or closed. This technology has the potential to radically change the environment of urban slums – the areas in cities that expose their most vulnerable to extreme heat and dangerous levels of pollution.

Green Screen will launch in New Delhi in 2019. We are working with Chintan – an environmental advocacy NGO based in New Delhi – and will be meeting them in just a few weeks to conduct a site survey, consumer focus groups and meet key stakeholders. My colleague and I will also be interviewing farmers in the state of Haryana to better understand the behavioral economics of the newly-illegal practice of waste burning. In ten days, I will be going to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas to conduct a technical evaluation of Green Screen from aerospace and sustainability engineers. And this past month, Green Screen was selected from over 250 applicants to be part of the Harvard Innovation Lab Venture Incubation Program.

As part of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018, I was invited to present Green Screen at a closed expert roundtable panel focused on Urban Public Space, with co-founder Ramya Pinnamanenni in New York City. Participants included delegates from the United Nations, UN Habitat, UNICEF, Global Compact Cities Programme, ActionAid, and invited members of the public. Presenting Green Screen to a broad and expert-level audience was an incredible opportunity to showcase the product in a global setting.

One of the session’s key takeaways: while policy interventions are needed in emerging markets, design also has substantial and positive agency in development. As Patricia Holly Purcell from the United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme identified, the potential impact of Green Screen can be broadly applied to other vulnerable contexts. Green Screen could be adapted to other countries facing similar agricultural security crises, increasing temperatures, and growing informal settlements, such as sub-Saharan African nations and countries in Central America.

Ultimately, solutions to urban challenges will develop through creative problem-solving. Green Screen uses elements from a designer’s toolkit to integrate experimentation, technological possibility, and business success to arrive at an innovative solution. Showcasing the Green Screen prototype and pitching the venture to global leaders expanded the international community’s interest in entrepreneurial tactics that address urban problems. Similar to the multidisciplinary team composing Green Screen, having the private sector cooperate with local bureaucracies and international governing institutions will enhance adoption, implementation, and enhance the overall success of designed solutions.

Early Green Screen designs and the prototyping process

 

Defluoridation of Water: Innovative Tech Solutions for a Spreading Health Crisis


 

Dr. Sanjay Kumar, our India Country Director, introducing the panel at the event titled ‘Tackling Fluorosis: Innovative technology as a solution to the spreading health crisis’ . To his right, Dr. Andrew Haddad, ITR-Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Dr. Sunderrajan Krishnan, Executive Director of the INREM Foundation (middle), and SriKrishna Sridhar Murthy, CEO of Sattva Consulting (extreme right).

 

The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University, put together a panel on defluoridation of water in India, titled, “Tackling Fluorosis: Innovative Technology as a Solution to the Spreading Health Crisis”. The event was part of a project funded by the Tata Trusts-Mittal Institute initiative called “Multidisciplinary Approaches to Innovative Social Enterprises”. The panel comprised of Dr. Andrew Haddad, ITR-Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dr. Sunderrajan Krishnan, Executive Director of the INREM Foundation, and Srikrishna Sridhar Murthy, CEO of Sattva Consulting.

The project looks at scalable and affordable methods of removing fluoride from drinking water in fluoride heavy rural areas, where there is a dearth of access to even the very basic resources like proper nutrition, education, and clean drinking water. Excess fluoride in water can cause diseases such as skeletal and dental fluorosis, which, at their most severe, can result in severely stunted, abnormal growth, and damaged joints and bones. Haddad began the panel by elaborating on both the science behind current defluoridation technology used in India as well as the new technique evolved by Gadgil Lab for Energy and Water Research. The new technology, SAFR (Safe & Affordable Fluoride Removal), proposes using raw, locally-sourced bauxite ore to remove fluoride from water, a method which is 3 to 5 times cheaper, more energy efficient and sustainable than present methods of defluoridation.

Water filtration in Jhabua, M.P an area with high levels of fluorosis. Photograph credits: SAFEBillion.org

Krishnan explained how the fluoride crisis in India is a structural problem, which can only be solved through the interaction of a number of factors such as proper nutrition, alleviating calcium deficiencies, and education. However, the people who generally suffer from fluorosis are those that live in extreme poverty and do not have access to enough food, let alone education. The villagers consider the symptoms of fluorosis in a child as a curse, and tend not to believe that a constructive change is needed in their water source as they have many other issues to contend with. Thus, Krishnan talked about the need for safe water, nutrition management, and behavioural change to work together to solve this crisis.

Lastly, Murthy from Sattva Consulting emphasized the importance of a strong structural ecosystem, where all stakeholders – government, scientists, NGOs, natural resource organisations, and the community – must work together if they want to solve the fluoride crisis on a large scale. He mentioned that Sattva works to join all the stakeholders, to scale up the research and implementation, and help to build local capacity.

Mittal Institute Director Discusses Latest Book in Bengaluru


Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School, and Director of The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University, was in Bengaluru for a fireside chat about his new book. He was joined by Manish Sabharwal, o-founder and Executive Chairman, TeamLease for this conversation. This event was organised by the Harvard Business School India Research Centre and the HBS Club of India, in collaboration with TiE Bangalore and The Mittal Institute. The event was sponsored by the Brigade Group.

In his new book, ‘TRUST – Creating the Foundations of Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries’, Khanna looks at case studies, including the case of contaminated milk in China, the Alibaba success story, a non-profit in Bangladesh, as well as microfinance firms in Mexico, Peru, India and Indonesia. “If one needs to scale up, then one of the components needed is trust” he says. Talking about his previous book, he said: “I study entrepreneurship in developing countries. Close to 6-7 million people are eliminated from the mainstream. My idea was to get them connected to the mainstream. That was my thought behind writing my earlier book ‘Billions of Entrepreneurs’ a decade ago.”

Khanna and Sabharwal discussed many aspects of entrepreneurship, from altering mindsets to working in collaboration with the government, data versus building trust, and a comparison between the role of the state in India and China. The conversation was also opened out to the audience who shared comments and questions focused on scalability of entrepreneurial ventures, credibility of businesses, and the timeline for entrepreneurs in a developing country as compared to those in developed nations. 

Tarun Khanna (left) and Manish Sabharwal (right) at the fireside chat event in Bengaluru. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unspoken Story – A Conversation About Mental Health


As part of the India seminar series, The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University partnered with Sangath and It’s Okay to Talk for an event titled ‘Unspoken Story’. The event was a conversation between Vikram Patel, The Pershing Square Professor of Global Health, Harvard Medical School and two young women on their personal journey and experiences with mental health. This event was supported by Welcome Trust and the American Centre, and is also in partnership with Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), USA.

The two discussants – Ishita Mehra, artist and mental health advocate, and Ishita Chaudhry, Ashoka and INK fellow, and founder and managing trustee of the YP foundation, shared their personal stories, and the journey they took from understanding their own mental health needs to breaking stigmas and seeking help. They shared their experiences with bullying and body shaming as teenagers, the lack of resources at the institutional level and the importance of family support. The conversation further branched out to socio-emotional learning, the importance of talking about mental health and treating it with the same respect as physical health. One of the guests at the event, Dr. Preetha Rajaraman, HHS Health Attaché, – “U.S.- India Bilateral Partnership on Mental Health” also shared her perspective from the context of the opioid crisis in the U.S., among other mental health challenges.

Audience members asked questions about finding the right resources on the internet; politics and its role in mental health; ideas like using kindness campaigns instead of anti-bullying ones to promote cultures of empathy. The evening concluded with remarks by Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MSD), World Health Organisation (WHO), who re-emphasized the importance of the mental health conversation in the public health domain. He also shared two WHO resources on depression and mental health (links can be found below).

Such discussions we hope will bring not only a broader understanding of depression and mental health – how one can diagnose it and how to seek help; but also start conversations around the role of societies and education, how we can support and equip our institutions and define a clear vision for a mental health across India, South Asia and the world.

Two resources shared at the event:

  1. Let’s Talk (WHO) – http://www.who.int/news-room/detail/30-03-2017–depression-let-s-talk-says-who-as-depression-tops-list-of-causes-of-ill-health
  2. I had a black dog, his name was depression – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiCrniLQGYc

Vikram Patel (right) in conversation with Ishita Mehra (centre) and Ishita Chaudhry at the Unspoken Story event hosted in New Delhi. (Photograph credit: Mohit Kapil)

A Multidisciplinary Approach to Innovative Social Enterprises – Cookstove Research and Development in Rural India


 

                                                               Vocational training at Light of Life Trust project site in Karjat, Maharashtra

Sanjay Kumar, India Director of the Mittal Institute, and Saba Kohli Dave, Programs Coordinator of the Mittal Institute travelled with Bharat Thombre, Monitoring and Evaluation at non-profit Light of Life Trust (LOLT), Samantha Hing, Engineering PhD student at UC Berkeley, and an M.Tech student at IIT Bombay, to Karjat and Bhopoliwadi, Maharashtra. The group was going to monitor the usage and cost efficiency of the cookstoves designed at Professor Ashok Gadgil’s Energy and Water Research Lab in Berkeley and gather feedback from the village women regarding the cookstove model. Gadgil’s research received funding from a collaboration between Tata Trusts and the Mittal Institute titled, “Multi-disciplinary Approach to Innovative Social Enterprises” Continue reading →

“Social” Media: How Old Newspapers Help Us Understand Partition


Whenever my Pakistani family and acquaintances discuss the original ‘Brexit’, the 1947 transfer of governance to the new states of India and Pakistan, we mostly talk about communal tensions among Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities, or focus on contemporary political shenanigans in the region. Though most branches of my family were directly affected by the events of 1947, we rarely discuss its personal and familial impact. This interplay of easy conversation and silences around the Partition is a trope in the inheritances of history and family mythology in many Pakistani and Indian families.  

The academic industry around Partition, however, has recently begun to understand that individual and social experiences, as Ilyas Chattha says, are “Partition history’s integral subject, not just its by-product or an aberration”.

We learn more about this world-changing event from the stories of men, women and children who were not in the top tiers of the Muslim League or Indian National Congress parties whose history has come to define this seminal event in the world’s memory.  

As a researcher on The Mittal Institute’s collaborative Partition project, my goal has been to find and understand several pairs of opposites – care and violence, survival and death – as they co-existed in South Asia immediately before and after August 1947. In this massive, under-documented humanitarian episode, the ‘human’ element needs to be better represented in all its complexity.  

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The echo chambers of nationalism present a challenge in developing a three-dimensional model of how the millions of people were affected by Partition, making it harder to conceptualize a true ‘people’s history’. A significant portion of this historiographic focus, certainly in the English language, has been on what would become ‘Indian’ stories, for a variety of reasons.

In the case of Pakistan, at least, the archives that could give shape to a subaltern narrative are lost, scattered or obscured behind concentric circles of privacy, without a will to even look. The country’s fledgling bureaucracy, as well as citizenry, lacked the pre-existing infrastructure and wealth that existed across the border, resulting in a relative flattening of Partition narratives in circulation.  

In the face of this, the rare academics who give time and attention to Pakistan have recently relied extensively on oral histories and also on media analysis to substantiate the description of the human toll of Partition – and, therefore, independence – beyond statistics (assuming these statistics even exist or can be traced).  

Newspapers, along with radio, in Urdu and English, were the main platforms available for displaced people (and those concerned with them) to make a case for themselves. There are classifieds advertizing business opportunities and details of lost loved ones, and passionate letters to the editor that signal discontent to state authorities.

Government organs and functionaries also relied on the tools of media to communicate with their new citizens, as they sought to shape that very citizenry.

There were photographs of politicians in ‘charismatic’ mode speaking and posing among refugees, who were often shown in either classic images of destitution and despair, or occasionally as heroic survivors, much like the new state of Pakistan, which claimed as part of its mystique a resilience in the face of many threats to its independence and security.  

Of course, these resources were most available to those with certain privileges. In a region with relatively low literacy, and where rural areas were particularly affected by disruption and displacement, English and Urdu-language media were not truly representative of the struggles and joys of life of over five million refugees (and the deduction and absence of a similarly-sized population of non-Muslim evacuees).  

The themes that emerge from the layout and content of a newspaper like Dawn, even when addressing the needs of the less privileged, can at best merely hint at the overall picture of what the newly-realized Pakistan meant for the lived experience of each of its constituents, especially those whose experience resisted easy packaging within bigger stories of the successful and best-possible emergence of the Pakistani state.   

With this caveat, I have selected clippings from a newspaper with socialist-leaning bona fides called the Pakistan Times (edited by eminent cultural figure Faiz Ahmad Faiz) to show how news around the partition was expressed and shared by individuals, providing insight into the motivations and struggles that official histories have glossed over.  

To contextualize these clippings, it is important to note that Pakistan was caught up in a frenzy of ‘pioneership’. Reporting on the Partition, into 1948, shared space with tales of battle and suffering in Kashmir and Palestine/Israel, lending an almost cosmological significance to local problems, which seemed to be reflected on the wider global stage.

It is also important to note that newspapers, as the original ‘social’ media, contained multiple voices, including dissenting ones. Hence, we have a remarkably regular series of messages by West Punjab’s civil supplies department, announcements about open meetings with police, as well as expressions of dissatisfaction with government actions, and direct communications between estranged friends and relatives (including non-Muslims).  

Nabil carefully scanning old newspaper clippings

Nabil loading microfilm into the computer at Widener Library

In selecting these clippings, I have chosen to highlight stories of unexpected relationships as well as glimpses into the lived experience of refugees and those individuals and organizations in relationship with these displaced.  

The economy of displacement included, in small ways, the continuation of connections between Muslim and non-Muslim, as private transactions around property occurred before sufficient government management of property exchange between departing evacuees and incoming refugees.  

The elite and upper middle classes were called out for aspects of their lifestyles during the ongoing emergency, and daily requests for aid to the national fund for refugee assistance (alongside reports of conspicuous donations made by schools, professional associations, townships etc.) emphasized generosity as a civic virtue of the new regime.

Newspapers facilitated communication in a period where other media were not as reliable. Refugees drew attention to the difficulties they faced in navigating their new lives. The government of Indore in India even used Pakistani newspapers to connect with potential incoming migrants. 

This archive, like most, is a static one, so we do not know the antecedents or after-life of any of these pieces of newspaper art and literature (what, for example, was the Hindu or Sikh refugee’s response to the Indore announcement?); nonetheless, these excerpts allow us to focus our lines of inquiry as researchers on the texture of the social fabric of the newly formed dominions, with neatness and linearity in some cases, and deep complexity in others. 

 

Nabil A Khan is a Visiting Scholar at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, led by Professor Jennifer Leaning, at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. This is the first in a series of blog posts about SAI’s Partition Project.

SAI responds to Executive Order


The South Asia Institute (SAI) fully endorses Harvard President Drew Faust’s response to the Trump Administration’s executive order restricting travel to the United States.

We offer our full support to Harvard students, faculty, staff and affiliates, regardless of their country of origin or religious background, alongside the Harvard International Office and the university’s Global Support Services. We encourage all South Asia scholars to apply for our programs.

The work of universities in the world has never been more vital. The SAI is committed to the advancement of global scholarship and understanding, and our work in this fascinating, important region will continue. Across many borders, our diverse students and scholars are aiming to generate knowledge and insights that transcend and outlive any temporary barriers to progress.

Harvard President Drew Faust: We Are All Harvard

Resources:

Harvard International Office

Harvard Global Support Services

Student voices: The Politics of Knowledge


In search of a South Asian climate: Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew

In search of a South Asian climate: Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew

This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Joshua Ehrlich, PhD Candidate, Department of History

A summer research grant from the South Asia Institute took me recently to a handful of archives across the UK: three in Scotland and one in London. The research was primarily in English and Indo-Persian source materials connected with my dissertation, “The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge.” These materials ranged from the mundane to the mystical; from the collections and correspondence of administrators to the poems and petitions of scholars. My project aims to give a new account of the political and ideological uses of knowledge in South Asia, in the eventful decades around 1800. Such materials are its evidentiary bread and butter.

Continue reading →

Student voices: Researching History Textbooks in Sri Lanka


At the Jaffna Fort

At the Jaffna Fort

This is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Sarani Jayawardena, Harvard College ’17

A history textbook is a complex item, lying at the intersection between ethnic politics and education policy. I did not think about that as a student in school – then, the history textbook was something to read, memorize, and cough back up at end-of-year examinations. But when governments write curricula or textbooks, the history textbook starts to mean much more. It becomes a tool by which the state can transmit its historical narrative, its version of the official past of a country. It becomes a direct articulation of what the state considers an accurate narrative and a desirable national identity for its citizens.

Yet “national history” is subjective: differences in identity – whether by race, religion, language, social status, class, or gender– can drastically alter personal conceptions of history. Thus multi-ethnic countries face a multiplicity of versions of past and conceptions of identity. Many South Asian nations have witnessed ‘textbook controversies’ or ‘textbook wars’ because of this complexity.

Continue reading →

Student voices: Nepal in recovery


Peng4This is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Haibei PengMaster in Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 2017

Haibei traveled to Nepal over the summer to work on her research project ‘The Nested Scale of Time: to protect and display biodiversity in South Asia through research on agriculture and seed bank.’

With the generous support from SAI Research Grant, I traveled through Nepal in May, 2016 for two weeks to conduct my thesis research on traditional Nepalese architecture and post-earthquake reconstruction in Kathmandu. During the two weeks I spent in Nepal, I traveled through Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan national forest while talking to local residents, friends, foreign workers, volunteers and international organizations. Even though Nepal remains a poor country with bad infrastructure and is still recovering from the earthquake disaster, people here are all very friendly, welcoming and seem to share a happy attitude towards life and their country. Below are some of the most stimulating findings from my research.

Continue reading →