Select Page



The South Asia Institute supports a number of interfaculty research projects, which bring faculty from various Harvard schools together to engage in multidisciplinary scholarship.

Multidisciplinary Research Projects

Mapping the Kumbh Mela

The Kumbh Mela is a Hindu religious fair that occurs every 12 years at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers on the plains of northern India.  Today it draws tens of millions of pilgrims over the course of a few weeks to bathe in the sacred rivers. Harvard faculty and students from the Faculty of Arts and Science, Divinity School, Design School, Business School and the School of Public Health, traveled to Allahabad to study this “pop-up mega-city.”

More about this project.

Social Sciences


Adolescent Agency and Overcoming Gender Violence

Overcoming vulnerability and exploitation are the biggest obstacles to a girl’s social agency in South Asia. Researchers have extensively studied the obstacles preventing disadvantaged girls from accessing secondary and college education.  An opposite approach that looks at how underprivileged girls have managed to successfully complete high school and move on to higher education. What other contextual factors contributed?  How did they become “positive deviants”? Understanding education success is central to realizing gender equality, securing employment, and reducing early marriage, teen pregnancy and domestic violence.

Faculty Directors: Jacqueline Bhabha (Harvard School of Public Health), Akshay Mangla (Harvard Business School), Diane Rosenfeld (Harvard Law School).
In region partners: Poonam Muttreja (Population Foundation of India), Maninder Kaur (Ministry of Human Resource Development, India.), Shanta Sinha (University of Hyderabad), Tanya D’Lima (World Bank), Nandita Batla (International Center for Research on Women).

More about this project.


Indian marketFormal and Informal Businesses in India: Data, Linkages, and Regulations

To promote inclusive growth in India, there is a need to get a better understanding of the composition of businesses, how they operate, what constraints they face. The goal of the proposed project is to generate a better understanding of  a) the size, location and characteristics of businesses in India, both formal and informal, over time based on the last few rounds of the labour force and economic census data; b) the diversity of production relations within and between firms (employer, own-account, contracting and sub-contracting, regular and casual wage labour) through both a literature review and data analysis;  c) the linkages between formal and informal businesses through a literature review; d) which regulations help or hinder informal enterprises through a literature review; and e) modes of capital accumulation and patterns of technological change across industry sectors through a literature review.

Faculty Directors: Martha Chen (HKS) and Richard Freeman (FAS and National Bureau of Economic Research)
Partners: Amit Basole (UMass/Boston), Deepankar Basu (University of Massachusetts/Amherst), G. Raveendran (retired, Government of India), Joann Vanek (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing).


Primary Care DeliveryPrimary Care Delivery

Primary care services are a key means to reducing the disease burden and improving equity, as well as controlling the high financial burden on households arising from an unregulated market. Primary care services depend on a defined package of health promotion, prevention, and treatment initiatives that involve individuals and communities linking with health workers and health facilities. This project will look at opportunities in both urban and rural South Asia for private programs to develop high-quality, low-cost primary care service delivery to meet the demand of lower- and middle-income consumers for a trustworthy service.

Faculty Directors: Peter Berman (Harvard School of Public Health)
Regional partners: Afsana Kaosar (BRAC), Aamir Khan (Indus Hospital, Pakistan), Nachiket Mor (Health Management  and Research Institute, India.)


Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India- Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies

Despite abundant historical and political scholarship on Partition, and despite a growing literature of personal reflection and fiction, very little had been done, even after 67 years to search the extensive archival records of British India and the three countries that evolved from Partition to specify what actually happened to the millions who chose to or were forced to move to another country in a very short period of time. The ambition of the Partition Project is to develop a rich and empirically grounded understanding of Partition from this perspective: how many people chose to or were forced to move; where did they leave from and where did they go; how many people died and where; how many people suffered and where; and what efforts were made by government and civil society to mobilize relief and mitigate these severe consequences?

Faculty Director: Jennifer Leaning (Harvard School of Public Health, FXB Center, Harvard Medical School)
In Region Partners: Swaleha Shahzada Citizens Archives of Pakistan; Aman Foundation, Pakistan.





King Lear by Pablo BartholomewSouth Asian Arts at SAI

The 2008 Report of the Task Force on the Arts called for Harvard to make arts “an integral part of the cognitive life of the University.” SAI Arts Initiative serves as a resource for students and faculty across all disciplines to explore critical issues of South Asia through the lens of art and design. This program supports mid-career museum directors, curators, museology students, and artists with the aim of developing under-served museums into robust institutions, hosting South Asian museology students for independent studies, and showcasing emerging South Asian artists. Arts at SAI sets out to provide expertise to curatorial and conservation professionals, offer Harvard’s state-of-the-art research facilities to doctoral museology students, and give emerging South Asian artists a prestigious platform to exhibit and discuss their work.

Faculty Directors: Jinah Kim and Doris Sommers (FAS)
Partners: Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, HBS, Harvard Extension School, Harvard Museums, GSD

More about this project.


Bombay CityThe Contemporary South Asian City

Rapid economic growth is resulting in the transformation of the urban city in South Asia. The prominent role that cities in South Asia like Colombo, Dhaka, Karachi, Delhi, and Mumbai will play in the world arena merits a deeper look into understanding the contemporary South Asian city. The research would include day long workshops in the six cities, followed by a synthetic seminar at Harvard to explore the potential research projects that might emerge from these workshops. The findings from the workshops could be developed into a semester long studio taught at Harvard. The themes would include issues of affordable housing, conservation, public space, urban infrastructure and sanitation.

Faculty Director: Rahul Mehrotra (Graduate School of Design) and Justin Stern (PhD Candidate, Graduate School of Design)
Partners: Arif Hassan, Karachi, Fuad Mallick, BRAC, Bangladesh, Jagath Munasinghe, Colombo, Sri Lanka

More about this project.


Literacy about Religion in Contemporary South Asian Issues

An executive education program focused on enhancing religious literacy for professionals in public policy, media, and education. Participants will learn a method for understanding the complex roles that religions play in contemporary political and cultural affairs; discover how this method functions in specific professional sectors (e.g., business, journalism, international relations, public health, etc.); and learn about the application of this method through case studies located in specific contemporary contexts relevant to the participants.

Faculty Directors: Ali Asani (Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and Diane Moore (Harvard Divinity School).


Urban South AsiaUrban India Atlas

The project will help develop a new taxonomy for Tier-II (average population of 1.9M) and Tier-III cities (population size, between 100,000 and 1M) which are currently advancing disciplined and rigorous development plans, and will emerge as specialist centers of industries such as IT, manufacturing, or tourism and cultural heritage. Six cities have been selected, and regional partners in each city are being cultivated: Jamshedpur (Industrial Town), Erode (Market Town), Tirupati (Religious Town), Mhow (Cantonment Town), Agra (Heritage Town), Panjim (State Capital). Outputs will include a literature review on urbanism in South Asia, roundtable meetings with country partners, a two-day symposium on specific cities, seminars and studios offered through the GSD, and a series of publications pertaining to each city.

Faculty Director: Rahul Mehrotra (Graduate School of Design) and Justin Stern (PhD Candidate, Graduate School of Design)
Partners: World Monument Fund, Aga Khan Foundation.





Leadership Development Workshops

Non-State Players in Human Development – Achieving India’s Goals

In partnership with the World Bank, SAI hosted a four-day Executive Development Program in Mumbai on corporate social responsibility for 47 top executives from public and private sector companies. Tarun Khanna, SAI and HBS, Ashish Nanda, HLS and IIMA and Kash Rangan, HBS, cofacilitated the workshop.

Read more.

A Multidisciplinary Approach to University Leader Development

From July 30 – August 3, 2012 SAI hosted a leadership development workshop for 29 educators and policy makers from Maharashtra, India.

Read more here.

Project Page Photo

Science and Technology


Harvard and MIT form a major hub of science, technology, and medicine in the US. India is the complementary hub in the subcontinent. One proven way of catalyzing progress in science and technology is promoting the free exchange of cutting-edge information between sites through student and faculty research programs in South Asia targeted at exploring new developments and innovations in the fields of neuroscience, genomics, climate change, cyber security, and biomedical engineering, etc.

Cyber Security

South Asian countries are subjected to different types of internal pressures and social dynamics when it comes to electronic governance, public-private partnership formation, the concept of “privacy” and Internet freedoms, and critical infrastructure protection in cyberspace. These differences exist for a number of reasons (i.e., scale of population, variation in rates of Internet penetration, economic and social migration patterns, and differences in the nature of telecommunication laws in the South Asian countries). Through workshops and a visiting scholars program, this initiative will bring together scholars who are researching cyberspace issues in the South Asian context.

Faculty Directors: Venkatesh Narayanamurti (School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard) and the Berkman Center (Harvard).


Emergency Response and Disaster Management

Given the high volume of trauma and likelihood of increased exposure to major disasters in South Asia, a plan for disaster response in the region must include the following: training for senior decision makers in government and for response agencies (police, fire, civil service, etc.) to help build a coherent and coordinated system-wide strategy for response; and preparing frontline responders to clinically and psychologically manage the complex patients and issues they face on a daily basis in emergency casualty areas and in EMS settings.

Faculty Directors: Jennifer Leaning (Harvard School of Public Health, FXB Center), Satchit Balsari (Cornell Weill Medical Center), Shawn D’Andrea (HMS), Stephanie Kayden, Usha Periyanayagam, (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative),
In Region Partners: Aman Foundation, Karachi, Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), the health department of the city of Karachi, health department of Sindh province, Al Abassi Hospital, Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center, Aga Khan University Hospital, and Karachi Civil Hospital.

More about this project.


Innovation of Medical Devices

A multidisciplinary initiative that provides Harvard students with the opportunity to spend a summer in India and collaborate with local students and health care workers to create novel medical technologies that address real clinical needs. The program also has the potential to develop affordable health care solutions for patients not only in the region, but also in more developed economies, as these affordable technologies make their way back to the US.

Faculty Directors: Conor Walsh (School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard).
In Region Partner: B. Gurumoorthy (IISc–Bangalore).


Introduction to Neuroscience

A two-week course co-taught by faculty and postdoctoral students from Harvard and MIT, as well as faculty from a partner institution in India, on introduction to neuroscience. Students from across India would be selected through a rigorous search process undertaken by Harvard and the Indian partner institution. The structure of the program will include daily lectures on key neuroscience topics, as well as demonstrations and hands-on work. Lectures will cover a wide range of key neuroscience topics and the interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience (encompassing molecular biology, genetics, physiology, engineering, physics, and computer science). An important component of the course is the exposure to new methods and tools of research in neuroscience.

Faculty Directors: Venkatesh Murthy (Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard) and Pawan Sinha (MIT).
In Region Partner: India Institute of Technology (IIT), Upi Bhalla (National Center for Biological Sciences).

More about this project.



Mental Health

Increased incidence of mental illness relating to the pervasive psychological trauma of recurrent disasters and violence in the region requires a community-based approach, given the wide extent of need and local resources (both human and financial) available to address this complex issue. Research and trainings will include Psychological First Aid Training, Caring for the Caregiver, and Women’s Access to Mental Health Services.

Faculty Directors: Ruth Barron (Harvard Medical School), Shamila Khan (Cambridge Health Alliance).

In Region Partners: Aman Foundation, Karachi, Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), the health department of the city of Karachi, health department of Sindh province, Al Abassi Hospital, Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center, Aga Khan University Hospital, and Karachi Civil Hospital.



Mobile Technology and Development in South Asia

The use of mobile phones has become ubiquitous in South Asia—not only as a tool to close the information gap, but also as a powerful device to promote economic growth in emerging markets. This project hopes to broaden the understanding of mobile technology and how it can enable economic and social mobility—particularly for those most in need. Our collective efforts can increase knowledge of and provide better access to health care, education, and financial services, and thereby improve livelihoods. The project will develop an analytical framework based on three major components of the research; 1) the technology itself, 2) regulations around the use of technology, 3) the individual users of technology. The spirit of the three-part framework – suggestive of the underlying hypotheses – is that successful use of mobile technology requires more or less concurrent development along these three dimensions. The technology and regulations have to keep pace with each other, and users have to adapt their behavior patterns to avail of the potential benefits.

Faculty Directors:Tarun Khanna (Harvard South Asia Institute, Harvard Business School) and J. P. Onnela and Marc Mitchell (Harvard School of Public Health)
In Region Partners:  Jana Care in Bangalore, Pratham, Delhi, mkrishi, Mumbai

More about this project. 


Past Projects


Inclusive Innovation

Inclusive innovation encompasses innovation in products as well as processes to improve the welfare of traditionally excluded populations (the economic base of the pyramid, or BOP) and other minority groups.

In June 2012, the South Asia Initiative at Harvard University, the Omidyar Network, Growth Dialogue and the World Bank Group convened a Stakeholders’ Roundtable for the Promoting Inclusive Innovation Program on June 22, 2012 at Harvard University. Participants included entrepreneurs and senior policy-makers from Brazil, China, India and South Africa as well as leaders from academia, NGOs, global networks, and donor agencies.