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Tag: mobile technology

A change called NeHA

This article was originally published in the Indian Express.

This is in follow up to the recently held Radcliffe Advanced Seminar, “Exchanging Health Information.”


By Satchit Balsari, Fellow at the FXB Center for Human Rights and Tarun KhannaJorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School; Director, South Asia Institute

Ten years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine a world where tapping a piece of glass in the palm of your hand would allow you to watch a movie, order food, hail a cab, or transfer money without leaving your couch. Through companies like Ola, Flipkart and Chaipoint, Indian entrepreneurs have moulded Silicon Valley’s best ideas to successfully meet local needs. Yet, a decade after the ways in which we search, navigate, buy, communicate and entertain ourselves have radically changed, health-services in India remain largely unaffected by the power of the internet. We archive doctor’s prescriptions, labs and X-ray results the same way we did decades ago. Polythene bags with scraps of paper, EKG strips, and scans are carefully stored in our homes and diligently carried from one doctor to the next, from one hospital to the other — and this is the best-case scenario. To date, the vast majority of Indians has no organised medical records, whether paper or electronic.

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Kumbh Mela book and exhibition launch in Delhi

Kumbh Mela launch, Delhi

Rahul Mehrotra, right, shows the exhibit to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, center

On Monday, August 17, the Harvard South Asia Institute launched the Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book and exhibition in Delhi, India. Shri Akhilesh Yadav, Honorable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, was on hand to launch the book with Harvard faculty, to a crowd of over 250 people at the Oberoi Hotel.

Over fifty Harvard professors, students, administrative staff, and medical practitioners made the pilgrimage to Allahabad, India, to the Kumbh Mela site in 2013, to analyze issues that emerge in any large-scale human gathering. The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book consolidates research findings and serves as an example of interdisciplinary research conducted at Harvard.

Meena Hewett, Executive Director, SAI, gave the introductory remarks, stating the book has produced a set of teaching tools, useful across the disciplines of public health, data science, architecture, urban planning, business, religion and culture. This was followed by a welcome address by Mr. Vikram Gandhi, a member of the SAI Advisory Council and the managing director and global head of the Financial Institutions Group at Credit Suisse.

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Update on SAI’s mobile technology summer program

During this 8-week summer program in India, Harvard College students are exploring the potential of mobile technology to enable economic and social mobility. They spent the first few weeks of the summer program in Ahmedabad and Delhi, where they visited organizations that are using the technology in innovative ways, and learning from experts from a variety of fields.

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Mobile Technology to Access Healthcare Services: Case Studies from the Global South

Tarun Khanna, left, with Nathan Sigworth

This is the first article in a series highlighting SAI’s ongoing research projects that were featured at SAI’s Annual Symposium ‘South Asia: Local Solutions with Global Impact‘ in April.

By Ghazal Gulati, Ed. M Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education, @GhazalGulati

The South Asia Institute’s Annual Symposium, ‘South Asia: Local Solutions with Global Impact’ began on April 16 with an engaging panel showcasing research undertaken through SAI’s Mobile Technology research project.

The panel showcased three real-world case studies of unique applications of mobile technology in the field of healthcare, and discussed the next steps for the multi-year project. The project aims to explore the expansion of the use of mobile technology to provide services to a vast population, and find linkages and opportunities for transferability of interventions across various services.

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Summer Program: Mobile Technology and Big Data in India (New Deadline)

Use of Mobile Technology to Change Societies in India

Summer Program, 2015

The use of mobile technology is ubiquitous and fills the gap of information, communications, and access to social services for large populations. These technological devices are proving to be a powerful tool not just to promote economic growth in emerging markets, but to restructure societies and social relationships. India ranks second after China in the mobile phone market. Approximately 76% of the 1.25 billion people have access to mobile phones in India, and thus this device has huge potential to favorably impact the lives of many.

The program for Harvard undergraduate students, located in India, provides an opportunity to examine the use of mobile technology to deliver services in the areas of education, health, agriculture, and banking. Students will be given a background into the landscape of mobile technology in India, and be introduced to an analytic framework based on three major components – the technology itself, regulations and policy around the use of technology, and the individual users of the technology. Equipped with this background, students will conduct observations and interviews with those utilizing the technology and with those who are served by the technology.

This 8 week program will take place Ahmedabad, Bangalore, and Delhi, hotspots for mobile technology innovation and policy.


Tarun Khanna, Director of the Harvard South Asia Institute; Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, HBS
JP Onnela, Assistant Professor, Department of Biostatistics, HSPH
Satchit Balsari, Fellow, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative

Please note this program is only open to Harvard undergraduate students. 

The application materials are due Monday, February 28, 2015 (new deadline).

a)     Cover Sheet (click here)
b)    Statement of purpose describing your rationale for pursuing this project (750 words)
c)    Current one-page resume
d)    Transcript (Student Record is accepted)

The above materials should be emailed to Nora Maginn,

e)    Two confidential letters of recommendation to be submitted directly by recommender as PDF attachments to Nora Maginn,

Sample budget for Students

Learn more about SAI’s Mobile Technology project.

2015 Student Winter Grant Recipients

SAI has awarded 18 grants to support undergraduate and graduate student projects over the Winter Session in January, 2015. These include 6 undergraduates and 12 graduate students who will be traveling to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka for research and internships.

The projects cover topics from many disciplines, for example: Using microfinance to alleviate poverty, sustainable housing, the “Islamization” of Divorce Law in Pakistan, vernacular literature of Indian Christians, changing education in the third world countries using cheap computing devices, and internships at health ministries in Sri Lanka.

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Creating unique digital identities

Nilekani delivers the Mahindra Lecture

By Siddarth Nagaraj, MALD Candidate, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy,Tufts University

“Being able to confirm, in a robust and unequivocal way, who a person is” is vital to governance and social inclusion, and requires the creation of unique digital identity, said Nandan Nilekani, former Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) at the South Asia Institute Annual Harish C. Mahindra Lecture on November 3, 2014.

During his tenure as chairman of UIDAI, Nilekani designed and implemented Aadhaar, a national biometric identification project wherein each Indian is issued a twelve-digit number that is unique to them.

In his lecture on Nov. 3, Nilekani discussed the personal and national benefits of Aadhaar, which he referred to as the “world’s largest social project.” His arguments in favor of the initiative gave the audience fascinating insight into the creation and structure of the world’s largest national identification system.

Nilekani was introduced by Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School and Director of SAI. Prior to becoming chairman of UIDAI, Nilekani co-founded and later served as CEO of Infosys, India’s third largest IT services company. In 2009, at the invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he left the private sector to lead UIDAI, where he created Aadhaar.

During the enrollment process, Aadhaar collects the name, address, gender, fingerprint and iris scan of each enrolled individual. Under Nilekani’s leadership, Aadhaar enrolled 700 million Indians in five years and he has continued to advocate on its behalf, arguing that digital identity is essential not only for oversight and accountability, but also for social inclusion and personal empowerment.

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Using cell phones to change society

Cell phones are no longer just a tool of communication – they are improving the lives of billions of people, especially in developing countries. The potential of mobile technology to change society was examined in an Exploratory Seminar titled ‘Using Cellphones to Change Societies hosted by SAI and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on September 4 and 5, 2014.

Led by Tarun Khanna, Director of SAI, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School, and JP Onnela, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health, the workshop assembled a diverse group of academics, medical practitioners, business executives and leading researchers to discuss the potential of the technology to enable economic and social mobility, particularly in the areas of health, banking, and education. The discussions helped to lay the groundwork for future interdisciplinary research and connections.

Each of the four sessions included presentations by experts, followed by a discussion. In the first session, participants discussed how mobile technology can be used in interdisciplinary interventions. There are many myths about technology, and it is important to understand both the positive and negative effects. Many companies like Telenor are using big data to improve credit and loans, for example. Mobile money has exciting potential in Afghanistan and other emerging markets, and mobile phones can help rural workers get paid. The field of mHealth was also explored, which is revolutionizing health care worldwide.

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Exploring the potential of mobile technology

Khanna, right, speaks to the attendees

On Thursday, August 28, SAI traveled to the West Coast for its second event in its San Francisco Series, which brings Harvard faculty to California for events on a variety of topics related to South Asia.

A group of Harvard alums and SAI supporters gathered in Palo Alto for a conversation with Tarun Khanna, Director of SAI and Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School. Professor Khanna discussed SAI’s role as a bridge between Harvard faculty and South Asia, as well as his research on emerging markets and mobile technology.

The 2013 multi-school research on “Mapping the Kumbh Mela” spurred Professor Khanna’s research on the impact of mobile technology. This project brought together a team of over 50 faculty, students and staff from Harvard to travel to the world’s largest religious gathering.

The Mela inspired interdisciplinary research in a number of complementary fields: pilgrimage and religious studies, public health, design, communications, business, and infrastructure engineering. Professor Khanna traveled with a team from the Business School to analyze cell phone data from the festival, which has the potential to enable economic and social mobility.

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Tarun Khanna leads discussion on mobile technology in Bangalore

Khanna, left, leads the discussion

On August 13th, Tarun Khanna, Director of the South Asia Institute and the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School, led a discussion on“Mobile Technology: Spurring Social and Economic Enterprise in South Asia,” during his visit to Bangalore. The event was hosted by Rajiv Mody,the Chairman and Managing Director of Sasken Communication Technologies, at his residence and drew an eclectic audience of technologists, entrepreneurs, investors, Harvard alumni, and thought leaders.

Professor Khanna opened the discussion by addressing how the use of mobile technology phones has become ubiquitous in South Asia- not only as a tool to close the information gap, but as a powerful device to promote economic growth in emerging markets. The discussion hoped to broaden the understanding of mobile technology and how it can enable economic and social mobility, particularly for those most in need, through improvements in healthcare, education and financial services.  Professor Khanna focused on the society-changing potential of mobile technologies and, in particular, on specific mobile applications currently used in developing markets, such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India, that have demonstrated a proven impact on social development.

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