Contemporary South Asia: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social & Economic Problems

This project-based, survey course focuses on several categories of social and economic problems faced by the countries of South Asia, specifically, in the realms of Education, Health, and Financial Inclusion. Each problem category will be dealt with through an overview lecture, supplemented by assigned readings, and an in-depth (typically case-based) look at one or more organizations, companies, non-profits, or regulatory interventions that have attempted to address some of the problems within that category. Supplemental readings will be recommended for those wishing to explore the topic further.

The primary objective of the course is to engage students – in an inter-disciplinary and university-wide setting – with the current problems in South Asia, to prior attempts to address these problems and to immerse them in a hands-on project-based attempt at their own candidate solutions.

The course is designed for advanced undergraduates as well as graduate students from all parts of the University. The lectures and deep-dive case studies are the core of the course, a must for all attendees; the course requirements are tailored separately to the needs of undergraduate and graduate students, with plenty of opportunities for cross-fertilization of ideas and experiences.
There will be an introductory module (six sessions) exploring how historical and contemporary choices have shaped the institutional context of modern South Asia. This will be followed by three modules focused on education (five sessions), health (six sessions), and financial inclusion (four sessions). A concluding session will summarize.

In the lectures we will review the available evidence on the incidence, causes and consequences of the problem in question. Through case studies we will examine real world, entrepreneurial attempts to provide solutions and for each, will discuss whether and why the approach worked, how it could have been improved, and compare the effort to other ambient successes and failures.

On occasion, we will use several available technological platforms to solicit reactions of the ‘world at large’ to the same assignments and poll questions in-class students are required to address, as well as have ‘the world’ engage in the same analytical exercise that will be assigned during class, to compare solutions.

In addition to in-class discussions, there will be a weekly section, mandatory for undergraduates, optional for graduate students, for a more in-depth exploration of selected readings and, perhaps, discussions of additional interesting cases of success or failure. Graduate Teaching Fellows (TF), with relevant knowledge of the material and geography, will run the small sections.

The lectures, case discussions, and sections will draw on experiences from multiple South Asian countries, featuring India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but also drawing on material relevant to Afghanistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Past student projects have typically focused on a problem area in a single country (note that there is nothing precluding consideration of a project set in a smaller country in South Asia than this set – e.g. Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal).
Thus, through the weekly lectures and sections, and an immersion into a hands-on project, students will develop an appreciation for the near-historical causes of the problem; the qualitative and quantitative evidence regarding the problem, especially in comparison to various counterfactuals; its various interpretations; commonalities and differences across South Asian countries; and the respective roles of the state, civil society, and private enterprise in helping resolve the problems.