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News Category: News


Alum Q+A: Saving lives at birth


IMG_20160504_233926This is part of a series of profiles of Harvard alumni who are young entrepreneurs in South Asia.

In developing countries such as Pakistan, many births take place at home and are often attended by unskilled birth attendants in suboptimal conditions. This leads to a prevalence of infections – especially umbilical infections that can lead to life-threatening neonatal sepsis.

Sabeena Jalal, an alum of Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and currently based in Karachi, is trying to do something about it. She has developed a special blade to be used by midwives to cut the umbilical cord. The blade is made of zirconia, which prevents bacteria from growing and does not rust. Jalal hopes that this tool will reduce the rate of infant mortality in developing countries.

SAI recently spoke to Jalal about how she developed the idea, and her experience as a young “entrepreneur” in South Asia.

SAI: Tell me a bit about the background for this product. What problem are you trying to solve?

Sabeena Jalal: When I worked in medicine at a government hospital, I got the idea to develop something that no matter what the environment is – hospital or home – a woman giving birth will be healthy.

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    Widener’s growing South Asia collection: “The sky is the limit”


    IMG_8862 - CopyIn the middle of Harvard’s campus, deep below the impressive facade of Widener Library, is a treasure trove for scholars of South Asia – and a team of librarians working to make it accessible to scholars all over the world and usher in a new era of South Asian studies at Harvard.

    Michael Grossman, Librarian for Georgian, Armenian and South Asian Languages, has been working meticulously with his team at Widener’s Middle Eastern Division to purchase, then fully catalog, process, and shelve 22,000-plus volumes that the library has acquired from Pakistan over the last 10 years. The unprecedented project was undertaken with the help of the late Professor Shahab Ahmed, Professor of Islamic Studies at Harvard, who connected the library with an “an energetic, insightful” book dealer based in Lahore, Pakistan.

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      Tarun Khanna: Humanities seem distant from startups, but they’re not


      topimg_31637_tarun_khanna_300x400This article appeared in Forbes India.

      The Start-up India campaign announced amid much fanfare on January 16 this year outlined the government’s resolve to enable entrepreneurship in India. A precursor to the big announcement, however, was the submission of a report by the Expert Committee on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, commissioned by the Niti Aayog. It was helmed by Tarun Khanna, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School and the director of South Asia Institute at the Harvard University. The committee’s recommendations have since helped shape the contours of the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM). Khanna, who is also part of the founding team at Bengaluru-based Axilor Ventures, spoke to Forbes India about the need to create an ecosystem conducive to innovation and why it’s worth taking a chance to encourage the state to start doing basic stuff. Edited excerpts:

      Q. Are Indian startups doing enough to solve India’s more pressing problems?
      Absolutely not (laughs). I think we’re doing very exciting things. But it would be overstating it to say that we’re solving India’s problems. We’re addressing some of the low-hanging fruit; things that are easier to address. We’re addressing things that appropriately build on India’s stock of knowledge assets, primary among which is our expertise in software and information technology. It makes a lot of sense. I have no issue with that. It has generated some jobs and put India on the map. But it’s not enough.

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        Update from the Harvard Alumni Group in Nepal


        Rai, second from right, with members of the Group

        Rai, second from right, with members of the Group

        The Harvard Alumni Group of Nepal hosted its monthly meeting on May 10, 2016 in Kathmandu, which featured a talk by Milan Rai, a young artist from Nepal who participated in the South Asia Institute’s Visiting Artist Program in 2016. He discussed his “White Butterfly” project.

        Rai is an accomplished artist, who found his gift for painting and sketching following a painful stint with drugs and gang fighting when he was young. He dropped out of school, but kept moving forward. He began to seek out professional opportunities to improve his skills. He worked on figurative and landscape painting, and then abstract paintings utilizing a myriad of disciplines and media. His first solo exhibition was in 2007 at Park Gallery. He then moved beyond the gallery system and became a self-representing artist.

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          Call for Applications: Program for Visiting Artists from South Asia (Deadline: Aug. 15)


          060916_graphicAbout: The Harvard University South Asia Institute’s Arts Program serves as a resource across all disciplines to explore critical issues of South Asia through the lens of art and design. The Program welcomes applications from emerging artists in South Asia to come to Harvard University to participate in interdisciplinary discourse with students and faculty on global issues relevant to South Asia.

          Four artists will be selected for the academic year to Harvard University in Cambridge, Ma for a total of two weeks. Two artists will arrive in the fall from October 30 – November 13, 2016 , and another two artists will arrive March 19 – April 2, 2017. While our visiting emerging artists are on campus, SAI will support events and exhibits organized in collaboration with specific Harvard departments and faculty, and aligned with undergraduate course-content within Harvard.

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            Faculty voices: Studying biology abroad


            bangaloreThis is part of a series in which we highlight recipients of SAI’s Faculty Grant program

            By Dr. Ryan Draft, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies, Neurobiology; Lecturer on Molecular and Cellular Biology

            I received a faculty grant from the SAI to offset the cost of transportation to and from Bangalore, India (Summer, 2015). In Bangalore, I helped run a biological sciences summer abroad internship with four Harvard undergraduate students. These students came from four different concentrations (Human Evolutionary Biology, Neurobiology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Applied Math), and they ranged in year from freshman to junior. All of them had an interest in learning about the culture of India as well as developing professional skills in a world-class biological laboratory.

            These students spent 8-10 weeks living and working on site at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore on a research project of their choosing. They took weekends and time at the end of the program to travel to more distant parts of India with friends they had made during the summer. I spoke with all of them after their return and without exception each felt that their time in India was a rewarding and enriching experience.

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              Faculty Voices: Rebuilding the Social Compact in Pakistan


              This is part of a series in which we highlight recipients of SAI’s Faculty Grant program.

              1Rebuilding the Social Compact: Urban Service Delivery and Property Taxes in Pakistan
              Principal Investigator: Asim Khwaja (Harvard Kennedy School)
              Co-Investigators: Ben Olken (MIT), Adnan Khan (LSE/IGC) 

              This document summarizes pilot work conducted on the Social Compact project from July 2015 to June 2016, supported in part by the Harvard South Asia Institute. This includes the following activities:

              1. Defining the menu of urban services
              2. Pilot exercise
              3. Government meetings and approvals
              4. Field visits
              5. Updates to intervention design
              6. Neighborhood construction

              Background and relevance

              The social compact between citizen and state – whereby a citizen pays taxes and receives (public) goods and services – is a critical link in the development process. This link is especially salient in the context of local governments and a significant metric on which they are judged. However, if citizens perceive little benefit from their tax payments, or local services are disconnected from local decision-making, this link can be broken. This can create a vicious cycle where citizens do not receive high quality services because resources are limited by low levels of local tax revenue, and the low quality of services leads to a low willingness to pay taxes, as well as a broader lack of trust in the state.

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