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IIM-A joins hands with Harvard, MIT and Berkeley for research

Institutes to address bottom of the pyramid issues; joint research to up IIM-A's world ranking

Vinay Umarji  |  Ahmedabad 

Ashish Nanda

What happens when marquee institutions of the world — Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University and University of California, Berkeley — join hands with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad?

There will be joint research projects to develop field water quality testing and filtration equipment, ambient pollution measuring products and mobile technologies for health purposes.

In a first, these institutions have decided to work together through a consortium to benefit and address issues of the bottom of the pyramid in and around Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, Gujarat. The projects will be partly funded by the United States Agency for International Development (US AID), which has sanctioned grants to the likes of MIT and Berkeley to conduct empirical research in developing countries for the benefit of the poor.

US AID is the US federal government agency primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid. It operates in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. As part of the consortium, faculty and students at IIM-A, along with those of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar; National Institute of Design (NID); Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT); Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDI) and Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA), will work with skilled researchers, faculty and students from Department of Urban Studies and Planning, as well as D-Lab at MIT, South Asia Institute of Harvard University and Center for Effective Global Action at UC Berkeley. The projects will begin in June this year and would result in student and faculty exchange.

“We are enthused by the positive commitments by MIT, Harvard and Berkeley to conduct research in this part of the world. It is a wonderful opportunity for us and we have been talking about research in three areas to begin with. These will be in water filtration, pollution measurement and mobile technology to help poor and geographically dispersed,” said Ashish Nanda, director, IIM-A, adding, “What is attractive is that for each project there is a champion institute behind it, such as MIT, Harvard and Berkeley. We will look at the Indian perspective with the help of other institutes in Ahmedabad that will be complementary in nature.”

The US-based institutes, as part of the Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE), are looking to build a consortium of higher education institutes in the Indian sub-continent to carry out research around areas of interest in the developing world, which can then be used by different stakeholders for creating/sponsoring new product/solution development.

“Such an engagement with MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley would entail collaborative research, joint course offerings, co-incubation, testing of technologies and so on. Collaboration across higher education institutions in and around Ahmedabad can bring together an interesting group of researchers in design, technology, communications, business and entrepreneurship to work together. Such an endeavour would simulate to a certain degree an eco-system that a large multi-disciplinary university provides in the West,” said Rakesh Basant, former chairperson of Centre of Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) at IIM-A.

According to Bish Sanyal, Ford International Professor of Urban Development and Planning, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, at MIT, the joint projects would entail research and testing of products hence developed which would be specifically targeted at bottom of the pyramid. "We needed dependable institutes in India to work with for research work on bringing in technology usage for benefit of the bottom of pyramid and hence, we were able to collaborate with IIM-A and other institutes here," said Sanyal, adding CITE has received a grant of $10 million for research projects.

Will such a consortium help institutes like IIM-A in their global rankings? “In an indirect way, yes. As we are working on research with such institutes; it will help us get involved with skilled global researchers. We will be able to publish in top quality journals. The goal is not ranking but it is a by-product. One of the exciting things will be my faculty and students working on high quality empirical research that would hopefully get published internationally which will be impactful,” Nanda added.

Of these three projects, while MIT will be spearheading the water filtration project, Berkeley will lead research in pollution measurement products and Harvard would work on mobile technologies for the poor. However, Prem Chander, newly appointed chairperson of CIIE, stated that not all institutes would be working in all projects at all times. “The involvement of each of the institutes would depend on the area of their research interest,” said Chander.

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First Published: Wed, March 26 2014. 22:05 IST