Undergraduates Apply Innovation Lessons in India

Twenty-five Haas undergrads traveled to India during winter break for a once-in-a-lifetime applied-learning experience as part of a new travel study course called Open Innovation in Emerging Economies.

The course was developed and taught by Solomon Darwin, associate director of Haas’ Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation, who led the trip. Based in Bangalore, a major tech hub, students in the three-unit course visited multinational companies such as IBM, SAP, Philips, Xerox, and General Electric as well as local companies such as Apollo Hospitals and Selco Foundation. Apollo is one of the largest hospital groups in Asia, while Selco lights up rural villages with solar energy and enables retailers to conduct business at night.

Students also worked with 20 Indian business students and local business consultants in a rural village near Bangalore and developed six business models for six companies to address a wide range of economic challenges. Their projects included everything from helping rice and coconut farmers with pricing and marketing to eliminate the middle man to designing a new transportation system to enable Indian employees and companies make better use of two-hour bus commutes.

"I am very proud of the students, who worked passionately and tirelessly from 7 a.m. to midnight during the entire trip producing excellent results," says Darwin. "The collaboration helped students to identify and understand the constraints and barriers to resources, deployment of talent, information, and education in rural India."

Indeed, the focus of the course was jugaad innovation, which draws from the Hindi-Urdu term that means frugal in English. Jugaad innovation refers to innovation within a resource-constrained environment, explains Arushi Saxena, BS 15, who went on the trip.

Saxena was part of a group of students whose business model won first place in a competition among six teams. Her team focused on the local fishing industry, whom they believed was marginalized and ignored but had a lot to contribute to the community. "Fishermen don't really have access to market prices, so they don't know how much to sell their fish for," Saxena explains.

The team created a middleman system that would promote transparency and help the fishermen sell their fish to a high-end retailer, she says, noting the students visited a high-end Whole Foods-like grocery store in Bangalore that could buy from the local fishermen.

Saxena, whose parents are from India and who has visited northeast India several times, applied for the course in order to see rural parts of India and the very different southern part of the country, which she had never visited.

"This was a way to learn about my home country what I wouldn't have learned otherwise," says Saxena, who learned even more than she expected.

"The biggest highlight for me was realizing that we have a lot to learn from developing countries and not just the other way around," Saxena says. "They operate with lower budgets and their customer segments usually have lower budgets and more constraints, so their innovation is done in a way that can be applied everywhere. But the innovation that is done in America and other developed countries cannot always be applied to India."

Now back in Berkeley, Saxena and the rest of the class will spend the spring semester working on business model challenges presented by the six companies visited during the trip. Saxena will be on a team helping SAP improve the innovation process for its R&D lab in India, which the students visited.

The course, more than three years in the making by Darwin and Undergraduate Program Executive Director Erika Walker, was funded in part by the Haas' Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation. In addition, companies sponsored meals for the students, and Apollo Hospitals funded part of their accommodations, entertainment, and tour to the Mysore palace. SAP provided a free bus for their daily transportation. Several Haas alumni in prominent positions also contributed their time and efforts toward the success of the new program.  

To hear directly from the students about the course in India read their blog at courses.garwoodcenter.com/ugba193i/daily-blog/


Haas students greet local children in India.