Research

For the past ~25 years or so, my work has focused almost exclusively on entrepreneurship in emerging markets, long before they were the fashion du jour. This work has resulted in three books, each of which was an exercise in ‘taking stock’ of my research. The Harvard Business School publications page gives a listing of key publications and ongoing research. Here, I categorize my ongoing research into three broad buckets

 

Foundations of emerging markets

In this line of work, going back to at least 1997, I explore whether and how the act of entrepreneurship differs as a function of the development of the ambient context. Very often, we exhort would-be creative individuals to think differently and take a risk, but how is one to do that without the support systems that I can take more for granted in my adopted home of Boston – adequate risk capital, relatively easy access to diverse pools of talent, adequate protection for the intellectual property that’s generated? 

 

China-India Comparative Research


To understand these issues, I’ve often resorted to comparative work. I find the foil of comparing China and India very useful, for example, something I began to explore almost two decades ago, an effort that first came to fruition with the publication of Billions of Entrepreneurs, probably the book I most enjoyed writing. Recently, I was asked to write the opening chapter of the Routledge Handbook of China-India relations, where I reflected on how this comparative work had unfolded. https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=58387




Partition Project


And then there’s a multi-faculty project, underway at the Mittal Institute for over five years, on the 1947 Partition of British India, an unusual project to engage a technically minded social scientist in a business school! For me though, in addition to having a personal connection since both the maternal and paternal sides of my family were affected by the Partition, such a schism offers an opportunity to examine the ‘reset’ of the context within which economic activity ensues. This video that gives an overview of the research being done under the Partition project: The project was led by Dr Jennifer Leaning, physician and human rights advocate. This soundclip features a conversation I had with two other faculty – Karim Lakhani who is a digital machine learning expert, and rahul mehrotra who is an architect and urban planner about the project’s future: Partition Project: What Next? Ultimately I’m interested in strengthening the foundations upon which creative individuals can spur economic and social development in emerging markets worldwide.




Creating Emerging Markets Project


Another ongoing window into understanding the foundations of emerging markets is through studying the personal histories of their storied entrepreneurs, the trail of successes and failures that they’ve blazed in propelling their societies forward. The historian Geoffrey Jones and I have led a team of Harvard faculty in interviewing ~150 such stalwarts (think ‘Rockefellers’ of their respective countries) over several years in the Creating Emerging Markets project. In effect, these first person, roughly hour-long video interviews, many by individuals who normally eschew public displays, are a treasure trove for research and teaching that HBS makes freely available to all.





 

Talent and "Lost Einsteins"

I foundational aspect of any society has to do with the systems it evolves to nurture and allocate its talent to productive endeavors, from which individuals derive satisfaction and sustenance. Of course, it’s easy to see that these abstract ideas are adjudicated in dramatically different ways across societies.  I’m especially interested in understanding what to do about the marginalized populations, in order to minimize the moral catastrophe and the economic losses of unrecognized human potential. 

Somewhere among these marginalized, there are ‘Lost Einsteins,’ or ‘Hidden Ramanujans’ (named after the prodigious Indian self-educated mathematician from the 1930s who was ‘discovered’ by accident by a mathematician at Cambridge and revolutionized modern math, before he died prematurely at the age of 32).

Cardiac Care Facility in Bangalore


One of my first forays into health in the emerging markets was through the efforts of the pediatric cardiac surgeon, entrepreneur and philanthropist Devi Shetty and his Narayana Health organization. The initial cardiac care facility in Bangalore achieved costs of coronary artery bypass graft surgery of ~$1800 (and lower in some instances) compared to ~$60K to $100K in the US (almost two orders of magnitude lower), with no diminution in quality whatsoever. Behind this achievement was a complex mesh of innovations – some radical, others incremental – and a learning organization with lessons far beyond immediate context. Narayana has become a perennial site of much of my own research and that of my students from 2005 to 2020, through a series of academic papers and case studies, as it innovates, morphs and expands across India and globally.




The Lancet Citizens’ Commission to Re-Imagine India’s healthcare


Fast forward to today, and I’m privileged now to co-chair The Lancet Citizens’ Commission to Re-Imagine India’s healthcare. This is a two year project, under the auspices of the world’s leading global health journal. It is an attempt to harness the experiences of the ultimate patients – most of whom are marginalized and vulnerable in a poor country – and the ultimate caregivers – many of whom are outside the mainstream medical profession, in devising the future of healthcare for, one hopes, the developing world.





 

Health

I am not a health expert, nor did I set out to study health, but health concerns are unavoidably implicated in the developing world, where malnutrition and inadequate primary care jostle with health-mishap-triggered financial hardships in getting in the way of living a fulfilling life. So I’ve come face to face with many such projects.

Cardiac Care Facility in Bangalore


One of my first forays into health in the emerging markets was through the efforts of the pediatric cardiac surgeon, entrepreneur and philanthropist Devi Shetty and his Narayana Health organization. The initial cardiac care facility in Bangalore achieved costs of coronary artery bypass graft surgery of ~$1800 (and lower in some instances) compared to ~$60K to $100K in the US (almost two orders of magnitude lower), with no diminution in quality whatsoever. Behind this achievement was a complex mesh of innovations – some radical, others incremental – and a learning organization with lessons far beyond immediate context. Narayana has become a perennial site of much of my own research and that of my students from 2005 to 2020, through a series of academic papers and case studies, as it innovates, morphs and expands across India and globally.




The Lancet Citizens’ Commission to Re-Imagine India’s healthcare


Fast forward to today, and I’m privileged now to co-chair The Lancet Citizens’ Commission to Re-Imagine India’s healthcare. This is a two year project, under the auspices of the world’s leading global health journal. It is an attempt to harness the experiences of the ultimate patients – most of whom are marginalized and vulnerable in a poor country – and the ultimate caregivers – many of whom are outside the mainstream medical profession, in devising the future of healthcare for, one hopes, the developing world.





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© 2020 Dr. Tarun Khanna