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
Creating Emerging Markets Project
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).
“Making Meritocracy” Project
In this vein, a project that is nearing completion is the “Making Meritocracy” project, co-directed with my colleague, the historian of China, Michael Szonyi.https://mittalsouthasiainstitute.harvard.edu/talent-meritocracy-india-china/
Systems of merit in China and India have a long history, and understanding how these systems impact contemporary society is a crucial question. Dozens of scholars have come together, over the past five or more years, in China, India and the US, to study the relationship between the idea of merit — its conceptualization, measurement, and implementation — and the organization of talent in China and India, as well as how power and influence are allocated in these two countries.
Crossroads Emerging Leaders Project
I am just embarking on talent-related research as part of the Crossroads Emerging Leaders Project https://mittalsouthasiainstitute.harvard.edu/crossroads, a non-profit working for the betterment of first-in-family-to-college youth across the world, active in 97 countries as we speak. Karim Lakhani and I, with our doctoral students, are developing a research capability s atop this organization. The aim is to study the pipeline of marginalized, but very-high-functioning, talent thus far ‘invisible’ to the world, and the different ways in which we are trying to bring them into the economic mainstreams. Rigorous research will allow us to prioritize some methods with which we experiment over others.
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.