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).

“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.





 

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.

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.





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© 2020 Dr. Tarun Khanna