GSIF Post #6

Our project does require IRB approval, as we are conducting interviews with human subjects and using that data for research. We will initially look into the IRB local ethics of Mumbai and see if there are any requirements for the area. After narrowing down our list of participants via email communication first, we will establish which organizations and members we will pursue interviews with. After building this rapport, our team will determine the specific questions and answers we are seeking, making sure they are ethical in terms of preliminary information gathering. As our first interviews will be broad in terms of investigating CSR initiatives, there will probably not be any deep or ethical considerations for these interviews. Questions will include why corporations chose these specific NGOs for their partnership, their perspective of the CSR law, how success is measured in their partnership, etc.

Our team has reviewed the best interview protocols via Zoom or Skype platforms, as that is what we will be using. There was a large emphasis on making sure to establish a good rapport with the organizations prior to the interview, and being open to all answers rather than asking questions that manipulate their answers. Additionally, we learned about the advantages of having face to face interactions, rather than interviewing through phone call only. Face to face interactions generally leads to more fruitful, deeper conversation and generally allows for subjects to feel more comfortable and open. We will begin each interview by asking consent for recording the interview, whether in terms of recording the interview via Zoom, or through taking notes on the side. This consent will also be confirmed prior to the interview, just to ensure that all expectations are met. Something we will  need to determine and identify for participants is how much information they will share will be based on personal experience and how much their reflections will represent their organization. There can be a conflict of saying anything negative about their organization, and thus those responses, during second or third interactions, will require more careful planning and ethical overview from the IRB.

In our project, the inputs will involve planning for our interactions with partnerships, interviews and research gathering. We will also connect corporations to NGOs or evaluate these partnerships from the outside. We will also be synthesizing the existing literature surrounding the best CSR practices and recommending these practices parallel to what companies and NGOs are already involved with.

Our outputs will be: the corporations and NGOs we are able to reach with our findings beyond who we are involved with directly with this year’s in-fieldwork, as well as other institutions involved with promoting these initiatives and already evaluating the effects of the Companies Act (like Indian universities, etc. ). Another sector of who will be reached indirectly will be the consumers of these companies and NGOs, and the clients of who these organizations focus upon. If their organization is made more efficient, then the company and NGO can better serve its clients. Our findings will be published via website and academia, and thus success can be measured by how many people visit the website and utilize these findings.

Our outcome will be more difficult to measure, but generally will be how these better practices allow for better social development in India. In terms of learning, corporations and NGOs will have more efficient ways to interact in cooperation in corporation – civil society arena. If these efficient practices lead to better outcomes for NGOs to accomplish their goals (in terms of more fundings and capabilities to solve issues on the ground in India), then they will be motivated to engage with private sector organizations and learn business knowledge from them as well. On the flip side, if companies are able to market their CSR in terms of ‘helping society’ and make their company more desirable to consumers, then companies will be motivated to help social development in the future. On the bigger scale, the government will be passing more contingencies for future regulations under CSR for this law, and thus will have a greater role in making sure programs are more effective and ultimately do encourage a spirit of giving. These practices and research we analyze will be added to the existing literature and help government the pros and cons of certain CSR partnerships going forward.

GSIF Post #5

Based on your life experience, skills and interests, what would a design process that is both uniquely yours and effective look like?

Addressing problems often have the same path, from large issues like climate change to personal life ones like figuring out where you lost the car keys again. They all require you to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and find the origin. I’ve always been interested in the idea of change over time, and the rise and fall of problems mark change in the world and in our lives.

A design process then for me would start by defining the problem, as clear and simple as it can get. Learn as much as you can about this problem, who is it affecting and what is the scope of the implications this problem brings. Most importantly, I think a big first step is identifying what are the consequences on acting on this problem versus the consequences of inaction. Will your design and research do more harm than good in adding to what is already existing? I’ve realized, through working on various projects for my temple’s organization for example, that adding more processes, projects and goals doesn’t always mean more progress is happening. It can easily start to add to the clutter, to the noise, until your original aim is lost. So keep it honest and simple as if your problem really needs addressing by you specifically.

Let’s say I want to solve this problem of losing my car keys all the time. If I don’t find a way to design a solution, I will constantly lose my car keys, costing me precious time in the morning. It makes my meetings late, my boss mad at me, and it slowly chips away at my sanity day by day.

After identifying this problem and collecting information, analyzing a path to the best approach for a solution will be tricky. I think a good design process takes into account the varying branches of approaching you can have to finding the best solution. Sometimes you will have to talk to local experts, go beyond your boundaries and comforts, and pick up on approaches and possible solutions you haven’t thought about before.

This could retrace you back to the collect information stage, which inevitably leads to analysis again. Taking time to filter out various models for solutions I believe is crucial, especially when taking an interdisciplinary and open approach.

I’ve researched a hundred articles, ranging from mindfulness to boosting memory retention to switching over to automatic car opener things with a touch of a button. While weighing the options– their costs, convenience, etc. — I also talk to friends of mine that experience the same tragedy of losing their car keys in the mornings. I’ve heard solutions, from having an ungodly strong magnet of a keychain to putting reminders around the house. One friend even claimed to reach the height of frustration and Marie Kondo’ed their entire house, only to find the keys in her back pocket. 

Once you land on a single approach, it’s time to test it in the field and get feedback. The most vital feedback I have found is not in data analysis, but rather getting on the ground and hearing the impact of a solution from the words of the people experiencing the change. A good design process has mechanisms in place for constant evolution, rather than a straight input-> output -> success theory. Improve at every stage and become more efficient, starting with this valuable feedback.  From there, you start right at the beginning for your next, new problem.

To clear up the dilemma of the lost car keys, I decide to go with the “Stay Organized” approach, by putting my car keys in a specific spot every time I come home– a side table next to the front door.  Feedback looks good – no one is complaining about me tearing the house apart now, looking for the keys. They might fall off the table sometimes, so maybe that’s my next challenge.

How will you validate your project concept, technology, usability, operational / business model?

Our findings will be disseminated to corporations and NGOs for use, promoted by Indian institutions and partnerships with Universities to help validate our research. In terms of creating a sustainable system though our project concept and operational model, we hope it can be replicated in the future for revising the practices we put out. The partnerships we initially create with businesses and organizations will grow, and with a longer period of engagement with them, the project solutions will also be developed and refined to fit the needs and expectations of both the law and organizations.

As third party, independent researches, we offer an unbiased consulting agency to these organizations. Therefore, with credible institutional backing, our findings should be appealing for business and organizations to look into, as they only seek to help make the processes they are conducting to become more efficient.

Articulate your philosophy of engagement with communities, partners, and markets.

Everything in this world is interconnected, the fate of all things and people dependent on each other. No matter how distant it may seem, I want to connect to communities and people vastly different from my own, to fulfill the need of learning the endless things I don’t know and never have experienced. This knowledge should be an investment, one where I can give something in return as well.

I choose to engage with communities, seek out partnerships and problems possibly out of this need of obligation to serve a purpose greater than the limits of my own environment and time. Like I mentioned before, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of change over time and how each human can play a role in that. I recently read this amazing article where activist Morgan Dixon stated:

“There’s no other way to prepare ourselves for what’s ahead — which is changing culture, changing structures, changing systems — unless we make a discipline of doing the things that scare us.”

Our engagement should scare us a little, because that means we are pushing for a real change.

GSIF Post #4

1. Give three examples of how you can use nature as a model / mentor / measure for your own designs (and life).

In the way that nature approaches to addressing problems via system thinking, I can approach the task of how to address CSR in India by addressing every issue as a component of a larger system rather than an independent aspect with unrelated consequences. When working with a multitude of organizations and companies, it will be important to understand that every situation will be different, and that one set of rules or practices cannot apply to all completely. Secondly, nature creates in the most efficient way possible. In my approach to this project, and life in general, I can focus more on quality rather than quantity. Instead of trying to build up as many connections and completing as many tasks as possible, it would be most sustainable to work smarter and integrate where I can. Lastly, to make solutions sustainable and self-replicating, it helps to refer back to the origin of the problem. Just as Janine Benyus described how shells begin and end their calcium carbonate build up by releasing a protein, it can help to see the gaps of CSR between companies and NGOs and where it makes sense to locate a self-organizing solution.

2. Pick one of Life’s Principles. Explain how you might apply it to your work and life (could be unrelated to your GSIF projects).

As a Regional Core Team Lead in my temple’s Hindu organization, I lead a small team in designing and implementing various projects to be carried out across temples in the Northeast region throughout the year. As it is nearly impossible for a small team like us to get active feedback and know exactly how our material is used at every single temple across the region (with over 30 centers). Therefore, I would apply being locally tuned and responsive to the needs of these centers in order to create practical material that will make significant change. I can do this by taking a backwards approach — going to these centers and asking what issues are they facing in terms of delivering content, managing their center’s activities, etc. Then, with that continuous feedback, programs and projects can be designed that address those needs.

3. How do you envision integrating the Cradle to Cradle Design concept into your project (and life)? Give one compelling example.

Our end goal is to deliver a rubric and information of the best practices that companies can follow when performing their CSR. In making this product sustainable and part of a closed cycle, there will nonetheless be practices and patterns we observed in the process that were deemed inefficient for making the most out of CSR.

Instead of discarding these practices and the research along with it, we can disseminate these findings as well, in a sort of warning for “Things you should not do” and explain why these practices and behaviors led to unfavorable effects. This can be a continued cycle, where the CSR practices are constantly evaluated for what is efficient, practical and implementable for bringing about real change, and which practices should be discarded or revised. Therefore, this will lead to saving time and effort for research.

4. Give three examples of something very interesting you learned from a friend that was a completely alien concept to you.

  1. A friend this semester, who majors in Computer Science, showed me the details and coding for every website, and how you can pull up this information and edit it so the text on a website changes. This does not lead to permanent change on the website itself, but was nonetheless very cool to see the analytics behind it. I know nothing about computers.
  2. My mom (who I consider my friend) taught me the basics of Indian cooking, from using certain spices to being careful with temperature and cooking time. It was very interesting to truly learn about where food and spices come from, something I never gave a second thought to. Now the infinite combinations of texture, flavor and spice fascinate me.
  3. My friend from high school taught me much about Chinese culture, coming from a very traditional Chinese family herself. This was a unique perspective that I have not seen before, as anything I had learned about the culture had come from the outside – from the view of textbooks or media. From her, I gained perspective of how similar I found her balancing of traditional and modern norms to what I experienced at home, growing up with Indian culture. Chinese culture was not a completely alien concept to me, but her insight gave me a way to look at ways of living that were different from my own in an introspective way.

GSIF Post #3

Describe the five major stakeholders for your project and their motivations.
The stakeholders in our project include the government, public companies, private companies, researchers involved in this law, and the NGOs we will collaborate with.
1) The motivations of the government are highlighted within the 2013 Companies Act, where the government wants firms to join public sector firms in annual donations under Corporate Social Responsibility. Because this law brings in new actors such as private sector companies, it is apparent that the government seeks to integrate the sector, with the state brokering a partnership between the private sector and civil society. Within our project, the government will find motivations to collaborate in providing data of which companies have engaged in previous CSR as a source of research for us.
2) Public companies in India often have a history of giving CSR prior to this law, so our project will have an impact to these companies to a lesser extent. Through our project, public companies would have motivations to possibly encourage the findings for our project of best practices, through sharing these practices previously implemented. As they may seek to encourage private companies to pick up the slack of corporate social responsibility, they may play a vital role in guiding our project towards addressing the correct issues of CSR in India today.
3) Private companies and their relations to civil society sectors will be of the main focus that our project caters to. Their motivations lie in trying to create effective CSR programs within their company while also, expectedly, attempting to hold onto as much profit as they can for their own stakeholders. In relation to our project, private companies will try to be seen in the best light, and show how they exhibit good CSR practices while also balancing the needs and expectations of their own profit margins.
4) The research and literature written about this law and examining the partnership is fairly limited, as it is a recent venture. As such, the project can be a source of clarity on the topic for various academic fields, while also providing an outsider’s perspective into the mechanisms at play between the various actors involved on the ground in India. Their motivations will be of least concern to our individual project, as it will have the least impact on our findings, but it will nonetheless be important to note the scope of which our research will enter the field into for the future.
5) The NGOs we collaborate with will have increased motivation to see our project, and the law, be deemed a success for holding corporations responsible for their funding. As such, they want to see corporations give their profits to their organization, in lieu of giving it to any other organization. Consequently, the CSR funding will be operating in a zero-sum game, and thus NGOs will find it beneficial through our project to try to enhance their credibility in order to receive funds. They want to show that their NGO will use the funds in the most proactive and efficient way, to make the most change occur.
Describe three ways in which you will validate your project and enhance your credibility over the course of the semester.
Firstly, I will enhance my credibility throughout the semester by informing myself as much as I can of the expertise surrounding this field of data collection, through primary and secondary source research. By becoming knowledgeable about the context of this law and the current CSR practices employed by current Indian companies, I will be further suited in analyzing which practices do and don’t work best in the long term. Secondly, the project will become validated by taking a range of corporations and NGOs, in size, issue area focus, employment, etc. and comparing those against its dependent variables that we will measure. By examining a diverse selection of groups, our findings will be better suited and further more credible to apply to a broader range of partnerships across the country. Finally, by understanding the mechanisms through which companies operate from a business managerial standpoint, our project will be more credible in that it will take realistic situations in defining its aims. Our research will not be conducted in a vacuum; by taking into account the innumerable motivations and factors that plays a part in corporate and NGO decision making, the project will hold stronger value in making its recommendations plausible for real-life applications.

GSIF Workshop Post #2

In our CSR in India project, we anticipate the cultural issues of hierarchy based on ideas of caste and social status to affect the outcomes of our project. As corporations seek to pinpoint which issues and NGOs to partner with in the field of civil society for their CSR efforts, we anticipate preconceptions of social status may be a factor that corporations depend on. It may be an underlying issue, one that is not explicitly stated, but nonetheless must be addressed.

In addition, we expect cultural norms related to who believes to be the responsible party for innovation in India to be another issue. In India, there is a complex system of interactions between the government, the public, civil society, and the private sector. Within this system, there does not seem to be clearly defined norms for who is held responsible for addressing developmental and social issues that civil society often ends up rallying. In a cultural sense, there is little accountability and trust in local villages and communities put upon larger entities like the national government or big corporations. Navigating this system while defining who is responsible for change will be a crucial task for our project.

Finally, as a society rich with traditional norms and practices, India has sprung as an evolving, modernizing country in the last half century. However, this process towards modernization, both through economic and social spheres, has been uneven across the country, largely due to the great diversity each region holds. One step forward in Maharashtra means a different step forward in Uttar Pradesh. Therefore, a cultural issue that will affect our project is understanding the hold on traditional ideas and perspectives that the organizations hold within our region, as well as how we can anticipate these ideas to change. Like citizens of many developing countries moving at a fast pace, Indians can view change as threatening to their livelihood and another form of white colonization even after independence.

My family, originally from India, moved here in the 1980s in search of the American Dream. Growing up in America, I had a very different perspective on how culture factors into progress and innovation than they do. I have observed these social situations at home, in varying forms. Ideas about caste and hierarchy are not something explicitly expressed by most Indian households, but they are the undercurrent for all social activities. For example, my parents are taking on the more traditional route right now as they search for a suitor for my older sister. Criteria include being of the same caste and religious background.  Even while looking for someone in America, they hold onto these beliefs and hope it continues for generations. Another example I have seen this situation at home is my family’s views on politics. While they see the importance of the government’s role in facilitating change, they often view it as ineffective for listening to every local situation. And there is almost no expectation for corporations to hold any of that responsibility to give back to the community. Lastly, living in America as a first-generation student has taught me the precarious balance between accepting Western values and norms while also holding onto my cultural background. Expectedly, I hold more liberal and open views than my parents on topics of family dynamics, gender roles, and even career choices. Becoming flexible with the current times has not been easy for my immigrant parents, but they have adjusted well and have also learned how to walk that fine line.

Cultural practices that can be leveraged to address community/market problems include taking advantage of the community mindset, as well as the importance of selfless service and nationalism. Like many Asian cultures, Indian culture is very community based, where trust is strengthened by those who are close to you in proximity and in relation. This should be the basis of all CSR activity — an emphasis on defining that community in a broader spectrum. Why can’t those who are outside your normal social sphere also be part of one’s community if they share the same beliefs and goals as you do? In the age of technology, harnessing this community mindset to expand it further can be an advantage in connecting, and therefore helping, those in need to those who want to give. Additionally, the importance of selfless service (seva) is an important cultural practice widespread throughout the country, highlighted especially in Hinduism practices. Individuals feel the obligation, if they are successful, to give back to their community based on principles of ethics. CSR can be a way to channel this obligation into more meaningful practices. Individuals and corporations should not have to blindly donate to any cause, but should give to the most meaningful issue area that needs the aid the most. Lastly, nationalism can be defined as a cultural practice, although it has strong political implications. Whether it be pride in your community, village, town or country, nationalism is strong associated with community-oriented practices in India. Channeling the pride one feels for your neighborhood is correlated to making every effort possible to improve and uplift those around you as well. CSR therefore should and must be a source of national pride as it creates positive effects.

GSI Fellow Post #1

As an International Relations student for the past two and a half years, I have learned much about the common issues that citizens of the world face – poverty, conflict, discrimination, inequality, environmental degradation. However, it soon became apparent that the solutions to these issues would not come simply. When looking at certain core issues, such as poverty, there are many factors that come into play for explaining the cause. As such, it is always a case by case situation in every country. Is the government doing a poor job distributing resources or expanding opportunities for all citizens? Are there not enough resources to begin with? What institutional structures are in place to ensure people do not go into poverty again? Furthermore, I found it even more compelling how issues are almost always connected to each other.

Weak governance with a poorly functioning rule of law would provide little to no incentives for individuals to pursue entrepreneurial investment if they cannot be assured there are property or intellectual rights in place to protect their efforts. A lack of innovation in a society furthermore fails to push everyone towards a better standard of living, leading to often crime and illegal activities if people are desperate enough for their own survival. Now, there are not only economic implications, but also security and social concerns for the population. There can be countless ways this parallel can be drawn, but the conclusion through international development is the same: no issue stands on its own. Each creates ripple effects upon each other, and the best way to even begin to address these issues is in a multidisciplinary perspective. Across organizations, private and public, with individuals holding a range of skills and experiences in disciplines ranging from engineering to politics, it is essential to work together in order for comprehensive solutions to become successful.

I quickly realized that the best way for me to gain real-world experience in what it truly means to work in an impact on issue-driven, complex project scope is to jump right into one. I envision that this course will make me a better International Relations and Economics student by allowing me to work on the ground and see these issues first-hand. By speaking with companies and NGOs in India I hope to have a better understanding of the effect of such partnerships, and the way their relationship brought on by this newly passed Law can have future implications for governments of the whole world to follow by.

To address the problem of over one billion people not having access to eyeglasses, I would aim to follow a similar model that has worked for rural developing communities that allow workers to save their income in a way that is safe, as banking and financial institutions in the area were either too costly or unsafe to use. The way it worked was that it allowed rural workers to save their money on a virtual account by buying an inexpensive electronic card at a local store that allowed them to access an app to transfer their income into regularly. Over time, it allowed them to save their money safely with low costs to both the consumer and producer of the app.

Similarly, it would be beneficial for aid-centered organizations, whether they are NGOs or philanthropy-based channels, to direct and fund this initiative in an efficient way. They can partner with a manufacturing company based where the material to produce eyeglasses would be cheap and preferably close to the market of need. Optimally, the sources of eyeglasses could be made locally through reusing old material, in a way that is sustainable and cheap. Furthermore, local production can even employ surrounding populations. Then, with low manufacturing costs, the company and aid organization can work to move the glasses through these communities, either with cooperation of the health/hospital system provided through the government, or the individual health organizations and hospitals in the country. To get individuals tested for eye glasses, the company can develop an app or website that allows for testing eye sight. As almost everyone has a mobile phone or device these days, or can get access to one through a health system briefly, they can get tested without the need of a skilled or trained health professional. The cost here would be incurred for the development of the app, which would presumably be covered by the aid grants.

The app or website would then give individuals their prescription of eyeglasses, which can then be distributed for low cost through the health system or in local stores/pharmacies.