Summary of Columbia’s India Business Conference

Titled India: Growing at the Speed of Thought, this year’s India Business Conference at Columbia University looked to the unbridled growth and change that India has experienced over the last 15 years since economic liberalization spread throughout much of the country. The conference brought in some major names within their respective fields and also appeared to have drawn an attendance of over 500 current, future and past professionals all interested in learning about how they could capitalize on India’s rapid growth. The organizers also are proud to note that the conference itself sold out for the 2nd straight year.Columbia Business School Conference 2008

While the majority of the conference focused on major industry players and big business, there were some aspects of the conference overall that were relevant to social entrepreneurship and ThinkChange India.

Possibly the most relevant event of the day was the breakout panel on entrpreneurship, which featured Premal Shah: President of, as one of the panelists. While the panel itself was primarily concerned with entrepreneurship generally, it was still great to see a social entrpreneur share the limelight.

One keynote speaker, Dr. Rajiv Lall, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IDFC), spoke about the differences between China and India and the ongoing problems that India will face as it struggles to develop. He highlighted the fact that China currently spend 8X as much on infrastructure than India does. He also emphasized that out of a list of the 50 most innovative companies in the world, India only had 2.

Giving a more public sector perspective, the Honorable Shri Yashwant Sinha, Member of Parliament and Former Finance/External Affairs Minister of India, in his keynote spoke to the need for India to complete the second generation of liberalization reforms and to begin the implementation of the third generation. Taking a traditional approach to development, Shri Sinha described the second generation to include primarily economic reforms, while the third generation focused on administrative and judicial ones.

The conference also had more focused panels on a variety of topics ranging from Private Equity to Bollywood. All in all, the conference was a well run, well attended success for the organizers. While much of the material was beyond the scope of this blog, it was nevertheless an interesting and worthwhile experience.


Maps for poverty distribution

The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University has developed The Global Poverty Mapping Project whose goal is to

enhance current understanding of the global distribution of poverty and the geographic and biophysical conditions of where the poor live. Additionally, the project aims to assist policy makers, development agencies, and the poor themselves in designing interventions to reduce poverty.

We have highlighted the value of visualization such global problems before here and here and so this project is another great resource for both researchers and practitioners in the development space. Currently, it does not seem that the India maps have been published yet, however, they should be up soon.

Source: India Development Blog

[Guest Post]: Making LifeSpring come alive

The following is a guest post by Jason Ye, a MD/MBA student at Columbia University and an InSITE fellow alongside yours truly. Jason visited India during his spring break on a project organized by Columbia’s International Development Club and worked on pro bono consulting project with LifeSpring Hospitals. Go here for a post on this venture to provide affordable medical care to women and children. While Jason’s work must remain confidential, he was able to reflect on his experience during his work with this great organization.

I had always wanted to visit India, but never thought that I would go for at least another 15 years. When I fortuitously stumbled upon the opportunity to work with LifeSpring, a maternity hospital in Hyderabad, I jumped on the opportunity. It would seem that the entire trip accidentally fell into place. I was able to speak to the client for the first time only a week before I left, just barely got an appointment to get travel vaccinations, got my tourist visa the day before I traveled and bought my plane ticket on the morning my plane left. When I finally arrived in Hyderabad, I still had no idea what to expect. But my experience in India far exceeded any expectation that I could have had.

The first thing that I noticed was the famous Indian hospitality, which was so sincere and gracious that it sometimes made you feel uncomfortable. But besides kind, my hosts at LifeSpring Hospital, a niche provider of low cost, high quality obstetric care, were some of the most passionate and resourceful individuals I have met. Driven by their mission to bring quality health care to patients regardless of their income levels, they are testing the lower limits of low cost health care. A normal delivery costs only $38 USD and a caesarian section costs only $150 USD, a stark contrast to about $6,000 USD and $13,000 USD respectively at a US hospital. Despite the discrepancy in prices, the Indian doctors were as good as any American one; I verified this personally after scrubbing into a caesarian section. Although the facilities cannot compare to a US hospital or the elite private Indian hospitals, it was still much better and safer than the government hospitals.

After days of observations, research and interviews, I arrived at a set of recommendations which I hope will help LifeSpring continue its noble mission. But to some extent, I was the one who benefited most from this pro bono consulting project. LifeSpring’s vision of helping those who are most in need has reaffirmed the reason why I wanted to be a doctor. Its clever business model has taught me that success in entrepreneurship is not determined by capital, but by passion.

Of this I am certain: I will return to India and I will return to LifeSpring.

Goldman Sachs to Provide Management Education to Women Social Entrepreneurs

While the work of microfinance institutions such as Grameen Bank and Unitus have done wonders to empower women in developing countries, these budding entrepreneurs continue to lack any formal business training. To address this dearth in education, Goldman Sachs announced last week that it will invest $100 million over the next five years to provide management education to help women microfinance clients scale up their businesses.

In an announcement at Columbia University in New York City, Goldman Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein said the company is hoping to create a new model of management education designed to help these women learn everything from how to write a business plan to market their own business. The company will be teaming up with a coalition of top business schools, including Wharton, Columbia, Harvard, and Thunderbird School of Global Management is teaming up with the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul to develop a certificate program and a training program for professors.

“This could be the start of something transformational around the world,” says Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University, which will work with the University of Cape Town Business School in South Africa to create a new business training certificate program. writes that in addition to funding the program Goldman also intends to build a network of female entrepreneurs throughout the world.

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