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Thoughts on living in the developing world

When we decided to do this project many of our advisors suggested we spend time in the developing world to get a stronger sense of some factors that we wouldn’t from reading the statistics. Only one member of our team had spent significant time in the developing world and we thought there could be considerable learning value from spending some time there.

One way we came up with to take advantage of this learning value was living in India while doing our, mostly online, charity and intervention research. This way we could slowly get a soft sense of many different factors over time through a sort of passive learning. We learnt a lot about India in the first two weeks. We got a more visual sense of cellphone/smartphone penetration rates -- very high even in slums -- and saw the importance of mobility in walking through the Indian streets -- the streets and walkways are often rugged and only partly paved, making travel harder on anyone with a disability. But as time progressed, we hit less and less of the “passive” learning value activities, and instead we suspected that the highest value remaining learning activities would come from more deliberate and time consuming activities, such as surveying certain populations about our top charity options or running specific micro pilots. This would come at the considerable cost of reducing our online research hours. We don’t feel this is a good tradeoff at this point in our research. We have also found some cons of living in India. Most importantly, we felt a subtle but measurable drain on our weekly productivity. While it is hard to tell the full cause of this, we felt the weight of poorer sleeping and living conditions, higher levels of air pollution/sickness, regular internet and power outages, and general logistical time costs of living in an unfamiliar country all likely contributed. It became clear to us that spending further time learning in India would come at a significant cost to running our research program. After spending about two months in India we did a plan re-evaluation and we decided that it wasn’t worth the costs to remain in the developing world at this time, though we’re definitely opening to returning at a later point, perhaps for a shorter time span and with a more specific plan of what we would like to accomplish. We also think it could be quite valuable to focus on a more specific area where we could hire a translator and get a sense of the more specific cultural factors we would expect to interact with when creating a charity there.

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