Passionate about cities and with a deep love for New Delhi, Rakhi Mehra, Adjunct Professor for Franklin’s Master of Science in International Management, challenges her Business and Management students to develop social entrepreneurial skills in social innovation beyond the classroom.

An Economics graduate from the University of Delhi, Oxford University, and Harvard, Professor Mehra’s main inspiration during her education was Professor Muhammad Yunus’s pioneering work with Grameen Bank in micro finance. This led to her to co-found mHS CITY LAB in India, an interdisciplinary social enterprise that helps residents to self-construct, and consequently, to participate in the development of local neighbourhoods that will improve their safety, health and overall inclusion into cities.

As she remarked, “It all began as a field project for my real estate class at HBS. With rapid urbanization, India was facing an acute housing crisis for the poor. The solutions proposed by government and private players were ‘low-cost’ mass housing in periphery of cities for the poor, where land was cheap. This solution was short-sighted, potentially disastrous, leading to social exclusion and ghetto cities.” By working with a classmate from the Harvard Design School, “we designed a new model based on rentals, submitted the idea for the 2009 business plan contest, and got to the finals! A summer fellowship from the Social Enterprise Club at Harvard got mHS off the ground.”

Despite the initial difficulties pertaining to the implementation phase of a start-up company, coupled with “corruptive practices that were an absolute no-option for a social enterprise”, Professor Mehra’s determination brought her to strengthen partnerships with several operational and financial institutions as well as international development agencies and micro-finance agencies to provide small loans to build and upgrade housing.

“In the cities, people were building homes without paying attention to quality. At mHS we want to catalyse the quality and safety of low-income housing”, she noted, and “as a social enterprise, we seek to raise the awareness of a need for safer housing by creating sustainable revenue models. Our committed team of architects and engineers were going door-to-door giving constriction advice. In Indonesia, over 40,000 experts are hired by government to do this. This is great for a pilot, but costs are not sustainable.”

Since 2009, mHS CITY LAB has been focusing on improving the quality and safety of non-engineered informal housing in Indian cities through a series of innovative projects. The rclCloud™ is the latest such project, “a solution specifically designed to help lending institutions, contractors, training programs, post-disaster agencies, and other stakeholders to improve construction quality and access to housing loans in India's informal settlements”, Professor Mehra explained.

In this sense, it is by leveraging the power of the Cloud that mHS CITY LAB aims to bridge the knowledge and information gap. “When I teach my courses and Academic Travel programs at Franklin,” Professor Mehra pointed out, “students are being faced with social innovation ventures, entrepreneurship, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the like – I use the projects of mHS as case studies to give them more impactful learning experiences to become responsible decision makers and change makers in the world in which we live today.”