Deepti Doshi, C’03, W’03, almost feels the need to defend herself to fellow believers of the free market. Here she is in Mumbai, India, founding and running an organization that some might question as “socialist,” after getting a master’s in how to lead popular uprisings, for all intents and purposes, from Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Then again, two of the biggest funders of her organization, Haiyya, are one of India’s largest investment bankers and one of its biggest tech entrepreneurs.
It’s what she finds most interesting about her work—“how to hold both worlds,” she said in a Skype call about her business half and her social mobilization half.
Launched in February 2013, Haiyya has grown quickly. It now employs 10 people across two cities. In its current model, Haiyya galvanizes grassroots support for key public issues, like women’s safety and urban sanitation. Haiyya has partnered with Indian conglomerate Tata to increase voter registration. It is also creating an educational program to teach kids about democracy.
New campaigns begin through an intensive process aimed at building leadership on the street and fighting for social and political change. Haiyya staff first listen to citizens in a community to gauge their current pain points. Then the staff conduct campaign management and field directing steps, building out a team of up to 10 volunteer leaders who are willing to take ownership on the issue. Then they conduct policy research, determine the political players and what positions they take on the issue, and work to sway them. Finally, they take direct action.
“Our fundamental premise is that leadership needs to be distributed,” Doshi said.
What she is applying is community organizing theories and best practices learned at the Kennedy School, where she earned a midcareer master’s in public administration and was influenced by Marshall Ganz, who is credited with designing President Barack Obama’s 2008 field campaign.
She went to Harvard for two reasons it seems: one, to answer the question about how to make stakeholders own the solutions to their problems (instead of outsiders imposing a solution); and two, to overcome her doubts about the market’s ability to solve social issues. Prior to Harvard, she served as the India country representative for Escuela Nueva Foundation, where she had some success convincing the Colombia-based educational nonprofit to run its operations like a business. Yet at the same time, she lost faith in the market to understand and consider complex development and poverty issues. The market, she realized, cannot adjust for the many interrelated social and cultural reasons behind poverty and hunger.
This came from the Wharton graduate with a background working in management consulting at Katzenbach Partners.
Yet Doshi is an entrepreneur too. And after Harvard, she returned to India to be with her fiancée. There, she met Rajesh Jain of NetCore while he spoke at a TEDx event, where the Indian entrepreneur and she discussed their mutual interest in mobilizing people on a large scale to overcome apathy. She was to return to the US for her job, but he encouraged her to stay in the India and launch instead what would become Haiyya. He would invest in it.
She stayed in India. Raised in Raleigh, N.C., Doshi had realized her calling back in 2001 as a Wharton student, when she had volunteered in Gujarat with earthquake relief organizations, and later, when she took a year of absence from consulting to travel the world, spending six months working with NGOs in India.
That’s when she realized she felt “the most alive” doing development and social change work.