Reflection of my Time in India

HampiThere is nothing I can write about India that hasn’t already been written.  The land of a thousand paradoxes.  What I can do, is write the truths that I have seen in my time here.  I think I have seen humanity at its ugliest and most beautiful.  The visions of families, hard-working with low wage jobs, sleeping on the concrete on the side of the road.  Making dinner over coals on the sidewalk.  There is no privacy in a country of 1 billion people.  All the bodily functions are seen, people defecating, vomiting, urinating, spitting, farting, burping; nothing is masked behind frivolities of manners.  Children seem to grow up too fast, working jobs washing dishes at roadside cafes, or begging in traffic, or just being left alone for hours to care for themselves or more often a younger sibling.  A four year old girl that is left to care for her toddler brother who is pants-less and covered in the pollution of the traffic rushing past.  The stench of chicken and fish being sold in noon day Indian heat out of the back of a miniature van with no refrigeration or even Styrofoam cooler.  The sewage that rises during the monsoons and floods the streets, until the sun evaporates the liquid, leaving just the traces of solid sewage pieces behind.  Honking, constant honking.  Loud, unruly fireworks and prayer calls and dog barking that occurs at all hours of the day and night.  This is the daily street scene.  This is what I glimpse as a passing foreigner.

But, as my time has continued on here, I have also seen beyond these shallow scenes.  I have seen the humanity of families that have very little giving and sharing amongst themselves.  I have been shown kindness in the simplest acts.  An old man in line at the post office, trying desperately to assist in his broken English.  A family sharing their chocolate biscuits with me while on a long, tired train ride.  The stares and curious glances melt away when school children run up to say “hello” and practice their English skills – giant smiles on their faces.  The aromas of delicacies pouring from homes and huts, recognizing the scent of now familiar spices, wondering if the family is making chapatti or paratha to eat alongside their paneer and subsi dishes.  The beautiful colors that are woven into every aspect of life here; fashion, home, scooter, art, religion.  Flowers decorate homes, offices and roadside altars.  The sight of so many species of birds.  I have never dreamed of so many different bird and lizard species that are present while walking from home to work.  Some are songbirds, some screech, some drive me crazy with their whiny pitch, but recognizing the birds with their calls is a first.  Being welcomed into home after home with such sweetness.  Seeing a classroom full of children that have never met a foreigner before, where the concept of a country (like India but different) is hard to imagine and seems funny.  The scenery so breathtaking… paddy fields, boulders, valleys, mountains, exotic forests with palms big and small.

The juxtaposition of old and new in every feature of life here is dizzying.  It seems beautiful and magical and at the same time disappointing.  It’s troubling to see so much development abutted to despair.  I read a novel while I was here that was set in an anonymous Indian city in the 1970s.  The descriptions of daily struggles in the character’s lives, the corruption, reliance on underworld financing, government bullying, can be seen today.  It’s hard to reconcile that in the 40 years that has seen the rise of Indian technologies eclipse that of the first world, that the social struggles of yesteryear remain.  Troubling still is the feeling of powerlessness to even act.

Tech4Impact workshop #2 has wrapped up!

IMG_1765I had the pleasure to help organize and run the second installment of Tech4Impact, an accelerator program being run jointly by CIIE and Village Capital.  Entrepreneurs go through a 3 month accelerator and are taught how to evaluate one another’s businesses, and multiple times during the program entrepreneurs publicly rank one another according to the Village Capital investment criteria.  The accelerator focuses on technology ventures operating in the agribusiness, livelihoods, cleantech & sustainability, healthcare and sanitation, education and mobile/ICT.

Entrepreneurs had the opportunity to speak with business professionals, mentors, customers and peers to shape their business model and develop their ideas.  The ventures worked hard and had several 15 hour days using the time to meet with business professionals and refining their pitches.


Ranking the cohort pitches

Pitches were presented on the fourth day, where the ventures ranked their peers in regards to 6 categories: Team, Product/Service, Customer Validation, Profitability, Impact and Scale.  Each category is ranked from 0 – 5, with a maximum score of 30.  After the peer ranking, the top two enterprises from this round are:  Sanchayan and Aakar.  Sanchayan, delivers comprehensive financial planning, literacy & financial services like savings, banking, etc to low-income BOP populations.  Aakar is producing a biodegradable sanitary napkin product for the BoP woman consumer sold by women in a hub & spoke model across India.

Chatting with a co-founder of Sanchayan

Chatting with a co-founder of Sanchayan


Personal Reflection on Workshop #2

The workshop ran fairly smoothly, but I would make some major changes.  Firstly, it seems that the cohort doesn’t quite understand the criteria still which they are ranking each other on, which is an enormous problem.  For example, the ventures did not present on an exit strategy, even though this is 1/6 of the grading criteria.  I find this to be an enormous flaw.  Another major issue is that the ventures are not able to properly quantify their social impact.  In my opinion, too much time of the workshop has been spent on “MBA course-like” work – which can be supplemented by any incubator program.  CIIE and Village Capital needs to do a better job at distinguishing their accelerator program by preparing the cohort better to pitch to impact investors.  Lastly, I believe that this cohort needs to learn brevity when speaking about their enterprises.  A diatribe about poverty in India is NOT the way to begin a pitch to investors and the cohort needs to learn perspective on audience.

Areas of focus for final workshop:

  • Social impact measurement
  • Brevity in presenting
  • More storytelling to convey mission and impact of business

New Year – New Social Enterprise Incubator

CIIE… And new change of scenery.  Last summer, I was working for a social enterprise incubator in Bogota, Colombia.  This Spring/Summer, I am working at the Center for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) on the campus of India Institute of Management – Ahmedabad, India (IIMA).  CIIE, in collaboration with Village Capital is hosting the Tech4Impact Incubator.  The incubator has a cohort of 14 start-ups, which will participate in the 2 month long business incubator in which 2 companies will receive funding of at least $50,000.

Meet the companies here.