From One Indian to Another…

As a practice of cross-cultural engagement I will use a message told by Native American thought leader Daniel Longboat at the 2010 Traditional Knowledge Conference at the University of Auckland to frame my reflections. He told us that there are really only three things we as human beings need to do during our lifetime:

  1. Sustain Life 
  2. Enjoy Life with others 
  3. Give Thanks

From Turtle Island to India, and from one kind of “Indian” (Mr. Longboat) to another, my thoughts below are gathered around those three directives.

1. Sustain Life

Social Enterprise

In reflecting on the trip I definitely feel well versed in social enterprise and I think it has a lot of potential to make positive change to the way we sustain life. It can take on certain aspects of the current landscape of institutions we have – namely government, business, and civil society – to tackle problems and I think it has a lot of room to come up with new approaches and solutions as well.

To briefly sum up what I got exposed to during the program and what resonated with me: the workshops and assignments we conducted before, during and after the trip, including the blog, allowed us to hit the ground running and experience many social enterprises first hand. Coming from the trip with tried and ingrained primary research skills has been a bonus I am already implementing in my capstone project.

Consulting project: SKS Microfinance

SKS Microfinance is one of India’s largest and the only publicly listed microfinance company. SKS has a social mission to lift families out of poverty, but they also have this obligation to provide value to their shareholders, which I found interesting. They have obligations to their owners and to their clients, and its fine so long as those needs are aligned. But if they aren’t, I guess satisfaction will depend upon which way the fiduciary pendulum happens to be swinging on any particular day.

Working with SKS over 3-4 days I identified a few things that make their social mission shine through. First is the incredible training systems they have in place to provide both lending services and financial literacy training to their clients. Second was the group liability model taken from the Grameen Bank style where women from the same village borrow and repay loans as a collective. Thirdly, SKS charges interest rates that are designed to enable the client to repay and grow their business, then come back to SKS in future. Lastly, over 95% percent of their loans are awarded for income generating purposes only.

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Continuing my Social Enterprise Learning and Practice

Right now back in Portland I am doing class projects with two social enterprises – New Avenues for Youth who run two Ben & Jerry’s stores to provide job training opportunities for at-risk youth, and M25 Ventures which is a newly started NGO that works with former felons and addicts.

2. Enjoy Life with Others

What is India like? To employ a word that helps to express its vibrant, juxtaposed, in your face nature, it is ‘Amaze-balls’. The best part however was to share the experience of being there as a group, with people I knew a little then and quite a lot now, myriad in background yet united in purpose. Those moments and those laughs will stay with me a long time.

After the program Katie and I traveled to Goa, where we saw plenty of European and Indian tourists, lots of wild dogs and cows sleeping on the beach, visited a coffee and spice plantation, and got to ride on an elephant! Such beautiful and powerful creatures.

3. Giving thanks

Firstly I want to thank my parents for instilling in me the freedom to trust my instincts and to decide what is right for me. This trip was definitely one of those.

To our hosts in Bhimavaram, the Byrraju Foundation, an amazingly talented, generous and funny group of people who provide healthcare, water purification, education and a lot of other services to rural communities in India. See one of my classmates’ own blog posts on their amazing hospitality here.

Our hosts in Hyderabad at IMT Hyderabad, in particular Archana and Viswanathan, and especially to Shriya who really went the extra mile to look after us.

Finally, I give thanks to our guides and teachers, Alison, Kim and Carolyn, who enabled us to learn and grow.

-Simon

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