I started writing this blog post several times. It has not been easy to find the words to reflect upon the last two weeks of the PSU SE Magic Bus Program.
My bags are packed, but I am not ready to go. I am not ready because I have no clue what the repercussions of my experience will be. While there are creature comforts I miss back home, I do not miss the feeling of being a bit too comfortable and a bit too complacent. I arrived in India with the expectation and hope that I would learn something. I will be leaving India with a new perspective on life, on community, on hospitality, on friendships, on teamwork, on myself, on the water I drink, and the shoes on my feet.
To the drivers…
Thank you Kim and Alison for sitting behind the wheel of this magic bus. I am not sure how you both measure success, but from where I sit today, you were not just successful…you were both a part of changing eight people’s lives in only two weeks time.
To my fellow bus riders…
Thank you for being the most exceptional teammates, colleagues, confidants, and now friends. As Kate said many times, “It has just been easy.” It was just easy. Through all the major bumps, exhaustion, long days, sad stories, and hard work, you all made each day better. I never imagined eight people could not only get along well, but laugh and push each other forward with encouragement and a smile. I miss each of you already!
To all the students and faculty at IMT, to the Byrraju Foundation staff, to each driver, to each child and adult we interviewed, I am forever indebted to you. It is all of you that made this ride unforgettable and magic.
To India and your warm embrace, I will to my best to remember these things…
Guests are Gods…treat them as such.
A smile on your face for a stranger or a friend will produce instant happiness, if reflected upon an open heart.
Just when you think you have nothing left to give, there is a child somewhere bursting with energy, ready to shake your hand and say, “Hey Sister!” (Take them up on it, and see what happens…It’s magic.)
Be grateful every day for your shoes and…walk on my friend.
The PSU Social Enterprise Magic Bus has been an amazing experience, one that will forever help to strengthen my resolve to do good before I do well. In sharing some reflections I wanted to also provide some tips to those who would also seek out the treasure that is India:
One. Do not drive a car in any major town or city. Period. Being a passenger is fretful enough. Failing that, think of yourself not as a self-determining driver expressing your rights to a lane and to not be cut off from within your protective metal shell. That will end badly for you. Instead, think of yourself as a leaf floating down a stream. This works best when crossing the street also. If you’re not sure, then just take a cue from the cows and water buffalo.
Two. Learn to say no politely. The Indian cultural etiquette towards guests feels like they have mistaken you for Vishnu or Shiva. While it is certainly nice to be pampered, you will not be able to just get up and leave, or to repay your hosts. This can put a pretty big dent in a Westerner’s notions of wealth and happiness, as well as their schedule.
Three. Just go with it. The funny thing about India is that you cant put your finger on it – its so dynamic. Cultures, worlds, languages, religions and empires have combined time and again over the past millennium, and its ability to adapt throughout history will only prove more valuable as time goes on. The only constant here is change, and during my brief time here, I have been changed permanently and irreversibly for the better.
“My whole life I never had the opportunity to have shoes, I felt so happy! –Monika , age 14
My group spent the last four days interviewing school children in Indian government schools about shoes. Let me tell you, when a 13 or 14 year old child tells you the shoes they received 6-8 months ago are the first pair they have ever owned, it is difficult to know what to say in response. As a child do you remember a time when you did not have access to shoes? Did it ever even cross your mind?
Jude, Mike, and I worked with Hand of Hope organization in Hyderabad. Hand of Hope is responsible for distributing TOMS shoes throughout the region. For all of you who have a pair or know TOMS, we just had the opportunity to witness how the One for One program is implemented on the ground. We went into government schools in the area and talked to kids about their experience with TOMS. They told us about the fit, quality, why they believe wearing shoes is important, as well as, their hopes for their future. In return, we provided Hand of Hope with our preliminary research findings and new ideas for assessment tools, education tools to link health to wearing shoes, and some mock up marketing concepts to help Hand of Hope continue their mission.
Hand of Hope staff opened their doors, shared information, set-up our site visits, fed us, and gave us feedback on our presentations. Everyone from our interpreter, Krishna Reddy, a doctoral candidate from the Institute of Management Technology, to our driver, Khadir, helped guide us through the week so we could obtain as much primary research as possible, to complete our final report back in the U.S. Indian hospitality overwhelmed me once again. Thank you to all who helped make this week happen!
I have been thinking about how this trip has and will affect me quite a bit the past few days. What I realized is this: I do not want to just take these experiences and newfound wisdoms home with me. I want to spread them. Not in a pretentious, in-your-face manner; just in a model by example one. I would love to embrace the hospitality, the continuous smile, and the community based lifestyle, and do my little part in letting others see it, whether or not they can/want to ever come to this lovely country. It might be a small impact, but one that I feel driven to start. I am still working on how to actually do this, outside of smiling more and sharing more of myself with people. I’ll let you know what I come up with.
Our time in Hyderabad has been spent staying at the campus of Institute of Management Technology (IMT), one of the top 10 business schools in India. During our time here, IMT has graciously hosted us and invited us to engage with students for an excursion to the handicraft market, a debate on social enterprise, and a cultural event including singing, dance performances, a rendition of Julius Caesar and a lighthearted, arguably talent-less but heartfelt contribution on behalf of the PSU students.
Let me just preface this by saying that one of the most challenging things about the PSU MBA program for me has been group work. All of our projects are done in teams, mimicking the realities of the corporate working world. Earlier this week, our collaboration with IMT students deepened as we worked in mixed teams on a social marketing campaign in a local village. My team looked at issues of drinking water access, and produced an infomercial as our campaign. On this day, I realized that being on the tail end of my MBA program, I must finally be getting used to navigating team work: Much to my own surprise, I found the experience of working together with the IMT students synergistic, collaborative and enjoyable. The students here have impressed on all levels with their intelligence, creative ideas, work ethic, and sense of humor. Before coming here I didn’t realize that interaction with local students was a component of this program, but I am so grateful that it was. Thank you so much to Archana and the students of IMT. I’d like to extend an open invitation to our new Indian b-school friends to come visit us in Portland so that we can return the favor of hospitality!
The health care industry has been one that has seemed daunting to me for years. I wouldn’t say that I have avoided it, but I definitely have not been active in throwing myself into any situations where I would be involved. Here was my chance.
We worked with the Care Rural Health Mission, looking for gaps in their program, specifically the Hypertension market. Even though this scope was broad, the project supervisors gave us enough focus, clarity and preparation to really dive in knowing what we were after. In the end, our recommendations were to implement group therapy and education programs to help utilized villager konwledge, as well as create a social marketing campaign. Before our deliverable in February, we will be designed such a campaign, and I couldn’t be more excited!
Really though, this project has solidified something that I started to discover last week, something that I wouldn’t have guessed in a million year. Primary research is SO exciting to me. The interactions energized me every single time.I have been looking into some PhD programs, and my main concern was the interviewing process. Now, I feel as if I’m counting down the days until I can utilized these skills again!
This trip has been exhausting. It has been life changing, eye opening, and full of bumps along the road. It felt like there was no end in sights, which at times either devastated or excited me. But powering through, making sure to pace myself while soaking in as much as possible has been a tough, but highly influential, experience. Thank you to everyone involved. It really could not have been better.
Yesterday the group sat down together for the last time to make our final presentations and share our closing reflections with Verghese, Kim, and Alison. As the program comes to a close, it’s impossible to gauge the number and magnitude of takeaways.
In the spirit of our group’s tradition (thanks, Alison) of daily acknowledgments, I’d like to make a little shout out to everyone.
- Adam, thanks for your brightness and clever insight which was invaluable on this trip. Thanks also for your enthusiasm and contagious ear-to-ear grin.
- Jude, thanks for being so dependable. Also you have the most lovely and calming presence which is incredibly valuable in big, chaotic group dynamics.
- Kate, you are one of the most understanding, supportive people ever. Thanks for being so warm, considerate, and refreshing in any and every situation.
- Katie, you are an excellent listener and give excellent advice. Thanks for making me feel sane amidst insanity. I couldn’t have asked for a better roomie and new friend.
- Mike, thanks for your hilarity, warmth and quirkiness, and for reminding us all not to take ourselves too seriously.
- Simon, you add so much strength and balance to the crew. Thanks for your eternal optimism and for reminding us how silly it is to complain, especially in India.
- Slater, you are just all-around such a fun, amazing friend. Thanks for being so human and compassionate, and for reminding us all to stay adventurous.
And of course to our professors:
- Alison: Thanks for being so dedicated, hardworking, and articulate. Your attention to detail is impeccable, and made the ridiculous logistics of this trip that much more manageable for us all.
- Kim: You are one of a kind, and easily the most hilarious professor I’ve ever had. Thanks for your brilliant insight, and for keeping it real particularly during the most ridiculous times.
Of course a gigantic thank you must be said to everyone at Byrraju Foundation and both the staff and students of IMT for your amazing hospitality, cultural ambassadorship, and unique wisdoms.
You have all played a crucial role in making this experience so unforgettable. Cheers and Namaste!
For our last four days in Hyderabad, Kate, Slater, and I worked with the CARE Rural Health Mission, a non-profit organization which is one of the CARE Foundation’s outreach delivery models for bringing quality treatment and services “to everyone’s doorstep”. Our contacts, Girish and Prasanth, were incredibly helpful in spelling out what exactly CRHM does in the greater context of the CARE group. Taking an incredibly complex topic and making it more clear and tangible was an instrumental first step before understanding the scope of our project and hitting the field to begin our primary research.
Earlier this summer, I was on an extended rafting trip during which someone cut himself on a rock rather badly. I immediately looked away from his foot, let the other two step in to play nurse. The only “care” I was capable of providing was to ask him if he needed a beer. This kind of scenario is not unusual for me. I am generally uncomfortable with most situations involving illness and/or blood.
So, unsurprisingly healthcare has never been an area which I have naturally gravitated toward in study. Frankly, I have avoided it. With both my initial placement in the Byrraju Health Program group and my successive placement in the CARE healthcare group, I was worried what that would entail and whether I could handle it. Although we were not exposed to anything remotely daunting or grisly during our trips to the clinics, it was still a great experience to go beyond my comfort zone.
But, I digress. This project has been so eye opening with respect to both systemic and cultural factors at work which create such a barrier to instilling the importance of health education and preventative care in India. Moving forward, in the next month of completing research on this project, I hope that our group can contribute some meaningful and actionable strategic plans for helping to chip away at this unfortunate trend.
One of the things I was most excited about coming here was the academic theme of this trip: Social Enterprise. As an MBA student with the belief that the power and tools of business are the most effective way to create social impact, I see the social enterprise model as a powerful vehicle for change. Most Americans who travel to developing countries see things that may horrify and sadden them, and then they go back home and life goes on. I think those of us on this trip (myself included) will do this to a certain extent as well, but what I’m excited about is the opportunity to leave something behind; the greatest gift that I can give which is my time and my business skills applied to a social project. My project team includes Katie and Mike and we are working with Hand of Hope (HOH), a non profit that is one of TOMS shoes main distributors in India for their giving program. Last year was their first year distributing shoes, and now they await a shipment of 1 million shoes to be distributed around India in 2013. HOH views shoes as an entry point for health, safety and education; as they say, “A shoe is like a foot in the door”. Working on this project over the past 4 days has been a wonderful experience and I look forward to continuing to work on the project over the next month. Here are just a few of my initial takeaways:
1. First things first, HOH/TOMS is not a social enterprise.
HOH is a non profit and TOMS is a socially responsible business as they are giving away the shoes for free. My first lesson learned is that giving away things for free in developing countries is a lot easier said than done, especially if you want to do it properly in a systematic way that is measurable and maximizes impact.
2. Do the shoes fit the need?
Our project included interviewing 32 kids ranging from age 6-15 at 5 different schools who had all received TOMS from HOH over the past year. We heard a lot of feedback from the kids about TOMS and the importance of wearing shoes in general. For some kids, the TOMS they received were their very first pair of shoes, and meant their feet could finally be protected from injury and dust. Some kids wear their TOMS only to school and special occasions in order to preserve them since they don’t know when they might receive another pair. We heard from kids who expressed how happy they were to receive shoes, and that it made them feel good in their school uniforms. We also heard and saw first hand a lot of problems with the shoes: Canvas shoes collect dust, the shoes get smelly, and they slip off when kids run. Most kids we talked to were amazingly practical, valuing durability above fashion. Bottom line: The shoes are flimsy and not necessarily suited to the rocky, dusty trash-ridden roads of India, nor the active lifestyle of kids, esp. young boys who are rough on their shoes. TOMS has a goal of delivering shoes to kids every 6 months but there are operational challenges that limit the reality of this. A shoe may be better than no shoe, but it was interesting from a market research perspective to glean this information, viewing the kids as customers: there are some obvious needs that are still going unmet.
3. A fresh perspective is always valuable.
Of course none of the information we gathered was new to HOH – they are fully aware of the challenges that the TOMS model creates. I struggled all week asking myself, how can I provide value to this organization? What can I possibly provide or create in such a short amount of time that is new or useful? I finally came to peace with these questions yesterday at our final presentations to the clients. Verghese, who is on the board of the Byrraju Foundation and was there to give us feedback said it well: We all bring our own personal colored lenses that tint how we experience India and view these social issues. Even if we are saying something that has been said before, we are saying it in our own way, and it’s still a valuable perspective to share.