Incredible India

Well after 3 months of getting to know and love this city, I’m sad to say my time in Mumbai is coming to an end. In just about a week and a half I will leave Mumbai to travel to Nepal where I’ll get to see the beautiful landscape mostly by foot on a hiking trip.

I can’t even put into words how grateful I have been for the opportunity to live and work abroad again. Traveling abroad is one thing but living abroad is another and I remember why it’s so much more special when you really get to know a place. You become a part of it and it becomes a part of you.

My time here has been filled with new work experiences, new friendships and new cultural experiences that I will never forget. India is a place like no other with so much wisdom to offer everyday. In honor of this Incredible India, I’ve made a list of things that I find so unique and endearing about this country:

Beautiful Saris: India is the only place I’ve traveled to that has largely held onto its traditional dress. From saris to kurtas draped in different ways that are unique to different regions of India. It’s very unique and I couldn’t get enough of the beautiful colors and patterns they come in.

Humility: India is a constant reminder that for so many life is still a constant struggle. This has not only fueled my passion for social entrepreneurship and international development but it brought me back to a humble place. A constant reminder to appreciate the little things.

The Chaos: It is impossible to put into words how completely chaotic this place can be with the population booming, the number of cars, people and animals is almost overwhelming at first. This was certainly overwhelming for me. I’ve never considered myself a city person and probably never will but Mumbai definitely brought it out in me. This place keeps you on your toes whether it be running to catch the train before it leaves the station to almost getting run over by rickshaws, cars and scooters on a daily basis. This chaos definitely grew on me because while the outside may seem chaotic; when you look beyond the chaos India is a serene, peaceful place.

The Food: Yes at first I was nervous about eating Indian food at the thought of being fed something incredibly spicy. What I didn’t realize is there are so many varieties of Indian cuisine. From the delicious meat kebabs to my favorite -the dosa (cheap and delicious!) I have come to appreciate Indian food and actually can’t wait to get Indian when I get home- now that I know what to order:)

My only regret is not having had the time to see other parts of India. This country is so enormous and has so many different landscapes to offer the ambitious traveler. One things for sure, I will be back someday to explore what I didn’t get to this time. On the other hand I’m glad I spent a lot of time in Mumbai and can say I know it pretty well. Thanks to my job I’ve spent a lot of time on trains and on foot going to meetings which have really helped me get to know all parts of Mumbai.

Lastly I wanted to share a few of my favorite photos from this trip:

What is it like working for a start up social enterprise?

Recently I realized I haven’t shared much about the work I’m doing here other than I’m working for a social enterprise so I thought I would elaborate a little more.

First off, this experience has taught me that I am definitely meant for the start-up world. I love wearing many hats and not having a rigidly defined role. Not to mention its exciting to help a new company get off the ground!

So what am I doing exactly? Well I’m working for a start-up social enterprise called Enzi. Enzi is developing an education loan product that will make vocational training courses (i.e. Hotel Management, Accounting, Graphic Design) accessible to those at the base of the pyramid (BoP: the 4-5 billion people who live on less than $2 per day).

So why is this important? Because as you may know India’s population is booming and because of that India will need 500 million skilled or upskilled workers by 2022 (NSDC). Sounds simple enough…right? Entice more people to go to vocational institutes and academies?

Well India presents unique challenges to this goal. How does the population get access to skills training when 68% of the population lives on less than $2 per day?

This is exactly where Enzi and other social enterprises begin making an impact by creating innovative solutions that meet and hopefully help overcome this social challenge.

My work has mostly been in market research; meeting with institutes and academies in Mumbai to understand whether their courses and criteria fit our solution and if they would be interested in participating in our pilot.

Other pieces of my work have focused on researching and recommending mobile banking solutions that fit our BoP market.

In my final blog I hope to share more about the overall outcome of my fellowship and the future of Enzi and the education sector in India. For now I thought Id leave with these fitting quotes:

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” Mahatma Gandhi

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela

The grassroots entrepreneurs of India

As I was walking home from the gym today I realized how much I am struck and inspired by the truly entrepreneurial spirit of India. Many times in developing countries entrepreneurship is born out of necessity however, whether it be out of necessity or passion, there are literally entrepreneurs everywhere you turn.

What inspires me the most is that these entrepreneurs have extremely limited resources but they still manage to get the products and reach consumers who are willing to buy their products.

There are literally hundreds of examples of this for instance: the guy who repairs shoes right on the sidewalk and works out of a wooden box where he keeps all of his tools (who said you needed a proper shop?). Or the men and women who sell hair accessories and nail polish to women on the train (brilliant! talk about a captive audience!). Or the woman who collects our trash and collects a fee from each apartment (since there is no standard form of trash collection here). These are just a few examples of the entrepreneurs that identify needs and develop innovative solutions using limited resources. No matter the outcome they are willing to take the risk and try new things, truly inspiring if you ask me!

What inspired me to write this blog post was these two women I came across on my walk home the other day (pictured below). I still am amazed at what people can balance on their heads here (the typical way to carry stuff in India). These two women were carrying beauty products in a box that they were going to sell somewhere. Talk about being mobile!

 

Temples, Forts and Palaces, a whirlwind trip through Delhi and Agra

I just got back from Delhi this morning and I have to say I may have liked Delhi a bit more than Mumbai. Lets just say its less “in your face” than Mumbai is, a little quieter and little more organized (stress on the word “a little”).

Every time I get on a plane I get a little bit giddy at the thought of seeing a new place and experiencing new culture and surroundings. There is something exciting about imagining what a place will be like and look like and then getting to experience it. I was particularly excited about this trip because it would include a trip to the Taj Mahal, the iconic symbol of India.

I landed in Delhi in the afternoon and was hit by the thick, hot air….I now appreciate the weather in Mumbai a little more:) I arrived at my Bed and Breakfast (BNB Chrysalis for anyone who might want somewhere to stay when in Delhi) and headed to the Qutub Minar, ancient ruins dating back to 1192 AD.

After checking out Qutub Minar I wandered back to the BNB and enjoyed a home cooked India meal and went to bed early to prepare for the 5am wake up to start our drive to Agra where we would see the Taj and Agra Fort.

The drive in itself was interesting with periodic stops for random heards of cattle, donkeys and stray dogs. But eventually we made it to the Taj Mahal. There is no way to put into words how breathtaking it is, an enormous, beautifully detailed building all built for one tomb. The tomb houses the third wife of Shah Jahan who died shortly after giving birth to their 14th child (she damn well deserved the Taj! haha). Unfortunately for Shah he was overthrown by his son and would spend the rest of his days in a jail in Agra Fort where he could only gaze at the Taj through the window.

Where to next you ask?? Rajasthan in September will most likely be my last trip within India before heading to Nepal and then to East Africa. Seriously some days I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming! #lovinglife

The grass really is greener in Kerala

So overall update on India living situation:

Good! I moved into my apartment with my two roommates who are really nice. It’s nice to have my own place now and not be living from hotel to hotel. I also signed up at a gym which has made life much better. Working out helps me cope with the craziness of this city!

But I wanted to focus this post on my recent trip to Kerala which is a southern state in India. I was hoping for a quiet getaway from the busy city life in Mumbai. Well I got lucky because that’s exactly what I got.

We started our Friday with a drive up to Munnar which is where most of the tea plantations exist. They scenery was amazing with the hillsides covered in tea bushes being plucked by the tea plantation workers.

Admittedly the first day I was very sick, but I decided to try to push through it to see as much as I could. The drive up to Munnar was filled with waterfalls, lush greenery and curvy, hilly roads. Although it was beautiful… needless to say it didn’t help me feel any better. When we arrived in the hotel that night I was out for the count hoping to wake up feeling better.

The next day we stopped at a tea museum and yes that was exactly my thought….how do you make a museum about tea? Well you put a lot of old antiques in a building with a few random tug-of-war photos and call it a tea museum. The best part was the warm chai tea at the end….by the way for all my chai tea lovers out there, India by far does the best!

We then headed to our houseboat which we were all excited for. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was literally like a hotel on a boat. We got to see the beautiful backwaters of Appelley, Kerala. It was perfectly relaxing.

Overall it was a great weekend getaway with great people and new experiences.

Next trip: Delhi and the Taj Mahal….stay tuned!

Hows this for logistics: The Tiffin system of Mumbai

I’ve probably mentioned this a few times but I love traveling :) and one of the main reasons I love traveling is because I get to see the amazing things that go on outside my home country.

I was introduced to the Tiffin System on my second day in Mumbai as I walked swiftly through the Churchgate station trying to keep up with my colleague. She pointed at these long carriers that had all these little boxes in them and said “Those are lunch boxes they deliver them all over Mumbai.” At the time I thought oh that’s interesting….I was still in my jet lag fog.

The other day we had another conversation about the Tiffin System so I decided to do some research. First, let’s get one thing straight, Indian people like their lunch hot (not just spicy hot, but temperature hot)….I mean who doesn’t. So the Dabbawallahs (the people who pick up and deliver the tiffins (the lunch boxes) go to every area of Mumbai (and this city is f*in huge!) about an hour before lunch (Indians generally each lunch from 1-2pm) pick up the hot meal, hop on trains and deliver the tiffins by bike to hungry Indians all over Mumbai.

Despite delivering over 160,000 tiffins each day, only 1 out of 6 million tiffins fails to arrive at the correct destination (they were awarded the six sigma quality assurance rating by Forbes). And just to be clear there are no computers, or central dispatch systems at work here. The Dabbawallahs rely on a complex coding system that uses numbers and letters to indicate the area of pick up, the beginning train station, the destination train station, the area to be delivered in, the building and the floor…..my head hurts just thinking about it.

Not only is this system itself amazing, the tiffins are actually quite cool themselves. They are circular, aluminum lunch boxes that have various compartments that screw onto each other and that way the rice, curry,  and dessert can all be housed separately.

Can you say resourceful! This system surely tops any computer system or business process I’ve ever worked in :) Props to the Tiffin System!

Mumbai you’re just Cray!

So for those of you that have not been following the newest “trend” in shortening words….well Jay-Z and Kanye West have given us a new one…..”Cray”. I mean getting rid of one letter of the word crazy…..thats pure genius! So while they are sitting on the hundreds of millions they have raked in for a song called “That sh*t cray”, I’m sitting in a bagel shop called “The bagel shop”….haha almost as clever as removing one letter from the word crazy:)

So in an attempt to be part of this “cray” trend I thought  I would include it as part of my latest blog post. Because when I get down to it there is only one way to describe Mumbai….CRAY! In fact it might just be CRAY CRAY…yeah thats right:) Or it might just make you CRAY! Probably all of the above.

There is really no way to put into words the amount of people, animals and cars that occupy this city. Couple that with the sound of horns every couple of seconds and you are knee-deep in the city of Mumbai. What I have found is that I can handle this for a few hours before I need to return to my humble abode to get the quiet time I so badly need at the end of the day.

As in anywhere I suppose it will just take time to get used to. So far I am still fascinated by the random cows that stand at the side of the road and I still celebrate every time I cross the road without getting run over:) If anything it all makes me appreciate so much more how we have it in the US!

Fun things coming up:

Trip to the south of India with some Michigan MBAs!

Moving into an actual apartment with roomates…yay!