My Tryst With Destiny!

“The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty, ignorance, disease and inequality of opportunity.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

It’s that time of the year, again. I am sipping tea with some banana walnut cake on the side, reflecting on the last three years. Yes, it has been three years! I quit my job on 14th August, 2015 – meri azaadi – to do whatever I wanted to professionally. Some of you reading this will already know, soon after I started working on SoCHE Foundation – marrying my passion and love for environment and handicrafts. For those of you who don’t know, SoCHE stands for Solutions for Clean and Healthy Environment.

I still remember sitting on the bedside, post the Environment Day in June 2015, discussing an idea with Sriskandh (my husband and subsequently SoCHE’s Co-founder). All I knew was I wanted to reduce pollution from pottery kilns in the city of New Delhi. Sriskandh liked the idea and without even batting an eyelid said, “Go for it.” Delhi in the following year became infamous for having the most polluted air in the world. News of Particulate Matter 2.5 going beyond 700 µg/m³ still makes news there.

Soon after, I identified Kumhar Colony in Uttam Nagar and Hastaal Village, near Najafgarh drain in Delhi to get the potters’ community need assessment done. The legal paper work for SoCHE was underway simultaneously to register it as a section 8 non-profit company. While students from Lady Irwin College became the researchers for that work; I also in parallel laid my eyes on Barmer – the place to uncover hidden treasures of the handicraft world. I travelled to the villages close up to the border areas and identified the hand embroidery called ‘Kalavat’ or ‘Mukke’ ka kaam. I knew then that this lesser known neighbor of Jaisalmer is going to be an important part of my life in the coming days.

14700894_10157845200690227_350421724017576183_o

Interacting with village women in Barmer, Rajasthan

Today, as I look back at this journey of:

25399109_10160016235260227_8966931576185298799_n

And in between several hit and trials of making an affordable energy efficient pottery kiln…

26165516_1615754421815934_3193211298050584025_n

With ‘Shilpguru’ Giriraj ji and his National Award winning wife Angoori ji, co-creating the energy efficient kiln design. It was subsequently constructed in 2017, post multiple stakeholder consultations, in partnership with Stenum Asia.

I have few gems of experience and learning’s that I would like to share with you, as I reflect today on the last three years –

  • CHAMAK PAYEIN EKDUM MUFT, MUFT, MUFT!

I remember going to TIE-Con Delhi in early 2016 and seeing people running after investors as if they were serving free lunches by the roadside. I realized then that it so wasn’t my thing. If SoCHE has to grow, it will either to go through the traditional route of CSR and philanthropic funding – which means a wait period of three years as per law; or have a hybrid model where we are able to raise operational funds at least by sale of products or services. While we resorted to selling handicrafts and linking artisans to the market, of course it wasn’t enough. The operational costs could only be kept to a bare minimum if we attracted talent on a voluntary basis. There came in my first two lessons…

  1. Everything in life is not driven by money and power. Some of the best people on board at SoCHE are voluntary in nature and the best partnerships are in kind. Thanks to Sumit Sehgal, Founder, Butterfly and The Bee and Sudarshan KCherry, Founder and MD, AuthorPress India, we were able to make Nature’s Jamboree a success and even published two books that are available on Amazon. Nature’s Jamboree is SoCHE’s environment advocacy initiative with children and has thus far reached out to over 10,000 people in the last two years through art, culture and literature on environment.
21319282_1507318112659566_6345625455394060521_o.jpg

Book Launch of Nature’s Jamboree Green Doodles in 2017 (L-R: Sriskandh Subramanian, Co-founder, SoCHE FoundationAditya Pundir, Country Manager, The Climate Reality Project India; Suman Kumar, Principal, Bluebells School International (Delhi); Sudarshan Kcherry, MD, Authorspress India; Sumit Sehgal, Planner – Events and Advocacy, SoCHE Foundation)

2. It is your intent and leadership style that attracts people, be it in a for-profit or not-for-profit set up. These connections deliver truly on the ground – creating a cadre of well-meaning and driven people.

Soon enough in 2017, India Runway Week identified us and we delivered on two fashion shows back-to-back as part of its’ CSR showcase. We worked on the fashion shows without a professional designer, but straight from the heart. The women in Barmer embroidered tiger pug marks and other environment motifs and designs, while we got it stitched into garments at the local boutique shop. Few fashion experts did critique it for lacking highly professional design aesthetics, but for me – it was one of the best things I did without any training! I was fulfilling a passion and purpose while working on SoCHE’s mission, which simply was irreplaceable. Those garments were made on handloom and other sustainable fabric, bringing home the message of responsible and sustainable living, and were very much liked by the aam janta.

18194982_10158871449925227_358425605453668291_n

Glimpses of India Runway Week Season 8 in 2017

21

  • DIL PE MAT LE YAR…

It is so important to view yourself exclusive of your title, designation and company. All of this is temporary in nature. Before I quit my job in 2015, I was very well recognised and applauded at my workplace. My seniors had groomed me for a leadership role. My past five years’ ratings were consistently ‘Excellent’. But once I got out of that comfort zone and quit, I remember many CSR teams of well-reputed companies being rude to my face. They assumed I was another NGO person seeking funds. Suddenly from a CSR professional who quit her job in 2015 at the very peak of her career to plunge into the realm of the ‘unknown’, I became another ‘NGOwali’. What a colossal disservice that attitude is still to many innovators around.

There came lesson number 3.

  1. Your true worth is in who you are as a person, and somewhere we misplace it in the glam and glitter of the salary package, promotion, and the brands we work for. SoCHE taught me this great lesson – not to take myself too seriously, and perhaps this is what I would like to urge many of you as well. We all need each other in one-way or the other. Let’s create an ecosystem that’s fresh and based on merit, and not on entitlement that comes with ‘a’ designation.

In hindsight, if some of the industry colleagues would have shed their high-headedness, perhaps together we could have mitigated the air pollution level for the potter families in Delhi – who now have been asked to completely shut shop by National Green Tribunal due to air pollution. Sometimes even an idea needs to be recognized and the process needs to be applauded. While people in India failed to recognize what we were trying to do in the potters’ community then, Asian Institute of Technology invited me to Thailand, to present my work to other social innovators in the region in 2017. Subsequently, I spoke at CII’s India@75, TEDx, IIT Delhi and many other prestigious forums and even wrote papers on it.

20374245_10159371621395227_9194259697557262906_n

20431548_10159352990495227_1870410718168570651_n

  • ZINDAGI NA MILEGI DOBARA

My final lesson is that of gratitude. From 2015 – 2017 I worked very hard on my own self. I got back to yoga and subsequently graduated to doing hal and chakra asana, honed my pottery skills and in general just let life take its own course. When the “nation wanted to know” more and was busy heavily debating ‘intolerance’, my day-to-day reality comprised sitting with strangers in the Muslim villages in the interior of Barmer, understanding the beautiful cultural heritage of this country. I remember penning my thoughts even then (link here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/beyond-borders-kanika-pal/). I could see the dichotomy of perspective and the limitations that comes with a narrow approach towards life. I would come back to Delhi and interact closely with the potters community understanding how best we can create an energy efficient kiln together, weaving in their traditional knowledge and wisdom.

14633081_10157912782125227_7054898239177215892_n.jpg

  1. I am, therefore, full of gratitude for this work-in-progress journey called SoCHE. I have been on the path of realizing my purpose and fulfilling my spiritual calling since three years now. Many of you kind people have made donations on the way, invested your time pro bono, made recommendations, bought products, given discounts on professional fee and connected us to more relevant people. SoCHE is still working without any funding. It will be completing three years of existence this October and will finally be eligible for CSR funding and hopefully greater opportunities it is worthy of.

It has started to rain now. And in between all of this, I just finished my banana walnut cake and true to my ‘hot and cold’ life lessons here, my hot tea too has become ice cold. Time to warm it up and enjoy a new sip. 🙂

Advertisements

5 DIY Crafts To Learn From National Crafts Museum

Wandering Soul Writer

That India is a veritable gold mine when it comes to traditional art forms is not new to us who have grown up with these art forms all around us in some way or the other. Whether it be terracotta sculptures that adorn our gardens or bandhej dupattas that add colour to our wardrobe, we are well aware of the rich influence that these arts and crafts have on everyday life today. But what if some of these art forms need not be only admired in exhibitions and galleries; you can also make them yourself with little or no formal training at all.

View original post 1,149 more words

On National Handloom Day

The handloom and handicrafts sector in India is a highly nuanced one. While at one level campaigns like #ilovehandloom reckon that we take pride in it, on the other as a country we couldn’t care less. I say this, as unless we understand the demands of this sector in the real sense, we will never be able to realise its true potential:

ilovehandloom1.png

1) Make in India, Skill India will have no meaning if we do not see this sector as a critical part of it. It is after all the second largest employment generator in the country. However, the trend unfortunately has been to first de-skill these artisans (as middlemen make most of the profit) and then talk of re-skilling them. The conversation needs to change.

As per UN reports, India has already lost 30% of its artisans in the last 30 years. Most of these uprooted artisans have migrated to cities and taken menial jobs such as, daily wage construction workers, rickshaw pullers etc. What this means is that we need to augment their core skills of being an artisan with appropriate market linkages, rather than replacing their skills.

Even CSR programmes under themes of livelihood generation, skill India and empowerment need to help the sector urgently and help it find its grounding within the villages only.
ilovehandloom2.png2) The consumer awareness needs to improve a lot more. Since we do not understand the true value of handicrafts as domestic consumers, we therefore do not want to pay the correct price for it. Leave alone valuing it as a cultural heritage; the middlemen make most of the profits keeping the wages of the artisans extremely low.That’s a pity, as not only are our artisans living a low-carbon life in the villages, but both the handlooms and the natural dyes contribute in environment conservation significantly.

ilovehandloom3.png

Internationally there has been a rising demand for such low-carbon handcrafted products as the market for handicrafts stands at $400 billion globally. However, India’s share is below 2% in this market, presenting a tremendous growth opportunity.

ilovehandloom4.png

Handicrafts and handlooms are not only our heritage, but can offer a global comparative advantage. I sincerely hope that in the coming years, we see the ecosystem evolving and improving the condition of the artisans and weavers in the long-run.

 

Time to move from Save the ‘Tiger’ to Save the ‘Tigress’?

There is a need to acknowledge the male domination in the conservation narrative and to change it

chipko-chipko

Source: Google Images

The relationship between women and the environment is deep and intrinsic – historically, symbolically, conceptually and practically. Not just in terms of day-to-day interaction and use of natural resources are women more in touch with nature; women are also important stewards of world’s natural capital as demonstrated in the case of Chipko movement of the 1970s.

It is a well known fact that many women in rural India on an average spend 6-7 hours per day to fetch drinking water for their families, walking more than 14,000 km a year. According to UN Water, across India it’s estimated that women spend 150 million work days every year fetching and carrying, equivalent to a national loss of income of Rs 10 billion.[1] Women also contribute 50-60% of labour in farm production in India. The National Commission for Women points out that a man spends 1,212 hours and a woman 3,485 hours in a year on an one hectare farm in the Indian Himalayas.[2]

In a sense, both women and the environment are extremely exploited for their resources and yet are unpaid for the benefits they bring to society. This, however, is often overlooked in conservation efforts and gets highly nuanced.

IMG_5310To give an example, the word ‘wildlife conservation’ is immediately associated with saving the “Tiger” when it comes to wildlife in India. However, in all of this, seldom do we talk about saving the “female” tiger first, as without it the entire specie would be wiped out. How about Save the ‘Tigress’ instead of Save the ‘Tiger’? The birth of cubs in any national park is always a good news, however, our deep engrained psyche of gender supremacy somewhere does not represent it well enough and alienates the other. Be it mass media messaging in the form of naming the conservation programme as Save the “Tiger” (instead of “Tigress”); or the use of tiger pug marks on merchandise available in tiger parks – both show clear male domination. Just as is the case of ‘man’kind, the ‘tiger’ seems to dominate the conservation narrative too. A quick google search on the topic takes you neatly to the feisty tigress of the animation film, KungFu Panda. It then becomes symbolically a matter of entertainment and amusement.

Even in handicraft production, the social construct compartmentalises the work perfectly. The preparation work for the particular handicraft is undertaken by the women, while men create the handicraft. As the potter uses the clay on the wheel to mould it to beautiful shapes, it is the woman who spends long hours and intense labour to prepare the clay from the ground. This however, is again unrecognised in the overall labour of handicraft, and mostly taken for granted.

IMG_4810

Kalavat embroidery on female tiger pugmark design (c) SoCHE Foundation

Being a wildlife enthusiast, an environmentalist, a feminist and a social entrepreneur on a mission, I tried to revisit this equation of gender dynamics in conservation of both handicrafts and the environment. After quitting my job last year and travelling to the dry and arid Barmer, I discovered the unidentified handicraft of Kalavat embroidery in villages close to the Pakistan border. I trained women on how to use Kalavat for a living and introduced the female tiger pug mark as a design element in the traditional embroidery. It is a new way of bringing gender inclusion, conservation, poverty alleviation and livelihood generation under one roof. By marrying both conservation and handicrafts it serves to be a win-win situation for the community and the environment.

As social barriers lessen and more income is available to women, they make longer-term decisions about their environment. From conservation efforts to implementing improved agriculture techniques to responsible handicrafts, engaging women helps drive change and preserve the environment. But first, we need to recognise the need to change the conservation narrative, increase women participation, recognise their role and enable overall empowerment.

[1] http://www.unwater.org/fileadmin/user_upload/worldwaterday2015/docs/Water%20For%20Women.pdf

[2] http://ncw.nic.in/pdfreports/impact%20of%20wto%20women%20in%20agriculture.pdf

The Missing Heart of CSR

We at SoCHE Foundation recently returned from the first formal skill-development training in two far off villages of Rajasthan, bordering Pakistan. 15 village women were explained how to use their embroidery as a means of livelihood, preserve their ethnic heritage, yet make innovative products, understanding the market pricing and demand.

As soon as the training was over, the women demonstrated what we trained them on. Next day, we got a call from the elected woman leader in one of the villages, asking us to train more women and leave behind more resource material for them to use. They were all already dreaming of becoming entrepreneurs.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 8.25.57 pmMy earlier post Meet Nemat Bano, dated January 14th (see here) gave a background on how we are working tirelessly under Project Maati Milaap to identify handicrafts in the interiors of the country that are either forgotten, dying or unidentified; connecting it to not just livelihood options with market linked trainings, but also ensuring environment conservation in the process.  These two villages also formed part of the same journey.Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 8.26.10 pm

We have returned now – immensely satisfied – as the work there is gaining momentum. The women are combining their local culture, heritage and skills into beautiful handmade products for further sale. It’s the birth of a new economy at village level.

**

SoCHE is a young organisation, in sixth month of its operations, that I founded. When I quit my comfortable corporate job in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in August 2015 (where I was leading the environment vertical of a global tyre manufacturing company), I knew it would be extremely challenging. Though in CSR I did work at grass root level – from the unkind transport hubs to humble villages around manufacturing plants – from swachhta to biodiversity enhancement; the comfort of corporate extravaganza in the form of pre paid hotels, taxis and intermittent dialogue with accompanying team members was always a luxury that all of us take for granted.

1449750036516Today as a social entrepreneur, when I chart unknown territories, reach out to unfamiliar communities deep inside this country, it is both risky and tiring. There is no corporate strategy that I have to follow, no risk mitigation, no stakeholder management or conscious attempt at inclusion. I am just following my heart and passion to connect the unconnected artisans. This is a journey I have embarked on using my CSR skills as the bedrock. I am trying to cover the geographical length and breath of the country and going into deep corners to see for myself the handicrafts that are not in the market – maybe have never reached or have already died the natural death.

Mainstreaming and preserving the cultural heritage that our country– through its 29 states, a history of more than 3000 years, and the existence of thousands of different ethnic groups – is so blessed with, is sure worth all the risks and effort. There are moments when I do not even know if the taxi I am taking in such interiors is safe – and there is never an administration person who I can fire in case anything goes wrong. With a call of judgement and leap of faith, I carry on, however. My family, back home, only wishes for my well-being at all times and seeks constant updates on my whereabouts, naturally so.

**

Coming from CSR background myself, both academically and professionally, I thought convincing people in my own fraternity to join hands in such an initiative will not be difficult. Every company works with communities that have their own unique cultural heritage. It should be a natural choice, therefore, to want to preserve it as one’s responsibility. Handicrafts, after all, are a manifestation of such richness.

1449316533694The CSR law too highlights cultural heritage preservation, women empowerment, poverty alleviation, livelihood generation and environment conservation as clear areas of impact generation. Project Maati Milaap weaves all of these beautifully together, with CSR and sustainable development principles, philosophy and experience at the very foundation.

In the last few weeks, I have on different occasions interacted with my fellow CSR colleagues, seniors, juniors – but this time as a social entrepreneur. I have witnessed their apathy towards the word ‘NGO’. From the suave IT sector to the more rustic PSU, I have witnessed the arrogance of capitalistic mindset, often being treated as the ‘other’ and seldom as the founder of a young, daring, risk-taking, passion-driven, action-oriented organisation.

I have been asked on several occasions to either call back later, or not call at all, for I intruded into the very busy corporate life – the one that I left few months back. Ironically, there are many corporations who still struggle to spend the complete 2% of their profits in a financial year and cut a cheque to the PM relief fund at the end out of compulsion. Yet, not many have the heart to listen to a new idea, a fresh perspective, an inclusive opportunity to make a difference tangibly. Being less than three years old is further considered to be a deterrent, as it is a pre-requisite in many organisation for further engagement.

Being a ‘social entrepreneur on a mission’ is not necessarily well-received or understood by many, as yet. Founding an organisation by getting out of ones comfort zone completely, propelled by the thirst of what lays outside of the realm of the known needs a heart to comprehend. Yes a heart! Capitalistic structures somewhere have taken that away, and left only the mind. Perhaps this is what CSR in this country needs – a heart that beats. The ultimate value creation lies in not just the number of smiles you create but also how many you sustain.

Even then, SoCHE Foundation is a journey that continues to fulfill my intellectual endeavor, each day. I unlearn and learn with every new community. Each time we enter into the interior of the country, I know that there will be a new experience which is waiting to enrich me, awaken a part of my spiritual self that I am unaware of.  I know then my heart is in the right place, beating well. I only hope that coming back it doesn’t get arrested.

**

SoCHE stands for Solutions for Clean and Healthy Environment.

Find SoCHE Foundation on FB and web.

The Start of an Entrepreneur

Passion. Belief. Courage. Or More?

It feels nothing short of weird, to begin with, when you start treading the path you had been chalking out for months over. The difference now being that there is no regular office routine, no colleagues to have coffee breaks with, no KRAs, no team management, no scheduled receipt of a definite salary in your account. You are for most part of the start, by yourself… and the discipline that comes with it.

I am talking of the start of being an entrepreneur. The point when you leave that job, get out of your comfort zone and take the plunge to follow your passion, your calling. You begin something totally new that you believe in. You spend days and nights working very hard towards it, slowly building your team with a lot of care – identifying the right talent, learning to manage limited budget – which either comes as your own capital investment or is crowd-funded or is a seed investment from a venture capitalist. There is no monetary profit initially, but only spends in terms of your effort, time, energy, money. Some people support you; many do not, including few trusted ones. You learn to take it in your stride and move on. You don’t have any time to waste.

You stop dreaming then, as you start living a reality – that of a mission that you believe you are meant to fulfil. From the time you get that “idea” to the formation of your company, from setting your website to launching your products and services in the market, from the first feedback to getting back to the drawing board to incorporate every lesson you learn… it gets extremely real with every passing day. It reaches a point when you almost get addicted. You are addicted to being a start-up entrepreneur.

Many people, young, middle-aged alike in today’s India are taking the “start up” plunge, as I  too have. At many levels, it makes you wonder if the risk taking appetite of people has increased, or have they been so saturated in their previous jobs or are they just simply confused. Those around offer you a mixed reaction; some look at you with envy, others in admiration. Most often you would hear the words “cool” and “courageous” being used for yourself. While it might truly be both, in reality it most importantly is a test of your patience, self-belief and determination.

To understand this phenomenon further, I interviewed five young entrepreneurs on what it takes to be a start-up entrepreneur in today’s context. Here is an analysis of the responses I got for similar questions that I asked them:

  • Manisha Monga of D’ART STUDIO, an online clothing store started in 2015 
  • Satish Kataria of Catapooolt, a crowd-funding and community engagement platform started in 2013
  • Rohit Shah and Kunjal Shah of GettingYouRich.com, a financial planning firm started in 2012
  • Sumit Sehgal of Butterfly and The Bee, a literary hub started in 2012

These responses are inter-woven with my thoughts as I took the plunge to become a social entrepreneur in September this year with SoCHE Foundation (for environment conservation and social upliftment). In case you too are toying with the idea of starting something of your own, here is what you definitely need to know…

⇒ Knowing the right time or rather creating it

The truth is that you will never know when the time is right. As much as humans wish they had a time machine, they actually do not have one. There is also seldom a cosmic intervention to let you know when you should shift gears in life, or when the moment is opportune to live a dream. The only way out therefore is to recognize your gut feeling and experience through trial and error.

For Manisha, a journalist by profession, it was when she became a full-time mom, after her daughter was born, that she took the plunge.“Travelling to rural places during my college days introduced me to rural arts and traditional weaves of India. I always wanted to do something for the artisans and weavers of our country,” she says. It is then that she decided to venture into apparels. “During my journalism days, my extensive travel to various countries for work gave me an exposure of international markets as well, so the whole idea of creating modern silhouette with traditional weave came into picture and hence the idea of starting D’ART STUDIO was conceived.”

Rohit and Kunjal have a financial planning firm called Getting You Rich, which they started more than three years back. Providing customers the option with having ‘Merawala Plan’, they help families understand money aspects. Rohit and Kunjal jumped into this venture when they felt their corporate career had stagnated. They saw that the potential of advisory business for financial planning was huge and jumped right in.

Satish, a communications and marketing professional, on the other hand had been pursuing crowd-funding since 2010. “What inspired me around this was the fact that indeed crowd-funding could bring a real change in Indian entrepreneurial landscape. Even today, India hardly has 300 active angels – and ironically also has one of the largest concentrations of High Networth Individuals (HNIs). On the other hand, other ecosystems such as Silicon Valley has thousands of people who engage and support newer ideas,” he adds.

Even though he launched crowd-funding in India for the very first time in 2010, he had to shut operations within a year as it was beyond its time for consumers to understand the concept in India then. Believing in his vision, he patiently waited till 2013, when he launched his second venture – Catapooolt. Today Catapooolt is India’s premier crowd-funding and community engagement platform – endeavoring to bridge innovative entrepreneurial ventures with communities who may want to be part of these and support them.

1915839_402793098141_3403784_nEntrepreneurship is a true roller coaster, where each day will give you highs and lows. For example, it is extremely difficult to find your co-workers who could be sharing the same level of passion and conviction as you. I guess my drive to get into entrepreneurship was to do something more meaningful – and also work for a larger vision. Eventually… its all about persistence and that big dream that you want to live through!

– Satish Kataria, Founder and Managing Director, Catapooolt

⇒ Knowing the challenges and quickly tackling them

As an entrepreneur you are bound to face a lot of challenges – both internal and external. Some of the typical internal challenges are sustaining yourself financially in the beginning and convincing your family; external challenges include building a team that shares similar passion, finding investor partners etc.

Sumit started his professional life by joining his family business. Even though he was born with a silver spoon, family disputes forced him to quit the business at a very young age. Without any capital and financial support to fall back on, he slipped into depression. To start afresh, he had to prove his merit to a lot of people in his family. When he first had the idea of a literary company, he spent a lot of time to network with the right people in the sector. He worked very hard to get projects and ensured they were successful. Once the quick wins came in, he went back to his family, and finally convinced them to invest in his company.

As Satish adds, “…what helps an entrepreneur is your self-conviction at the end of the day. If you need a well-paying job, then the corporate set up is perfect for you. However, an entrepreneur must definitely do prudent financial planning to ensure that the family is able to run the kitchen for at least a period of next twelve months.”

Manisha, Rohit and Kunjal on the other hand, grappled with sector specific challenges at the start of their respective ventures.

For Rohit and Kunjal convincing clients for a payment fee and following up on it – when the basic investment advice in the country is free – was a huge challenge. “When I realized that cash flows are the reasons nine out of ten startups don’t succeed, I had to change myself. Regulatory factors did make it difficult and forced us to change the course of the journey. We understood the difference between the ‘price’ and ‘value’ of our financial planning discussions; which eventually helped to convince the clients to see the larger value. Now this is not as significant a challenge anymore,” he says.

Apparels being an unorganized sector, for Manisha finding and managing the pattern masters and the tailors was a herculean task. With lot of trial and error with different masters and tailors across North India, she now has a team that can produce premium quality products.

12376728_10208269672202393_2793566195623812066_nThe following qualities are must in an entrepreneur: Risk taking ability; quick decision taking capability; always ready to get your hands dirty; being optimistic and passionate about what you are doing

– Manisha Monga, Founder, D’ART STUDIO

⇒ Knowing your core strengths and what inspires you

From books, to people to incidents to your own self; entrepreneurs seek inspiration from different corners, especially if you are a social entrepreneur like me. My inspiration to start SoCHE – Solutions for Clean and Healthy Environment came when I was learning pottery.

One day while doing ‘coning’ and ‘centering’ of the clay – the very basic of pottery – I could not get right. My teacher then asked me to clear any thought off my head and try again. I realized then that the clay was responding to me exactly how I was treating it. As I became gentle and soft with it, not only did it respond to me positively; I could mould it into a beautiful shape. The same goes for environment, you respect it and it provides you enough in return – we as humans just miss this critical link and take it so much for granted.

As a sustainability professional, I was always inclined towards environment conservation; I just knew then that I have to do something bigger and more meaningful hereon to connect the missing dots. This thought finally took shape when I founded SoCHE this year. Today I tell everyone that it all begins with a thought… Soche ke to dekho!

Entrepreneurs must surround themselves with positivity to fulfil that sense of purpose undeterred. They need to know what they bring on the table honestly, their core strengths; understand the gaps and then collaborate with the right partners to build their organization, their teams, their brand, their work. At the end of the day, what ever is the nature of the enterprise, if it doesn’t bring value or a sense of gratification to the founders, it most certainly will not to the other stakeholders.

“Anita Dongre! This woman always inspires me,” says Manisha. “Queen of Prêt is how the fraternity and media addresses her. She started with supplying heavy embroidered Indian wear to boutiques of Mumbai for almost 12 years and then she decided to create her own labels, thus her company – And Designs India Limited – was born in 1998. She launched her first label AND. With her perpetual hard work and focus, today she has created so many successful brands.”

Rohit and Kunjal on the other hand have been inspired not only reading Rashmi Bansal’s books; but they also spent enough time observing various advisory models prevalent in the market. “We noticed topmost financial planners around, doing business with lot of integrity and client focus. This inspired us to stay put,” they added.

Sumit, as a freelance writer met authors Sujata Parashar and Manjiri Prabhu who saw his passion towards books and literary work and encouraged him to consider starting a venture of his own in this field. “It took me almost three months to come up with the idea of one-of-its-kind literary hub. From the beginning I had this gut feeling that this initiative will work and this is what I exactly want to do,” he says. Today, Sumit even has his first book My Chameleon Soul published.

12191677_10154280792744838_6877535607827550870_n
I was thirty-four, when I realized where my passion is and what I am
meant to do… Reading and living life of other characters fascinated me a lot. For graduation, I wanted to do English Honors but was forced to do B.A. Pass. I always wanted to become a fashion designer but ended up joining our family business…It was later when I was doing certified course in Creative Writing English, that I met several authors. Some of them became my guide, they would often share issues of the publishing world and even invite me to book launches. It was an exciting and fascinating new world for me. This was the calling I guess. I followed my gut and life came a full circle.

– Sumit Sehgal, Author and Founder, Butterfly and The Bee

⇒ Knowing the business model, taking it beyond passion

Passion for any entrepreneur is the bedrock for the start-up. You will obviously end up working on a business idea which you feel passionate about. While passion might be the raw material for the recipe, one that will also sustain you through, it is equally important to use the correct seasoning to make it a great meal finally.

“I guess two most important ingredients are a scalable business model and right team to get started. Once I could establish these and get a strong co-founder on board, I also managed to get some seed funding into the business and thus was able to kick it off,” says Satish.

Talking about his journey, Rohit recollects that it wasn’t picture perfect. “As an entrepreneur, we must figure out a viable business model. It takes couple of iterations to get this right. Being able to focus, strategize, have a tough talk, being able to say no, taking measured risks, going against the crowd are some areas I found to be critical. It was difficult for me, as an example, to be tough with clients. The pricing model has to be completely restructured. To survive, I was forced to change. Good learning, personally.”

1492249_658451424206615_995475892_oThe excel sheet business plans look good there only. Always have a Plan A, B and even C. Look out for progressive changes. Celebrate small wins. Keep achievable targets. Be strong on cost management. Focus on result-oriented spends. Keep incremental targets for recovery of spends from business. Look around to collaborate with like-minded people. This is likely to be a faster way to grow. I am sure you will be having a great product or a service. But most importantly, are you working on the right segmentation?

– Rohit Shah and Kunjal Shah, Co-founders, Getting You Rich

To conclude, being an entrepreneur is like cooking a meal, you need to know the pulse (of the market) and turn on the heat of the stove accordingly (the IDEA); let it boil for a limited duration else you might over-cook it (the INCUBATION); and finally add quality seasoning and dress it with finesse for the final presentation (the LAUNCH). In this process, take feedback as much as possible, experiment with the recipe from time to time, learn from failure and make that innovation last. For a true entrepreneur is never shy of disrupting the norm. You just need to get started!

Al Gore’s ‘sunny’ proposal to India

This blog was first published in Down To Earth in February 2015

On a warm Sunday morning in February, Nobel laureate and former US vice president Al Gore addressed a crowd of 450 participants (mostly between 25 to 35 years) in India. The three-day Climate Reality Leadership Corp, organised by Climate Reality Project, was a unique training programme with participation from over 15 nationalities. Discussions on climate change and proposed solutions for the global crisis during different sessions by Gore and 20 other eminent speakers were aimed at imparting skills to communicate the kinds of challenges and opportunities that climate change has brought about.

Having been involved with the issue of sustainable development for a decade as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) professional, I was excited to attend a talk by the climate crusader Gore whose craft in simplifying climate change is unparalleled.

Gore touched upon significant issues: sulphur rains on planet Venus, global CO2 level of 400 parts per million or ppm in 2014 (experts claim 500 ppm is a critical barrier that will define environmental impact for the next 200 years), heat waves, heavy downpours, droughts; challenges of hunger, water supply shortage and infrastructure meltdowns, among other things. His presentation that was loaded with impressive charts and graphics also touched upon global warming-led biodiversity losses.

However, his pitch on air pollution in New Delhi seemed oversimplified. His contention that burning fossil fuel to produce electricity increases air pollution is perhaps premised on his agenda to promote renewable energy. Given that most of India gets 300 days of sun per year, Gore’s pitch to make us urgently realise our full solar potential is logical, but fails to sink its teeth into the nuances of renewable energy assimilation. Solar power alone cannot arrest problems of climate change, however ambitious Prime Minister Modi’s target of 100 GW solar power by 2022 might be.

Pollution in India is not just due to fossil fuels burnt to produce electricity— fumes from vehicles, many of which are global brands, add to it too. There is also pollution due to disposal of e-waste dumped in India by developed countries like the US. Why should the urgency to address climate change push renewable energy, particularly solar, as the primary solution then?
In 2014, the US had filed a complaint against India at the World Trade Organization. The US alleged that India’s National Solar Mission discriminated against US solar equipment manufacturers as it required solar energy producers to use locally manufactured cells, and offered subsidies to those who used domestic (Indian-made) equipment. The country also alleged that forced requirements for localisation was a hurdle for US-made equipment coming to India, denying US companies a greater access to the vast Indian market of 1.2 billion people. This explains US’ interest in India’s solar journey and offers context to Gore’s appreciation of PM’s solar mission. It could well be a political-diplomatic move through generating mass consent.

It is equally interesting to note that Gore co-founded Generation Investment Management (GIM) in 2004, which he continues to chair even today. GIM’s vision is to embed sustainability in mainstream capital markets and financial investments. With funds like Global Equity, The Climate Solution, The Asia Fund, Al Gore has been accused by many critics of tapping into mass hysteria created about climate change. According to an article dated March 2013 in Forbes magazine, both Gore and his investment partner David Blood have not only emphasised on the regulatory risk of fossil fuel investment, but also aggressively worked to ensure it. It further states that between 2008 and 2011, the company had raised profits of nearly US $218 million from institutions and wealthy investors.

Ironically, while the GIM investments were to be channelised towards clean and green renewable energy, it has mostly been invested in mainstream profit-making corporations and their products that include fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), higher technology, medical instruments, among others. One of the few solar companies that the funds did initially invest into, First Solar Inc, crashed soon enough mainly due to competition from cheaper Chinese solar panels and products. This led to greater cynicism regarding investments in the sector. According to Bloomberg .com, GIM dumped its last stock of First Solar (one of US’ largest solar panel makers) at a US $165.9 million loss in 2012.

This makes one wonder if Gore’s campaign for solar energy in India is also backed by business motivations. Two days after the Delhi event, First Solar Inc announced its plans to set up a manufacturing unit in India for its thin-film modules. The capacity is expected to be 5GW in next five years. Following this SunEdison, a rival of First Solar, also announced that it would build the largest Photo Voltaic (PV) factory in India. Sure solar investments are good for India, but only with local context plugged into it.

Further, as per International Energy Agency, India’s energy demand by 2040 will be 15 per cent below European Union (EU), but the needed power output will exceed that of EU, due to transmission and distribution losses (if we continue as per current trends). Solar and wind could thus provide an answer to some of these predicaments and help decentralise energy demand. However, how much of this actually takes off in terms of operational and cost efficiencies remains to be seen.

In the seminar, Gore noted that Germany generates 37 per cent of its daily electricity from wind and solar, and that analysts predict that the number will rise to 50 per cent by 2020. What he did not point out was that German households pay the second highest power costs in Europe, as much as 30 per cent more than other Europeans. The German industrial electricity prices have also doubled as a result of rising surcharges due to the expansion of renewable energy, The Economist suggests. Unless renewable energy subsidies try to contain these spiraling costs, even countries like Germany will find it difficult to balance costs with energy consumption.

There were several other local aspects around the climate change discourse that did not find much place in Gore’s argument. Climate  change adaptation (especially for the poor), role of local techniques such as watershed management in curbing water run offs from heavy downpours, climate change impact on gender and the need for disaster management in case of an eventuality needed much more attention.

In his dramatic closing remarks, Gore suggested that we all must advocate, speak up and win all conversations related to climate reality, hoping that this builds pressure on governments and people to act on the issue urgently. While India strives to deliver on some these promises, the complete truth of climate reality remains (in)conveniently under wraps.

10 Years, 10 Lessons

In 2005 I started my professional life. Ten years later I knew it was time to call it quits, not my profession but my job.

Its been ten days today of not waking up to a 10 am to 6.30 pm routine, but to a renewed sense of purpose and commitment. Sounds like a dream! In these ten days I have been working non-stop, more than ever, to start a social venture to mainstream upliftment of traditional artisans. My previous experience of working for social and environment development propelled me in this direction.

While I am set on my new path, every evening I sit with a cup of tea and reflect upon the lessons I have learnt as a professional thus far. These are important lessons that will lay the foundation for the value I must create going forward, first for myself and then for those around me – be it people who will work with me, or for whom I will work.

  • Lesson 1: There is always time to breathe

Life is not about chasing deadlines. It is important to take a moment, breathe, feel what you are doing and make amends wherever necessary. Neither will the passing time nor approaching moment come again. Work a lot, but not at the expense of going out for a coffee date with your best friend, seeing your child perform in school, holding hands with your spouse, pursuing a hobby or simply eating a meal with your family. There is no work pressure that is more important than your need to ‘live’ life. Your job helps you survive, the value you create around you is imperative for you to stay alive.

‎”Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman

  • Lesson 2: Appreciation is beyond people and project milestones

My lessons here have been twofold. One, a colleague (senior or peer) who cannot appreciate you the first time, will never genuinely mean it otherwise. Genuine appreciation is not loud. It is just appreciative. Two, if you know your own worth and are true to your work, you would not need fake endorsement. True appreciation will find its way, if not in the confines of your office, then outside among the larger audience – be it your business circle, among your peers or just your customers and project beneficiaries. This appreciation (or even criticism) is what matters and you should strive to seek.

“I’ve learnt that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

  • Lesson 3: Projection only diminishes the chance to really improve in the bigger journey of life

There will always be colleagues who believe in self-projection. It is a good thing, as long as you ‘do’ and then project. For those who project themselves as suave doers without actually working, only breed negativity in the team. They might win the battles, from one appraisal to another with their charm; but in the lengthy war of professional life, their laziness and inability to do hard work will hold them back. They will stand to be exposed and loose out on the real merit of erudition. Surround yourself therefore with the doers and achievers so that you learn from their knowledge and insight.

“The things we see are the same things that are within us. There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.” ~ Herman Hesse

  • Lesson 4: Genuineness is naked

There are always genuine colleagues and professional allies wishing you well and converging to collaborate meaningfully with you. Invest in them, they help you grow as a person. At the same time spot the ingenuity around you and keep it at bay. The one who is superficial will always over-do it, will tell you lots of stories, will try very hard to win you over, will show off his/her limited knowledge, will be full of artificiality and pride.

“Have more than you show, speak less than you know.” ~ William Shakespeare

  • Lesson 5: Real leader goes beyond seeking consensus of others, listens, shares credit, rectifies team mistakes, commemorates

Being a boss doesn’t make one a leader. Leadership is a journey, one that might need mentoring and coaching too. Natural leaders know how to propel a team, understand the importance of listening, have a spine to take decisions and live through them, celebrate victories (big or small) of the team and reflect together on failures. Most of the times this growth is possible if there is a meaningful inward journey first, which then radiates outwards and inspires others. Inspiration is not plain talk, it is an emotion, a feeling, a real game changer. You either have it or not. Find the leader who inspires you and stick to them. He/ she will transform something in you magically.

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” ~ Arnold Glasow

  • Lesson 6: It is give and take in professional world, be aware and time it well

Invest your time and effort into an organization that invests equally back into you. You might end up spending the prime of your youth or even your lifetime in a company. Think about it, choose wisely, be aware of your path. The day you know you can no longer learn in that organization or that team, move on. Find a new challenge and a new goal. Time is of real essence in life. Take charge.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

  • Lesson 7: You got to negotiate for yourself; find your sponsor and mentor

This is one of the best lesson I have learnt. We all need to know how to lean in, especially if you are a woman. There will be a mentor that you might find outside of your organization who will be the professional guru you solicit; however, within your organization you need to know who will be your ‘sponsor’ or the one who helps you grow and pitches for you at the right places. This person may or may not be your boss, he/ she could be your super boss, or even a colleague in senior role. Find him/ her. This person will believe in your capabilities, appreciate you, coach you and will help you realize your ambition.

“Believe in yourself and negotiate for yourself. Own your own success.” ~ Sheryl Sandberg

  • Lesson 8: Cooperate, Collaborate, Celebrate

If you have an idea, talk to people. Get feedback and follow your instinct. Identify the right people to collaborate with. Join hands, replicate your idea, celebrate, share your success, and remember what worked for you and what did not. Make notes and create a journal, if you must. If you have a team that does not cooperate and collaborate with you, or a boss who cannot celebrate your success, then work towards building a team that does. Be part of a team that adds value to you in the end and vice-versa.

“Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” ~ Robert John Meehan

  • Lesson 9: Have a dream and work very hard

Yes, of course it is all right to have a dream, most amazing people we know, clearly knew where they wanted to reach. Once you set your eye to your goal, work very hard to get there. Turn a deaf ear to the ones who ‘blame’ you for being ambitious. Smile for they know not that even Gandhi sounded ambitious when he spoke of “freedom” in the 1930s. Greatness starts with a dream, provided it is shared with others. So work hard, for there will never be a shortcut to achieve it.

“You have to dream before your dream can come true.” ~ APJ Abjul Kalam

  • Lesson 10: Stay humble, stay grounded

There will be highs and lows all throughout. There will be people who will inspire you, be happy for you, encourage you. There will also be those who will challenge you, envy you, show you down. One day your appraisal will be good, another day your project will fail. In the end none of this will matter. What will matter is what you make of it. Know your character, be classy, do not forget what your ‘onlyness’ is all about – the uniqueness in that team which only you bring and no body else can replicate. Earn respect for who you are, not what others make you out to be.

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” ~ Thomas Merton

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” ~ John Q. Adams

Shifting Paradigm of Gender

Discussing gender issues in today’s context is not that simple. If you are a woman who speaks her mind, you get labeled as a feminist before you even realize it. While there is nothing wrong with the label, however, the connotation is suspect. Being a feminist should not be equated with a person running an anti-men agenda. Feminism is only about equality between men and women which is relevant even today. Started as a movement for equal rights to vote, work, have bank accounts; today translates to encouraging women with equal opportunity at workplace and within her unique social and legal structures… which many a times becomes a quest for plain survival.

The Real Survivor

How many of us are aware that in any disaster globally women and children are 14 times more prone to dying than men, especially if poor? This vulnerability is mostly due to lack of access to equal opportunity for women within the social boundaries. Let us take an example. During the 2011 Bangladesh floods, more number of women were reported to have died than men. This was mostly so, as culturally women did not know how to swim. The women neither had the strength to pull themselves through the flood, nor the will to survive in the absence of losing sight of their loved ones.

Social structures till date deny women the equal window to explore how she can adapt to extreme situations and become self-reliant. Sacrifice as a virtue is deeply embedded in our society for women, either through social conditioning or natural instinct.

Statistics also show that till date women across South Asia tend to have less access to formal financial institutions or saving mechanisms. This gap also means that women do not have the economic freedom or flexibility to invest back into their homes and society. When a woman controls household income or earns herself, she invests more in her children. These paradigms thus need to change and financial inclusion for women needs to be mainstreamed much more, especially given the unpaid nature of her labour. Let us explore this more.

Working Woman

Irrespective of whether a woman is formally employed or not, she is constantly at work without any pay. She directly or indirectly continues to contribute to the economy all the time – from taking care of her family, doing household work to the reproductive duties that she naturally performs. It is indeed real labour which she is ‘expected’ to carry out diligently.

A UN study in 2008 across six countries of gender contributions to unpaid care work (at home) found, “…the mean time spent on unpaid care work by women is more than twice that for men. In India, the gap is greatest, with women spending almost ten times more time than men on unpaid care work. It is this type of unpaid labour that enables healthy, educated, and rested employees to come to work each day.

The quest is even greater for formally employed or “working women” as they further need to balance their home and profession. This question, however, seldom arises for a working man. He works while he is in office, when at home he may or may not contribute to the domestic chores; but for a woman she must necessarily “balance.” The absence of which subjects her to enormous amount of self or societal guilt. In the European Union for example, 25 per cent of women report care and other family and personal responsibilities as the reason for not being in the labour force, versus only three per cent of men.

This toil and labour – serving both the productive and reproductive duties – however, may not necessarily get reflected in her pay compensations or in the facilities to help her juggle such duties. In fact, in many cases she may be paid less for the same amount of work that she does when compared to men in the same organisation. Women in most countries earn on an average only 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages.

The Greater Balance

Recognizing the strong potential of women and providing them with enabling environment to work can help achieve a wide range of development, societal and economic objectives. Sustainable development will thus have to find its foundation in gender equality in the long run. This can only happen when we work together – both men and women.

Women’s economic equality is also good for business. Companies greatly benefit from increasing leadership opportunities for women, which is shown to increase organizational effectiveness. It is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organizational effectiveness.

While a corporation may have policies and procedures to mainstream such women empowerment, it can not be left to them alone. Every individual has an important role to play. We need to be conscious and careful of the way we treat and view our women in society – as wives, daughters, and mothers and as colleagues. For us, our families and the economy to be functioning at its potential, gender dynamics need to be viewed not in isolation but in context of the changing face of the globe. After all it is not a woman’s issue alone, it impacts all of us.

Feminism thus is not a shield but an enabler in this direction. It should not be used as label to bring women down or to type cast them. Feminism is a celebration of gender equality and one that every man and woman needs to collaborate on. She is a feminist because she knows her worth. She is a feminist because she knows how to stand for herself and become self-reliant. She is a feminist because she enables economies at large and encourages many more women to realize their true potential. She is a feminist because she is equal.