Walkabout

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Yesterday, we ran an eye camp in Mangzunuru, a village of about 5,000 people.  It wasn’t a great day – The Sarpanch (village president) hadn’t shown up to endorse it.  Business started off slow and got slower around 11 AM.  I asked Rama Devi, one of the Vision Entrepreneurs, if she wanted to take a walk around to see if we couldn’t find some more prospective customers (35-55 year-olds).  She is by far the top performing salesperson in the district – She outsells by a factor of 3:1.  After spending a few minutes listening to her, you can tell why. 

Rama Devi grabbed a stack of flyers and a pair of reading glasses for show, and we set out.  It was hot.  Going from door to door, she ambles up to small groups and gave her pitch.  The approach varied, but she was consistently personable and authoritative.  Unlike the flyer-hander-outers of New York, she invested minutes in every person she talked to, carefully explaining the details of the service.  While target customers are relatively easy to spot by age, they certainly weren’t eager to accept what she had to say.  The degree of skepticism was alarming.  I was facinated by the variety of suspicions and misconceptions launched at her:

“You aren’t doctors – how are you qualified to check people’s eyes?”
“You are working for a government program and are trying to charge for glasses that should be free.”
“Do you represent a Christian organization?  Why are you trying to change our village?”
“Reading glasses caused these dark circles under my eyes.”
“Wearing glasses makes your eyes roll back into your head.”

I stood there stymied, while Rama Devi handled these grenades with mental judo.  She’s heard them all before.  “This is for everyone.  You can come get screened for free,” she said.  “No obligation so why not come check?  We’re not affiliated with any political party or religious organization.  These are high quality glasses and will not damage your eyes.  We bring them right to your doorstep; otherwise you would have to travel far away and spend more money.  They are just for reading so you don’t need a prescription.  We have been trained to screen your eyes for this simple problem – for more complex problems we can refer you to a hospital.”

Along the way, I asked, “How do you decide who to give one of your flyers to?”

“I can just tell by the way they act when I start talking to them.”  Soft skills like Rama Devi’s are hard to find.

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One Response to “Walkabout”

  1. Harish Says:

    The first 3 objections are perfectly valid. In fact, the first one happens too often. NGOs get quacks or doctors with questionable credentials to operate on poor ppl and the rest is not their concern.

    Their response to such incidents is like “in the name of the bigger good”. To them 1 out of 100 is a statistical anomaly. What a load of BS.

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