Archive for April, 2009

Scaling up in “The Many Indias”

April 24, 2009

‘India is merely a geographical expression. It is no more a single country than the equator’- Winston Churchill

Had I read this quote five months ago, I would have not understood what it meant. But after living, traveling and working in India for exactly that long, I can say that Winston Churchill was exactly right. In India, like in any other large country as the US or Mexico, I expected to find some regional differences in people’s tastes for food or music, their accent, dress code, etc. In my mind, these differences give countries their character and do not have major consequences for business other than the opportunity to bring in some variety to the portfolio of products or services. In India, however, regional differences go FAR beyond the ones I just described. For this reason many authors to talk not about one country but “the many Indias”.

For an enterprise trying to do business across the Indian territory, it is critical to be aware of all the nuances of “the many Indias”. Allow me to illustrate what I mean by this using AyurVAID: Hospitals, the organization I am working in, as an example.

AyurVAID: Hospitals is a local business with the mission of providing high quality, affordable Ayurveda (India’s traditional system of medicine) treatment for chronic illnesses across all socio-economic segments and across India (and some day abroad). In line with this vision, AyurVAID: Hospitals opened six small to medium sized hospitals in three neighboring states: two hospitals in Kerala, three in Karnataka and one in Maharastra. The hospitals are located in urban areas and three of them in the big cities of Mumbai and Bangalore.
At first glance AyurVAID: Hospitals’ strategy of expansion seems very straightforward, but in practice things are let’s say a bit more….complicated. Here is how:

Language– At each location, all sign boards and advertising material have to be translated into at least 2 different languages (English + local language) and 4 in the case of Mumbai (high immigrant population). Our doctors need to speak 2 to 3 languages to communicate with patients, English to communicate with the management and international partners, and Malayalam, the language of Kerala, to speak with the staff.

Human resources– The roots of the Ayurveda system of medicine can be traced back to the state of Kerala. Although today Ayurvedic Medical Colleges train doctors across the country, training institutions for therapists are still highly concentrated in Kerala. Hence, hiring locally becomes a difficult task and most of the therapists have to be relocated from Kerala to other states. Then again, most people in Kerala have a strong affinity for their state and prefer not to leave it.
Systems of medicine– Whereas in other parts of the world, Allopathic or “Western Medicine” is the norm, in India, patients have many other well established options to consider like Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Allopathy and Unani. In competing with these different options, public awareness about Ayurveda is a big challenge. If we take allopathic medicine as an example, most people today know what to expect when they go to a doctor, to a hospital or understand if someone says they need a “dialysis”. On the other hand, Ayurveda means a variety of things to different people, particularly as the distance from Kerala increases. To test this last point, I decided to interview people in the streets and hotels of Kerala (to get some out of state opinions) and asked them one simple question….Observe.

All of these factors make the business at AyurVAID: Hospitals challenging and exciting! One success factor as we continue to grow and do business in “the many Indias” will be to strike the right balance between standardization and customization of our services.

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Women Please…

April 21, 2009

Nothing is simple…

Of course the challenges are numerous for recruiting women to be a Drishtee Health Franchisees (DHF). They include anything from simply her husband said no or maybe it was her mother-in-law. Her family doesn’t want her to travel the 20km to the partner hospital for training or for her to be for a week. The license fee to be a franchisee is too high for the family or there is a lack of employment/savings. Gossipers in the village discourage her joining or the local quack spreads rumors.

In a rural culture, where women are often not formally employed, they are caretakers and homemakers within their own houses and extended families. They are often not allowed to leave the house or the village without permission and their role is to stay at home and take care of the well being of their children, husband and elders. Within in it all, there are women and families who do decide to become part of the Drishtee network. Some basic reasons are: economic need, community standing or a familiarity/desire to do the work.

It is these women that Drishtee looks to find and recruit into their micro-franchising health model.

Watch the video to see why!

A Day in My Life: Farmer Interviews

April 20, 2009

It is critical that any social enterprise have a deep understanding of the customer it is trying to serve. At Micro Drip, we conduct in-depth farmer interviews using various techniques in order to understand the particular farmer’s circumstances along with how he makes decisions. Many thanks to IDEO for their Human Centered Design Toolkit which served as a guide for our work.

Useful , Free and Cool Applications from Google

April 15, 2009

The company where I presently work as an Acumen Fund Fellow, Global Easy Water Products (GEWP) is a start-up with 25 odd employees distributed in four different cities of India. Our company is a product based company in the irrigation space and there is a daily, massive churn of material at our 4 locations. Information about this churn is chronicled in Excel and the corresponding spreadsheet is emailed everyday. Keeping track of all this information is a huge challenge.

Recently, we switched our modus operandi and started using shared spreadsheets on Google Docs. This has made a huge difference to our operational efficiency. There are no more swarms of daily emails, just a link that employees can bookmark and access whenever they need to.

Another cool, free feature is the Indic transliteration application. This is how it works : You type a Hindi word in English , for e.g, chai , hit the space bar, and watch as the text is converted to the Indian script, चाय.

We recently drafted a document in English and then realized that we should switch to Marathi for clarity and effectiveness. One of our employees, typed up the survey in English and then had it transliterated to Marathi in less than an hour. We saved money and more importantly time and now have the option of transliterating to four other languages.

Finally, files in Google Docs can be converted to the PDF format for free. Save $$ on Acrobat License fees.

Start-ups often need cost effective, productive and easy-to-use solutions that can be implemented immediately to bring some order to their operations. Some of these web-based applications, might just do the trick until the time to invest in more sophisticated solutions arrives!

Have you seen any other cool applications?

“Living” Social Enterprise

April 3, 2009

Many of us are working at social enterprises that have won multiple awards for the impact they are having in the world and the innovative idea that drove them to assist in the ever existing fight against poverty. The terminology used to describe social enterprises and social entrepreneurs by default indicates and assumes that the business will be socially oriented.

When I review such awards, mounted on the wall, or listed out by name and year in pamphlets, I wonder about the social “insides” of the company and the transferable nature of such ideals into the inner workings of the business.

I often ask myself: Are they living social enterprise? Are employees treated fairly, with the same sense of social awareness and concern? Does the management & leadership style of the management team reflect such values?

In reality, I assume that many enterprises have not yet found this balance. Is it possible to take the social agenda that these enterprises are trying to meet on a daily basis with their target clients into the company? Can a business be labeled social enterprise if both sides of the coin are not met? Some might argue it is more about getting the work in the field done as fast and quickly as possible that’s  most important.

Does living social enterprise matter? Should it matter?