Author Archive

Celebrating Mother’s Day at LifeSpring Hospital

May 17, 2008

To celebrate Mother’s Day, LifeSpring Hospital held its first health fair last Sunday, providing free check-ups, health education, and fun activities to local women and their families.  The women’s and children’s hospital was decked out with Mother’s Day signs, balloons, and streamers, which matched well with all the smiles from our staff and customers. 

We provided free vaccinations to children, as well as free ante-natal checkups to mothers-to-be.  Upstairs, our nurses and outreach workers manned the health fair, which consisted of general check-ups, health education around women’s health issues (including maternity and diabetes), and children’s games.

By far, the biggest hit of the event was the “portrait studio” and the free family pictures we provided our guests.  John (aka photographer extraordinaire) gave a preview of this in the previous blog entry.  Passionate volunteers were out in full force, taking family photographs, being on baby smile patrol, printing pictures, and making sure everyone was having fun (Thank you Sarah, John, Tyler, Eleonora, Theresa, and Aparna!)

While we tend to take baby pictures for granted, these are beyond the reach for many of LifeSpring’s customers.  I’m sure these pictures will be prominently displayed in their homes for years to come.  With the LifeSpring logo attached to them, this is an example of a marketing initiative that reinforces the LifeSpring brand and delights our customers.  With over 500 photographs taken, that’s a lot of smiles!

Advertisements

Why do you want to be a millionaire?

January 21, 2008

 

The “Motley Fool” recently published a poll asking: “Why do you want to be a millionaire?” With over 10,000 people voting, 20% answered: “So I can make a difference in this world.” This was one of the most popular reasons, second only to “So I can be financially secure.”

It definitely makes one wonder at the mental models we’ve created for ourselves (or “mental prisons,” as John calls them). People tend to see “making a difference” as something linear — make one’s fortune first, then start a foundation a la Bill Gates or Jeff Skoll. And while that’s certainly one model that’s generating much good and impact in this world, that’s certainly not the only one.

My friend, Chris Miller, reads the Motley Fool poll as an incredible entrepreneurial opportunity in international development. I couldn’t agree more! As he points out, the question is, how can all these people be given an opportunity to make a difference in a way they will respond to?

Being here in India has helped me realize that one of the greatest barriers to scaling up is NOT lack of money. The money is there, just waiting to back up incredible ideas that will change the world. Rather, some of the greatest barriers I see is talent, especially as an organization scales up. In social enterprises, there is an assumption that the entrepreneur and management are motivated by more than just money. But for the ayah or receptionist, a job at a social enterprise often becomes like any other job — a means to feed her family.

Or for would-be social entrepreneurs, perhaps the greatest barrier is something more intrinsic. It’s like the sign that hangs in LifeSpring’s corporate office: “The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.”

Inner Voice

January 14, 2008

A group of Columbia Business School students just arrived in Hyderabad and are visiting LifeSpring Hospital tomorrow. Having drinks with them last night and hearing about job interviews brought me back a year…going through consulting interviews, applying for the Acumen Fellowship. I nearly made myself (and probably everyone around me!) crazy assessing next steps: whether to do international development work immediately, or go back to the private sector first to gain more skills. For business school students interested in social enterprise, this seems to be a constant question. And of course, in the end, there’s no one right answer. For me, the key was getting rid of the “should’s” and following through on what I really wanted to do.

It’s like this quotation by Steve Jobs:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Looking Within

December 31, 2007

As 2007 draws to a close tonight, I reflect back on my SIPA graduation last May, which already feels ages ago.  I still remember the Dean’s parting words:

“I hope your life is truly satisfying, but that you are never fully satisfied…

May you take great risks to do what is right…

May you be accepting without being complacent…

And above all, before you go out and make the world a better place, may you have the wisdom to first look within and start with yourself.”

And I guess that’s what New Years is all about — a time for reflection, deeper introspection, and hopeful resolutions.  One of the best parts of Acumen Fellows training was the time to reflect on the difficult questions we each must answer for ourselves: How much is enough?  Why am I doing what I’m doing?  What do I want my legacy to be?

And while I still don’t have all the answers, it’s amazing how much of an impact only a month and a half in the field has made on my worldviews and life goals.  I already can’t wait until the Skoll Conference in March to revisit these questions with the other Fellows.

Happy 2008 to everyone!

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

December 24, 2007

  

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through our flat,
Tons of creatures a-stirring, but at least not a rat;

The stockings are hung outside our rooms with great care,
Gifts FedEx’ed from home, since I cannot be there;

Four Acumen fellows sleep tight in their beds,
While visions of winter dance in their heads;

Spending Christmas in Hyderabad, where it’s warm as can be,
Sharing stories of the fellowship for each other to see;

‘Tis the season for everything, not just Christmas here,
There’s Eid and Hindu festivals — general seasonal cheer;

And while it’s sad to be far this holiday season,
We’re being exposed to new cultures and traditions;

From New York we have scattered all over the land,
To Nairobi and Mumbai; Hyderabad; Pakistan.

And no matter what religion each of us individually follow,
We all reflect with joyful hope for a better tomorrow;

So to our friends and our family all over the earth,
Happy Holidays to all – lots of merriment and mirth!

Your Feedback Matters to Us

December 10, 2007

Along with auto-rickshaws, the customer feedback form has become another ubiquitous feature of Hyderabad. This weekend alone, I was asked to complete three customer feedback forms. You know the type: on a scale of 1 to 5, how satisfied are you with the service, decor, range of products, etc.

While I appreciate the strategic customer focus that these forms imply, I can’t help but wonder: (1) are they actually collecting any meaningful insights from this data? and (2) can these forms do more harm than good for customer satisfaction? We all know that these forms are usually no fun to fill out and often come at the most inopportune times.

And here’s the “so what?” to all of this:

A huge part of my project is helping LifeSpring better understand their customers — the low-income women who give birth in their hospitals. What do they see as quality? How do they view the hospital?

LifeSpring already has quite a few initiatives in place: a feedback form for customers, a customer comment and complaint log at the hospital…For women who do not complete feedback forms, someone from LifeSpring calls to follow-up. LifeSpring takes its commitment to customer satisfaction seriously; last week, I sat in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) meeting, while each customer complaint or comment was read, analyzed to find its root cause, and discussed to find a resolution.

Yet we are looking for ways to do this better. Feedback forms are intrinsically limited — not only for the reasons cited above, but also because many of LifeSpring’s customers are illiterate. Focus groups provide another option — but these are timely and difficult to scale up as LifeSpring grows.

So I’m throwing the question out to you all, because “your feedback matters to us”. Seriously though. What ideas do you have for us to collect meaningful and action-oriented feedback from our customers?

99.9% Identical

December 6, 2007

The woman looks at the bag, a bit unsure of its contents. Slowly and almost hesitantly, she opens it up, and a huge smile sweeps over her face. Inside is a pink baby gown and a soft baby cloth to wrap her newborn in – a gift from the hospital.

I am at LifeSpring (www.lifespring.in), where I will be working for the next nine months (a time period not lost on someone now working at a maternity hospital!) I’ve spent the last few days completely immersed in its operations: sitting with the doctor as she consults with each woman…sitting in the ultrasound room, watching images of unborn babies on the tiny square screen…sitting with pediatricians as they vaccinate dozens of children…sitting with customers in the waiting room…and easily the best part: watching the customers leave the hospital, healthy new addition in tow!

In the last blog post, Catherine brought up Harvard’s Commencement speech. I am reminded of this year’s other speaker. Bill Clinton commented that: “Human beings, with their three billion genomes, are 99.9 percent identical genetically…Don’t you think it’s interesting that [we]…spend 90 percent of our lives thinking about that one-tenth of one percent?”

Sure, the cultural practices around childbirth may differ around the world. I watch fascinated, as family members circle the new mother’s head with a coconut…then the baby’s head…then break the coconut on the ground before leaving hospital grounds.

But there’s nothing like holding a LifeSpring baby to remind me how similar and connected we all are. Indeed, I am reminded of something Jacqueline Novogratz said before the fellows left: “We all want the same thing – a life full of meaning, a life full of purpose, a life full of dignity.”

The Hard Questions

November 29, 2007

I literally jump back. “Good God,” I think, “those are BODIES!!” It’s 11pm and I’ve just arrived home from work. I sleepily stumble into my building complex, entering the parking garage on my way to the stairs. I see what I presume to be bags, maybe trash even – I’m honestly not paying much attention. Movement!! I realize two people are sleeping on the garage floor of my building, covered with sheets. Is this the guard I see every morning, smiling with his young son often nestled between his knees, who sheepishly waves hello and goodbye to me as I pass? The bodies are stirring, and I don’t want to wake them. So I rush up the stairs, tip-toeing all the way up.

I have a sick knot in my stomach; this is not right. People should not be sleeping on the garage floor. So what should be done? Some people would say that this man is making money; at least he has a job. And if you merely just found a place for him and his son to sleep, what is that really solving long-term? There are thousands of others like them. Working in luxury buildings. Sleeping on nearby floors.

And that’s when it hits me. Parallel worlds of rich and poor clearly exist in all cities. But they’re much more hidden and separate in Western ones. New York, obviously, has its share of homeless and low-income residents. But most people don’t literally step over them once they’re home – maybe they pass them on the nearby street corner or give quarters to them on the subway. But home is home. A solace and refuge. Not a place where you have to confront the hypocrisies of your own life on a daily basis. Somewhere out there, you know there are people starving and people sleeping on concrete floors. But they’re hidden from immediate view.

In my first couple of weeks in Hyderabad, the hard questions keep coming. How “nice” of a place should I be living in? Should I live near work or should I live someplace farther that’s quieter and more comfortable? I think about Jon’s blog and absolutely agree – there’s something perverse about living in such a way as to claim “I’ve lived with the poor” – as if we could ever really understand what their lives are like.

Then there are the beggars on my way to and from work, reaching their hands into my auto-rickshaw. What do I do? Like in NY, I give them my food if I have any. But I don’t give them money. Generally. Because that’s not sustainable and is just encouraging begging. But what if it’s a child? My heart says one thing, but my brain says another: giving money is just reinforcing the fact that they’re begging in the first place – and not in school. But he’s just a child! What if it’s a woman, and that woman is carrying a baby in her arms? Then what? I’m here to work at a maternity hospital, and my work with LifeSpring is incredibly meaningful. But what about outside of work? How much should I be giving? – of my money, of my time, of my energy? How much is enough?

And so I’m learning that the hard questions begin now. These are the same questions I thought I had already worked through in my head. But now I’m away from the ivory towers of academia and the nestled safe-haven that the Fellows created with Jacqueline, Deepti, and Jesse in the Berkshires.

This is India, where everything is in your face and nothing is hidden from sight.

My Secret

November 28, 2007

I have a confession…I’ve become a rickshaw peeper. I can’t help it. Were it not for the “dust” (which is basically just a euphemism for all the who-knows-what that’s in the air!), riding an auto-rickshaw would be a videographer’s dream – seeing and capturing all sorts of wonders as you zip and zag through the city, with no glass screen between you and urban life.

So what’s a rickshaw peeper, you ask? Well, just what it sounds like. I love looking at people inside their auto-rickshaws! At times, this does seem quite peeper-esque, as I sometimes find myself staring longer than what’s considered polite. It’s just a glimpse. And just for a second. One of you is always on the go. And the fun is, you just never know what you’ll see! All sorts of unexpected gems of life.

Still not convinced? Let me take you along on this morning’s ride. I am driving through the Muslim quarter of Charminar when I see an auto-rickshaw. One of hundreds (thousands) like it in the city. But inside, an endearing surprise: six children (toddlers, really – the oldest couldn’t be more than 5 years old), sitting side-by-side in the back, laughing hysterically. No adult in sight, save for the rickshaw driver himself. Are they going to “Famous Ice Cream” nearby?, I wonder. The giddy crowdedness of that rickshaw is contrasted by the next one I see, directly behind it. Seated within is a young woman dressed in a black burka – everything covered except her eyes, which are gazing with intent seriousness at something faraway, out in the distance. Next behind that rickshaw is an extremely old couple – they must be about 70 or 80 years old. What remarkable changes they must’ve witnessed in this city, where a few decades ago, the poshest part of town was literally still a jungle! Following them are two Indian women with elaborately designed and brightly-colored saris – one sari is bright red and orange, quite resembling a sunset; while the other is purple with sequins. Later on comes a sight that’s incredible to witness: a rickshaw full of at least eight people, feet dangling outside! – just like a circus clown car. You can see how this can be addicting, right?

And so it goes. Seeing the world with new eyes and finding the connection that bridges us all — which is largely what this year is about. I’m realizing how much can be learned by just opening my eyes to what’s out in front of me.

Adventures in Telugu

November 20, 2007

Ramo gave me my first Telugu lesson over the weekend, and it confirmed what I already suspected: It is a darn hard language to learn!!  “Thank you” has six syllables (“dahn-ya wa-da moo-loo”, with the accent on the “loo”) and took me about ten tries before Ramo stopped smirking.  “Bah-goo-nah-vah” is hello…I may stick to waving my hand and smiling, for the time being at least.  When I later heard from Hindi speakers that even they have difficulties learning Telugu, I wasn’t sure whether to feel better or worse.

As I’m learning, everything is an adventure in Hyderabad.  Getting a sim card for my mobile phone took half a day, as I went from kiosk to kiosk around the city – only to be told that (a) I needed an Indian passport; (b) if I didn’t have an Indian passport, at the very least I needed someone with an Indian passport to vouch for me.  As I’ve come to learn, if I don’t like an answer, I should keep searching until I like the one I’m given.  Even then, the process of getting a sim card has become my first lesson in Indian bureaucracy.  Although it’s a fully pre-paid card, I had to give them copies of my passport, copies of a passport picture, and verification of my local address—all of which had to be signed multiple times and stored away for future reference!  But now that I have a local mobile number and a local bank account, I’m well on my way to feeling like a true local…as much as possible, anyway.  While I definitely don’t feel at home here yet, I don’t feel like a tourist either.  Hey, it’s a start.