Archive for the ‘Karthik Janakiraman’ Category

Rural Transformation

August 11, 2009

Sudheendra Kulkarni, an op-ed contributor to the Indian Express, recently wrote an article on the transformation of a village in Central Maharashtra. The method used by the villagers and their leader, Mr.Pawar to effect this change makes for interesting reading. Here is the link to the article.

This “Adarsh Gram” (ideal village) maybe one of a kind, but is a clear example of what is possible in India.


The Fellowship Experience – Beyond the Work

June 6, 2009

In the 1999 cult movie, “Being John Malkovich”, the main protagonist essayed by John Cusack, discovers a portal into the mind of John Malkovich, a celebrated actor who plays himself. Once inside the portal, Cusack has access to all of Malkovich’s thoughts and you can imagine the hilarious twists and turns that ensue. One of the most intriguing scenes in the movie is when Malkovich enters the portal himself.

Just like Malkovich, living life as an Acumen fellow, has given me the opportunity to visit a portal………my own!! This is an unexpected benefit, as I accepted the fellowship with an objective to explore the world of social enterprises and also to utilize the skills I have acquired for a greater good.

Prior to the fellowship, I lived life at a frenetic pace. My blackberry was an extension of my mind and body and I juggled the demands of a successful career, marriage and fatherhood. I moved so fast, that I never really took time out of my day or week or month to critically think about my life. I wasn’t unhappy, but felt emptiness. I knew that I had to change something and the fellowship was a great opportunity to experiment.

I now live alone in a small town in India devoid of television, internet access and social interactions. Don’t pity me. This self-imposed isolation has given me the time to think about my life, future and the role that I want to play in society.  I have had the time to think about details such as my prejudices, hypocrisies, bad habits and weaknesses in behavior and thought. The challenge, as adults are as stubborn as mules, is to use the knowledge gained (which is half the battle) from introspection to improve myself.

You might have noticed that words like, “my” and “I” appear often in previous paragraphs. Yes, this is, and has been a selfish journey. And it has come at a cost. My wife and 3 year old daughter have lived without me for 8 months and it has been tougher than expected. Buckets of tears have been shed. Earlier this week, my daughter Kavya, found an expired drivers license of mine and the photo reminded her of her missing daddy. This reminder then triggered an episode of non-stop sobbing that lasted a whole day.

With a few months left to go in India, I eagerly look forward to being reunited with my family and sincerely hope that the investment I have made in myself will yield a positive return on our lives. I also intend to rearrange my professional priorities in such a way that I help build a better, more equitable society with a greater sense of purpose and vigor.

You probably don’t have to spend a year in a foreign country or away from family to enter your own portal. However, if you are naturally confused, hard-headed and slow to understand stuff, much like myself, I highly recommend it!

The Hype Curve

May 28, 2009


The research firm Gartner developed the curve above, nicknamed the hype curve, to describe the lifecycle of technology product adoptions. The words at different points on the curve can be used to describe the feelings of  users as they get acquainted with the product/service.

Curiously enough, most of the stuff I do and the way I feel about them fits this basic curve (just ignore the tech words). For e.g my current thoughts on the social enterprise sector or my current job lie at some point on the curve.

Most importantly, it is a reminder that thoughts and feelings are transient by nature and that eventually equilibrium is reached, where expectations and reality are in sync.

Popsicles and Drip Irrigation

February 27, 2009

The 3 months that I have spent so far in the world of low cost drip irrigation has been educational. In this video, I share with you a little bit of the history, manufacturing and impact of affordable drip irrigation.

On Corruption Part-I

December 15, 2008

One fall evening in New York City, a small group of Acumen 2009 fellows got together at a small restaurant called the Istanbul Grill. The conversation quickly turned controversial (ice cold beers loosened our tongues) as the group discussed the multi-layered issue of corruption. Here is a brief recap for you.

Our class is composed of people from different parts of the world and we started off by contrasting the prevalence of corruption from the point of view of a common man. In India and Pakistan, corruption exists in all strata of society and is in your face. However in the US, one often hears about corruption only in high office or at very senior levels in corporations. An average American can live his life without actually ever offering someone a bribe.

Some of the fellows opined that bribery in India was a kind of efficiency tax and that most enterprises had factored this into their cost of operations. Others stated that bribes, regardless of scale, were immoral and should not be tolerated.

Things got interesting when we discussed gray areas. Let’s say, your company in India, frequently imports and exports raw materials and finished goods. To navigate the maze of export/import regulations and to save time, most companies hire clearing and forwarding agents. These agents charge a fee for handling paperwork, customs etc in order to get your product through the docks. The transaction is straightforward and your company gets a receipt. Your company’s accountant is happy because there is a receipt/invoice and this expense will pass an external auditor’s review. Everything is okay and life goes on, except for one little detail that gnaws at your conscience. You know that containers don’t slide through shipping docks without a little lubrication. Did you just outsource the dirty act of bribery to an agent? Hmmmm. Technically, you didn’t. You paid a fee and received a service. The agent can do anything he wants with the money. It’s not your problem. You saved time and were productive in some other part of your business.

You can argue that these things happen only in the developing world where there are millions of agents that help you deal with bureaucratic governments. Well, from a moral standpoint, how is this different from a salesperson that wines and dines clients on an expense account, just to win a contract? Yes, there are policies to limit the expenses, but why support such a corrupt policy in the first place? Why do companies on the FORTUNE 100 list pay loads of money to lobbyists (aka agents) who then take politicians on junkets and golfing weekends?

I believe that most people are part of a silent majority that participates in these institutionalized forms of corruption. Since the corrupt act is outsourced and once removed from us, we convince ourselves that our behavior is moral. However, morality, often quantified and viewed as an absolute, seems to be a trait that should be measured on a sliding scale.

A fascinating article by Marianne Betrand and Sendhil Mullainadhan reignited my memory of our discussion and forced me to write my first blog entry!

Video Blogging

October 27, 2008

As part of the fellowship program, we will be video blogging every month from the field.  For our first assignment, we answered questions about training highlights, preparing for the field, and our hopes and fears for the year to come.

Premal Desai

Sophie Forbes

Ramakrishnan Hariharan

Joanna Harries; or see my blog

Mubarik Imam

Karthik Janakiraman

Heidi Krauel

Joel Montgomery

Nicole Orillac

Suraj Sudhakar

Stay tuned for our next episode…