Archive for the ‘Suraj Sudhakar’ Category

Do we have a goal for the human family?

May 15, 2009

I think I can safely assume that a significant  majority of us have a goal oriented approach to living our lives. We all have different and unique world views but most of us do some version of goal setting before setting out to achieve them. Personal goals, professional goals, individual goals, family goals, institutional goals, national goals, financial goals, philanthropic goals,  spiritual goals, fitness goals, travel goals,… the list goes on. We set goals because we understand the importance of goal setting.

If you are following this blog,  I can make another assumption that, you definitely believe in making this world a better place for all humans! But have you really thought about a goal for the human family? Do we have such a goal? If not, what are we all working towards? I believe that there is at least one such goal. Allow me to introduce you to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I am surprised by the fact that many of us do not  know about the existence or the contents of this profound document (Full disclosure – I learned about the contents only about 8 months back when the Acumen Fellows read and discussed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in detail.) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.

I hope you agree that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a legitimate goal for all of us. If not we should use this forum to debate it.

If you believe in goals, you also know that one of the pre-requisites of achieving a common goal is that, not only should everyone involved be clearly aware of the goal, but they also know what is expected of them to achieve the goal. This goal is pretty straight forward – to achieve this goal, we not only have to know it and practice it but also try and ensure that every human knows about it and practices it.

Now that you know about it, do you think that everyone you know has heard about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? If not, I would encourage you talk about this important goal more often.

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John Wood – A real inspiration

January 13, 2009

Karthik, one of my fellow fellows just forwarded me an interview with John Wood, the founder & CEO of Room to Read, an award winning international education  organization. John has the inspiring vision of providing educational access to 10 million children in the developing world.

In the interview John talks about  encouraging young social entrepreneurs he meets and ensuring that he does not point out flaws in their business models. John mentions how in the beginning of starting Room to Read, most people told him that his ideas would not work.  Though I have never met John personally, I was reminded of how he inspired me to continue in the social sector through his book.

I very clearly remember buying John‘s book, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World” in 2006 from a bookshop in Kochi, India. I had never heard of John Wood before but a title that suggested that there was another person who had left the IT sector for the social sector was reassuring. At that point in time most people would easily present counter arguments to my ideas on the social sector and try and convince me that I couldn’t have sounded more dumb! The book was an inspiring read and apart from other lessons, what I clung to most was that if such a super smart guy can believe that he has done the right thing, there must be something right about my decision to be in the social sector too.

I urge you all to read the interview and his book, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

Social Vs Enterprise

January 11, 2009

What should be the primary motive of a Social Enterprise – Maximizing social impact or ensuring enterprise sustainability or both? The debate is still on but I do sense this growing tendency amongst many of us (including me) to be more concerned with enterprise sustainability. We believe that if the enterprise is made sustainable, then it’s ability to create social impact automatically goes up. Nothing wrong with that, but shouldn’t we also be thinking of the of the “social” side of the enterprise?

The other day David Kuria, the founder CEO of Ecotact, walked into office and said, “Suraj! We need to do a demographic based study to understand people’s behaviour around accessing a toilet. We need to ensure that everybody can access a Ikotoilet!” (the pay-per-use toilet facilities built by Ecotact are branded as “Ikotoilet”)

My immediate thoughts – “We are already building toilets and maintaining them. We are already providing access to all. Why do we need to do a study? What more could we do? We have so many more toilets to build, so many systems and processes to put in place as we scale up and grow the Ikotoilet presence in other parts of Kenya.  More importantly should we be spending our already stretched out resources on doing a study? That too now?”

David continued – “For hygienic reasons all our Ikotoilet facilities have asian-style toilets but are asian style toilets comfortable for old people, pregnant women or for people with joint pains who find it difficult to squat?”

Very valid question which had honestly never crossed my mind.  While, my thinking continued to be around – do old people, pregnant women and people with joint pain constitute a large enough population to justify re-design of our toilets, David’s thinking was totally committed to improving access to toilets for everbody. I could sense my initial thoughts and questions melting and a sense of awe taking over in my head as I saw David deeply thinking of the “social” side of the enterprise.

(Kindly note that every Ikotoilet facility already has provisions for the disabled)

HR solutions for BOP enterprises

January 5, 2009

The Acumen Fund East Africa office recently hosted a breakfast meeting for all its investees. The motive of the breakfast was to provide Acumen’s investee organizations a platform to exchange ideas and explore avenues for collaboration. As an Acumen fellow I got a front row seat to see these brilliant entrepreneurs discuss issues and come up with solutions. The highlight for me was Ingrid Munro’s (Founder and Managing Trustee of Jamii Bora) response to the HR issues raised by some of the other investees, mainly around finding people (at all levels of an organization) willing to work for a social enterprise?

Ingrid suggested a tough but tested solution. She asked all the investees to search for future employees right at the BOP, amongst the poorest of the poor, a demographic that is often overlooked due to job descriptions that come with required skill sets and expected educational qualifications. She gave examples of how some of the poorest of her customers joined Jamii Bora on small jobs and then went on to lead some of the major departments (IT, finance etc) within the organization. Her examples clearly illustrated her contention that employees from the BOP are not only capable of doing small jobs but with the appropriate training & mentoring, they can also grow to take up senior management positions.

Ingrid’s strong belief in the innate ability of people living at the BOP is based on a simple truth – “The poor have to learn to survive and hence they just cannot afford to be dumb.” Ingrid opined that this survivor mentality combined with the hunger for opportunity to improve their lives makes people at the BOP bright prospective employees.



What is the one thing you just cannot live without?

January 1, 2009

Before you answer the question I want to wish you a very Happy New Year. Now, please think about the question…

Do you have your answer? Is your answer, a “TOILET?”  If not, I am not sure if the statistic of 2.6 billion people lacking access to a toilet would strike you as a serious enough problem for you to take action.

I am tempted to quote more statistics but I believe I can convince you of the gravity of the problem if you can indulge me by participating in a small thought experiment – Think about a normal day in your life from the time you get up to time you go to bed. Now how does this day change if you had no access to toilets for the entire day? Seriously think about it. Maybe it didn’t change much because for some reason you are capable of dealing with the pressures of nature’s calls. But how does the same day look like if everybody else used whatever space they got (even others don’t have access to toilets on this imaginary day) to do their business, I mean go to the toilet? Again I request you to think deeply about it. I am guessing you are not having pleasant thoughts. While you are still thinking I would also like you to contemplate on why Mahatma Gandhi would have ever said that “sanitation is more important than independence.”

I ask you again, “What is the one thing you just cannot live without?”