Posts Tagged ‘Fellows 2009’

Whose vision of serving the poor?

July 20, 2009

Does the vision of serving the low income segment of society extend beyond the investors and CEO of a social enterprise?

In my opinion, only an affirmative answer to this question will ensure that the vision of serving the poor is fulfilled (however long it may take…).  Watch what the team of doctors running AyurSEVA Hospitals has to say about their vision and motivation to work for this organization.


July 5, 2009

“Environment matters, but in the end, when it comes to tackling the question, What should I do with my life? it really is all in your head. The first psychological stumbling block that keeps people from finding themselves is that they feel guilty for simply taking the quest seriously.”

The previous paragraph is an excerpt from an article written by Po Bronson entitled “What Should I Do With My Life?” ( It is the last line  that caught my attention as it relates to how I am feeling at this stage of the Fellowship.  My energy level to start searching for the “what’s next” in my career is very low because I am not clear where I want to go. Two months ago I thought I knew. Now I am having doubts.

One thing I am sure of after this year’s experience as an AF Fellow is that I want to continue to be part of the social sector. What is the role I want to play? This I need time to figure out (and I am not talking of a day or two). However, the pressure I am feeling from the environment is making it difficult for me to get off the fast track and reflect. There is not a single day that passes by when I don’t hear the question-“Now that the fellowship is coming to an end, do you know what you want to do next?” I hear that question loaded with high expectations that do not necessarily match mine.

According to Bronson the biggest obstacle in finding the answer to my question is that I “feel guilty for taking the quest seriously”. And he is right, I do feel guilty. But not for taking the quest seriously, but rather for taking the time I believe I require for this quest.

Talking to my sister who is finishing her MBA at one of the top ranked business schools in Europe, I could hear the same frustration. She is bombarded everyday with e-mails about job openings she “should be applying for”. The career center spends tons of resources in helping the students find the job that will double their previous salary, but is it the job that will make the students thrive as leaders? So many resources are spent in presenting options for the “what’s next”, but how much do these schools spend in helping future business leaders figure out the “what’s first” that Bronson alludes to? (My sister and I are constantly exchanging books and articles to fill the gap.)

What I see in common in these two examples is the artificial deadline that society imposes on us (and that we accept) for taking the quest to find ourselves. Is it that bad to graduate from your MBA or finish a competitive Fellowship program and not have a job lined up? What would be the result of society giving more value to the time for quest in people’s path? More leaders “confident of their place in the world” (Branson), contributing towards building a better society? I believe so.

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.

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.

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!

“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?

“Be Patient With Yourself”

February 16, 2009

This month I want to share with you not about the investment that I am working in but about myself and my personal experience in the first few months of the Fellowship.

Before flying to India I was part of many conversations in which the common theme was that in order to really make a positive social impact in the lives of the poor we need to slow down… Extend time lines, think in terms of processes not tasks, take into account the infrastructural limitations of the countries when designing a business plan, etc. All of these conversations, plus the many hours in the classrooms at LSE discussing the failures of development efforts in the last few decades, helped me prepare to transition to a work environment that would require a large quantity of patience. Patience with the external circumstances that would shape the way I worked. What I did not foresee was that I would need even a larger quantity of patience with myself and the impact that my personal transition would have on the work I was ready to do.

Find out why by watching my video.

Reverse Brain Drain

January 23, 2009

After spending some time at Drishtee, I realized that there was a high percentage of new hires (as well as existing management staff) who were Indians who had recently or in the past few years returned to India from the US.

Many had gone to the US to study for undergrad and ended up staying for both graduate school and work. A number of people had lived in the US for many years, anywhere from five to 10 (or more.) This was much different then my experience in other countries around the world, where usually people left to study overseas and never returned.

When I began to ask people why they came back, many stated they were interested in joining its growth spurt by helping to build it and take it forward. Even if family pressures were part of the equation, people had made the choice to return and turned down working at a large multi-national or Indian corporation for a social enterprise.

This is also the case at many other social enterprises, a good number being Acumen Fund investees. At a another social enterprise I know, one woman had worked in China and decided to return to India on the basis that she could do the same type of work at home and couldn’t see remaining somewhere else when the same issues existed in her backyard.

People actually research, study and write about reverse brain drain. I found an article describing this situation with Indian immigrants in the US. Yet it’s not only a US to India journey, but other countries are also seeing this happen: China, Malaysia, Brazil and Turkey. Today, much of it may be due to the financial crisis in the US and Europe, but others have returned because they were interested in working for business with a social mission.

I interviewed two new employees at Drishtee: Rahil and Upasana. Rahil currently works in Connecticut for a hedge fund and took a 6 month sabbatical to work with Drishtee on its supply chain model. Upasana returned after attending university and working on the West Coast over a period of 8 years and is part of the Process and Planning team. Watch to find out more!

Delivering traditional medicine in modern ways

January 19, 2009

The entrepreneurs at AyurVAID: Hospitals are testing a business model that promises to overcome the scale up challenge of delivering medical care to the masses based on Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine. According to RV Raman, Head of Marketing at AyurVAID: Hospitals, there are about 18,962 Ayurveda companies registered in India today. Most of these companies focus on offering ayurvedic products (from medicines to toothpaste!) and spa related services, however no one has been able to come up with a successful, scalable model to deliver health services. (Ironic considering that Ayurveda is a system of medicine that has been around for more than 3,000 years!) In this video Rajiv Vasudevan, CEO of AyurVAID: Hospitals, explains some of the challenges inherent to the Ayurveda “industry” and some of the strategies the team has developed to overcome these obstacles.

Reframing Community Health

December 24, 2008

The photograph lured me in: the baby’s eyes in contrast to the woman’s fingers, stumps of various lengths. I had to read more. What I learned was an exciting model for community health being implemented in villages across the state of Maharashtra.

“They are not doctors. They are not nurses. They are illiterate women from India’s Untouchable castes. Yet as trained village health workers, they are delivering babies, curing disease, and saving lives—including their own.”

The article recounts the story of two village health workers, Sarubai Salve and Babai Sathe, who look after pregnant women, babies, old people, and other basic health needs of the community. Sarubai Salve has been working with the village of Jawalke for the past 24 years.

What is amazing about this story is not only the success of the community health model but also its major aim of providing dignity to women who are untouchables. These two women were once illiterate, lacked a self-identity, and were extremely poor. Through the program Jamkhed, founded by a husband and wife doctor team, Raj & Mabelle Arole, this is no longer true. In fact, they have also organized 8 women’s groups and started a revolving loan fund and business skill training.

Many groups have tried to do as Jamkhed but have not succeeded with the same results. The Aroles goal from the beginning is the key, I feel, to why Jamkhed has seen such transformations. In order to work with the poorest of the poor: “empathy, knowledge of how poor people live, and willingness to work were more important than skills and prestige.”

Today the villages where Salve and Sathe work have two prevalent illnesses: hypertension and diabetes. This is not the status quo for the majority of rural India. In fact, they are considered to be diseases of developed countries. Who would have thought that these untouchable women would be such change agents? If nothing else, this is another testimony to never draw within the lines and accept the norm as the end all be all.

Quotes and photo from Necessary Angels Article in National Geographic

Photograph by Lynn Johnson, National Geographic 2008

Baby in Village of Jawalke, India. Photo by Lynn Johnson, National Geographic