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Reserve Bank of India – Second Week

A sweet, subtle petrichor suffused the Pune air, heralding the arrival of the much awaited monsoon. The monsoon has one of the most transformative effects on a landscape in the world, changing it from barren fields into a lush green carpet. Moreover, its arrival is eagerly anticipated across all social strata. In many respects the Indian economy relies wholeheartedly on weather that we very much take for granted back home. Though the monsoon has not yet built up to its notorious tumult, we have seen glimpses of its infamous power.

Undaunted, we ventured out from Pune towards Aurangabad on a 700 km whirlwind adventure, taking a path northeast of Pune deep into the heart of Maharashtra. On a winding and bumpy ride traversing ridges, earthen planes and sprawling metropolises, the threat of wayward bovine herds nonchalantly wandering down busy highways was a very real one. Forts, medieval walls and minarets sprung up out of the scrubland and stood dauntingly atop steep hills, dominating the skyline and presiding over the fields below. After stopping at Windsor Castle, the hotel at which we were staying, we again set off with the promise of caves and a very familiar building.

Set high in the hills, the monolith at the Ellora caves is truly a marvel of human dedication and determination. Created without modern machinery–just centuries of toil, architects, artisans and labourers–the magnificent rock structure emerges from the mountainside, adorned with images of deities, elephants, histories and stories. The other caves hosted a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu imagery, including an enormous effigy of Buddha with his usual peaceful countenance.

RBI Mountains Enhanced-300x224On the journey back, the bus driver pulled over to an isolated shop touting a frenzy of coloured marvels. With considerable excitement, we descended on a small fabric shop where haggled for and eventually purchased 10 pillowcases adorned with camels, elephants and landmarks, 5 scarves and a sari.

When we arrived back in the town of Aurangabad, we were taken to the, perhaps unfairly dubbed, ‘mini Taj Mahal.’ The real name is the Bibi Ka Maqbara and, in honesty, it is a rather impressive spectacle. It certainly scores highly on architectural marvel, but low on originality given the fact the actual Taj Mahal was built by his father some 40-50 years earlier.

That night, a brief respite from a heavily curry-based diet was granted by the kind chefs of the Windor Castle. Previously the only non-Indian food we had had was an enormous steak, lamb and chicken combination from the madhouse grill. After dinner, we enjoyed a fairly subdued night of card playing.

The next morning, three of our group were struck down with a mysterious illness, but they managed to rally for a second day of exploring caves, roads and monkeys. The Ajanta caves were discovered by a group of British soldiers who were on an excursion to hunt tigers. They came across a series of caves carved out of a horseshoe shaped hill. Built over two thousand years ago by Buddhists before the religion mysteriously left India to be replaced by Hinduism. Our group explored the valley and the wonders that lay within. The caves were a rich depiction full of colours and images of Buddha and his life including his many reincarnations.

Monkeys seem to be scattered fairly liberally around cave and religious sites. They look friendly from a distance but–as it transpires–they are mostly just thieves.

Entrepreneurship Development Institute Internship 2014 – Second Week

AFTER the 42 hr train rideEDI sent us (Bradley and Addison) to Varanasi to investigate the local branch of the Producer Company, an organization of weavers, dyers, master weavers and other members of the crafting process. Once we arrived in Varanasi, we made our way to our accommodations. After crossing a temporary bridge–which will need to be dismantled as soon as monsoon season comes–and a short five-minute trek, we arrived at our guesthouse surrounded by picturesque scenery, animal life and the local school.

Varanasi Temporary BridgeOn our first day of work, we met our employers from EDI who work with the Producer Company Limited (PCL). PCL assists weavers in three clusters surrounding Varanasi: Kotwa, Lohta, and Ramnagas. We had a very productive first day visiting Kotwa, which is also where the head office of PCL is located. We were amazed to find out that this rural village was made up of 30,000 weavers! Although our first day of work was challenging, it proved very productive with our objectives changing and reshaping as the day wore on.

Ultimately, we decided that our first objective would be to encourage more weavers to join the Producer Company Limited. To achieve this, we created promotional materials with case studies that could be distributed to all weavers. We highlighted Mushtaqueem, a master weaver who exports domestically and internationally as a case study to demonstrate how beneficial joining the Producer Company Limited could be. We really enjoyed our time with Mushtaqueem, and we could tell that he truly cared about his weavers.

In addition to collecting case studies for promotional use, we were able to learn from our visit more about the ancient art of handloom and to understand more about the Producer Company Limited. We’d like to add that this visit was also a great opportunity to buy scarves by the bulk!

Testing the productAfter meeting with Mushtaqueem, we went a couple blocks down in the Ramnagas cluster and met with the chairman of the Producer Company Limited – Amresh. Amresh was extremely helpful and provided us with a lot of detail that will help us bring tourists to the Ramnagas cluster. By attracting tours to this cluster, we hope to increase both domestic and international brand recognition and to increase of sales and revenue stream for the Producer Company Limited.

Pink guest house in VaranasiTo savor the precious time we have in Varanasi, we have used every opportunity to explore this vibrant city. We’ve visited the palace where the Ramnagas King and Queen live, explored the river Ganges by boat, witnessed the candle prayer vigils on the steps of Varanasi, and seen a cow drink from a mans hand which was coming out a street tap! It seems, however, that wherever we go there’s a slightly amusing tourist fee – ‘20 rupees for Indian citizens and 150 rupees for foreign tourists’ read the sign at Ramnagas palace. Nevertheless, we feel we got our money’s worth when we saw the King and Queen of Ramnagas leave their palace; this will forever be our claim to fame!

Bradley & Addison

Self-Employed Women’s Association 2014 – First Week

SEWA“No. Never. Absolutely Not.” are the words my mother stuttered from the phone when I first announced that I had been accepted to intern with the Self Employed Women’s Association in Ahmedabad, India. Somehow, only three short months later, I now sit under the blanket of humidity that coats the entire city of Ahmedabad, and I would venture to guess, the rest of the country. How long can I survive in this over 100o temperature?  How can I work in India for over a month despite having never left the United States for more than a week? Will I be able to assimilate into a workplace that does not always use English for communication?  Only time will tell. However, while the odds may seem to be rapidly rising up against me, I can certainly say I have found these questions to be exciting challenges, and I have found my first week in India to be incredible.

Upon arriving at the Entrepreneurship Development Institute in Ahmedabad on Saturday, the other interns, and I were all acquainted with the rooms, our campus, and one another. The institute is divided between five different buildings surrounded with well-manicured lawns, foliage, and the occasional dog, peacock, and even monkey. Located in the rural district, the campus is detached from the main part of the city. Despite the fact that classes did not begin until Monday, two days after we arrived, some students were already on campus. We found all of them to be very nice and welcoming, and they gave us advice about the city and the area. A few even brought us with them to a beautiful Hindu temple down the road. The campus quickly became our base and, even more importantly, a home-away-from-home.

These lazy first two days were quickly interrupted by the Monday we all started our internships. The four interns working with EDI remained on campus while the six of us working with SEWA left for their office in our first visit to the inner city. The bustling chaos of Indian traffic lived up to all the stories we had heard. Driving laws, lights, and lanes are merely suggestions, and horns are used by drivers simply to declare: “I am here.” Amazingly, the bustle of cars and bikes flow like water through the streets. Once we arrived at our destination, we learned that our first week would serve as an introduction to SEWA’s goals and purpose. The first facility we toured was the textile branch of SEWA. On the first two floors, women were trained to sew with machinery and put together various articles of clothing. Only SEWA’s most skilled worked on intricate hand stitching on the top floor. We then toured the Gintanjali and SEWA Manager Ni School. Gitanjali helps women learn to turn recycled papers into notebooks and other paper-based materials. SEWA Manager Ni School provides management and basic business training to literate, illiterate, and semi-literate women. Overall, meeting new and senior members of each branch of the organization allowed us to see the opportunities SEWA creates for women throughout Ahmedabad and India.

On Wednesday and Thursday Michael, my internship partner, and I finally learned about the group we would be working under directly: Rudi. Rudi provides agricultural assistance to villages to help promote village and farming sustainability for its members. We visited two separate processing plants and met some of the women we would be directly working under. It was quite comforting to find such kindness and hospitality behind the dust and sand of Gujarat’s more arid regions. Even more surprising was the fertility of this land. Not only could the land be farmed after the rejuvenation of the seasonal monsoons, but there were also vast amounts of valuable and profitable salt deposits. Rudi is concerned with all resources produced by the land as well as the farmers cultivating them all.  The drive to these destinations were two to three hours long but passed by quite quickly thanks primarily to our very entertaining boss, Dimpleben. Between comparisons of British and American culture to Dimpleben’s Hindi lessons, the fields of Gujarat quickly raced by our cars windowsills each day.

Now I wait to leave for a village in Surendranagar district where I will work for the next twelve days. There, I will analyze and write the business strategy for the Rudi’s Surendranagar branch and then create a new business plan for the next five years. Once completed, this analysis will be given to Rudi and SEWA for consideration. Meanwhile, the other SEWA interns will each work for their respective departments within the organization. With introductions of SEWA, the country, and the other interns complete, I look forward to the approaching rainy season and the next five weeks on my exciting adventure in India.

-Tim McCall

Reserve Bank of India – First Week

Arriving in Pune, the first cultural difference to hit you is the impossibility of crossing a street. Returning to our new home at the College of Agricultural Banking in Pune after standing as naïve westerners on the pavement for half an hour, we realized we were far from the comforts of working traffic lights, orderly queuing and unnecessary apologies. We were immediately thrown into research on financial inclusion, micro-enterprises, foreign exchange and currency management; receiving lectures from experts within the faculty. Our first week has involved experimental yoga classes, new insights into the Indian banking sector and curry for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We were also given the privilege of attending a field trip along with faculty members of the college.

‘There are five principles of humanity; pure thought, pure action, strength of character, sacrifice and humility’

These were the words spoken to us by Anna Hazare, an Indian social activist who led movements to promote rural development and increase government transparency. He is considered the ‘new Gandhi’ and is regarded as a national hero, who has transformed Ralegan Sindhi (the village of liquor) to Ralegan Siddhi (a village who has achieved its goal). A sole survivor of a Pakistani assault, which killed all his comrades, he returned to his home village dedicated to devoting his life to social reform and engaged in projects to conserve water, stockpile grain, develop new dairies, plant trees, end caste divisions and build schools and training institutes. It was almost overwhelming to witness the constant stream of villagers flocking to the temple to kiss his feet and pay respect.  Yet Mr. Hazare has his critics. As interns, before attending the field trip we engaged in the standard Wikipedia search of Anna Hazare to find some drastic policies on the flogging of village drunkards. As Newcastle students partial to the odd treble, the idea of a public thrashing for being caught in Sinners appealed to none of us, and it was tempting to disregard him as an authoritative extremist who used fear and intimidation. Yet on meeting Mr. Hazare, you cannot deny the economic transformation he has achieved in what once was one of the poorest villages in Maharashtra filled with hopelessness, illiteracy and alcoholism. He sincerely regards the entire village as his family stating that although he has ‘forfeited a family’ by devoting his life to the village and his work, ‘he has gained an even bigger one’ considering the villagers as his own children. Mr. Hazare’s methods may not work in Western society; however, his achievements in Ralegan Siddhi include increasing literacy rates to 100% in the village and raising per capita income of the villagers from Rs. 225 to Rs. 2500. One principle he does share with Westerners is that you must ‘lead by example.’ At the beginning of his journey to achieve social reform, the village was unsanitary, and people would defecate in the streets for lack of infrastructure. Every day Mr. Hazare would clean the streets until others began to join him and eventually worship him.

Our field trip also took us to meet five self-help groups working with an NGO to help provide financial support and growth for the community. We were welcomed with coconuts and told about the benefits of the group in teaching the women new skills such as making incense sticks, which provides wages. The group has proved essential in times of need such as when one of the member’s daughters fell ill and had to pay 10,000Rs for treatment. The mother was able to take a loan from the group immediately with a 2% interest rate. A bank is unlikely to issue such a small loan and a money lender would have provided the loan at a much higher interest rate, making the self-help group undeniably beneficial. We were also given the opportunity to visit one of the only successful co-operative banks in India, The Ahmednagar District Central Co-operative Bank. Welcomed with roses, tea and our own plate of biscuits, we discussed the performance report and learned that establishing trust with your customers is one of the key components to success in co-operative banking.

Overall, we have had a great first week and look forward to future challenges, experiences and rickshaw rides in the next five weeks.

Entrepreneurship Development Institute Internship 2014 – First Week

 

Group at EDIOn the first day of our trip to India, we all arrived early in the morning around 4 A.M. Too excited about our upcoming adventures to sleep, we sat together talking about the journey to India and getting to know one another. On the first day, after the sun came up, we all went to a small shopping area called D-Mart, where we got to sample local sweets and to see a little of the city of Ahmedabad. We also met some of the students who are studying at EDI and who were extremely nice. They showed us around the campus with its European-style architecture: brick buildings with courtyards and ponds in between each building, connected by open walkways. It had a small football pitch and a nice basketball court. We found that the school hosts a little market where we could buy drinks and snacks in between meals as well as a cantina for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

EDI CampusThe first and second day of work flew, reading about the clusters that were going to observe and breaking up into two teams. The days were long, but we relished the opportunity to explore what we would be working on for the next six weeks. During the introduction, EDI explained that they want us to assist the Producer Company, which is an organization of weavers, dyers, master weavers and other members of the crafting process. By the end of the second day, we determined that two improvements were needed for the Producer Company, marketing and organizational structure. We plan to work on the marketing aspect for the weavers to build brand equity and to cut out some of the middlemen in the supply chain that are taking the majority of the profits from the weavers and actual craftsmen. The second objective is to make the Producer Company a self-sustaining company that no longer needs support from EDI. Our solution to this is to create a handbook that outlines procedures and organizational practices to which the Producer Company can refer. 

TPlaying cardshe first week has gone in a similar fashion to the first two days: reading about the hand loom cluster, gaining insight from the professors at EDI, preparing our objectives, and discussing the best way to complete our objectives in the three-week time span we have at the clusters. We plan initially to use surveys to gather quantitative information about the clusters and interviews to gather the detailed, qualitative information needed. We are very aware that our objectives could radically change once arriving in Varanasi after talking with the members of the Producer Company. Consequently, we have built flexibility into our visit. We have decided that the first couple of days in Varanasi will be for observing hand loom process and talking with members of the Producer Company to determine if the objectives we have identified line up with their desires.

In the vanHaving completed our first week of studying and preparing, we are finally setting off on a train to Varanasi! Estimated as a 32-hour journey with 56 stops, we have prepared ourselves with plenty of more reading, cards, and snacks!

Too important to overlook, we saw a massive monkey on the second day which probably came up to our hips when it was on all fours, but the tail looked like it came above our heads!

–Addison Montano

 

Self-Employed Women’s Association 2014 – First Week with Jamie Kim

Jamie Kim and SEWA coworkers

The first few days here were quite chaotic. I now feel that I have settled in and am able to write about the work I am doing here in Ahmedabad at SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association. I would have liked to describe the logistics of this trip, such as my accommodations and hostel-mates, but I am trying to avoid making this entry longer than it has to be.

During the first week, SEWA gave the interns an orientation and introduction to some of the different sectors and their respective offices. SEWA was established in 1972 and has more than 1.3 million women members who seek stability and self-reliance through employment. This sort of employment ensures that these women receive security and benefits, both of which were not received in the members’ prior work. SEWA also extends to the SAARC countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. After visiting the offices and learning more about SEWA’s progress, I was enthused to be working with such a forward-thinking non-governmental organization.

Today was my third full day of work at Gitanjali, SEWA’s branch for stationery creation. Gitanjali was formed in 1995, and its objective is to supply an alternative livelihood of various paper products through recycled paper waste incorporation while providing a more sustainable career for women workers. Many of the employees of Gitanjali are also working as “waste-pickers.” As waste-pickers, these women are exposed daily to poor sanitation and the danger of cuts leading to diseases. Women more oftentimes fear suffocation from heaps of waste burying those working at the bottom. Gitanjali has helped organize waste-pickers and provide opportunities for women to develop skills in creating handmade stationery products out of recycled materials. With continuous orders from companies like Staples, Accenture, and Goldman Sachs, Gitanjali has developed immensely. During these first few days, I have been observing the production line and the 30 employees at Gitanjali. My assignments are to produce case studies of the women, create marketing materials, examine the finances, and identify operational deficiencies. I am dumbfounded by each story I am told and more and more amazed at the work SEWA is doing.

In regards to living in India, it has been quite nice. Along with the other interns, I am living in EDI’s (Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India) International hostel. I am blessed with air conditioning, single room, private bathroom, cleaning service, laundry service, and WiFi. I came with the idea that I would lose weight but have put on a few pounds instead, due to the lavish plates of authentic Indian food provided on campus. I did not expect such comfortable accommodations and am extremely grateful. The students attending the institute have also been very welcoming and helpful. If only the heat would be more kind…

-Jamie Kim