Friday, September 6, 2013

Some final thoughts - social entrepreneurship in action

So - if you've made it to here, the last post in this blog series - AWESOME:)
(If you're starting here, be sure to check out some of the other posts too for context!!)

Throughout my time in Bangalore, I've really had a wonderful opportunity to witness social entrepreneurship (and social entrepreneurs) in action.

I, of course, find this super fascinating and have been collecting some thoughts now and then about how Pollinate just oozes a sense of entrepreneurship.

Some things that have resonated so far regarding the path of Pollinate Energy to where they are now:
  • Importance of getting that first sponsor onboard to snowball the involvement of others
  • Creating credibility (often through sponsors) is key to raising funds
  • Pivoting throughout the pilot phases of their operations
  • Faking it til you make it
  • Direction driven by the results of a solid research base, with a focus on getting as much research about the communities as possible from actually talking with/being with the communities
Bangalore city at night

My thoughts on the vibe within the Pollinate Energy team:

  • Overarching passion for what they're doing - it's really inspiring to see the co-founders really glowing with passion as they talk about their story and where they plan to go
  • Guiding principle of customers at the centre (just like any good business!) - it's been amazing to hear the co-founders talk about the needs of the customer: With regards to introducing cookstoves into the communities, the importance of listening to the needs of the customer has been reinforced several times. One of the co-founders' messages: If her [the woman in the slum community] major concern is the time that it takes to cook, then our selling point is how the efficiency of the flame results in faster cooking time, regardless of all of the other benefits regarding her health. There's no point emphasising the health benefits if she doesn't see sitting in smoke as an issue. Interestingly, this thought process is also present in other places e.g. Mumbai where cookstoves were sold as a way for individuals to have more time to watch TV! Seems slightly counter-intuitive in a way as you'd think that the overwhelming health benefits would be the highest selling point, but marketing is not necessarily a logical science! 
A lady cooking on our cookstove for the first time -
sometimes faster cooking time is a more relevant selling point
 than the health benefits!

  • A real concern for what's best for the customer and absolutely no arrogance or transmission of any feeling of 'Pollinate knows best'. For e.g when we returned to communities where families had bought a trial of the cookstove to find the cookstoves still in their boxes, the reaction of one of the Pollinate co-founders was the following: We need to find out exactly why she is not using this cookstove. We know that it's not a perfect product but want to work out whether it's worth pursuing for the benefits it does bring. If it is not being used because it's not a good product, then we will find another product that is. At the end of the day, no cookstoves should be found in boxes! We want to make positive change, not push unhelpful products.
  • Attitude of experimentation and agility in fast decision making
  • A culture of inclusivity, gratitude and celebration (quite amazing to see in action actually!)
  • A team of friends with complementary skills and a shared purpose
  • Personal energy gained from direct interaction with communities/ direct positive reinforcement of purpose on a very individual basis
Some of the kids from Farm community - their smiles reiterate the purpose
of Pollinate in a very direct and real way!

Some contextual factors :
  • India itself is just oozing entrepreneurial spirit - there is definitely an attitude of 'open a shop and people will come'
  • Some momentum building for change - see the bottom half of this post re policies and programs initiated by Indian government
  • On the negative, there are still many issues with implementation and corruption and this can be a key contextual disabler at times (or a reason for even more creative activities!)
  • Price arbitrage - by fundraising in AUD, the money can go a lot further in an Indian context than it would if this social business was starting in Sydney. It gives you more time to work out if the opportunity is a go-er
Even the cows are looking for answers in unusual places

I'm sure that these thoughts are only scratching the surface, but needless to say I'm so very happy and grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved with such a wonderful organisation and a fascinating group of Young Professionals!

The amazing group I spent 2 weeks with -
Young Professionals from AU/NZ/India, Pollinators, Pollinate staff and Founders

If any of this resonates with you and is spurring you to seek a similar amazing experience of your own, be sure to check out the Pollinate Energy website for future Fellows and Young Professional Programs!

If you have any questions feel free to reach out!

That's all from me folks :)
Thanks for reading!
Lorenn :)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Some Indian quirks

I've been collecting a small list of what I'm calling "Indian quirks" ie things that when they happen the first time you're like whaaaaaaaaaaat!? but then if it happens another time and another time it eventually becomes normal in some way.

It's funny actually looking at this list of things that I found so odd only a week or two ago!!

  • Cows!!! they're everywhere and really stand their ground!

Where are the cars you may ask? The cows rule this town!

This one is just chilling by the side of the road

Cows munching on the scraps from the market

  • How locals drink water out of water bottles - they never touch their lips to the bottle as they are always sharing pretty much everything, so this is their way of leaving the rest of the bottle available for someone else to drink without germs
  • Milk in small plastic packets that once opened have to be used pretty much immediately. Again, makes sense if you don't have a fridge as you'd be using it all immediately anyway! Actually a lot of things are in small/ use once packages! I was amazed last time I was in India at this too  :)
7/11 Indian Style
  • 'Rubbish' as a resource! When out at the communities, there is often a lot of rubbish all over the place. However when people are looking for something, e.g. binding wire to attach the solar light to their roof, they go to these 'rubbish piles' and find what they need!! 

Trash or treasure?

  •  Small kids with strings around their waist and a key attached to it. We found out that the people in the community essentially use their kids as human keyrings as they can always find their children!! (innovation in action!)
  • Diabetes-inducing tea making! As we were making chai out in the communities, we took tea and sugar with us in these small containers. When it came to adding the sugar, the spoon got left behind and the ladies making the tea literally poured the whole container in! The amount of sugar in their tea is pretty astounding and makes it no surprise that India has a very high rate of diabetes
  •  The Pollinators being more at ease reading in English even though they may not have spoken a lot of English. This was because apparently English is much more likely to be the read language and Kanataka the spoken language! How bizarre but then again most signs etc are in English and Hindi as there are so many languages across India!!

A couple of other India-isms:
  • A village really does raise a child!
  • Signs!!! Sometimes they are just hilarious!!
    ??? Trust us...we'll make you look better without your eyes??

  • More Western-style bars very overtly non-conservative in their sign usage!!
    A poster found in the ladies bathroom of one very popular, western-style bar

  • Festivals!! - there are a lot of different festivals happening around Bangalore. There was the Festival of St. Mary while we were there and there are massive preparations for the Ganesha Festival that is happening later this week!! We went inside a Ganesha storeroom (masses of Ganeshas are made at this time so that they can be used during the festival...eventually they end up in a body of water...not great for pollution!) – it was amazing to see all of these Ganesha’s in one spot!
    Me, Sneha, Bel and Kat in a Ganesha storage room!

And a couple of things that did not really make more sense over time:
  • Speed humps all over the "highways"... actually this one never really became that normal... there didn't seem to be any reason behind these speed bumps at all!! One suggestion was that they are the result of pipes being laid and the road not dug out properly... ? not sure but they're certainly not deliberately engineered (I hope!)

  • The electronica discotheque associated with the College near our house. At around 7am we woke up to literally a community electronica party. Still not 100% sure what was going on, but was linked to the College down the road and some sort of sports day. So from 7am-5pm they blasted party music and had what sounded like karaoke (though perhaps was a special performance?). And this went on for 3 days!! Meanwhile, no noise is allowed in houses after 11pm!!

L :)

Krishna - our wonderful Pollinator!! :)

Thought I’d give a bit more information about Krishna, the Pollinator that I was teamed with for the majority of the time while I was on the program.

Krishna would have to be one of the most genuinely caring people I have ever met. Interestingly, he sees his work as kind of a social service/social work first and foremost and is very grateful to have the opportunity to work for Pollinate. His gratitude is really very touching and I imagine stems from previous jobs he’s had where he has been treated very poorly (e.g. not able to eat with the managers, not paid on time or at all etc).

He makes friends very easily and is always smiling! 

Me, Sneha and Krishna with our auto driver for the day!
Krishna regularly made friends; one auto driver even helped us sell
the cookstoves in the communities after a conversation with Krish!

Krishna is not from Bangalore city, but like many people, moved to Bangalore for work. There is a small bio on the Pollinate blog where you can hear about more of his personal story pre Pollinate, but thought I’d reflect on some of the things I saw him do in action! 

Firstly – he is a great salesperson because he cares deeply about the people in the community. He is first and foremost their friends, and believes in bringing products that can improve their living situation. This was particularly evident when the snatching of the child at Drum (see previous post for info on this) had occurred and the first thing he spoke to the next community about was to put them on alert that this type of thing was happening and they should keep their children safe. He was also giving members of the community tips about how to recognise counterfeit money (quite common here) and other helpful practical things that don’t cost him any money but really build a sense of trust.

Krishna about to stand on the cookstove to convince people
 that it can hold large pots no problem

Each day before we went out into the communities we would reflect with the other Pollinators on what has been working and what has not been working. Krishna, from the beginning, was having a huge amount of success in getting demo cookstoves in the community. He explained to the others how he sold them – target the first movers on the solar lights as once they’re onboard the whole community will open up, make the story personal, understand the person’s real needs, don’t get into the sale straight away but slowly, sell the fact that it’s a no-strings attached demo to gather input etc etc. One of the AECOM managers – Michael – said afterwards that what Krishna was explaining is text book what they teach the AECOM managers to do to pitch for work!

Needless to say, we formed a lovely bond working together out in the communities. And I felt really lucky to have witnessed such a genuine service and desire to do good for others. He really is an inspiration!

Sneha, Krishna and me - our little team that went
out to the communities together!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Following up with the cookstoves in our communities

So the first week out in the communities was really about getting as many cookstoves into the households as possible. Come week two, however, it’s all about feedback! – are the people using the cookstoves? Are they finding it delivers the benefits that we sold to them? Do they like the product? Will they give their demo stove back?

The response from our communities was initially mixed. One lady still had her cookstove in the box because she’s tried it once after we left, had trouble lighting it and hadn’t touched it since. Our Pollinator persisted and convinced the lady to let us have a bit of a ‘cook off’: her traditional stove Vs our cookstove. This experiment was a raging success as our cookstove burns wood more efficiently and thereby has a stronger flame than the traditional methods. As a result our pot was ready first and she eventually moved her other pot from her old cookstove to our one – success!! We went to visit her again a couple of days later and she was using the stove everyday and loving it!

A traditional cookstove complete with blowing pipe

Kat, Sneha and me (L to R) sitting with the community, talking about
the benefits of cookstoves

A lady preparing chipatis to cook on our cookstove!

It was particularly saddening to go back to the Drum community. We arrived to a flurry of activity – loads of people outside in groups, clearly distressed. Turned out that one of the men in that community had been killed the night before; he was 27 years old with a wife and two children; I shudder to think what life is ahead of that woman and her children now. In addition to that, a child from that community had been snatched earlier that day! Hard to believe that this type of thing would happen (and this was the first such instance of both of those events for Pollinate more generally), but then again, have to keep reminding myself that these people are living in very precarious and uncertain situations where they have very few rights

Some of the kids from Drum community lining up to get their photo taken

A few days later, we returned to Drum to find that the community was completely packing up and moving (to where many did not know!). Already about a third of the community had left by the time we arrived. It was particularly sad for our Pollinator Krishna who has built long term relationships with so many of them (not to mention that quite a few still had repayments to pay on their solar lights and now he has no idea where to collect the instalments from!). The lady that had taken a cookstove really liked it, but had to give it back for the moment, until she knew where she would be living! Although on face value it seems obvious that the people in these communities live in tents which by definition insinuate a transient existence, it must be noted that many of the communities have been set up for years. In the case of Drum, it had been there for around 4 years; for others it could be up to 20 years!

Dismantling their houses and bundling up the materials to reconstruct somewhere else! Notice the solar panel in the man's hand

 The Drum community packing up their houses and all of their belongings

Community banded together to get everyone moved

Where to next?

On the positive side, we visited quite a few of our demo users that had had success first time with the cookstoves! They were thrilled at the lack of smoke, the lack of air blowing needed and the strength of the flame which resulted in quicker cooking times. The other Pollinators had similar experiences of some customers taking to it like fish to water, and others needing more convincing.

It was really satisfying, after having been in a tent where a traditional cookstove was used (and it being very suffocating due to the smoke), to then go back to that tent after the family had cooked with our cookstove and not feel suffocated or have red eyes or cough etc!! And that was just us in those tents for a few minutes, imagine the difference for the lady who uses it every day!!

It will be interesting to see at the end of the pilot phase if the cookstove will become a staple product for Pollinate Energy!

What's hot in India right now?

Got you with the catchy title? (there is a serious side to this post below...)

Well evidently what was hot in Bangalore when we were there was the latest Bollywood flick - Chennai Express (which we went to see!)

Bollywood in full flight :)
And, just when you thought Sheila was as Aussie as it gets... for some reason a lot of small kids were singing this song - "My name is Sheila!"

But what I really wanted to talk about in this post was the variety of policies/programs that are being introduced/ talked about in the media at the moment. Actually, I found reading the newspaper there very interesting and insightful.. and dare I say it, actually covering 'news-worthy stories'!!! (and was slightly embarrassed when showing the Indian Young Professionals the SMH home page which featured a rugby league result, Lleyton Hewitt reaching the 3rd round at the US open and Abbott saying he was confronted by Burkas as the top 3 new stories!)

Some things that are hot in India right now from a government/political standpoint:
1. Bangalore to become kerosene-free! - this one was obviously directly related to Pollinate's work as their solar lights are a direct substitute for kerosene lamps! Kerosene is known as the 'poor man's fuel' and has many adverse health affects and is known to be controlled by the mafia...challenging situation!

2. The legal right to food via the Food Security Bill -  Earlier this week the Indian Parliament passed the National Food Security Bill which gives around 800 million people (70% of the population) the right to cheap food, in an effort to eradicate malnutrition!

Under the scheme, those that qualify will be able to buy the following each month: 5kg of rice @ 3 Rupees per kg (equiv to AU 5c), 1kg of wheat @ 2 Rupees (equiv to AU 3c) and cereals @ 1 Rupee (equiv to AU 2c).

As with Kerosene, there are concerns over how the government will actually implement this as well as whether they can afford US$18 billion a year to provide the scheme (not to mention where they will source 5 million tonnes of grain p.a!)!

3. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act - created in 2005 it essentially guarantees 100 days paid unskilled manual work to adults every financial year.

Many obstacles and criticisms regarding the implementation of this Act e.g corruption - if you're interested, read more about it in this interesting World Bank blog post here

Found all of the above very interesting!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Visit to Nandi Hills

On the last Saturday we went on a trip to Nandi Hills - just out of the city of Bangalore.

It was a very beautiful place and real break from the noise and pollution of Bangalore.

We walked up the hill - the air was very moist and misty and it even rained a little which made it seem even more surreal. At the top of the hill is the old palace of Sultan Tipu of Mysore.

We had a briefly terrifying encounter with some rogue bulls that were blocking the path (one of the girls got chased..though no one injured). And there were a lot of monkeys around as well - some super cute, others (when sensing food) very aggressive!!

Hope you enjoy these pictures :)

The village at the foot of Nandi Hills

The view walking up the hill - interesting landscape :)

A small temple lookout half way up the mountain

The bulls that became slightly terrifying (forcing us to momentarily take
an off-track path to avoid them!)

The view

What the climb was like!

Some asymmetric structures in the 'playground' at the top

Sultan Tipu's palace

Tree in mist

Some of the monkeys

The crew en route :)

What else has been happening day to day?

So... day to day, we have generally spent the afternoon/early evening out in the community and had the morning to dedicate to "worker bee" projects. The project that I'm involved in is particularly exciting and if all goes to plan will result in Pollinate with the first ever solar installation in the Vivid Festival of light, music and ideas in 2014! - pretty cool!!

We've also had a variety of inspiring speakers from the local social entrepreneurship scene here in Bangalore as well as some activities to explore our personality types and future career plans. It's been a very safe environment to explore and get to know each other.

The outcome of an activity where we went through magazines and pulled
out pages that appealed to us - very revealing about your subconscious

Our wall filled with a collage of everyone's outputs

Most days we have lunch at our 'local' - Udupi Park! It's literally around the corner from our house and delicious! Usual orders were the "Tali plates" which are kind of like Indian tapas - small little dishes and either rice (if it's a South Indian Tali plate) or Roti (if it's a North Indian plate) as well as either a Lassi or a Fresh lime soda! YUM :)

Our 'local' for lunch - Udupi Park

The crew enjoying yummy food, lassies and  fresh lime sodas

A North Indian Tali plate

In the evenings, generally our lovely cook Lalitha has whipped up something rather amazing!! Lalitha is one of those super bubbly, no task is too small, no effort is too large types of people; a real pleasure and joy to be around every day!

Me with our lovely Lalitha

Dinner on banana leaf bought from the market :)

We've also been out to local bars and restaurants, even a micro-brewery as well as a live gig venue one Saturday night. Those photos look pretty similar to our bars and live music venues :)

L xx