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Homestays Part 3 - During and After

Part 3 of a three part series on how to use homestays to jump-start a community-based entrepreneurial initiative. Also check out Part 1 and Part 2.

A window into the communityA window into the community

May 6th, 2006, the third day of my homestay in the Sri Lanka colony of the Indiramma Nagar slum cluster, next to the airport in Hyderabad, India. The mercury was pushing 46 degrees Celsius. No hint of the coming monsoon.

"Soja," my host Sultana ordered me. I didn't argue, the combination of the Indian summer and all the rice and spice I had just eaten made taking a nap look like the most sensible option. A well-intentioned ceiling fan was forcing hot air down onto me, evaporating the sweat below my skin and drying out the insides of my nose. I felt like I was drinking gallons of water yet never had to go to the bathroom.

Before starting my homestay with Sheik Baba and Sultana, I had a host of plans to learn local skills and reach out to people in the slums, but the sheer heat of the day had made me scale back my aspirations. I was still managing to get out and meet people in the community, but had to retreat to shadier spots whenever the sun was high in the sky, which was often. Making friends while doing something active like hauling trash, as I had in Nairobi, didn't seem like much of an option here.

In the meanwhile, my attempts to help out around the house had met with mixed success. For example, when the local taps turned on in the morning I had gone out to help Sultana haul water, but I almost botched the job when some joking neighbors tried to get me to pour the water down a sewage trench instead of into the family's water tank. Still my presence seemed to have bumped up Sultana's position in the subtle hierarchy around the public water taps, so maybe I was helping after all.

I lay down to rest as the kids settled in to watch a show on the family's TV: the electricity could be fickle, but they had access to lots of channels. In an hour my new friend Muneer was coming around to introduce me to someone who ran a small ice cream business, and then later we were going to his cousin's wedding. Along the way we would stop and visit some more local businesses and meet some of the rickshaw drivers.

Things hadn't turned out exactly like I had expected, but I guess that was to be expected too...

Homestays Part 2 - Setup and Preparation

Part 2 of a three part series on how to use homestays to jump-start a community-based entrepreneurial initiative. You can read Part 1 here.

An alleyway in Indiramma NagarAn alleyway in Indiramma Nagar

"Can I talk to you about something?" Muneer asked me during one of our afternoon walks around the city.

It's May of 2006, the fifth week our BoP initiative with the Solae Company, and I was in the middle of a weeklong homestay in Indiramma Nagar - a cluster of slums by the Hyderabad airport. Muneer was a young Muslim resident who I had been introduced to on my first visit to the neighborhood. Every day I looked forward to his arrival at my hosts Baba and Sultana's home, a little wood and corrugated steel structure by the airport wall. Not only did Muneer's 5 PM visit herald the abatement of the sweat-boiling heat, but his near perfect English gave me someone to talk to, not to mention someone to explain to me what I may have done wrong. I recognized his question as a prelude to such an explanation.

"Of course," I replied, stepping to the side of the alley as a rickshaw rumbled by.

"What happened last night?" he asked.

Ah yes, that . . . Ilias and his brother. I told Muneer about Sultana encouraging me to go with the two boys, walking with them through the alleys to another home, pushing aside the front curtain, and then seeing the sudden reaction of the women and children lying on the floor – surprise, fear, anger. I had no idea what was going on but I knew it was wrong. I had bowed a quick apology and dragged the boys out the door, walking hurriedly back to my hosts.

"That naughty boy," Muneer replied after I finished describing what happened, "I told Ilias you could not stay with him, but he decided to take you home any way. It seems he told Sultana that his family invited you, but they had not." He was looking at his feet, "We don't enter people's homes here without permission." Not where I come from either.

I sighed. Navigating the cultural trips here was tougher than almost anywhere I'd ever been. Sure I had studied before heading to India, but the Hyderabadi slum was a tumult of Hindu and Muslim cultures; I didn't even know what to say when. I'm not sure what I would have done without Muneer, or Srini, who worked for our local partner SIDUR and who would occasionally drop by. Culturally, I was like a child: I knew nothing and I trusted everyone. Muneer and Srini had already helped me avoid getting entangled with one local politician who wanted to "adopt" me... now I had gotten in trouble because two children had wanted to do the same

We walked quietly for several moments, but then Muneer turned and gave me a reassuring look. "Do not worry," he told me, "Here is what we can do..."

Homestays Part 1 - Objectives and Challenges

Homestays are a powerful tool to begin a community-based entrepreneurial effort, but they need to be approached with tremendous humility and planning.

Homestay in AP, India

In 2006, I spent a week living with a family in the Indiramma Nagar slum cluster of the city of Hyderabad. Sheik Baba and Sultana – along with their four children, mother, and niece – hosted me in their small, single room home by the airport wall. Baba and Sultana were perfect hosts. They opened their small home to me and I greatly enjoyed the time I spent with them: despite the extreme heat of the Indian summer (115 °F) and our limited means of communication.

Weeks later while working with our business partners (a group of local women in the slum), a colleague brought up the fact that I had stayed with Baba and Sultana. There was a stir of comments among the women.

"What is it?" I asked.

"The family is very poor,” my colleague translated, “they are surprised that you could stay with them.”

They were particularly surprised that I didn't mind eating and drinking with the family: Westerners aren't normally known for very strong stomachs. To be honest, I had been a bit concerned when Sultana handed me that first cup of water, but it hadn't really seemed practical to refuse. Did I mention how hot it was? After the first cup went down though, and stayed down, I accepted plenty more.

In fact, besides my almost comical trait of not being able to eat without crying – no matter how little spice Sultana tried to cook with – everything had gone great. I had made friends and experienced a side of the community that few outsiders ever get to see. Plus, most of these women who we were building a new business with had met us as a result our team's homestays. Introductions had led to introductions, but it had all started there in the community.

Quite a productive week.

Creating markets for the base of the pyramid

Creating markets for soy protein in Andhra Pradesh, India

Where was the market for Solae's protein in rural India? It needed to be created.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal published an article by my colleague Erik Simanis about our work developing new markets in the base of the world's income pyramid. Erik is a pioneer in business development methodologies for the BoP.

The Base of the Pyramid is not actually a market. True, those billions of low-income people have a lot in common. But they don't have two of the vital characteristics you need to have a consumer market. They haven't been conditioned to think that the products being offered are something one would even buy. And they haven't adapted their behaviors and budgets to fit the products into their lives. A consumer market is nothing less than a lifestyle built around a product.

Erik uses a range of examples including bottled water in the U.S., P&G's PUR water cleaning powder, KickStart's MoneyMaker pump, and our own work with Solae in India to demonstrate that companies should think twice before assuming a market for their products exists, even if those products are well designed. And if a market doesn't exist then traditional market entry approaches - the kind that most companies use and most managers are taught - are largely ineffective. Instead, companies need to learn to create markets.

Since the first BoP Protocol pilot in 2005, our work has focused more and more on the challenges of creating new markets and building the enterprises that enable them. Over the years, we have learned a number of hard, but handy, lessons. Three of those lessons are described below.

BoP Interview at WDI

About a year ago Ted London, Director of the Base of the Pyramid research initiative at the William Davidson Institute (WDI), kindly asked me to come out to the University of Michigan Business School to do a guest lecture in his MBA class Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid. Ted was previously a professor and Director of the BoP Learning Lab at UNC while I was a student there and we had worked together on project to explore innovative business models for renewable energy technologies in the BoP. During my visit to Michigan - which also included a guest lecture for Mike Gordon's Social Enterprise: Innovation in the Information Society course - Ted also interviewed me about my experiences working in the BoP and with the BoP Protocol in Kenya.

Belated Postcards from India and Brazil

Everyone knows what it's like… you've got stack of postcards, a head full of great experiences and even with all your best intentions, you just get too caught up in what you're doing to write it all down and pop them in the mail.

Well writing posts can be the same way, so here's a belated summary of the last six months in India and Brazil.

Kibera Nights

Patrick in KiberaBy Patrick Donohue, August 2005

"In Nairobi, stay away from the shanty towns, especially at night."

The door closes, Kibera opens, and East Africa's largest shantytown swallows us into the night. It's dark near Edwin's place, a sight sapping blackness that is darker with the knowledge of the trenches and trips that lie ahead, a misstep can send you rolling down make shift steps to soak in the flowing runoff, Kibera's sewage system. Edwin can see well enough in the dark and navigates the pitfalls without hesitation; I make a joke about mzungu eyes and then switch on my torch. I notice as we walk that the only other people using torches are the mzee, the old men or women. We walk through small alleys and walkways, passing row after row of mud houses with radios blaring, stray light seeping through cracks around the doors and below the roofs. I can't shake the feeling that I'm walking across somebody's front porch but I soon realize that's exactly what we're doing.

Patrick off to play again - BoP Protocol in India

This weekend I'm heading out to join another Base of the Pyramid Protocol project, the second ever actually, this time working with the Solae Company in India. You may recall that the first implementation of the BoP Protocol was last year with SC Johnson in Kenya, of which you can see many past articles here on BRINQ.com. The Solae Protocol project is via a partnership between Solae, Cornell University, and Enterprise for a Sustainable World (ESW). ESW has hired me to join up with Protocol co-director Erik Simanis and BoP consultant Tatiana Thieme (both who I worked with on the Kenya Protocol pilot) to facilitate Solae's implementation in low income communities in Mumbai and Hyderabad.

This will be my first trip to India, and besides being personally excited for the experience, I believe the project will be a great boon for the continuing development of the Protocol. Not only are the target region and sponsoring company quite different than the last time around, but the structure of the project itself is an evolution of what we did in Kenya… most significant is the inclusion of local professionals and students on the core Protocol team.

I'll be reporting from the field every chance I get, both here and on other upcoming sites I'll be listing links to.

And of course, I'll always be on the look out for cool innovations and toys too!

Inspirations: BoP-Protocol.org and e4sw.org

Things have been pretty quiet around the BRINQ Workshop, only a few posts in the last six months, so what have we been up to?

Well, besides trying to get things started in Brazil again, I've been doing a lot of work for other folks, most particularly Enterprise for a Sustainable World (ESW), a new organization started up by Cornell University professor and Sustainability guru Stuart Hart, whose book "Capitalism at the Crossroads" we covered here before.

Clearing things up - Who wrote the BoP Protocol?

Yes, things have been quiet around here for a while, and expect a few more updates in the near future about what's been going on. But for the moment we need to clear a few things up. Please take a look at the updated FAQ on the About BRINQ page. The most important question is answered in more detail below:

Q: Who wrote the BoP Protocol?
A: Not BRINQ.Yes, things have been quiet around here for a while, and expect a few more updates in the near future about what's been going on. But for the moment we need to clear a few things up. Please take a look at the updated FAQ on the About BRINQ page. The most important question is answered in more detail below:

Q: "Who wrote the BoP Protocol?"
A: "Not BRINQ."

The BoP Protocol is the work of the BoP Protocol Working Group, which is directed out of Cornell University. So although you see a lot of stories about the Base of the Pyramid Protocol here on BRINQ.com, BRINQ is not in any way institutionally involved in the Protocol. We didn't write it, we don't run it, we don't decide how it's being developed. As the only web site that had been actively writing about the Protocol for some time, there was a lot of confusion over the question of authorship in the past. We have to apologize for not having made that more clear.

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