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