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.

India and the BoP Protocol

In April, my colleague Erik Simanis (of Cornell) and I headed out to India to guide the Solae Company in its implementation of the Base of the Pyramid Protocol. The initiative is being run by Enterprise for a Sustainable World (for whom I'm a senior consultant) and Cornell University's SGE (with Stu Hart, Duncan Duke, et al.) The project is in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India and we are conducting implementations of the Protocol in two different sites, the Indiramma Nagar slums of Hyderabad and in villages in the Parvathagiri mandal of Warangal District.

The initial phase of the implementation involved a seven member team and was conducted over a 16 week period from April 16 to July 30, 2006, which included an 11 week in-field immersion period and a 5 week data gathering and business concept development period. This is the second implementation of the BoP Protocol, the first being the 2005 pilot with SC Johnson in Kenya (also involving me, Erik, and others from Cornell).

Highlights of the India immersion include:

  • weeks of 45+ degree C weather followed by weeks of monsoon rains;
  • working with close to 100 different community members (90% women) across the two sites;
  • a week-long homestay with a generous Muslim family (of 8) in their one room house in the Indiramma Nagar slum cluster;
  • weeks living in Parvathagiri village and dining on spicy local cuisine (lots of burning ears and teary eyes);
  • eating a lifetime's worth of rice and then a lifetime's more; learning to eat rice, dal, curry, and all sorts of sloppy tasty things with my right hand;
  • playing homemade games with the kids (which I always lost) and cruising around (by rickshaw, car, or foot) with the local youths;
  • teaching English idioms to a generous and self-taught Muslim youth and friend;
  • running 15 Participatory Rural Appraisal sessions, 17 entrepreneurship and business development workshops, and dozens of meetings and interviews with community groups;
  • mangling both Hindi and Telegu - Urdu too;
  • attending both Hindu and Muslim weddings;
  • discovering ancient temples, trees that ooze the local brew (toddy), and the simple yet engrossing joy of lightbulbs, insect hatches, and hungry geckos;
  • being irate at controlling husbands, furious with self-appointed elites, frustrated by saviour-type mentalities, and humbled by too-wise children;
  • "mexican" mariachi bands singing Simon & Garfunkel, Donald Duck ventriloquists at the Buddha, karaoke dancing, and daytime coffee shops that are more like night clubs… recognizing what a local weirdo I am for not getting any of it;
  • being simultaneously overwhelmed and awed by the sheer press of India's culture and populace, catching a glimpse of the weight of a world full with people.

These projects are intense, no two ways about it, but they're transformational too. My thanks to Padma, Ravi, Shweta, Sonika, Paul, Srini, Murali, Nanda, Padmaja, Indira, Klavathi, Muneer and so many more who made the project a success and at times a true joy. And of course to Erik, who's not only the brains behind the Protocol, but its driving energy as well... the man doesn't need sleep. Finally, I will always remember the final night in the home of Sheik Baba and Sultana, when I had just presented my host family with a few packs of crayons and coloring books. An early monsoon rain had come and the alleys in the slum were flooded, water was leaking through the corrugated steel roof, yet everyone in the family was coloring - father, mother, grandmother, sons, daughters and nieces - everyone was intent, everyone was smiling. It was beautiful.

The Protocol work with Solae in India is continuing, with several business concepts having come out of the immersion. Erik has already returned once to India and I'll be going back in December, while a team on the ground is being assembled to pilot the businesses.

Brazil e BRINQ

I've been back in Rio de Janeiro since August and although I continue to assist the Protocol projects in India, my focus is turning once more back to Brazil. I have been working as a Development Advisor for Catalytic Communities (of whom much has been written on this site) while also pitching proposals for the BoP Protocol to companies here in Brazil. BRINQ as a business concept, to assist and support local innovators of toys and play, is still being thought through, but little practically is being done as I focus on other opportunies. However BRINQ as a place to share stories and promote local stories is still very much alive. Look for more of that to come from the BRINQ Workshop once again - there is a backlog of stories from India and elsewhere.

In late January I'll be going on a trip to the Amazon with Projeto Bagagem visiting communities along the river over a week-long tour. Since I first started in this line of work, I've always dreamed of visiting the Amazon and getting to know more of the communities in the interior of Brazil. Realizing a dream is a beautiful thing.

I'm so lucky to get to do what I do.


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