Visit to Elephant Rescue Center

Bama STEM MBAs Visit Elephant Rescue Center

I posted a short story about this on Facebook a couple of days ago but am adding a post to our blog.

Yesterday we interrupted our itinerary.  Our host, Mahesh, received a call from an old friend, offering a visit for us to Elefriends 101, an elephant rescue center and sanctuary near Mahabalipuram on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.  It was a terrific opportunity and we jumped at the chance.

STEM MBA student Ben Guerra feeds one of the rescued elephants a chunk of papaya.

STEM MBA student Ben Guerra feeds one of the rescued elephants a chunk of papaya.

Three subspecies of the Asian elephant remain today:  Elephas maximus maximus, native to Sri Lanka;  Elephas maximus sumatranas from Sumatra; and Elephas maximus indicus from India.  Elephas maximus is an endangered species, having lost greater than 50% of its population over the last 60-75 years.

Elephants residing at rescue center, out for one of their daily walks.

Elephants residing at rescue center, out for one of their daily walks.

STEM MBA students watch the elephants leave their exercise area to head back to the center.

STEM MBA students watch the elephants leave their exercise area to head back to the center.

Like a lot of endangered species, the decline in population is largely attributed to decline in natural habitat, both in terms of area and quality of the environment, as well as capture and poaching.  In the recent past, Indian elephants were captured, typically as calves, and placed in zoos and circuses, Hindu temples scattered across India, and work farms.

The three Asian elephants catch a drink and splash mud on themselves to protect them from sun burn.

The three Asian elephants catch a drink and splash mud on themselves to protect them from sun burn.

 

STEM MBA students take in the sight.

STEM MBA students take in the sight.

Elefriends 101 is a fairly new venture and hopes to grow.  The center currently provides a home for three adult female elephants, all of which were rescued from Hindu temples.  The temple staff would typically chain a hind leg and a front leg, using shackles, to posts that provided the elephant negligible room to move around.  Additionally, the elephants were made to sleep on a concrete floor, which led to pressure sores on their hips, shoulders, and legs.  It’s estimated that the oldest of the three elephants at Elefriends 101 was in captivity in these conditions  for over 30 years before her rescue.

The team.

The team.

Students look on as the elephants play in the mud.

Students look on as the elephants play in the mud.

Filmmaker Sangita Iyer created a documentary addressing the capturing of Indian elephants and their use in these various ways.  It was covered in the Telegraph.  It seems that progress is being made, thanks to these efforts to publicize the problem and the efforts made to care for the animals.

The elephants love the papaya and the students took turns shoveling it in.  Josh perfected a two-handed technique.

The elephants love the papaya and the students took turns shoveling it in. Josh perfected a two-handed technique.

You can learn more about these elephants by visiting Elefriends 101 on Facebook.  Hope you enjoy the photos below of our group at the rescue center.

Juan feeds the elephant.

Juan feeds the elephant.

Jimmy tries his hand at feeding.

Jimmy tries his hand at feeding.

Jake feeds one elephant while Ben checks out the trunk of another.

Jake feeds one elephant while Ben checks out the trunk of another.

Elephants 2

Elephants 3

Trying to feed her without losing a finger.

Trying to feed her without losing a finger.

Elephants 5

 

Bama STEM MBA in India 2016

Culverhouse STEM MBAs are Back in India!

For the second summer, I’m spending about three weeks in India with roughly a dozen STEM Path to the MBA students.  It’s very hot, very humid, and we are having a terrific time and a great learning experience.  Our itinerary this year is roughly the same as last year – we are spending time in New Delhi, Kajuraho, Agra, Chennai and Mahabilipuram – but with all but one of the students making their first trip to India (Rachel Ramey is a veteran from last summer’s trip) and mixing in some visits to new sites and with new Indian villagers, slum dwellers, and others, it’s makes for a whole new experience.

2016 STEM in India students meet with Literacy India founder and director Capt. Indraani Singh (front center).

2016 STEM in India students meet with Literacy India founder and director Capt. Indraani Singh (front center).

Why Poverty in India?

You may ask why India and why study impoverished consumers? Why villagers in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, out in the middle of nowhere and slum dwellers in the middle of India’s largest urban areas?  It’s a long story.  Each summer, students in the STEM Path to the MBA program, from incoming freshmen right out of high school to UA graduates who are rising into their MBA year of study, participate in a common reading experience exercise.  The faculty choose a book and everyone in the program reads the book over the summer and writes a short reaction paper that they turn in during the fall.  Over the course of the school year, we bring in experts to talk about the topics addressed in the book.  Sometimes those experts are the authors of the book that was read.

During the summer of 2013, we all read “Reverse Innovation” by Dr. Vijay Govindarajan.  Vijay is an emeritus professor of strategic management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.  Vijay grew up in a relatively poor urban area of India and was fortunate enough to be invited to attend college in the U.S., at Harvard.  One of Vijay’s mentors was the famous University of Michigan strategy guru, C. K. Prahalad.  Prahalad was born and raised in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.  He attended one of the IIT engineering colleges and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering.  After practicing engineering and managing in tech-oriented businesses, he went on to earn his doctorate in business at Harvard.  Prahalad, like I said, was a thought leader in strategic management, but also an early contributor to thinking on development in emerging markets.  He pioneered the concept “bottom of the pyramid”, which refers to the roughly 4 billion poor people on the planet who live on less than $2 per day and make up the base of an economic pyramid.  Toward the end of his career, he encouraged companies to consider the fortune that could be made from doing business with this segment of consumers.  The idea is that these consumers have needs for products that are inexpensive and address basic human needs, and because of the sheer number of these consumers in our world’s handful of emerging markets, a fortune could be made by addressing their needs.

STEM MBA students engage in discussion with villagers in the small farming community of Mukarwa.

STEM MBA students engage in discussion with villagers in the small farming community of Mukarwa.

Vijay Govindarajan shares Prahalad’s vision and developed an approach for putting it into action.  Govindarajan encourages companies to practice “reverse innovation.”  Traditionally, a common approach used by companies accustom to doing business in developed countries (typically from the western portion of the northern hemisphere) when entering developing markets (typically located in the eastern and southern hemispheres) is to create stripped-down, low cost versions of the products they are currently selling at home and introduce them to developing markets.  The results of this approach have been, at best, mixed.  Govindarajan argues for a different approach.  Companies should instead, he argues, determine the needs of consumers in developing markets and create products that address those needs.  The logic is that products developed in this way, once introduced in the developing market, will have small profit margins but, because of the very large number of potential consumers of the product, overall profits will be attractive.  However, it is not intended that the story ends there.  Numerous examples of products developed through reverse innovation are modified and introduced to the home, developed market where higher profit margins can be enjoyed and make the entire effort more attractive.

STEM MBA student Rachel Ramey learns to make bread over the small wood-fueled stove used for cooking in the tribal village we visited in the Panna Forest.

STEM MBA student Rachel Ramey learns to make bread over the small wood-fueled stove used for cooking in the tribal village we visited in the Panna Forest.

In the fall of 2013, Vijay visited campus in Tuscaloosa and had a number of great conversations with the STEM MBA students.  The students were inspired and asked me to put together a study abroad experience in rural India to perform reverse innovation exercises.  We began working with Mahesh Sriram and his company, I-India, located in Chennai.  Almost two years later, we made our first trip last summer.  It was a big success and we had sufficient interest this past year to repeat the trip this summer.  This summer’s students come from majors in mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, and biology. All but two of them have started their MBA coursework.  Nine guys and two young women, they come from Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and, of course, Alabama.

So, I have explained the students’ general motivations for making the trip, but let me share mine.  Part of my own motivation arises from being a huge fan of innovation and capitalism.  I’ll explain more in later blog posts, but I believe that the great strides forward that we have made over the last 150 years, and especially the last two decades, in lifting the world’s poor out of poverty have been fueled by innovation.  Innovations in healthcare have resulted in the eradication of small pox and the diminution of deaths and impairment from disease that had been common prior to industrialization.  Admittedly, industrialization has brought its own negative consequences, and many innovations have been introduced to reduce or eliminate many of those.  Innovations in agriculture have allowed us to make leaps forward in feeding the people of the planet.  Innovations in information technology allow us to better monitor, in real time typically, the phenomena that threaten human health and wellbeing all over the world.  I could go on but clearly, innovation has been key in reducing misery on the planet.  An innovation in how industry and commerce are conducted, capitalism, is a constantly evolving approach that supports and rewards innovation activity.  The media today report daily on misadventures in capitalism that can leave us with a bad impression of its overall impact, but my own opinion is that the conscientious practice of capitalism provides the best environment for innovation to occur and, in turn, increase worldwide wellbeing.

I could have spent hours  entertaining these kids in the tiny village of Devala taking pictures and letting them see themselves on the small view screen of my camera.

I could have spent hours entertaining these kids in the tiny village of Devala taking pictures and letting them see themselves on the small view screen of my camera.

More motivating personally, I’m one of the most blessed people on the planet.  I won the lottery and was born in America to parents who created a nurturing home and encouraged curiosity, learning, and compassion for others.  I had teachers throughout my school years, both in public K-12 and later in college, who were terrific educators and I ended up leaving school with degrees in biology, pharmacy, finance, and marketing that prepared me well.  For the last 25 years, I’ve been blessed to teach and do my research at the University of Alabama.  Colleagues, administrators, and students have provided encouragement, opportunity, thought-provoking conversations and, of course, a monthly paycheck.  For the last 30 years, my wife Julie and I have enjoyed a great time together that has included raising three bright, driven, compassionate daughters.  I have learned more from these four women than any other people in my life and I am very grateful to and for them.  Finally, but foremost, I have had the opportunity to enjoy a spiritual life full of growth, in part thanks to all of the aforementioned people and circumstances, but mostly by God’s grace.  Given all of these blessings, I seek most every day the opportunity to be a blessing to someone else.  I know of no greater source of those opportunities, given my strengths and weaknesses, than working with students to better understand the large emerging markets of the world.  Thus, in the latter half of my academic career, this has become one of my work passions.  I have a long way to go before I get good at it, but I’m encouraged every day by my family, my students and my colleagues.

Changing the Approach to Blogging

If you followed our blog last summer, students blogged from time to time as their schedules and interests allowed.  My own blogs provided a daily chronology of our India trip and comments on what we were learning.  Rather than repeat that style in my own posts this year, I’ve decided to take a different approach.  Reflecting the motivations for making the trip, I’m organizing my own posts around progress and opportunities that the students and I have identified for improving the lives of India’s impoverished people.

STEM MBA students were greeted by the political leaders of Kovilambakkam.

STEM MBA students were greeted by the political leaders of Kovilambakkam.

Where do we look for opportunities for progress in the developing world?  Well, think about the everyday areas of our lives that can make life seem much better or much worse.  Perhaps the first thing that springs to mind is health, physical and mental wellness, and the presence or absence of disease. We would likely also think of our current age and expected life span.  Though we may be bashful about admitting it, undoubtedly, we would consider our material wellbeing and wealth.  Today, a number of researchers from a variety of disciplines study personal happiness as well as attitudes that we would expect someone to enjoy more of as the previously mentioned circumstances improve.  The common thread for all of these things, as mentioned before, are innovations that take place in our environment.

Unfortunately, a fairly common scene in urban India.

Unfortunately, a fairly common scene in urban India.

Going forward, I plan to organize my own posts around a number of areas where my students and I see that opportunities exist for improving the living conditions of consumers in emerging markets, specifically focusing on Prahalad’s “bottom of the pyramid” consumers. Of course, the focus will often be further narrowed to the particular emerging market that we are studying together in this summer’s trip: India.  Three of the students and I, after finishing in India, will make a short stop in Tanzania – another emerging market – and so that experience might inform the discussion as well.

For now, the areas we see where innovation can occur or areas of life that can influence the practice of innovation, especially in developing economies, include:

  • Natural Resources
  • Education
  • Health and Healthcare
  • Access to Financial Assistance
  • Government
  • Culture
  • Physical Infrastructure
  • Housing
  • Clean and Abundant Water
  • Water for Irrigation
  • Sanitation
  • Environmental Stewardship
  • Communications Infrastructure
  • Religion and Spirituality

Many of these interact or might overlap in some areas, but should provide opportunity for substantial discussion.  I hope that you enjoy it!

Bye for now.

Bye for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Days 16-20: Reverse Innovation Customer Discovery Projects

The objective of this study abroad trip to India was for the students to learn about the various segments of poor people in a developing country and then work in teams to develop ideas for products and services that the poor could afford, that would improve their lives, and that, optimally, could provide jobs that would lift some out of poverty.

Students in UA’s STEM Path to the MBA are taught a process for innovation and design that involves repeated, quick development of ideas, testing these ideas through customer interviews, and pivoting the idea until the students arrive at an idea that they believe is ready for prototyping.  Once a prototype is created, students go back to potential customers, in much larger numbers, to validate the business model.

On days 16-20 of our trip, each day the four groups of students (team 1: product that makes use of cattle dung and urine; team 2: sustainable clean water; team 3: container for human transport of materials; and team 4: mobile web site for coordinating employment opportunities and potential employees) traveled to one of the local villages and talked about their business idea.  These clusters of interviews typically lasted 3-5 hours each day.  During the afternoons, the groups would work on adjusting their business models to better fit what they had learned that morning.  In the evenings, we would all gather, the groups would pitch the new iterations of their ideas, get feedback, and then hit the villages again the next morning.  After five days of iterations, the students presented their ideas one last time to the group and four leaders from these local villages.

I was able to go with a different group each morning, except for the employment app group, so this and the next couple of blog posts will share sort of a day in the process.  I hope you enjoy following their progress!

 

Day 14 – Visit to three Villages and Domino’s Pizza

Today we had moved out of Chennai to a hotel in the village Thirukalukundram, south of Chennai. By staying in the village hotel, we would have easier access to poor people who live in a cluster of smaller villages near the Bay of Bengal. To expose us to a broad range of living situations, our I-India hosts had arranged for us to visit three of these outlying villages.

The first village we visited, Koovathur, a typical small village in south India. During the month of July, the local Hindus celebrate taking care for the poor, and have a festival built around it. Research shows that when poor have little access to entertainment, public festivals and celebrations are very common. When we arrived in Koovathur, we headed over to the local temple and were guests to a performance by a local group of musicians, who played for us on the temple entryway.

Musicians in Koovathur temple.

Musicians in Koovathur temple.

From there, we drove to the home of Suthakar, a 40-something gentleman who is one of the most entrepreneurial, and kind hearted, people I have ever met. He runs several businesses out of his family’s home, including computer training classes. One of his businesses involves packing little boxes with tissues, or hygiene bags, or anything else you can imagine being packed into little boxes. A multinational corporation that does business in India decided that, rather than use a machine to package their products, they would outsource the work to locals. Suthakar has about a half-dozen local women who come to his home each day and pack box after box. For their work, they receive 2 rupees for every three boxes that they pack.

Women packing hygiene bags for hotels.

Women packing hygiene bags for hotels.

As we were loading up to go to the next village, I noticed the wall of the house next door. This must be the Koovathur Tri-Delt sorority house!

Koovathur Tri Delt house?

Koovathur Tri Delt house?

Next, we visited a fishing village, Vadapattinam, about 5 km further south. The fishing folks of Vadapattinam are very simple, happy people. They fish in the early morning, clean and mend nets in the late morning, and play lots of sports, including, not surprisingly, beach volleyball.

Fishing village.

Fishing village.

This visit was fairly short, but we would be back daily over the coming days. We all had a relaxing stroll through the tides on the beach of the Bay of Bengal.

STEM MBA students take a few minutes break and enjoy the beach on the Bay of Bengal.  Roll Tide!

STEM MBA students take a few minutes break and enjoy the beach on the Bay of Bengal. Roll Tide!

Finally, when we finished talking with the fishermen, we drove to Thenpattinam and visited a woman who makes stuffed animals for a living. She buys bulk fabric in Mahabalipuram and sews the dolls together in her home.

Entrepreneur creates stuffed animals.

Entrepreneur creates stuffed animals.

There is a lot of entrepreneurship, distributed packaging, and distributed manufacturing in south India. The jobs provide incomes that lift many families out of extreme poverty.

We noticed more and more the presence of dedicated, detached, indoor toilets. In the structure below, the door on the left is to a small room with the toilet. The door on the right is to a larger room where laundry is washed and family members take bucket showers – filling a bucket with water, soaping up, and then showering themselves with water by scooping water out of the bucket.

Detached, enclosed combination toilet and wash room in a rural village home.

Detached, enclosed combination toilet and wash room in a rural village home.

Women in the village.

Women in the village.

It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, but it set up the discussion we would have that evening that would include students pitching ideas for the projects they would work on during our last week in India. Students divided into four groups and chose projects that focused on four issues:

  • Connecting rural and urban unemployed workers with employers.
  • Finding a more efficient way of using the enormous amount of cattle dung the villages produce.
  • Developing a solution that would provide clean (biologically and chemically) drinking water.
  • Developing more durable and useful packaging for hauling vegetables, fish, and anything else that villagers have to personally haul each day.

The coming week the students would go out each morning and interview members of the villages who had some insights to the problems they were studying.

It had been a long couple of weeks.  We all needed a change of pace, something to remember from home.  We ordered pizza from a Domino’s in a neighboring village.  It was wonderful.

As I walked back to my hotel room, which was about ¾ mile from our meeting room, I noticed that there was actually a slum behind the hotel’s detached restaurant. The slum was built by construction workers to provide them with a crude home to live in with their families while they worked on an addition to the hotel. These slum homes, just like the ones we had seen in Hyderabad, Delhi, and Agra near construction sites, were typically lean-tos.

Make-shift slum put up behind our hotel.  The inhabitants are construction workers and their families.

Make-shift slum put up behind our hotel. The inhabitants are construction workers and their families.

Insert photo slum

 

 

Day 13 – A Middle Class Neighborhood in Chennai

Today we visited two families who, over the last couple of generations, have been able to move out of lower class into the lowest rungs of middle class in Chennai. A middle class neighborhood in Chennai, like in any huge metropolitan city in the world, can take on one of many appearances. In the neighborhood we visited, families still live in apartments and still have narrow access areas to their homes. However, there is typically garbage pickup. Large bins are placed on most blocks and members of the neighborhood dump their garbage in these bins. Rarely are the bins large enough for the entire block, but it’s an improvement over what we saw in slums where garbage collection didn’t exist. Another difference in middle class neighborhoods is that there are more retail stores, store-front cafes, and access to many goods and services that the poor in slums don’t have.

Typical scene in a just middle class neighborhood in Chennai.

Typical scene in a just middle class neighborhood in Chennai.

Middle class neighbors share a trash dumpster.  Here, trash has spilled over onto the street and when the garbage workers came by to empty the dumpster, they left what spilled out.

Middle class neighbors share a trash dumpster. Here, trash has spilled over onto the street and when the garbage workers came by to empty the dumpster, they left what spilled out.

My group visited a young mom, Pooni, who lives in a two-floor apartment that I would guess was close to 1,000 square feet. Pooni lives with her husband, their two kids, her husband’s brother and his wife and their two kids, and his husband’s parents. Her grandmother also lived with them until she died earlier this year at 104 years of age.

Pooni with her daughter, niece, and husband in her middle class apartment.

Pooni with her daughter, two nieces, and husband in her middle class apartment.

Pooni works at a Chennai law firm, processing information on patents. Her husband is an electronic technician and he and Pooni travel together each morning to work, as work they near each other. Pooni’s mother-in-law watches the four children every day and has a maid who helps keep the house clean. The family has two washing machines, a television in every room, and a computer that her middle school aged son uses, mostly to play computer games. When we asked questions about household income and expenses, Pooni and her husband were unsure about totals. They knew that the family spent 20,000 rupees a month on food, but weren’t sure about rent and other expenses. The reason is that Pooni’s father-in-law pays the rent and pays for the family’s food, and expects his children to save as much as they can for his grandchildren’s education.

Pooni's father-in-law, a really good guy!

Pooni’s father-in-law, a really good guy!

This was a common theme that we heard across all Indian families that we met – the importance of saving for the children’s education, to give them a better chance at a good life. Pooni’s father-in-law is an entrepreneur. Several years ago he started a company that manufactures electric boxes for breakers and fuses. Today, he still works from a shop in the neighborhood but also has a factory in another part of the city where his two sons work.

Pooni's father-in-law is an entrepreneur.  Here, he shows us samples of the electronic control boxes that his company builds.

Pooni’s father-in-law is an entrepreneur. Here, he shows us samples of the electronic control boxes that his company builds.

When we asked Pooni what she would like to have, she said she would like to not need to work, so that she could stay at home and spend more time with her children. As we walked through the neighborhood, the students visited some of the retail shops. One shop caught my eye. I noticed a picture depicting Jesus on one of the shelves, so I went inside for a closer look. Behind the counter was a sign that said “Jesus Never Fails” and there were some other Christian products and posters in the store. The shop owners, a husband and wife, were originally Hindu but had converted to Christianity.  It was explained to me that, because of the caste system in India, many lower caste people feel that they are not equals in their temples, and so Christianity appeals to them.

Christian convert shop owners in the middle class neighborhood.

Christian convert shop owners in the middle class neighborhood.

We left the middle class neighborhood and traveled a short distance to the offices of the neighborhood ward leader. The ward leader is selected by his political party and he basically is the party’s leader in the neighborhood, monitoring the pulse of the electorate that he is responsible for.

STEM MBA students meet with the ward leader for  the middle class neighborhoods of Chennai.

STEM MBA students meet with the ward leader for the middle class neighborhoods of Chennai.

Among his projects that he operates is a soup kitchen where anyone in the ward can pay a nominal price and get a meal, three times a day. The food was good. After touring the kitchen, we were taken out back and toured the biofuel generator that they use to convert scraps from the kitchen into biofuel. Something we really weren’t expecting to see.

Soup kitchen in Chennai ward.

Soup kitchen in Chennai ward.

Biogas collector system for waste from ward soup kitchen.

Biogas collector system for waste from ward soup kitchen.

Finally, we toured the ward’s health clinic. For a nominal fee, ward residents can see a doctor and receive treatment. The clinic is heavily used for prenatal care, a big emphasis of India’s government, in line with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Tate got a free sonogram.

Tate gets a sonogram.

Tate gets a sonogram.

Many of the residents of this middle class ward were either among the poor class themselves at one point, or came from families that had been. The economic growth that India has witnessed over the last 20 years has changed the fortunes of many. Finding ways to keep the economy growing, and adding jobs, is crucial to helping lift more out of the slums.

 

 

 

Day 12 – Urban Slums Visit

Gallery

This gallery contains 43 photos.

Today we visited a slum neighborhood in Chennai.  The sights and smells were difficult to deal with.  I decided that rather than words, pictures would best share our experience.

Day 11 – Visiting P&G and Dupont

Today was our second full day in Hyderabad and we were able to make two company visits AND catch our train for a 14 hour train ride to Chennai.

Our morning visit was to Procter & Gamble’s Hyderabad plant.  STEM Path to the MBA Advisory Board member William Gipson helped put this visit together for us and it was great.  The plant is very new and was exciting for the students to see.  We had wanted to do a tour of the plant floor but that would require everyone on the tour to wear steel-toed shoes.  Amazingly, our host, Mridula Varghese, seemingly scoured Hyderabad for safety shoes for her American guests!  Mridula, Ritika Singh and Monika Arya took most of the students on the tour.  Tate and I had to sit out the tour because of our freakishly large feet, and Geoff and Joey sat out with us because our alternative activity was to spend time with Amit Agrawal and Narashiva Charanshetty, having a great conversation about modeling and simulating plant operations.  So, in the end, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the time at the plant.  We were able to cap it all with a group conversation with the plant’s leadership team.  The students were able to ask about the role of castes, gender and age in the Indian work force and learn about the challenges the team faces.  They learned a ton.

Tate, Geoff, and Joey  chat with  Amit and Narashiva about modeling and simulation of production processes.

Tate, Geoff, and Joey chat with Amit and Narashiva about modeling and simulation of production processes.

P&G Hyderabad leadership team in Q&A.

P&G Hyderabad leadership team in Q&A.

UA STEM MBA students with the P&G Hyderabad leadership team.

UA STEM MBA students with the P&G Hyderabad leadership team.

After completing the visit with P&G, we hopped on the bus and headed to the other side of Hyderabad – about a 3 hour trip – to Dupont’s really cool facilities in the Knowledge Center.  STEM MBA Advisory Board member Jeff Jirak had set up the visit and we had a very good meeting with Pushparaj Mishra and Ranjan Patnaik.  The STEM Path to the MBA focuses heavily on innovation and we had the chance to visit a company that is a world class leader in innovation.

Pushparaj and Ranjan discussed with the students the history of Dupont and the genesis of their new company, Chemours.  Dupont and Chemours, though industrial giants, have the potential to be natural leaders in the reverse innovation conversation and the students left with several ideas for how their technologies could be put to use toward that end.

UA Team at Dupont

 

 

 

Day 10 – Visiting ADTRAN in Hyderabad

As we were preparing for our trip to India we were very fortunate to have several of the STEM MBA Advisory Board members step forward and offer to arrange for us to make visits to their Indian operations. ADTRAN, P&G, and Dupont all have operations in Hyderabad so we thought we would take advantage of that and make some company site visits.

Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad are all growing their technology, but especially digital, industries at a rapid pace. ADTRAN is a Huntsville, Alabama based business that is a world leader in manufacturing equipment used in delivering Internet service to consumers, businesses, and government organizations. Kent Darzi, Srinivasulu Chamarthi, Monali Barman, Gouri Gunda, and Shibu Talukder all hosted us for a tour of their Hyderabad facilities and a discussion of how growing internet bandwidth will change our use of technology and entertainment and what it means for business. A great way to kick off two days of corporate visits in Hyderabad.

UA's STEM MBA students with ADTRAN's Hyderbad leadership team.

UA’s STEM MBA students with ADTRAN’s Hyderbad leadership team.

After the tour, Srinivas and Shibu took us to dinner at the most amazing castle I’ve ever seen, the Falaknuma Palace. Falaknuma was completed in 1893, built by Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra, Prime Minister of Hyderabad. The palace is built in the shape of a scorpion, and after a wonderful dinner we received a tour of the main building – an amazing place.

View of the front of Falaknuma Palace.

View of the front of Falaknuma Palace.

View from the palace balcony, overlooking the city of Hyderabad.

View from the palace balcony, overlooking the city of Hyderabad.

STEM MBA student Rachel Ramey looks out over Hyderabad at Falaknuma Palace.

STEM MBA student Rachel Ramey looks out over Hyderabad at Falaknuma Palace.

Thanks to our friends at ADTRAN for a terrific day!

 

 

 

 

Day 9 – Traveling to Hyderabad via Delhi

Today was another all-day traveling day. We drove from Agra back to Delhi and then caught a regional flight from Delhi to Hyderabad. It was our first time on what could be considered India’s equivalent of the U.S.’s interstate highway system. On our way to the nice, open highway to Delhi, we passed several trucks like the one below. Can you guess what its purpose is?

What is it?

What is that truck carrying?

The truck is seen pretty routinely near construction areas in India. It us used to carry sand from its origin to local retailers and distributors. Rather than using a steel truck bed, these trucks use what looks like huge burlap bags. Another odd thing we saw along the way were the makeshift wrecked car cemeteries. When someone has a wreck on the large highways, the disabled cars can just be towed to one of these areas and left for the owner to collect.

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Day 8 Evening: The Power of Leadership, Women, and Hard Work

(Note: this post covers our experiences on July 21st but will, hopefully, be posted today, the 27th. I’ve been working on this post since the 22nd but repeatedly hit delays in finishing it. Part of it is our schedule – we’ve been starting our work days early in the morning and going until late in the evening. Part is internet access – the last two hotels we have stayed in have had spotty wifi at best. But the biggest reason for delay is understanding what is true. As you can imagine, when you are talking about culture, poverty, how one group of human beings treat another group of human beings, and other complex issues, and trying to understand them as an outsider, you rely on discerning what is true by talking to several people and trying to pick out what fragments of what you are told are true, which things are not true because someone is attempting to spin the truth, and which things are not true but those telling it believe it is. In the end, I’m just sharing what I took away from these conversations as truth. That’s the best I can do.)

While that morning the Taj Mahal was beautiful and the Agra Fort showed some impressive engineering and architecture, the afternoon and evening of Day 8 beat the morning backwards and forwards. We drove outside of Agra a few miles to a nearby village, Barara. Barara has a population of about 6,000 people. As we drove into the village, we passed what can best be described as a man-made lagoon that was connected to a drainage ditch.

Barara lagoon.

Barara lagoon.

There is nothing really particularly peculiar about that in a village in India. What was unique about it was that it had been stocked with a handful of courageous little boys who were taking advantage of the recent rain, and the accumulation of water in the lagoon, to practice their cannon ball dives and swimming strokes.

Boys swimming in Barara "lagoon".

Boys swimming in Barara “lagoon”.

The boys were having a good old time and when they saw our bus drive by, they really began to ham it up.

We stopped, piled out of the bus, and gathered in the covered driveway of one of the bigger homes in the village. Our guide to the village, Solanki, introduced us to our host in the village, Rajveer Sikarwar. Raj appeared to be in his early 40s. Once everything had settled down, he and Solanki told us about life in Barara. They talked about the local school, the clinic, and the government benefits that were given to families living in villages like Barara: heavily subsidized rice, wheat, and natural gas; 5,000 rupees placed in savings accounts for baby girls born in the hospital (more about this later), subsidized cell phone services, and other programs. As Raj talked, and as he began to answer our questions, we began to see something in him, and in Barara, that had been sorely lacking in the tribal village – passion for the village, compassion for neighbors, dreams for the village’s children. It was pretty cool to watch.

Rajveer Sikawar (in blue shirt), our host in the Barara village, discusses life in the village.

Rajveer Sikawar (in blue shirt), our host in the Barara village, discusses life in the village.

Raj and Solanki took questions for quite a long time, probably longer than they intended. Eventually, Raj’s brother arrived and asked if we would like to see a snake charmer. The snake charmer followed him in and Raj’s brother pulled a cobra out of his basket and offered to let the students hold it – there were quite a few takers on that offer.

The snake charmers.

The snake charmers.

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We left the carport and Raj took us on a tour of the village. Along the way, we stopped at one of the homes and were invited in to watch Geetha, a young woman who seemed to constantly have a smile on her face – not a pretend smile, but an authentic smile, and she was constantly laughing at things. Geetha led us through her house to the back patio, where she had lit a fire in a small clay oven.

The living area of Geetha's home.

The living area of Geetha’s home.

Geetha squatted down and began to make roti – a small, flat bread that looks pretty much like a taco-sized pita bread. She grabs a handful of dough out of a pan, rolls it up in a ball, then smashes it methodically into a pancake and drops it onto a metal pan sitting on top of the clay oven. Once the roti is firm, she props it up on one of the sticks of firewood that is protruding from the oven so that it can bake further.

Geetha baking roti bread on clay oven.

Geetha baking roti bread on clay oven.

As we watched her working, Rachel and Evan took turns rolling the balls of dough into pancakes. As time went on, quickly the patio began to fill up with neighborhood children who were excited to meet us. Geetha’s mother arrived and Raj did the introductions.

Rachel baking roti bread.

Rachel baking roti bread.

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Raj introduces Geetha's mom and family.

Raj introduces Geetha’s mom and family.

So at one point, Geetha’s patio (roughly 12’ by 12’) was not only full of STEM MBA students and kids, but goats began showing up as well. Sheela tried to show us her goat whispering skills. She should probably stick to mathematics and finance.

Sheela shows off her goat whispering skills.

Sheela shows off her goat whispering skills.

We left Geetha’s home and continued to walk through the village. As we walked, we continued to attract children and they seemed very happy to have us visit. We eventually ended up at Raj’s family’s home, a compound that apparently is home to Raj’s dad and uncle, their children, and their grandchildren. They had prepared dinner for us and we enjoyed wonderful hospitality from them.

Relaxing before dinner at the Sikawar's home in Barara.

Relaxing before dinner at the Sikawar’s home in Barara.

So this is all only part of the story. In our last village visit, to the tribal village, the lack of leadership, the lack of initiative, and the apparent marginalization of women stood out as substantial problems. In Barara, the story was just the opposite. Let me explain.

Leadership. Though we only spent a few hours in the village, after observing Raj and talking to others who know him and are familiar with the workings of Barara, it was clear that Raj, and probably other members of his family before him, were very good leaders. As he spoke about the village, he talked of how they are very much like a family. If one member of the village is in need, they all try to address the problem to help. Across India each year, a number of farmers commit suicide when their crops fail, due to drought or flood.  Suicides among farmers hasn’t occurred in Barara.  Some of our questions probed for problems that we had read about before coming to India, or seen firsthand in other villages, but Raj was quick to explain that those conditions did not exist in Barara, that the people of the village would not allow it.

Raj’s family has prospered and they share some of their blessings with others in the village. Because he was concerned about the quality of the water in his home, Raj’s father had an expensive reverse osmosis water purifying system installed on the well that serves his home. At first, he shared the water with the rest of the village. Some people wasted the water, so he began to charge a nominal fee for the water and the waste stopped. (As a marketing professor, I appreciate his solution – people tend to not value what they don’t have to pay for).

When Raj told us earlier that the village looks out for everyone in the village, he meant everyone. As we were walking through the village before dinner, the students stopped in the doorway of one home to admire the henna tattoos that two pretty little girls had on their arms. Raj explained to me that the family were Muslims. Barara is a village that is nearly completely Hindu, in a country that is largely Hindu but holds a significant population of Muslims; a country whose relationship with it’s neighbor – predominately Muslim Pakistan – is constantly one of great tension (a 14th student from UA was not allowed an Indian visa because his father, born in Bangladesh, was identified by U.S. immigration as a native of Pakistan, and the Indian visa application specifically asks about Pakistani ancestry of the applicant); a country who lost many of its temples and art to invading Muslim armies over a 300 year span earlier in the second millennium AD.   Raj explained that it bothered him that religion was being used as an excuse to discriminate against others, that people in other parts of the country were voicing concerns about their safety being threatened by Muslims. He remarked that these were just children, just a mother and father – they were no threat to anyone, they were just another Barara family.

Doorway to the home of a Muslim family in Barara.  Muslims are a very small minority in the village.

Doorway to the home of a Muslim family in Barara. Muslims are a very small minority in the village.

Raj isn’t the only important leader in the community. Remember Geetha, the young woman with the terrific smile? She is respected by the other women of the village, and Raj often relies on her leadership to help solve problems that arise that are better addressed by a woman.

Barara is full of hope for its children. Its people are proud of their life here. Leadership has been largely responsible.

Treatment of Women and Girls. Perhaps because of the international media coverage of the treatment of women in India over the last few years, perhaps because of the United Nations MDG focus on women and children, the treatment of women and children in India is a sensitive topic. Female infanticide has been a recognized problem. Sociologists and human rights activists have studied the problem and offered explanations and prescriptions. It is a hugely complex issue that, of course, can’t be adequately covered in a blog post written by a marketing professor, so these are just my own thoughts. A couple of common explanations for the rise in female infanticide in India in previous years are (1) the dowry system that has been common here in the last century, and (2) the economic value of girls vs. boys in a poor home that depends on children contributing to the family economically through labor. The unimaginable cruelty of female infanticide in India, when it has occurred, is heart breaking. The government has responded to this problem in many ways, but a couple are worth noting and we have run into their mention repeatedly during our stay in India. First, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the government now offers families 5,000 rupees for birthing children in hospitals, where care is provided by trained medical personnel, the birth is officially recorded, and the baby is kept at the hospital until it is decided that it is healthy enough to go home. Second, though sonography in pregnancy is common in India, it is illegal for medical personnel to divulge to anyone, most of all the parents, the sex of a fetus based on sonography. The concern is that if the parents knew the fetus was female they would choose an abortion. In an earlier visit, we spoke with an American woman who currently works in India and is several months pregnant. When I asked her what sex the baby was, she explained that she didn’t know, even though she had twice had a sonogram, because of this Indian law.

When we spoke with Raj about the treatment of women and girls, he brought up all of these issues without us probing. He passionately argued that in Barara, a child is a child and loved equally, regardless of its sex. He argued that, in fact, economically girls were more beneficial to the home because they work much longer hours. As evidence, he pointed to the large crowd of boys who had gathered around to watch our visit, and noted that girls were absent because they had a stronger work ethic and were out working instead of playing. He explained his views on the outdated dowry system, its origins and evolution, and how it was falling out of favor.

Young boys quickly gathered around us to watch our conversation with Raj.

Young boys quickly gathered around us to watch our conversation with Raj.

When we visited Geetha’s home, Raj interacted with Geetha and her mother in a warm, genuine way. The girls in his home, when we visited for dinner, were dressed in western clothing, were outgoing and seemed to be very happy.

Judging by criteria developed by the World Bank and others to measure equal treatment of women, such as equality of education, women’s roles in politics, equality of pay, and equality of health services, Barara and other villages and cities seem to be making progress. However, for much of the work that women do, it is not work for which they receive compensation – they work in the home but that work is not something they receive income for, but that’s true globally. Still, we observe a number of social regularities that give pause. Why is it still tolerated for a man to stop in the middle of a sidewalk and urinate on a wall? Why have Indian males and children completely adopted western clothing, while adult women continue to wear traditional clothing? Why do Indian males consumer a far larger share of alcoholic beverages? Something to think about.

Sustainability. India is famous for its frugal innovation, and frugal innovation is the rule in rural villages. In Barara, as you walk past home after home, you might be put off by so many homes having a 3-5 water buffalos or cows in their side yard, eating from a trough, defecating in the dirt yard, and often just laying around, but these animals are hugely valuable to the family for two reasons. First, most of these families are farmers and occasionally encounter a year when there is either a drought and all of their crops die, severely cutting into the family’s income, or there is too much rain and they have the same economic result. If the family has a handful of cows, they can milk them each morning and each evening and sell the milk in Agra, providing an economic supplement that allows them to accumulate some savings during good years, and serve as enough to get them through a year when the crops fail.

A village family's yard.

A village family’s yard. In the left foreground you can see the chopping machine, with the big crank wheel, that chops cherie into small bites that are fed to cattle.

Water buffalo in manger at a village home.

Water buffalo and cows in manger at a village home.

Second, the animals produce another product that is just as valuable as milk: dung. Families will stockpile dung, as you can see in the photos below, and it provides them with fuel for cooking year round. Nothing goes to waste. The cows typically feed on cherie, a tall plant that looks sort of like corn stalks without the corn. They will keep 1-2 acres of cherie and each day cut what they need, take it home, and run it through a hand-powered device that chops the cherie up into small pieces that the cows love.

Haystack-shaped pile of cattle dung behind Geetha's home.  Dung is an important fuel resource in the village.

Haystack-shaped pile of cattle dung behind Geetha’s home. Dung is an important fuel resource in the village.

 

In the shack on the right, dung is being stockpiled for fuel.

In the shack on the right, dung is being stockpiled for fuel.

Cherie is an important resource to the farming families who chop it and feed it to their cattle as the main source of the cattle's diet.

Cherie is an important resource to the farming families who chop it and feed it to their cattle as the main source of the cattle’s diet.  Here, the family stores the day’s supply just inside the front entrance to their home.

All in all, Barara was a terrific visit!