Days 15-20- Customer Discovery- Group 2: Cold Supply Chain

Last Thursday, many of us traveled to Birmingham for a meet and greet with AIBP, a group interested in strengthening the relationship between Alabama and India. While we were there, the president of the organization mentioned that he had been following our blog and was wondering when we were going to finish it. With classes going on, we never got around to blogging about our last week in India, where we set out in groups to conduct field research and work on product development. We would like to follow through on our promise to Sanjay (shoutout to you if you’re reading this!) and talk about what each group did.

My group consisted of two people – me (Sheela) and Meagan. Initially, we wanted to tackle the problem that the farmers were having with their grain storage. Many of their storage containers and bags were torn and/or were difficult to transport. As we talked to more villagers, however, our focus changed and evolved. We were noticing a greater problem involving their storage of produce. When we went to a fishing village in Cheyur, the fishermen were tossing around their freshly caught fish in the sand. This was their way of preventing flies from surrounding the fish and spreading diseases.

fish covered in sand

fish covered in sand

After doing so, they placed the fish in large metal vessels without ice. When asking them about this, a fisherman told us that there was a false perception in India that the use of ice to preserve fish is an indication that the fish is low quality. Therefore, they would not be able to sell frozen fish at a high price. The wives of the fishermen would typically  sell the fish in the afternoon (around 7 hours after going out by boat).

fish market

fish market

fish vender

fish vender

It was then that we wanted to create a product that could keep the fish cool and fresh without freezing them. This product could also be used by vegetable venders who kept their produce out in the hot air all day. Therefore, we hope to make our product a fabric of sorts that could be converted into a bag or lining by the villagers themselves. We think it is important for the Indians to be involved in the manufacturing of the product for two reasons. First, if they are involved in making it, they would be more inclined to actually use and promote the product. Secondly, it would create local jobs. We were able to talk to a women’s support group that currently sews together jute bags for a variety of purposes. We feel that they would be an excellent channel for the manufacturing of our product.

womens support group

womens support group

After presenting our idea to a panel of Indians and the Board of Visitors here, we are working with Phifer Wire and DuPont to continue this product development. The seniors even chose our idea to use for one of their senior design projects, focused on the cold supply chain in India. We can’t wait to see what happens!

Student Perspective: A Naan-Fiction Experience

It’s been about a week since we left India and I am slowly coming to terms with what that means. I never imagined how impactful the trip would be for me, academically and psychologically. I do not think that we could have ended on a better note, relaxing at a beach resort in Mahabalipuram after a busy week of field research in Cheyur Village.

Looking back, there are so many memories that I will cherish for years to come. In the first place, traveling to my parent’s home country for a research project for school was never something that I had imagined would be possible. I also could not have foreseen being able to bring one of my close friends from the trip to my grandparents’ house, where we were able to talk about all the incredible experiences we’d had so far.

Unfortunately I had to miss the first three days of the program, the Delhi portion. However, during my time in India, I learned quite a bit about poverty in developing nations. Too many of the poor Indians that we talked to told us that they wanted guidance and help to get out of their economic situation. It seemed that, throughout their lives, they had been told that they were not capable of helping themselves and that they would have to rely on governmental programs and external aid to make any progress. While I feel that the government definitely plays a large role in the healthcare and education of these villages, it appears they have an artificial understanding of how much the administration can do. It was heartbreaking to see how few children were able to make it to high school, let alone college. Although it was neat to see that there were many governmental programs being implemented to promote education, such as providing each student who graduated from 12th grade with a laptop computer to continue their education.

A computer is a tool that may have a high cost, but has an almost unlimited value. These are the types of things Indians needs. The same goes for traditional merchandising. Indians are very interested in buy extremely low-cost products if they are able to produce at least 80% of the effect or the full-price (or developed world) version. Speaking of money, everywhere we went, we were told that, in India, it is far more common to see women make financial decisions than men.

At first this thought seemed a little peculiar to us. We tried coming up with all sorts of deep explanations for this phenomenon, but it seemed to boil down to this: women are generally better at saving money. Since they are used to making sacrifices for the children and family, women are less prone to taking large financial risks. Although, after seeing the closets of the some girls in Alabama, I’m not sure that is true in the US.

The role of women is actually hugely controversial in India, because they are expected to take of money, but they are also far more often forced to stop school and get married early. In the remote villages, we saw a number of women cover their faces with their shawls as the men in our group walked by. One lady even covered her face as I played with her baby girl.

Because of the great disparity between men and women, a number of women self-help groups have sprung up in India recently. We talked with many of these women. We were even able to host a number of women of one group at our hotel in Chennai.

This lady was an incredible woman with an unimaginable strength. She has done so much for her village and her people and meeting her gave us motivation to pursue our research.

Ultimately we came up with 4 products that we are hoping to pursue further. Here is a brief description of them for now.

  1. Two-ply fabric made from jute and  Tyvek ® to store produce fresh longer
  2. Job app to bring together employers and employees in search of each other in rural areas
  3. Cow urine capture system to use for organic fertilizer made from cow urine, feces, and milk
  4. Low-cost water filtration system for rural India

We presented our ideas to a panel of local Indians near Chennai and they liked all of our ideas a lot. We’re going to obviously do a lot more research if we want to proceed, but it’s going to be a fun road ahead.