Tag Archives: Courage

I come from a family of well-educated engineers, doctors and civil officers. I grew up in a sheltered environment, learning about the significance of a credible education, of stability, and of planning as far ahead as possible. Most of my extended family relocated to study in the U.S, and have built comfortable lives there. If I was writing this a decade ago, I might have had a similar story to share.

But I have grown up in the “new” India, and in this land of expanding opportunity, I chose the road less traveled.

In my 26 years I have traveled the world, started a not-for-profit, spent a month in the Antarctic and have chosen a career that attempts at “good” business. Turning down several opportunities to continue working abroad, I chose to return to India. The emergence of a pulsating, dynamic new India has triggered a reverse brain drain. Indians living in different corners of the world, who had gone looking for opportunity, chose to return to a vibrant, exciting land of promise. So did I. I came back to an India ‘whose faith in success was far greater that her fear of failure’. An India that was poised as the fastest growing free-market democracy in the world. Globalization with all its challenges and opportunities had created a country of paradox, success, failure and hope. The development of a young, new India in the face of a globalized world economy has greatly influenced my thinking and life choices.

India opened its doors to the global economy, transforming the lives and aspirations of its people. This evolution came to life with A.R Rehman winning two Grammy Awards, Kalpana Chawla being the first Indian-born woman to fly in space, and Slumdog Millionaire winning an Oscar. The world was looking at India with curiosity, and inter-cultural connections multiplied exponentially. Consequently, my dream of traveling the world became a reality. I worked with an international team in Rotterdam that led a global organization to achieve 45% growth in results. Our mantra was ‘Connecting to Deliver’, and we leveraged technology that supported people across the world to learn, share and achieve. I developed programs that mobilized youth to experience new economies and cultures. Recognizing these successes, I was awarded a scholarship to participate in a sustainability leadership program in the Antarctic. This would have been unheard of for a young woman in the India that was. The world had literally become my playground, and these experiences completely changed the way I viewed my country, my future and myself.

Today, India is riding high on its so-called “demographic dividend”. While India’s youth hold significant promise, the lack of education, inadequate infrastructure and skewed employment prospects present a daunting task. Young India needs empowerment, training and access to livelihood opportunities. Being a young Indian, my work has focused on youth mobilization for social impact. Recognizing the need for ethical and sustainable leadership, my work in AIESEC was directed towards exponentially increasing the quantity of leadership experiences the organization provided young people in India and globally. While leading the Global Entrepreneurs Program, my team trained aspiring Indian entrepreneurs and gave them a platform to develop business skills by interning with growing enterprises. Today my work leverages India’s demographic dividend through social enterprise. The enterprises I support are transforming the lives of unemployed youth through door-step business training, providing technology-based interactive education to disadvantaged communities, and generating employment in rural India through BPOs.

India’s entrepreneurial spirit is being harnessed in whole new ways. The world is attempting to learn from Indian innovation or ‘jugaad’ in Hindi, as a tool to find uncommon solutions to common problems. Earlier this year, a business acquaintance from Accra experienced Dharavi, Asia’s largest ‘five-star’ slum as part of a global initiative on Urban Poverty that I managed. He reflects that ‘Dharavi’s future is different from the slums in Ghana because Dharavi has the ability to grow organically through the entrepreneurial spirit that is being nurtured there.’ This observation isn’t limited to Dharavi, but is the energy that drives India. The deep-rooted ambition, innovation and risk-taking ability of my people set them apart. As an actor in India’s entrepreneurial story, the traits that define the country, define me. I’m an innovator; I practice the art of lateral thinking, of resilient creativity and of improvisation in the face of adversity. I enjoy trial-and-error and making things work with limited resources. I’m excited by opportunities with an element of risk, which I believe is critical to unraveling the complex challenges of today’s world. India’s tryst with ‘jugaad’, as one part of its entrepreneurial success, has deeply influenced my development in recent years.

My connection to India’s complex growth story is best described in these lines – ‘There are 2 India’s in this country. One India is straining at the leash eager to spring forth and live up to all the adjectives that the world has been showering upon us. The other India is the leash. One India says give me a chance and I’ll prove myself. The other India says prove yourself first and maybe then you will have a chance….’ The two India’s are slowly drifting apart – one rich, the other poor; one living in luxury while the other struggles to sustain itself. The future of our country depends on closing this gap. My work in social enterprise aims to increase conversions from one India to the other side. I co-create sustainable solutions with grass-root innovators to transform the less advantaged to assertive customers, thus contributing to build a more sustainable growth curve for the country. I support enterprises that provide low-cost sanitary napkins to rural women, deploy easy-to-use water wheels in villages, and empower rickshaw pullers to be owners. Choosing social enterprise has been a natural career path. With all its challenges, I draw immense satisfaction and learning from my work. The India phenomenon and my choice to return to it, has been a profound influence on my thinking, learning and actions.


Seth Godin, marketing guru, entrepreneur, author and change agent is in our neck of the woods this week. Word on the street is that he’s in India to make a film on marketing to low-income communities. On Wednesday, Godin spoke to a captivated audience at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad about the transformation of marketing and the art of leading a tribe to create change.

A decade ago, the image of an Indian farmer standing in the middle of a chaotic village market holding a shiny mobile phone was unimaginable; today, this is reality. These shifts and juxtapositions in our world are demanding a change in our role as doers and entrepreneurs and the nature of marketing. The marketing model of branding a cute mascot to death, interrupting people to push average products, and “spam-a-lot” is dying. It’s fast being replaced by marketers who give communities value, something to believe in, respect, and the dignity of choice. This transformation is the start of a second Industrial revolution.

“Tribal” leadership lies at the center of this revolution. Connecting a community or tribe of like-minded people and working with them to create change—like Jacqeline Novogratz has done with Acumen Fund or Anant Kumar has done at Life Spring Hospitals—is the new marketing. Trust, value and choice are the foundation of this movement.

Do you need to be a genius to invent a tribe or to find a tribe and lead it? Not really; not a genius like Einstein anyway! In fact, it all comes down to “Art.” Art is about doing work that matters, the act of creating human activity that changes people for the better. The factory model of interchangeable parts and replaceable people is being swapped for a focus on design, service and people. The opportunity is huge – the laptop is now the means of production and the internet has brought down the wall between products and the market. Replacing the fear of failure with curiosity and the courage to take on “emotional labor” (potentially tough challenges) are the two skills an agent of change needs today.

It is this tribal leadership and transformation of marketing, which will catalyze the movement of market inclusion at the base of the pyramid (BoP) in countries such as India. The end of poverty through market integration will come by supporting choice, not charity, and embracing dignity, not dependence.

Beyond Profit had the chance to sit down with Godin and find out more about his thoughts about marketing at the base of the pyramid (BoP):

Beyond Profit: What has the world overlooked when marketing to communities at the base of the pyramid, considering not a lot of multi-national companies (MNCs) have succeeded up until now?
Godin: So far we have treated people at the BoP the same as regular customers. It is only now that we are beginning to understand the different mindset and buying approach of customers at the BoP. The distinction between a need and a want is very clear to them. They will not just buy a product because it is INR5 (US$.09), they need to be extremely sure of the value it brings to their lifestyle. More than anything, they need to be given a choice to decide what product to buy.

Beyond Profit: Do you see conflicts with marketing products to the BoP that they don’t need or shouldn’t be spending their money on?
Godin: It is easy for marketers to trick people into buying a product, especially at the BoP where customers have maybe a year of buying experience whereas an urban middle income customer who has a lifetime of buying experience. In this age, marketers who give communities value, something to believe in, respect and the dignity of choice are the ones who will build successful organizations.

Beyond Profit: How is the role of technology evolving when marketing to the BoP?
Godin: The important factor is how technology is being used. The farmer with a mobile phone is a good example – he uses the mobile phone purely to connect for business and make a living, not to spend endless hours chatting with friends. Customers at the BoP will use technology to grow and attain success as long as it is affordable and available to them.

By Deepti Chadda for Beyond Profit

You joined Rob for his first ever youth expedition 12 years ago. What inspired you to come back for a second time?
In the expedition 12 years ago, I was totally inspired by the beauty of Antarctica, by Robert Swan, and by the whole team. It was a truly amazing experience, because at that time we (in Vietnam) did not have internet, we did not have much information from the outside world. Everything I saw or heard in that trip really changed my thinking, my perspectives at the world, and took me to a great level of awareness about the environment that I had never had. The trip was so inspiring, that it made me quit my current job to switch to working for the development and environmental field.
For the last 12 years since I came back, I have been giving talks, and working on numerous environmental projects in the country, but somehow I still felt lonely. Being the first and only Vietnamese person to set foot in Antarctica is “cool”, but later I came to realize I needed more than that. I want more people to have the same experience as I did, so I can have more friends to work on the mission together with me. That’s why I decided to come back with a whole team, Team Vietnam, because I know that together, we can make a bigger impact.

What is your dream for Team Vietnam?
We have been talking about what we are going to do when we come back. Six of us have different jobs, live in different communities, so we will be able to deliver the message to totally different audiences. One part of the plan is to set up a website in Vietnamese, to inspire people to change the way they think, and take small changes in their daily habits, to become more environmentally friendly. The problem in Vietnam is not that we consume too much energy as the developed countries do, but with bad habits, we waste a lot. I really hope we can change that with our presentations, the website, and through working with the local media. That’s the least we can do.

Based on the intense experience that you have had, what is your message to young people in India?
I just would like to say this: you are going to be the leaders of your country. Don’t make the same mistakes as they did in the developed countries. Be aware, be motivated, and be ready for any opportunity that might drop on your head any time, such as an expedition to Antarctica like the one we are having. However, you don’t need to go to Antarctica to be able to save the world. Anyone can do something good for the environment. The warrior is already in you, so be proactive, start to think green, act green, and remember, Asia will be the solution to the world’s current problems. So inspire, and be inspired! The future of the world’s second biggest country is in your hands.

The coolest part about being in Antarctica was of course, the continent itself. No words can describe her majesty. The feeling of standing at the top of a mountain and looking out at an endless expanse of blue white ice dotted with the black and orange of penguins, is pure magic.

The other cool part about being in Antarctica was the people I met on the expedition. Two weeks of exploring the continent were made incredibly fascinating, new and intense by my fellow expeditioners and team leaders. I would like to share some of these brilliant stories; of lives lived with courage and humility, risk and focus.

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