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By Deepti Chadda and Dipika Prasad

Home to 3.6 Bn people, almost every country in Asia is undergoing a profound socio-economic transformation. A region rich with people, resources and culture is growing increasingly restless in the face of multiple development shortfalls. While traditional methods of alleviating poverty continue to receive impetus, a fresh movement based on an alternative development approach is emerging. Building viable business models with affordable products and services that cater to underserved populations in sectors such as health, education, energy, is finding its place as an instrument to further sustainable and inclusive growth in Asia.

Several trends across Asian countries underline the growing popularity of this new approach, widely known as ‘social enterprise’. In Malaysia a survey of over 6000 young people showed that 75% considered themselves social entrepreneurs aiming for financial and social outcomes. Driven by Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and social media, budding social enterprise networks are linking investors, entrepreneurs and policy representatives across countries, such as the Social Enterprise Network Asia (SENA). Schools in Asia now include social enterprise in their curriculum and organize social business plan competitions, like iDiya by the Indian School of Business and the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Catalyst.

The growth of these social enterprises is also starting to attract interest from double and triple bottom-line investors (impact investors). According to a report by Avantage Ventures, the potential market size that can be captured through impact investing in Asia is estimated to be between USD52 to USD158 Bnby 2020. The report also concludes that the six key sectors that would benefit most from impact investingin Asia include affordable housing, primary education, rural and elderly healthcare, agri-business, water and sanitation and rural energy.

While social enterprise is still nascent in the region, some countries like India, Thailand, Indonesia and other South East Asian countries have emerged as front-runners in this movement. What’s interesting is that many of these countries face similar challenges of scale and sustainability. Some of the common constraints include access to the right type of funding, attracting and retaining superior talent, weak or non-existent supporting infrastructure, navigating the regulatory environment and building a collaborative approach towards market driven development.

While the policy environments, the financial services structures, the development needs and potential and geographical conditions vary widely across the region, emerging anecdotal evidence shows that some of these challenges have been tackled well in specific geographies.There is both a growing need and an opportunity to build a corridor of communication and learning between social enterprises, investors, policy-makers and other market enablers in India and South East Asia. Sharing best case practices,learnings from failures, finding solutions to common problems, speeding up the flow of funding across countries, and sharing intellectual capital are founding blocks for this Social Enterprise Corridor.

The case for building a social enterprise corridor between India and South East Asia

When it comes to innovation in technology and business models, India is one of the market leaders in the social enterprise space. A robust private sector, and focus on R&D could mean that there is an opportunity for these technologies and models to be replicated across other regions in South East Asia. For e.g. SME Renewables, a social enterprise that promotes renewable energy technologies and market biomass gasification power generation systems in Cambodia, imports its technology for rise husk powered electricity generators from India. It cites cost effectiveness, and time saved on developing indigenous technology as the primary reasons behind its buy-decision.

India has traditionally struggled when it comes to making public-private partnerships work. There are opportunities for it to learn from successful examples of these from countries like Cambodia and Indonesia. For instance, although there are millions of fully subsidized household biogas units installed in India, most are dysfunctional due to lack of maintenance and accountability from civic organizations. On the other hand, a biogas program led by Hivos with blessings from the government of Indonesia has achieved 100% functionality rate and 100% loan repayment rate. Initiated in May 2009, it aims to build a minimum of 8,000 domestic biogas plants in at least six Indonesian provinces by the end of 2012. The program is sustainable because the biodigestors are only partly subsidized, and focuses on facilitating credit in partnership with the government, NGOs, cooperatives, and MFIs. The focus on linking players, building a market and ensuring sustainablility after the grant monies run out is a clear learning for India.

There are opportunities for learning and communication to flow along the India-South East Asia corridor when it comes to policy as well. For e.g., the Thai Government has developed the Thailand Social Enterprise Master Plan 2012 – 14 to be delivered by the Thailand Social Enterprise Organization (TSEO), with the aim of furthering sustainable development.TSEO’s vision is to build a learning environment for social enterprises in Thailand, create capacity building interventions, and develop a path to capital and resources for social entrepreneurs. It is in its early days, and there are opportunities for it to learn from both successes and failures in other countries. Perhaps most importantly, there are opportunities for all countries in the region to learn from failures of policy. For instance, in Indonesia, private sector off-grid solar lighting initiatives have failed as the market was distorted by free distribution of similar products by the government, and lack of a supportive environment for the growth of the local industry.

Though the regulatory mechanisms are disparate, uncertain and ambiguous when it comes to flow of financial capital across the region, there is certainly merit in building robust deal flow pipelines across the region. Investors like Unitus Seed Fund, Aureos Capital, LGT Venture Philanthropy have a portfolio of investee companies in the regionHowever, given the nascence of the social enterprise space, the cost of aggregating, and building capacities of these businesses to create a pipeline for investors is almost prohibitively high, and there has been very little pan-region activity to create one. Philo Alto, Founder Asia Value Advisors says, “In my experience as a recent jury for the GSVC-SEA competition, the winners tend to be those who have been coached by business practitioners who are able to provide a real life sanity check on valuation, funding requirements, and expectations of potential investors that enable the social entrepreneurs to reframe or adjust their plans and organizational culture over a period of time as they scale their firm. I would say that the cost of search for viable social ventures remains elusive from the perspective of would be impact investors.”

The exchange of intellectual capital and talent is another building block for the corridor to be successful. There are opportunities for technical assistance and market building facilities/projects to be created, staffed by experts from across the region who can support idea and early stage ventures. For e.g. from a recent field visit to Cambodia, our team at Intellecap found that most social enterprises were founded and managed by expatriates, while the locals tended to focus on NGOs and non-profit models. There was a clear need for local home-grown experts in the field, but no learning environment or platform existed.

Some ways in which the Corridor can be built

Asia’s geographical and cultural diversity creates a need for platforms that can connect investors and entrepreneurs from across countries, playing the role of intermediaries. As aggregators, these platforms reduce transaction costs for investors in identifying and conducting due diligence, and improving the chances of enterprises to access funding by helping them build capacity and scale. Philo of Asia Value Advisors says, “Most social enterprises need mentorship support and advice to help them achieve the scale needed for future funders that are more commercially oriented, in addition to scaling their social impact. By engaging with intermediaries whose role it is to share with the SEs as to how they can be ‘impact investment ready’ in the coming years, social enterpriseswill be able to adapt their business models accordingly, with enough lead time and speak the same language as the more commercially oriented impact investors.” Initiatives like Sankalp Forum and Change Fusion are playing a pioneering role in building such platforms.

Creating capital markets for social good and channelling capital efficiently towards social ventures, is a significant part of building this Corridor. With access to funding identified as one of the top challenges faced by social entrepreneurs in India and South East Asia, organizations that aggregate funding sources and create enterprise-friendly processes to access this funding will be instrumental in scaling social enterprise in the region. Impact Investment Asia (IIX) is home to Asia’s first public and private platforms for social enterprises to raise capital efficiently. The Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) aims to develop the venture philanthropy movement to meet specific enterprise requirements in Asia.

Both India and South East Asia need to appreciate each other’s local realities as well. Forging friendships and strong working relationships is critical to building any successful cooperation. Immersion programs, which provide an opportunity for both sides to interact and learn from each other, serve this purpose. AIESEC and Potencia Ventures run an immersion program for young people to learn about social enterprise through international internships and interaction with the impact investment domainacross countries. Student exchange programs through academic institutions like business schools are also a potential opportunity to build immersion programs that will found the basis of an India – SE Asia Social Enterprise Corridor.

Bridging Information Asymmetry is another critical building block and the Ayllu Initiative is a step in this direction – it aggregates processes and shares data so that funders, entrepreneurs and other sector actors in social enterprise can make informed decisions. Access to such information will make it easier to share learning, build areas of cooperation and establish a strong social enterprise corridor between India and South East Asia.

Authors’ Note:This article was written with inputs from Rashi Agarwal, Srikanth Pulavarthy, and Bharat Bongu from the Intellecap Business Consulting team, and from Philo Alto of Asia Value Advisors. The authors would like to express their thanks to all of them for sharing invaluable first-hand accounts of working in the field. The authors work on the Sankalp Forum at Intellecap, and were inspired to write this article based on their observations from extending Sankalp’s platform to 5 countries in the South East Asian region. This is also a subject that will be discussed in a special side-session at Sankalp’s upcoming Annual Summit on April 12 and 13. To find out more about how you can participate, click here.

Editor’s Note: This article is written by Dipika Prasad and was published on the Sankalp Forum blog as well as Next Billion. It captures the work I have been doing for the last two years.

Early stage businesses thrive best in an environment that brings together and facilitates efficient working of all players for them to grow. The favorite, and oft-quoted example of such an enabling ecosystem is Silicon Valley. But there are examples closer to the developing world as well – like the information technology industry in the Indian cities of Hyderabad and Bangalore, and the vibrant start up communities growing around academic institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). Social enterprise in India took off in 2005-06, but is still in the margins, and grapples with a complex set of challenges. The challenges start right from understanding who’s part of this space – the entrepreneurs, funders, enablers – to making it easier for them to work together. If double and triple bottom line businesses, which many of us believe are tomorrow’s models, are to make a dent in mainstream markets, they need to aggregate in big numbers, and show tangible change. Which leads to the question – why stitch together the social enterprise mosaic?

Sankalp Forum was initiated by Intellecap in partnership with Rockefeller Foundation, SIDBI, NABARD, and others, with the belief that social entrepreneurs have a role to play in development and inclusive growth. In those early years our founding team learned the first lessons in the importance of building an ecosystem. The entrepreneurs, funders, policy makers, academicians, service providers and grassroots organizations that were chasing common goals had to be brought together; and an environment that it made it easier for them to work together had to be built.

Three big goals drive us in our attempts to create this convergence of key players in the social enterprise space. The first is cohesion and collaboration to drive capital into double and triple bottomline businesses. The second is to make peer-to-peer learning and market linkages possible. We believe this is key to creating supply chains that work – bringing together large businesses, social enterprises, and non-profit grassroot level organizations. Our third driver is to bring new converts to this growing space – large businesses curious about making markets work for the poor, foundations that are looking beyond charity as a means to create impact, mainstream angel networks and venture capital funds who want to explore impact investing as a growing asset class.

The next obvious question then becomes – what does it take to stitch together the social enterprise mosaic in India? In 2009 we took the first steps towards building this ecosystem for entrepreneurship lead development solutions through the first annual Sankalp Summit and Awards. While we’ve evolved and expanded both programmatically and geographically, the social entrepreneur continues to be at the centre of everything we try to do through the Sankalp Forum. In the last four years, we’ve sourced over 400 social enterprises from India and South East Asia into the Sankalp platform, using our awards process as a pull for enterprises working in sectors of agriculture, food and rural business; clean energy/ technology; education and vocational training; healthcare, water and sanitation; and technology for development. This aggregation of high potential social enterprises has in turn attracted other players from the sector – over 300 investors, and 500 service providers like strategy consultants, investment advisors, lawyers, and design and media consultants. For a social enterprise looking to understand the market space, Sankalp Forum has evolved to become a one-stop-solution that answers four basic needs:

A lesson we learned early on in our journey was that very little was possible without collaboration. We’ve worked with over 50 partners including incubators, investment houses, networks, media, and other social enterprise platforms to make Sankalp Forum possible. A good example of the efficacy of this collaboration is the capacity building services we are able to provide all this under one umbrella. Our partners range from early stage incubators with sector specific focus to those with expertise in legal issues to those who investment bank for early stage businesses. Entrepreneurs who are part of our platform get access to mentorship and handholding across an entire range of challenges. In the past three years, more than two dozen of our enterprises have received investments, and over 160 others have been made investment ready through mentoring and capacity building programs. These enterprises enter the Sankalp Forum platform through multiple channels. While we run year-round interventions like capital raising workshops, and investor – entrepreneur clinics across India, the annual Sankalp Awards is the largest entry channel to Sankalp Forum.

In 2012, 100 for-profit social entrepreneurs from India, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia invested over 600 hours in filling applications to the Sankalp Awards. Cumulatively and individually, this data forms an invaluable decision making aid to multilaterals, foundations, policy makers and other market makers in this space. Each application was put through a quality check by the Intellecap team, and entrepreneurs were helped with thinking through aspects of their business they hadn’t necessarily prioritized. As we helped applicants figure EBIDTA, PAT and margins, we realized many of them were doing this exercise for the first time. Not all went onto become Sankalp Award Finalists of course, but we believe we got them started on the right track.

At the first evaluation stage of the business plans, 35 investors from 29 investment houses volunteered one day of their time to look over every business that applied to the Sankalp Awards. The evaluation process itself resulted in the generation of over two dozen investor interest queries. At the end of this process, 31 finalists were announced. The news of this announcement through Intellecap and Sankalp emails, blogs and social media channels alone reached an audience of over 50,000. We partnered with leading publications in this space like NextBillion, YourStory, Startup Central and others to amplify this number by 4 to 5 times.

The great value add to Sankalp Award Finalists, and also the inspiration behind this post, came from a first of its kind bootcamp that we organized for our 31 finalists at the Indian School of Business on March 9 and 10. Over the course of a two-day residential bootcamp, the entrepreneurs were exposed to capital raising basics like “knowing your business”, “approaching an investor”, and “structuring investments”. Over 18 investors, successful entrepreneurs, and advisors travelled to Hyderabad to volunteer time for this bootcamp. What’s great about this model we’re building is that its win-win – experts from different fields spend time with our entrepreneurs to find high quality deal flow pipelines, understand on-field trends better, and create awareness about their work. After the bootcamp, Vijay Vaidyanathan, CEO of one of our 2012 finalists class wrote to us saying, “Sankalp Forum is not only bringing together all the pieces of the social enterprise ecosystem, it forms the mosaic and gives the background in which the entire picture would shine.”

At our annual summit on April 12 and 13, this is exactly what we will attempt to do.

There are clear differences between the approach of previous generations towards sustainable development and that of today’s youth. The old model of people making money and waiting till the end of their lives to give it away is not acceptable to the new generation. Corporate social responsibility and philanthropy as concepts are less appealing to today’s youth, while profitable business models that inherently address social challenges are gaining popularity.

Although the growing role of youth leadership in sustainable development is a global phenomenon, young Indians still have some way to go. The highly competitive environment, educational system, and social pressure to build a successful (i.e rich) life, are some of the reasons that we see fewer young people engaging in sustainable development in India when compared to the more developed countries. The situation is similar in other emerging markets such as the BRIC countries and South East Asia.

While there are young people in India that choose to pursue a career in social enterprise, the space is primarily dominated by Non-Resident Indians and people from the more developed regions. This trend is clearly reflected in educational programs – while most Business schools in Europe and the North America include social enterprise/sustainable development in their curriculum, this trend hasn’t caught on in India. The Indian School of Business is pioneering certain initiatives in the social enterprise space such as iDiya; however the IIMs and other management institutes are still to follow.

Another point to consider while comparing perspectives on sustainable development across generations is that the field of strategic sustainable development requires a multi-disciplinary approach, since the challenges being addressed are intricately linked together. So while the past generations focused on specializing in particular areas and excelling in those, today’s generation has the opportunity to draw linkages across disciplines and find integrated solutions to challenges, for example in the context of climate change.

Access to information through the internet, the social media revolution, global exposure through technology and travel based learning allow our generation to engage in the complex issues of sustainable development. Today young people are more sensitized to development challenges and risks, and they have the opportunity to collaborate through social media channels, especially Facebook and Twitter.

A small percentage of Indian’s today are able to take greater career risk, instead of following the traditional path. However, when compared to the number of young people in India, this number is still very small. To create this change, we need to focus our efforts on youth attitude and perspective. Education, extra-curricular activities, travel and other diverse experiences shape the world-view of young people. We need to provide experiences that develop responsible young leaders who work towards a sustainable future and in the process create a meaningful and successful life for themselves and their communities.

One such program is the AIESEC Ser Mas Program run in Latin America that offers businesses and young people the opportunity to be more competitive, increasing their knowledge and expertise in the areas of social and business entrepreneurship. Through international exchange programs, team and leadership experiences, and learning activities, the program develops talented and globally minded Ibero-American leaders whose knowledge and skills enable them to support and build social enterprises in the region.

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.

“While we will not forget the brutality of Apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering. We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against against the forces of evil. A triumph of of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness; a triumph of the new South Africa over the old.” – Ahmed Kathrada, imprisoned for 26 years at Robben Island.

A short walk through Robben Island left me reeling from the blackness of oppression, despair and death that the place holds. Emerging to impart such generous wisdom after living in that environment for 26 years, fighting for dignity & life every hour of every day, is an indescribable legacy. Nine years later looking back, I realize that I still have a lot to learn from my experiences in South Africa.

‘a·part·heid’
Afrikaans : Dutch apart, separate (from French à part, apart; see apart) + Dutch -heid, -hood

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.

“It is unsafe and risky to have foreigners and bachelors living in our housing society….” – this, coming from “New” Mumbai. And we proclaim that India is a leading player in globalization, poised for super-powerdom! I agree, of course India is pioneering globalization, I’m a product of that trend. However, this is limited to just one of our country’s many faces. There are 2 India’s that exist, one that’s shutting itself in with borders and another that’s flying borderless.

I have never felt as angry about the attitude and beliefs that come from some parts of my country as I did a few days ago. I think that’s also because I didn’t really care much earlier. So here is the cause of my frustration – I have lived in a decent colony in New Mumbai for the last 3 months. Last weekend I finally got a Korean flat-mate. A few days later, I hear that my housing society has passed a resolution that they do not want bachelors or foreigners to live in their apartments anymore! The reason – it’s dangerous, risky and unsafe.

My thoughts:

Is this the Mumbai I think it is? Have I been living and believing in a society that doesn’t really exist? Or is this a reflection of the beautiful contradiction that is my country? Mumbai symbolizes to me, as it does to many other young people, hope, success and freedom. If there is one city in India which is liberal in its thoughts and actions, it is Mumbai. 3 years living in the city of dreams, and I hadn’t seen the shadows lurking beneath. Shadows of conservative beliefs, mistrust and selfishness.

“Atithi devo bhava”, a famous Indian saying – guests in our home and country are a form of God. Well, really? If in a city like Mumbai, we proclaim that it’s “dangerous” to have a 21 year old Korean girl living in an apartment and we decide to ask her to vacate, are we welcoming her to our country? “Foreigners” – in these times of globalization, I do not understand how people can use that as a dirty word! Families spend hours watching idiotic shows on the idiot box, and this is one of the results.

One of the best things about India is its “community living”. I missed it in the Netherlands! However, there is a limit to how much one can interfere and take decisions in another person’s life – a person who is not related, is not a friend, who just happens to live in the same apartment complex. What time I come home, whether I sleep at 10:00pm or 4:00am, which friends visit me or stay with me, is really no one else’s business as long as it is not harming or causing a problem to other residents.

And what of contracts and agreements? We signed an 11 month contract on the apartment. Completely disregarding this contract, the housing society is considering giving us a notice to vacate. Forget about the legal system and implications, but do we not respect an understanding or promise between human beings?

This small story echoes many other realities of our country – Gaps in our education system, equal opportunities for all, general awareness of our people, moral policing Vs personal freedom. Most of all it tells the story of the 2 India’s, and sadly one is leaving the other behind in a cloud of dust. It’s these nuances of life in Mumbai and in India, that make it a challenge and no matter what I love this city and my country. I will fight to bridge the gap between the 2 India’s and make this a better home for my people and the world.

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