Study Abroad, Uncategorized

Finding my Voice Again

There were four stages of my departure from India: the first, when I said goodbye to my friends in Jaipur, the second, when my parents arrived for Christmas (thus ending my “abroad” lifestyle), then, my arrival home (with the fortunate opportunity of experiencing my culture shock alongside my family), and lastly, my arrival in Claremont. Each of these were significant in their own way- they each provided unique learning opportunities and various perspectives for reflection. The start of the school year, and the madness that has ensued, has so far been the most overwhelming, and in many ways, most telling of all these experiences. One aspect of this was the overwhelming number of friends I reunited with, meetings I needed to schedule, and internship deadlines I immediately faced. Some of the most basic aspects of college even became foreign- the massive buffets, the luxurious facilities (yes I said it,) even the sheer number of people who seemed remarkably similar to myself in age, race, and even personality. Many of these stressors have also proven to be the best comforts: my friends, a busy schedule, peers willing to debate and connect on an intellectual level, even the ability to exercise every day. Of all these things, one aspect of CMC that has brought me tremendous satisfaction in the last two weeks –even more than I expected- is the ability to contribute and involve myself so immensely in the CMC community.

When I was abroad I always felt like an outsider, dependent on others to survive. I was in India as a student, my role was to absorb, to accept the wealth of knowledge and hospitality bestowed upon me by the incredible Indians I was surrounded by. To some this may sound amazing- in many ways the role is unique to a young traveler like myself- but this role often makes me feel anxious. My personality is to contribute, to get involved, to give back; although I love the opportunity to travel, I feel best when I can act in those ways. Claremont gives us all an incredible chance to get involved- to spread ourselves thin, to be leaders (if we chose), and hopefully, and most of all, to be a part of a community where we can offer our diversity of interests, talents, and ambitions.

Now before this dives to into the KLI-esque leadership cheese fest, I do think its worth reflecting on these opportunities as the privileges they really are. As I have readjusted to the extreme materialism of the US, the fact that this privilege stood out to me really says something. Sure, many people in a country like India would be jealous of our sports cars, our fancy electronics, and our stylish clothes. But I think the real value lies in our voices. Whether we chose to use them or not, we are each granted a wonderful opportunity to use our voices in ways that many people in India could never imagine. Our freedom to get involved with different interests, to advance in areas we find interesting, even to constructively criticize our peers, these should all be considered in our wealth of opportunities at CMC.

What this also helped me realize is how important it is to recognize the voices that are being quieted even in Claremont. This privilege is an exceedingly important aspect of CMC’s culture and any force that exists to suppress it- whether it race, sexual orientation, nationality, or even political position- should be acknowledged. I for one am extremely grateful for the incredible opportunities I have to use my voice and to contribute to things I believe in but I also recognize the factors that exist that grant me this privilege. As I continue to understand this dynamic and continue to take full advantage of the opportunities I have, I see some responsibility in ensuring that CMC continues to strive to be more open and welcoming to those whose voices may have been overshadowed in the past.

photo (1)

Study Abroad

The Trains of Mumbai

Wow! What a journey its been since I last updated the blog. I found that, inevitably, almost every study abroad goes through a stretch where they deny their blog- and it appears this was my time.

I spent most of the last month and half in Mumbai (or Bombay depending on who you ask.) At around 20 million people, the city is the largest in India and definitely one of the craziest. I spent my time there carrying out research on impact measurement strategies in social enterprises. I will post something more focused on the study once I finalize my report and feel better summarizing my findings. The rest of my time I spent exploring Mumbai: enjoying the wonders of globalization through my frequent patronage of Starbucks, making friends at the local powerhouse gym, exploring the plethora of awesome street food options, and most of all, utilizing the craziest public transpiration system I have ever experienced: the trains of Mumbai.

Mumbai is a sprawling city. It stretches over seven islands. 50% of its population resides in shanti-towns or slums. Asia’s largest slum, and the slum at the center of Slumdog Millionaire, is located there. Much of the rest of the city resides in the vast “suburbs” that spread for miles in all direction. These suburbs are made up of housing societies, malls, and streets filled with all sorts of small shops (mainly street food stalls.) Most of the residents of these neighborhoods commute inside the city to work. Almost all of them, and especially those who live far from the city center or can’t afford another form of transportation, take the trains. The trains operate like a subway system except they are all above ground and they don’t have any doors or automated notification system. There are two classes- one costs 15 rupees for an hour ride (approx..) and the other about 150; the choice was obvious. Due to many recent incidents there are separate trains designated for women as well as for the elderly and handicapped. The other compartments are a free-for-all.

To enter the train its best to get a running start. Once aboard its necessary to use a burst of strength, or well placed elbows, to get through the entryway into the train. If you’re extremely fortunate and the train is relatively empty, you may find a seat. In the case I was able to find a seat, it was nearly impossible for me to stay awake. Luckily the same could be said for the other passengers and inevitably we would all end up asleep on one another- my head on the shoulder of an older businessman, a teenager asleep on my side.

During rush hour, such a luxury was impossible. The trains were so full that it was often impossible to breath out all the way. The owner of my gym said that trains were good for muscles- the intensive massages were great for relaxing. As the trains shifted, the collective would shift accordingly. Occasionally, I would life one my legs up to attempt to shift to a less dense area only to find that it was impossible to set it down again. I’m convinced that if I had lifted my other leg up as well, I would have stayed upright, lifted up by the density of people. The worst cars to find yourself in were the open cars that were a third the size of normal compartments and reserved for merchants taking their goods to market. In these compartments I didn’t just have to fight for space with men and children, but with giants sacks of fruits and boxes of goods like watches or fake jeans. One most popular methods of travelling on the trains was the hang out the side of the trains. This was not only an ingenious method of finding air-conditioning, but also an incredible means of witnessing Mumbai. An average train ride was about 45 minutes, although, to get to some of my interviews took as long as 2 ½ hours. Once it was time to get off the train, if you were near the door it was usually expected that you hop off early- an action which resulted in a running/sliding entrance to the platform. The rest exited the same way they entered- through pushing and yelling and laughing.

This was not only the most significant aspect of my time in Mumbai due to the extent of time I spent travelling on those trains, but for what it taught me about India. Clearly my experience was very different than the experiences of the girls in my program- but it was significant nonetheless. The people I met were welcoming and familiar. They were inquisitive about my background and what I was doing in Mumbai. The helped push me onto the trains and held on to me if I leaned out. The moved over to give me a seat and taught me to give it up when a woman or senior approached. The pushing, elbowing, and shouting were only overshadowed by the laughing, joking, and brotherly horseplay. The trains not only gave me a badge of honor, everyday they showed me the true Mumbai- its people, its culture, and even its fields and its homes. It may not sound like a tourist attraction, but its surely the backbone of the city.

After four weeks in Mumbai I took an 18-hour train back to Jaipur where I only spent 6 days. The few days were packed with writing (45 pages!), final shopping, some moderate drinking, a visit to the hospital to visit a friend who could have had a better final few days in India, and lots of goodbyes. Because I’m still in India its difficult to separate my experience here from the SIT program. However, my experience traveling, my attitude and my perceptions, had clearly been shaped by the friends and mentors that have surrounded me the last three months. I’m sure my next few weeks will be filled with lots of reflections and I’ll make sure to be better about updating everyone!


Study Abroad

To Mumbai…

I couldn’t have asked for a better last weekend in Jaipur. After hearing about Diwali for the last two months the date finally came and it didn’t disappoint. The city sounded like a war zone and the streets looked like New York City at Christmas time. Children flooded the streets to light off fireworks and families walked to and from houses bringing gifts of sweets. My family earnestly held their Puja and then welcomed the neighbors for some food and drinks. Supplemented with Scotch and Soda, the whole event was perfectly Indian and a great end to my time with my host family- although maybe making the start of my next journey a little more difficult.

For the next four weeks I will be living in Mumbai working on my Independent Study Project- a central tenant of my SIT program. Students come up with a project they would like to study for four weeks anywhere in India. After a lengthy planning process, filled with the usual frustrations and the eventual understanding that it would all work out, my plan seems to be set. I will be studying the affects of impact measurement on social enterprises in Mumbai. (I included the abstract below to clarify.) This is a topic of great interest to me. Before starting my program I knew that I would pursue a project along these lines. For those who know me, they know how interested I am in Social Entrepreneurship, and this will be an incredible experience to learn more about the topic. This research topic has not been heavily researched so it’s a subject I’m really interested in learning about.

My advisor for this project is Prof. Satyajit Majumdar, Professor and Chairperson of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at the Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TATA). TATA offers a Masters in Social Entrepreneurship and is home to a social enterprise incubator as well as many other awesome programs. I’ll get the chance to speak with professors their about the themes I’m interested in and hopefully hear a number of different perspectives on the matter. It will be interesting to see how they are instructing their students and what role they are giving to outside foundations whose funding will be crucial to the success of the students. I’ll also be able to speak with aspiring social entrepreneurs (some of whom have just started their ventures) about how this issue affects their decision making and what their ambitions are as social entrepreneurs. This will be a great opportunity to not only learn from some of the most knowledgeable and experiences people in this field, but also some of the future change-makers in India. Hopefully it will be both education and inspiring as well as a great opportunity to expand my own knowledge and network in social entrepreneurship.

I’ll be spending some time with an organization called, Greenway Grameen Infra, which manufactures and distributes a bio-fuel stove in rural India. Not only is the stove affordable, it is significantly better for the environment and the families using the stove. Greenway Grameen is a perfect example of the power of socially driven, for-profit enterprises to make a really meaningful impact in this country. I’m excited to learn more about their day-to-day activities and actually see a sophisticated, yet young and ambitious social enterprise in action.

Throughout this month I will be reaching out to social enterprises, foundations, incubators, impact investment firms, and other organizations that play a role in this issue. It will be extremely challenging at times- not only am I inexperienced in the field of social entrepreneurship, I am also inexperienced in this type of extensive research. Connecting with organizations and communicating my intentions to them has already proven to be difficult. I’m really excited for this project- for the challenges it will bring, for the people I will meet, and ultimately for the product that will emerge by the end. The ISP is a pretty cool aspect of my time here- an opportunity to live on my own and take initiative towards something I care greatly about. Mumbai will surely be chaotic but I think I’m prepared for what it will throw my way. Wish me luck!


India, long recognized as a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity as well as a culture favoring civic-minded activity, is a great model of the type of diverse work and meaningful issues that Social Entrepreneurship addresses. Its vast need and extreme size necessitate urgent problem solving through effective and creative answers. In the last five years especially, India has seen great growth in social enterprises. These organizations operate in a number of sectors and utilize various business models to accomplish their social mission. Foundations, individuals, and financial institutions throughout India are working hard to recognize and reward those social entrepreneurs whose business models, coupled with their passion and will to succeed, are changing the surface of crucial sectors. New financial models are also emerging to empower social entrepreneurs who historically have been unable to access the capital needed to scale their impact. These funders are calling for better outcome evaluation through standardized quantified measurement systems. The impact of these models on social enterprises appears to be both positive and negative. Social Enterprises address countless issues and often their outcomes are difficult to quantify. However, it is necessary to find effective, scalable methods to fix today’s problems. This study will look at various social enterprises and financial and educational institutes in India to give a picture of the various affects these measures have- from business modeling, to resource allocation, to day-to-day operations.

Photos from Diwali: (Look at my facebook for more photos…)Image


Articles, Study Abroad

In Support of Breaks

A version of this article was featured in my school paper, the CMC Forum:

My girlfriend says that when we go hiking together she can’t stand the number of breaks I take. I seem to speed ahead – leaving everyone else in the dust – only to pause after 15 minutes to take in the view.  Her comment made me reflect.  I realized that far from being some cardiovascular weakness, my pauses are one aspect of what might be described as my life strategy. See, I’m a huge believer in the 5-minute break: the time-out, the breather, whatever. These breaks come in many forms and sizes too: the 5-minutes breaks I take during a hike, the 90 minutes I take to workout every day, the gap year I took after high school, or even the four months I’m currently spending in India. Each of these represents some sort of respite from my regular scheduled life and each is equally crucial to my staying sane, motivated, grounded, and inspired.

The examples I provided pretty obviously fall into two categories: I’ll call them macro-breaks and micro-breaks for the purpose of this article. Macro-breaks are intense, often life altering moments that usual require the physical need to step away- this may come in the form of study abroad, a trip with some friends, or even a decision to totally detach ourselves from our current circumstances. Micro-breaks are breaks in the day- small moments to reflect that only require mental distance[i].

I have taken a few, intensive macro-breaks in my life. These phases, due to their nature, almost always involve reflection. For me a lot of this reflection has come afterwards as I come to understand the true impact they have had on my life. My first macro-break as an independent-thinking, somewhat-conscious young-adult was a 10-day Vision Quest my Senior year (of HS). I spent three days alone without any food and nothing to do but write. This experience was really my first introduction to the power of reflection. In many ways it also influenced one of the most important decisions I ever made: to take a year off from formal schooling. I actually made this decision while attending CMC’s newly admitted student day. Although I couldn’t have been more excited about starting college (especially at CMC,) I wasn’t sure I was totally ready-so I called timeout. My year off turned out to be awesome for me. I definitely needed the respite from structured education; I had some extraordinary growth experiences and it definitely helped me have a better understanding of what I wanted to do in college. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to have an experience like it again but it reinforced the importance of stepping away to challenge myself in new ways.

The most recent macro-break I’ve embarked on is the one I’m currently experiencing. I underestimated this before I left, but leaving CMC right in the middle of my time there was enormous. I feel so connected with the CMC community that dropping everything and taking off for a foreign land was initially wrenching, and I seriously questioned whether it was the right decision. However, the break from normal classes, from the activities that I love, even from the people I love, has given me a great perspective on what I value and appreciate about them, as well as on what I want to change when I come back.

Perhaps one of the most important things I have learned during my current macro-break is the true importance of micro-breaks. My time here has contained innumerable incredible experiences; a quick scroll through my blog or Facebook album will reinforce this reality. But the days have also been immensely challenging.  I’ve learned to be honest with myself about how exhausting the experience is every day. Without forcing myself to head away from my group to sit by myself, or hit the gym for a workout, it can be hard to maintain the energy and focus I need to really absorb what’s going on around me.

Micro-breaks, although shorter and usually less intensive than macro-breaks, are just as important to me. Finding these little breaks throughout the day to reflect, to check-in with myself, or just escape the craziness of my day are crucial to my ability to stay focused. Sports have historically represented this in my life, although with the glory days of high school over, I’ve turned to working out. It sounds stupid to some but working out for me is exactly the kind of break in my day that I’m talking about. Plugging in my headphones, following a routine, literally picking heavy things up and putting them back down, is incredibly, well, meditative for me.

Similarly, I’ve also found a lot of value in daily mediation. Last semester I really picked up my meditation game by spending 10 minutes every morning before my roommate woke up, sitting on my bed with my headphones listening to a mindfulness podcast. I’ve tried to find these moments spontaneously as well: through small trips to the village or the occasional long bike ride. Each break takes some time away from schoolwork but I’ve found that they more than make up for it by helping my focus and productivity.

Our constant responsibilities often lead us to believe that either we don’t have time, or we’re being lazy and selfish when we find the time to take a break. And this isn’t to say that breaks are always a good decision- the intent in taking a break should be to enhance the experience we are currently having, not to detract from it. In order to really connect with things on a deeper level, or to enjoy some of the most important moments in life, we need to be present- and sometimes a break can help with that. It’s also clear that most people don’t need to take as drastic measures as I do. A break for you may mean catching some waves early on a Friday morning, a bike ride to the village, or an ice-cold beer on a weekday. Maybe it’s volleyball practice, or Shades practice, or some time on top of Kravis reading an un-assigned novel. Maybe it’s a trip to Mount Baldy, or even a semester off.

Whatever your choice, getting the full benefit requires one key thing – mindfulness. Being aware of the pause we’re granting ourselves is crucial to fully enjoying and benefiting from it. Being purposeful, instead of hasty, gracious instead of guilty about the breaks in our day only make the more stressful times that much more focused and meaningful. We all deserve a break or two, it’s too sunny outside and we’re too young for that not to be true. Maybe we all don’t have to run off to India and grow out our hair, but I think these breaks are a crucial element to staying sane in College.

Over and out from India!

[i] I think it’s important to note that I have been extremely fortunate to have these moments in my life. I understand that it is an incredibly privileged aspect of my life.

Study Abroad, Travel


When I was in 8th grade my family decided to visit my brother in India. He, like I am now, was spending three months studying at an American program in Bodhgaya. Although I made countless memories during my time there, the most vivid experience was my trip to Varanasi. My family woke at dawn and hired a boat on the bank of the Ganges. From there we set off through the lotus-covered waters to observe Varanasi’s famous Burning Ghats. These Ghats are where Hindu families carry out public cremations of their loved ones. The smell, the smoke, the lighting, and the spirit in the air- all of these things were too much for my mind to handle. That moment stuck with me and was a major factor in my decision to study abroad in India. I could never quite grasp everything in that scene. There were so many things that were beyond foreign to me. Although, even at that age, I had been lucky enough to travel to many different places, I had never seen anything like the Burning Ghats. And because they confused me so much, because they challenged me so much, I needed to return to them eventually. I finally accomplished that goal last week.

To prepare students for their time on their Independent Study Project, SIT sends four groups of students off to “intern” at a nonprofit for 10 days. The choices were: a women’s empowerment group in Dharmasala, an education group in Udaipur, an environmental group in Delhi, and an education group in Varanasi. While each nonprofit seemed amazing, I couldn’t pass up the chance to return to Varanasi. So, after 8 years, and a 20 hour train ride, I returned to Varanasi and its Burning Ghats.

My experience there was incredible. I find myself drawn to the holy cities of India; The chaos that engulfs them, the diversity of the visitors, and the spirituality that serves as platforms to the whole ordeal all fascinate me. I am at once bombarded by my senses and at peace with my self. Each day was more exhausting than the next. However we were blessed with an ample amount of time to relax and digest. Literally digest: we found some delicious (and cheap!) Middle Eastern food and our dinners turned into a daily reprieve from the madness surrounding us. I found a great amount of time to read. It was bizarre to escape the world for a while through a novel only to look out onto the Ganges rushing past and hear the sound of cows and taxis consuming the city. We did find time to explore however. We ended up visiting the Ghats twice; the first time we followed a little boy through the skinny, shit-ridden streets of Varanasi to a building that overlooked the Burning Ghats. Even though we spent at least 30 minutes transfixed by the scene, we all were unsatisfied and we returned at dawn a couple days later via boat. Even though I found myself more connected/understanding of the families morning their loved ones, I found myself no closer to understanding what was in front of me. Varanasi was a great city accompanied by an atmosphere that is difficult to describe. I’ve posted some photos below that will hopefully capture what I saw in front of me (no photos of the public cremations.)

The Organization we visited in Varansi was founded by a Swiss woman 20 years ago and was named Kiran. It was a school (better described as a village) for kids with disabilities. The school was created for kids with physical, neurological, and learning disabilities. There were numerous programs offered by Kiran: a special education unit, an integrated education unit (which included kids without any disabilities), a vocational/skill training center, a rehabilitation unit, and a teacher-accreditation unit. We spend 5 days visiting each of the units and it was an amazing experience. I have always been interested in education and I’ve even had the opportunity to volunteer at a special education summer camp, but I’ve never experienced something as educational about this field than my time in Kiran. I have included an excerpt from the journal I kept during my time there that hopefully portrays the environment I was surround by.

“We arrived at the same time as everyone else. After meeting the Director’s personal assistant, who was confided to a wheel chair, she escorted us to the main meting hall for daily prayer and meditation. Students fill the room. Some were confided to wheel chairs- they sat at the edge of the room- others relied on crutches, which they left at the door, relying on friendship to reach their seats. Some differences we obvious some were not. Many students sat on-stage with a staff member seated in front of a harmonium. When the room reached capacity the harmonium began to hum and the crowd commenced in devotional song. After a couple of minutes, the room fell silent and we began mediation. I was immediately jealous of the students for having the chance to start their day with such mindfulness. The students seemed sincere as the room seemed unusually still considering the diversity of life it held. Following another song and what I assume was the pledge of allegiance; the woman we met earlier took the microphone for announcements. She introduced us, along with a French couple and their two younger children. The couple must have been supporters as they were greeted with a garland of flowers. The students dutifully clapped- a strangely routine procedure considering the ongoing stairs of bewilderment we seemed to be recipients of.

What stood out most at first was the sense of community that permeated the room. The group seemed more like a dysfunctional family than anything; accepting and proud of each other’s differences. Next was the sense of foreigner that I felt. I’m sure each of those students was suffocated by a feeling of foreignness throughout their lives. However, here at Kiran, WE were the foreigners; this was their home turf. Unlike the people who had subjected them to this feeling of otherness, the students at Kiran were extremely willing to accept us into their community. Our foreignness and all of our differences only added to the community. In fact, in many ways I felt more comfortable at Kiran than anywhere else that I had visited. The stairs seems more friendly and forgiving and more often then not transformed into a smile or a booming, “Namaste!”

The rest of the was exhausting; Along with the French couple, we received a tour of each program and each of their subsections. We visited the vocational training center where students were busy making jewelry and scarves, canning food, and taking classes on henna painting. We visited the wood workshop where skilled carpenters were hard at work manufacturing the same toys that they themselves had enjoyed as kids. We visited the Human Resource Training Center (HRTC) where Kiran trained the next generation of teachers and administrators for special needs children. We saw the various classrooms- each one distinctly different from the others. Two were for hearing impaired children. Their smiles and play seems even more expressive than that of most people. Their lack of hearing in no way slowed their connection with other classmates or the outside world. We visited the special education unit where students of differing ages and abilities aided each other in their common mission. We visited the integrated education unit as well where we watched one student with polio assist another student with Cerebral Palsy into her wheel chair. I couldn’t help but think that Kiran had accomplished what the American education system had always struggled to do: teach compassion and empathy to its students.”

This week was a lot to grasp. I frequently find myself thinking that these situations are too difficult to describe accurately, at least by me, which discourages me from blogging about them. I hope photos can suffice where I may fail and I look forward to telling these stories (with some more Masala) when I’m back!


Study Abroad, Travel

An Interview to Remember

Recently, as part of my Field Methods and Ethics class, I was tasked with conducting three separate interviews (one in Hindi) of Indians outside of both my program and my home-stay. This assignment was supposed to prepare me for my Independent Study Project, which I’ll be starting in about 4 weeks. For those that don’t know, a major part of any SIT program is a 4 week Independent Study Project at the end of the program. We can go anywhere (safe) in India. My proposed area of study is definitely focused on social entrepreneurship, however I’m still trying to find a more defined focus. Planning and researching for my project has been a very time consuming, but ultimately very education and rewarding part of my time here. Anyways, back to the interview: My last interview was with the host-mother of a girl on my trip. Her name was Manisha and the interview was one of the most interesting and though provoking experiences I have had in India so far. I conducted this interview in English and because Manisha spoke English very well, we had an awesome, in-depth conversation on her work in Social Entrepreneurship. She works for a British NGO named Trade Craft, which works with artisans to distribute their products, enhance their capabilities as producers, and other enabling activities.

I have provided a rough transcript of our interview below:

How would you describe your work?

Trade Craft is a UK based NGO that works with rural, artisan women to build their capacity. There are several organization in India that work with a similar business model. These include Sadria, URMUL [a NGO Milk Union which works to build the capacity of rural Milk producers. They have now expanded operations to include rural schools, artisan programs, etc. Our group visited their headquarters but unfortunately I was busy fighting Dengue.], Rangasutra, and FABIndia [which collaborates with an organization which sources its clothe from rural artisans and does some similar work in capacity-building as Trade Craft] among others. Rangsutra, which is a part of URMUL, actually gives each artisan equity in the organization so that collectively the artisans own 25% of the organization. Personally I work as a project manager. I also work in the community to spread the principles of Fair Trade. As a project manager I work with artisans to gain market access through a variety of methods.

What challenges face NGO’s working in this area?

It’s very difficult to communicate the necessary changes to artisans. For example, a big part of our business is certifying these artisans with various certifications including fair trade and organic. Take an organic certification- its very difficult the necessary steps for this certification to rural farmers or artisans. In addition its difficult to communicate the necessary changes that need to occur in the supple chain for this certification to be sustainable in a business sense.

What are the greatest challenges facing these artisans?

One of the greatest challenges that face artisans is the ability to recognize changing market trends. It is very difficult for innovation to occur at this grassroots level. People in this work aren’t used to drastic changes in market dynamics.

What is an example of this?

In India we are seeing a rise in the middle and upper class. Especially with the rise in the middle class, there is a rising market need for more expensive, nicer crafts. Whereas before it was more important for artisans to produce things that could be marketed to both the upper class and the worst off, now they need to recognize this growing trend in middle class house furnishings, etc. This all has to do with changing demographics and its often difficult for rural artisans to see these things. This is a challenge we face as an organization but we are doing work to help artisans in this area.

In addition, it is often difficult for artisans to make the coordination necessary to distribute to larger organizations. Organizations working in this field are now changing their business model to incorporate more local coordination and regional offices although this may always be a difficult aspect of this sector.

Maybe for these reasons, in addition to the simple fact that this business is profitable, more and more organizations are operating as hybrid organizations. Trade Craft for example has a for-profit arm that sources free-trade crafts and food to domestically, in India, but also internationally. They also have a non-profit arm that works with training and empowering these local artisans.

The idea of globalization has been getting a lot of grief in India recently and lots of international circles. People feel that globalization is often characterized by the exploitation of the underserved populations by massive corporations. Do you feel this model represents a more sustainable form of globalization?

Absolutely. These artisans can be incorporated into the international markets and take advantage of changing demographics and market needs. It is also sustainable because it supports the rural population. [There are lots of interesting dynamics that have played out in India’s growth. One of these is that nearly 70% of India’s population resides in the rural areas, urbanization has occurred by population growth in cities is relatively low compared to rural areas, however almost all of the economic growth has occurred in cities.]

What role do you see the international community playing in the development of this type of business model?

I think there is lots of work that needs to be done in international markets, domestic markets, and with local organizations to ensure the spread of business like this and the push for capacity building activities in these developing markets. For these businesses to become sustainable, it is important for them to incorporate economies of scale. This involves investment and coordination. There also needs to be consumer awareness and desire. For example, if we are going to support the sustainable practice of hand-made cloth [popular in rural areas- this was a central part of the India’s revolution, and one of Gandhi’s biggest movements, as it represented Indians going back to their roots.], we need to build consumer awareness about what is manufactured by machines and what is manufactured by hand. Then we need to build desire.

What skills do you teach the artisans?

We teach skills including product development, market research, supply chain development, and other similar business development skills.

Do you teach soft skills such as innovation?

Yes- this is central to our education. We need to teach ideas like entrepreneurship and innovation in order for these artisans to be successful. This goes back to the challenges we spoke about including understanding market dynamics. These are much harder to teach because people don’t necessarily understand the value of these ideas.

How important is it for social enterprises to included the underserved population throughout the supply chain (as opposed to solely consumers)?

It’s very important. If this is truly going to be a sustainable business than we need to improve the lives of these people. However, when we talk about inclusiveness we also need to include them as consumers.

How important is it for MNC’s to include the underserved population in their value chains?

Well its very important for corporations because it goes back to the notion of inclusiveness. On the corporation’s end- corporations need to meet market need. This means if there is consumer demand, like we spoke about earlier, they will take the necessary steps to build supply chains.

How do we scale this type of work? (THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION)

Through work like we have been talking about, through the development of supply chains, and through economies of scale and the work involved in that aspect.

Again this is a rough transcript but I’ve tried my best to represent the themes that we touched on. The ideas portrayed by Manisha are consistent with the books and reports I have read on the topic, but her insight on the challenges facing these artisans, including the “how” (as Bill Drayton would appeal to) of how to enable them, was fascinating. These themes are going to become a huge part of my life in the next few weeks and I’ll try to post interesting info and interactions that I have.

Study Abroad

On the Internet:

When my father travelled the world as a part of the International Honors Program, I can’t imagine he spent as much time perusing twitter or the NY Times or really any site on the laundry list of websites I check daily. I’m sure he didn’t spend nearly as much time keeping in touch with his friends over social networks like Facebook. Hell, he probably didn’t skype his mother as much as I do. But is this is a good thing? A sign of my over-connection to the world I left behind to study in India? Is it an advantage that I don’t have the burden of secluding myself from the world I feel so connected to? Or is it merely a sign of the changing times? These questions face me pretty frequently and I think I’m starting to come to terms with how they affect my time here.


1)    I love being connected with the world. The same Internet that allows me to stay connected with my world back home, allowed me to learn vast amounts about India before I ever set foot in this country. I may not necessarily spend all my time messaging friends back home, but retaining some connection to my community back home, from my extracurricular, to the weekly CMC parties, lets me retain some sense of connection, which I would hate to lose. My father says that the sense of connection to the CMC community that he lost when he went aboard was one of his biggest regrets in College. Technology has allowed me to soften this break-up. I also really value being a part of the lives of those I truly love. Being a part of Sam’s life everyday, through Viber, Skype, Facebook, etc. has made me much more comfortable during my time here. Talking to her for example, has been such a huge part of my ability to digest and reflect on my experiences every day. It allows me to share the nuances and hilarities that occur everyday, while getting support and love when I feel lonely, homesick, etc. I still feel like I am part of my family member’s lives- from Clare’s meditation classes, to Dad’s conferences, to my long talks with my Mom. This connection goes both ways- my loved ones know what’s going on in my life but I can also keep track of what’s going on in their lives. Encouraging my sister to meditate, watching Sam’s soccer games… all of these things are enabled by technology. These are all signs of a changing family dynamic, not necessarily a need, but a lingering connection that kids my age have with their families.


2)    The principal paradox these issue seems to raise is the conceived balance between staying present and using the internet. I wont lie- the internet has fed my worry about things like internships, future obligations, and the like. These worries take up a huge part of my life back in school and a semester abroad seems designed to give me a reprieve from these thoughts. But is that accurate? What if those things are all parts of who I am? I’m forward looking and driven and I value my ability to feel prepared and ready for the future. Furthermore, wouldn’t I worry about these things anyways? In theory this has the potential of being a major detractor from my time here. In practice however, I trust myself to not let this detract from time otherwise spent experiencing real things, and the peace of mind that shedding some focus on these activities is important. This debate seems to necessitate some type of meter on my smart phone- how present am I and how much am I thinking of the future and all of its needy obligations. I value my ability to think of the future and be prepared, so maybe I’ll aim for 90% present HAH.


3)    Access to information- When I talk about technology with my peers they so often deny that technology is important to them. They probably use it to stay in touch with people, but it’s endless wealth of information is seen as a drain- responsible for far too many hours spent surfing the web. I have a different point of view. On a day like today, when I’m stuck at home with no choice of exploring the real world, I love that I have the power to spend the day reading about awesome Social Enterprises, reading reports, and exploring blogs, and other various websites. Sitting in a small house in Jaipur, recovering from Dengue, I have tremendous access to whatever information I want. Although there is clearly a breadth of time-wasting material, there is also an incredibly ability to learn and explore. I don’t think of myself as an internet ‘ethicist’ but I do appreciate the democratization of information that the internet has afforded a student like myself.


4)    The internet contains a huge potential to disconnect from the world currently surrounding me and discouraging me from undergoing the experiences that will surely shape my time here. This seems to be the easy answer to the negative side of internet availability. Clearly any person who would say that my father’s circumstances are superior to mine- for whatever reasons: learning, immersion, genuine experience etc.- would allude to this argument. I would be the first to admit that this is true. It’s more than easy for me to lapse into the usual information sifting that reddit, salon, and twitter encourage. But this is ultimately my responsibility and hopefully doesn’t come to define my time here. However, I think there can be a healthy amount of communicating, of information-sifting, without being the down-fall of my time here, or even a detractor.


Ultimately, I really appreciate the benefits that the internet has brought me. I cherish my ability to connect with those I love, to explore and to learn in ways other-wise un-afforded to me, and to stay connected with the world. These views are undoubtedly formed by a millennial, and I’ll let you do your own analysis of that, but I think my preference towards these things is justified and demonstrates the rise of a global, connected type of study-aboard student. Of course there are a million ways for technology to take away from my time here, but thus far it has been a very important way for me to contextualize my time here while finding normalcy and meaning in my connections with the people back home. In addition to the expected adult retort of “stay present,” and “live in the moment,” I would love your feedback and thoughts below!

Study Abroad, Travel

A Rough Week

This is the story of my week:

Wednesday night I started feeling the effects of a fever and by the morning I felt weak, feverish, light headed and was being pounded by a nasty headache. Fortunately, there were two other students feeling sick so on Thursday we all travelled to the doctor for a quick check-in and some blood tests. Little did I know, the hours and hours of waiting that I had to endure were a sick preview of a shitty week. At the hospital I had my first fainting episode too. I was feeling nauseous so I rushed off to the bathroom, only to wake up on the floor of the men’s room, more than confused as to how I had gotten there. After a rough night, I went back to the Doctor’s with the other students. After a shorter wait, we sat down with the doctor who revealed to us that our blood tests had all tested positive for Dengue Fever.

The moment I heard Dengue, I was immediately taken back to the tiny little clinic in Liberia that diagnosed me with Typhoid Fever. In both cases there was a very distinct moment, directly following the ‘verdict’ where I could do nothing but kind of laugh and think, “are you fucking kidding me? ______ Fever? That’s still a thing?” I think in these instances, a positive person is truly defined. Shitty things happen to everyone, whether they’re a positive or negative person. But one’s attitude is definitely defined by their interpretation of those situations. Luckily for me, I have the ability to laugh at the sheer absurdity of a situation like this one. I mean, who can predict I would get Dengue Fever? That’s hilarious. Well there were less hilarious moments.

The group (read: SIT Staff) decided it was best to admit ourselves into the hospital the next day so that we could utilize an IV, take medicine, rest, and hopefully be well in time to catch up with the rest of our group, which was leaving Sunday for a week-long excursion. So Saturday morning, armed with absolutely nothing, we began our stay at the hospital. I was handed a pair of super funky fitting hospital scrubs, stabbed with my first IV, and given a room with 3 bickering brothers and their very sick father. The brothers discovered that it was very interesting reading through my medical papers with the nurse. There was nothing interesting of course- it was just blood test results- but it was still strange watching people read through my private information. The previous day, when we had met with the doctor, the 4 people in our group shared his office with three other people and we all took turns explaining our current medical conditions. I don’t think I need to explain the absurdity of that situation, just try to imagine a random guy chilling in the office with you when you’re meeting with your doctor… pretty strange…

Luckily, I was soon transferred to a room with just the two other students. One of the SIT staff is incredibly well connected and happened to know the CEO of the specific hospital so we got a good room- so it works in India. There were three pretty uncomfortable beds, a TV, and a bathroom. So began FIVE DAYS of doing nothing but eating bad food, watching bad movies, and getting bad nights of sleep. To be honest, it really sucked. I had no idea that we would be staying there so long. Expecting to only stay there Saturday, I didn’t bring with me anything I needed. (luckily my laptop was brought to me.) Having this expectation also made the morning announcement that we were no closer to leaving so much more frustrating. The first 36 hours my stay was terrible. At one point after washing my hands in the bathroom, I passed out into the corner of the wall, cutting my nose, bruising my forehead, and scaring the shit out of everyone in the room who found me unconscious, shaking on the bathroom floor. I could barely do anything without feeling like I was going to faint. Then when my symptoms started to disappear, I learned that my blood platelet levels were so low I might need a transplant.

Just like my time in Liberia, the illness seemed to jumpstart a period of total negativity, doubt, anger, questioning, and ultimately disappointment. I came to India to love it, to experience awesome new things, not to sit in a hospital room while I missed an amazing excursion. I wanted to challenge myself but this didn’t seem like the right type of challenge. I felt weak and powerless to the powers that be. I underestimated how hard it was to be sick. The physical symptoms of the disease seemed to pale in comparison to the mental mountain that was quickly appearing in my head. It wasn’t until this morning, 5 days later, when the Doctor announced that we could go home, that any sense of hope started to return. Those 5 days were so incredibly boring yet so taxing. I had no choice but to lie in bed all day. 5 IV’s a day, countless pills, two blood tests, and what seemed like an endless stream of hospital staff became my life. I cant say I did anything interesting because I didn’t really do anything. I spoke with Sam frequently, talked to my parents every night, and read every article on ESPN and the New York Times. Thus, the announcement that we were leaving was truly awesome.

I’m home now, clean, and looking forward to getting back to my everyday life. The last week has been pretty hard but I really hope it can teach me a thing or two. If anything, it has added some urgency to my trip. The doubt and disappointment it brought out in me hopefully serves as a reminder that, the more I miss home, the more important it is for me to make my experience here everything it can be. I’m so incredibly lucky that I was able to have my always-supporting parents and wonderful girlfriend next to me the whole way. Now it’s time to get some sleep and head back to the hospital tomorrow for more blood platelet tests! It’s unfortunate that this has been my first blog post in a while, but I’m looking forward to posting more about the economy, my family, and maybe even city-life. Hope everyone is doing well!

Study Abroad, Travel

A Weekend Away

This weekend I travelled to Pushkar with 5 of my fellow students. I’m way too exhausted to communicate this in a shorter way so I guess I’ll just share what happened:

We left from the program center after class on Friday excited for the opportunity to explore on our own. We all shared rickshaws to the bus station, anxious to see if we could find the right bus. After lots of yelling (and our fair share of confusion) we found a man who could sell us bus tickets. We asked him to prove his legitimacy so he grabbed a pen and wrote out an invoice of some kind right on my hand. Everything checked out, so we forked over the cash ($2 each for a 3 ½ hour bus ride) and hopped on board. I can’t say the bus itself was too notable, other than it was hot and crowded.

The ride was fascinating. We passed upscale hotels on the side of the road- new windows brilliant in the desert sun. We passed towns of marble factories filled with signs that said “World Most Famous Marbles.” We swerved around trucks, motorbikes, camels, and pilgrims- all heading to worlds unknown. When we finally arrived in Pushkar it seemed like we could have been on another planet. Luckily, we were called back to earth by the familiar sounds of city life in India, and the recognizable smell of cow-shit and street food. We meandered through the streets of Pushkar until we spotted a sign point us to Hotel Everest- our home for the next few days. The hotel proved to be a great find. The rooms were small but had a fan and were comfortable enough to fit three people each and for $10 a night per room, I wasn’t going to complain. The highlight of the hotel was definitely the rooftop restaurant where we were immediately romanced by the spectacular views and excellent Lassi. Add the Buddhist prayer flags and the washed up hippies and we felt at some kind of home. However, we decided we were too excited to wait until morning to explore the city. We set off through the narrow streets towards the lake- the epicenter of Pushkar. At the lake we discovered the Gandhi Ghats- bathing ghats on the edge of the man-made lake that Gandhi’s ashes were spread in. What a scene! The ghats were filled with people of all ages, spread around the lake in close bunches wearing a vast range of clothes, all carrying the mystique of rural India. The lake was surrounded on all sides by stairs and seemingly every 20ft stood a temple of some kind. After part of group got yelled at for carrying their shoes instead of leaving them at the temple entrance, we retreated to a nearby temple where a procession immediately began. We stayed for 20 minutes, filled with incense and chanting, before we throw in the towel and snuck out the back. We had just enough time to poke around the market before we retired to the restaurant and eventually to bed.

We woke up early the next day to hike up one of Pushkar’s many hills to one of Pushkar’s many temples. The hike was challenging but not quite up to my Rocky Mountain standards. The walk was much more wild however than anything I could have experienced in Colorado. The road to the hill was packed with people on their daily commute, shops were opening, religious-men were heading to temples, and cows mixed every-which-way. On the climb itself we were bombarded with every mix of people. We found people praying every 20 feet, a few tourists too timid to say hello, and our fair share of families eagerly waiting to take our picture. After only a brief stay at the top, we headed for breakfast, far too hot and too sweaty for 8am. Breakfast was at the “Out of the Blue Hotel” which served traditional Indian food, as well as, to our excitement, traditional western breakfasts such as porridge, toast, and yogurt.

After recollecting our wits, we went in search of the Brahma Temple- the only one of its kind in the world. This was perhaps the highlight of the trip; It was a bizarre mix of Pilgrams, who embodied the almost incomprehensibly mysticism and antiquity of the India, families, representing globalization, and young entrepreneurs, representing the constant buzz of modernization. For such an incomprehensible experience, the exercise seemed almost routine.

This proved to be the theme of the day. As we dragged ourselves from temple to temple, we seemed almost too tired or shocked to comprehend the utter absurdity of our situation. 6 students wandering through a Hindi holy town, scorning fake priests, avoiding eye contact with other tourists, and trying our best not to offend anyone. It was exhausting and intense in every way. As we looped through the market, constantly the target of sneaky cell phone pictures, we gaped at the spectacle and It gaped back at us. Trying to skim the surface of what seemed like a bottomless town, we ran out of monuments but fell short of any understanding. Even after a nice dinner at one of the better restaurants in town, a bucket-bath, and a good night sleep, I still felt like I was on some bizarre trip. We made it back to Jaipur after another sweaty, chaotic bus ride. A quick rickshaw drive and I was home. In fact, I can’t say I’ve ever felt more at home with Dal, Chapatti, a cup of chai, and a shower with my own bucket. A call to Sam, a skype session with the parents, a few hours of homework, and I was back in my comfort zone.

This will definitely be one of the experiences I look back on and laugh. I’m not sure I have any other way of digesting it. I hoped I (along with the photos) provided some glimpse into my weekend. Its always easy to describe the blocks of a town, those things that remain, its much more difficult to describe the ambiance of a town- especially in India it seems too distant to ever capture with words. So I apologize if this reads like an exhausted account mixed with flashes of inspiration. I may be too tired to really recreate what happened but I’m afraid if I wait until tomorrow the whole town will be forgotten. Just in case I posted photos to capture what I have been unable too.