Tailoring / Professional Stitching
Above right: Our two tailoring trainers (themselves getting quite entrepreneurial and excited by the prospects of having a 30-40 individual strong tailoring team under their supervision).
Everybody can do community development...the MBC as a hub for skill volunteers
- The gentleman in the middle is actually our facility construction supervisor from Chennai. He arrived here a couple of weeks ago, is putting up in one of the rooms at our office itself, and shall be here for 2-3 months.
- I was chatting to him about his food and lodging needs (we had to get him groceries so he could cook, the poor man found it impossible to digest local Oriya street food) ...
- Turns out he had a tailoring business (both men's and women's tailoring) in Bangalore which he ran for nearly 20 years. Also that he was a pattern maker! (Pattern making is pretty much the most demanded skill in the tailoring profession). For some deeply personal and complicated reason (he promises to tell us the story at some point), he shifted over to the construction business.
- He was so overwhelmed by the fact that we were all hanging out with slum community residents and doing little projects with them, that he decided to give as much time while here to training our 2 tailoring trainers in more advanced cutting and pattern-making techniques.
Below left: The same Chennai gentleman, teaching pattern making techniques late in the evening to our trainees and to our trainers. After an entire day of having been at the construction site. Everyone in my team is a little shaken by the kindness of his gesture in offering up his time like this.
Below right: Our trainees have been making consistent progress in their ability to use these industrial stitching machines, and have begun doing really good finishing stitching for basic garments.
Construction of Project Facility
The rains have delayed much of the work on the construction front. The ground gets uneven overnight, water accumulates everywhere on the site, material has to be frantically rushed on site when the sun shines and off site when the rains start, and of course the cooler grey weather makes everybody take off for long chai breaks.
Of course the notoriously aggressive laidback attitude in eastern India does nothing to make up for time lost because of the weather. The local construction team arrives on site around 9:30 am, they commence work around 10am, and by the time they get done with their breaks, the rains have started in the late afternoon.
This puzzled the hyper efficient Chennai team. The gentleman shown teaching tailoring techniques above did not understand why the local Oriya team started work around 10am during a season when rains start in the afternoon with clockwork precision. Why didn't they adjust their monsoon work schedule to earlier in the morning, he asked me. I called and yelled at the contractor of course, yelling has become my modus operandi, my solution to solving just about anything. But I do hope he stops asking me such answerless questions after a few more weeks here in Orissa.
At present we're looking at completing the construction around October if all goes according to the current pace of work. Then November through February would be devoted to setting up equipment and infrastructure in the new facility, and transferring current project activities into that new building.
I'm grateful for having the good sense to have started our project activities long before the construction was even discussed, let alone begun and then completed. This is allowing us to actually do work instead of waiting around. Our work does necessitate a large space and appropriate structural resources, but so much of our time has been spent in mobilisation and community engagement that if we had waited for the facility to be done before commencing project work, we'd have been in a deep hole by now!
Student & University Engagement
Besides the above introduction to urban development issues, I am also working with faculty and a set of 30 - 32 MBA students at our university to research and help implement various components of our Micro Business Centre project.
- I am still very much married to the idea of starting a student consultancy that focuses on micro enterprise and does market and sales research for urban poor, base-of-pyramid entrepreneurs.
- Let's see. It's always an uphill battle here to get students and faculty involved in interesting, innovative, non classroom based projects.
- The job market and culture in this region and this socioeconomic strata simply does not seem to provide adequate incentives for engaging in such project work.
- It would be a grand success for me if I could transform even 5 students from our ecosystem into more ambitious and entrepreneurial individuals during their post MBA careers. I cannot but imagine that a project like the Micro Business Centre is the perfect platform for fostering creative thinking about business and entrepreneurship.
(I'm still working at making our insurance collection operations smoother. The first field collection guy has dropped out because a more lucrative job came his way. So I've offered the chance to the girl who used to be our office supervisor (also a slum resident) but wants to do something more entrepreneurial, preferably people and sales related. Insurance sales can be very lucrative and there'd be nothing better than having an excellent sales person like her make a good income off of bringing micro life insurance to the slum community).
Spotting high potential entrepreneurs in the community
Above right: The new and improved schoolroom in Kargil slum. The two women in the background are teachers, NGO workers, and community residents.
The one on the left was pretty much my first close acquaintance in the community - super sharp, energetic, and just one of the warmest people I know. She's extremely excited about the newly expanded scope of her NGO work and about going to far away Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) for training (I don't think she's ever been too far out of Orissa).
- She's interested in giving time to the stitching unit of our project, and help us develop our production and marketing operations once the first training phase is done.
- It's so encouraging to meet entrepreneurs like her in this community (and there are many here): community mobilisation, nonprofit work, teaching, additional jobs to supplement household income. She not only does it all, she does it professionally, cheerfully and with the confidence of one who knows what they're good at.
- She's good at spotting business opportunities that she would be good at (like marketing for our tailoring produce) and she's also excellent at walking up to people and initiating relationships... if she had had the chance to be in some good corporate firm, she'd have soared to a top manager's position by now.
Experiments with local vegetable vending linkages
Suffice to say, this experiment entailed linking a few local, traditional vegetable vendors to a newly emerged local vegetable retail franchise.
- I'm not sure if it will work out to the significant advantage of the vendors, but since that has so much to do with implementation rather than idea, I think I'll save it for my next post.