International Visit to India: Innovating to Survive
There is no education like adversity - Disraeli
Part of our programme itinerary read ‘The eco-system tour’ Day 1. Being sceptical, I thought it would be mainly a slum, nothing but poverty and a few markets here and there, but I was completely surprised as it was a micro-city unlike anything I had ever experienced.
Yes there was poverty, a million people cramped into approximately 2 sq. km and the sanitation was poor with one toilet being shared between a 1000 people. However, the community was incredibly thriving and I witnessed some of the most fascinating enterprises and entrepreneurs. There is a business generation of approximately nearly $1 billion.
The people living there were ‘innovating to survive’ - we were shown a plastic recycling machine which was built by a person who lacked basic literary or numeracy skills.
The term boot strapping or shoe string budget was redefined: what do you do when you have minimal or no budget? Find a way to make something out of nothing! There are no angel investors, no VCs or incubator centre supporting them. Dharavi has one of the biggest recycling centres in India with an estimated 80% of Mumbai city’s plastic recycling being done there.
Recycling is just one industry. Others include cardboard recycling and pottery making. There is also a thriving leather manufacturing. I managed to get myself a custom made jacket within 2 days and delivered directly to my hotel, and there was a follow up call to make sure that this was the particular one I wanted: exemplary customer service even better than many European countries I have visited!
The tour had a powerful impact on me in a number of ways:
Firstly I was astounded that despite many limiting factors such as lack of sanitation and poor facilities, they were able to overcome such adverse circumstances to make a living and be content. It taught me to appreciate and value things even more - we complain about the train being 10 minutes late or the weather being awful, so learn the ability to be grateful for our blessings: we have a responsibility to give back to society, overcome obstacles and have a warrior mindset/attitude.
Secondly ‘real innovation’ with minimal or no budget. It begs the question in London, where the resources and network are strong: is there a change in attitude required to try and build things which change people’s lives rather than enhance things which are good?
‘Innovating to survive vs Innovating to make life more comfortable’.
Do we have too many resources at our disposal with VCs and institutional investors throwing money without even receiving profits for shareholders?
I would love to see the people in Dharavi being given resources and I would bet the returns would be spectacular from a business side.
My final observations of India is how technology has enabled people to communicate and the real community feel where co-working and co-living is the norm. There seemed to be a genuinely strong support network.