The Other Half

We’ve reached the halfway point in our assignment, and I expect this will be a very busy week coming up.  Good progress has been made, but we need to start tying things together for the client deliverables, and the final presentation, which will be here before we know it.

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I’ve tried to keep up with the blog postings, to document a lot of the things that we’ve done and seen, but I haven’t covered too much about what it means to me.  Preston has already written a very insightful and thoughtful post which captures a lot of what I and probably everyone on the team are also feeling.

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In our opening workshops, it was emphasized that India is a country of extreme paradoxes.  There is seemingly insurmountable poverty, yet at the same time, India has successfully launched a space probe into Mars orbit. Certainly every other country has similar problems, and Canada for example, has to face up to our past and present treatment of aboriginal, First Nations, and Inuit people. Alleviating these issues is a very long haul, and that’s one of the reasons we’re here, to help with our minute contribution.

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And yet, I haven’t seen the same things in the field as some of my team mates have. Most of the people I’ve been working with are relatively well-off, and at the end of the day, they are like many of my work colleagues based in India, and much like me. They are part of India’s rapidly-growing (upper) middle class, who might own a car or a house, or can afford to spend ₹50 000 on a smartphone. Our NGO is focused on increasing income and capabilities in rural areas, so even in the countryside, we saw what might be considered success stories.

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The previous CSC team to visit Jaipur (five years ago) used homestay accommodations with a local family, and travelled around by auto (-rickshaw) with abandon. It seems to me that they were truly immersed into the local community. We’ve also heard about other teams who have had difficulty finding reliable basic Internet connectivity.

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In contrast, we have our barricaded enclave and car convoys. There are some legitimate security concerns (but more likely, fear of liability), which make our assignment feel more like an extended business trip. It’s no wonder then, that some of us might also be feeling an element of guilt.

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36 Degrees and Cloudy

That was the weather forecast for Agra, and it certainly felt hotter than that under sunny skies.

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Even in Jaipur, you can definitely feel the heat, whenever we briefly step outside of our air-conditioned “bubble” during the daytime.  It’s the tail end of the monsoon season, but I haven’t seen any rain, and yet the humidity is there, curling papers and keeping wet clothes wet.

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Following our recommended packing list, I did bring an umbrella, clipped to my backpack.  For a while, it looked like it would stay there until I got home.jaipur_forecast

I might need it next week, but otherwise sunny skies are predicted until the end of our assignment.

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Tourist

The second week of September rolls in, and so do all the tourists.

They come from all across Europe and Asia, and other parts of India, filling up the elevators, the restaurant, the gym, and the lobby, forming lines and piles of luggage at the reception desk.

I wonder what they make of us, running around with laptops in the conference room, or hopping in cabs to the office, always in our groups.

This past weekend, we did our own tour, to Agra.  I’m going to avoid sharing the cliché photo, but Ironman Markus and Anna have posted some excellent ones.

The Taj Mahal itself and the surrounding complex are certainly impressive in their own right, especially considering the years of labour and craftsmanship required to create this monument, now a modern wonder of the world.

Other sights in the area include the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah

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and Agra Fort.

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For me though, the best part was sharing the experience with new friends, and taking a break, during what was likely our last free weekend.  Schools and many offices are open six days a week in India, which makes me appreciate it all the more.

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Field Trip, Part 3

Our second day begins under the hot, semi-arid desert sun, with a visit to the Morarka Haveli Museum.  There are thousands of these elaborately frescoed homes in the area, traditionally inhabited by Marwari merchants, for hundreds of years. Today, many are being restored and preserved, as an initiative to increase eco-tourism from abroad, to a less-visited part of the country.

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In an eponymous park in Nawalgarh, there is a statue of M.R. Morarka, in whose memory the Morarka Foundation was created.

An adjacent former municipal building has been restored, and converted into the e-Library, where the community may access the Internet, and attend online courses.

To our surprise, about 55 visiting Gujarati farmers plus some dignitaries from Madhya Pradesh (M.P.) were attending a multi-day workshop and information session.  They were eager to hear about plans for new collaboration tools, which would help them get information from other farmers, and open up new market opportunities.

We wrapped up our visit at the local project office, where we met a small core group of very experienced farmers.  They would be the first to see and try out any new system, and their input and requirements will be key to any proposed design.

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Field Trip, Part 2

Our last visit of the day was to Lakshmi, a veerbala (lit. “brave girl”) who has been trained and set up in her home as a local call centre operator.

(Photo credit:  Anna)

Using a PC, telephone land line, and call recorder, she is able to earn extra income by collecting agricultural data from farmers in the area, as well as answering their questions and solving problems.

(Photo credit:  Anna)

This arrangement gives her the flexibility to work whenever and as much as she is able, while also caring for the household. It also satisfies Rajput customs, which do not permit women to work outside the home.

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The availability of mobile networks and smartphones in rural India are rapidly transforming what is possible. Still, in any designs we come up with, we must remember these individual participants, if we want to be ready for the broader global market.
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Field Trip, Part 1

After successfully navigating out of the morning rush-hour traffic in Jaipur city, we hit the open road for Nawalgahr.  As the home base of the Morarka Foundation, the Shekhawati region is where many new organic farming innovations and initiatives are tested, both because, and in spite of the semi-arid climate.

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The first stop is the family farm of Mr. Om Prakash, a local educator and organic farming expert.  He demonstrates all the required equipment used on his tomato and onion farm, including a vermiculture composter, mixing tanks for natural liquid fertilizer, and a biogas digester.

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Our second visit is to Mrs. Santosh Pachar, a local “celebrity” farmer, whose award-winning knowledge of carrot farming make her an enthusiastic and highly-sought expert consultant.

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Working from Home

After a whirlwind day of meeting people and gathering background on the current state and expected future requirements of the business, we need to properly organize and absorb it all, and plan our next steps, including a trip into the field.

A conference room at our hotel has been booked for us 7/24, and I can foresee we’ll all be spending a fair bit of time working in there.

I’ll be the first to admit that I work in a very unstructured way, and I am a major proponent of informal MBWA (Management by Walking Around).  On top of that, I now know from my cultural profile, that I’m an extremely circular thinker too.

It’s actually quite reassuring to see how carefully each of our project sub-teams have been assembled.  My teammates Anna (from Hungary) and Ottavia (from Italy) each bring their own skills and experience, knowledge, and style to the project.  I think we complement each other very well, and I will definitely benefit and learn from their better organization and more directed approach to working.  Together, we happen to have all the required pieces to solve the puzzle.

(Photo credit:  Natasja/Anna)

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