Time with the Champions

Beautiful Nairobi. Lots of greenery, lovely weather, friendly people, great beer…what’s not to like!

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As in many developing countries, income inequality, high unemployment, rural-urban migration and other issues combine to create a large population living in poverty, dwelling in informal settlements ( read: slums) like Mathare. (view from my office)

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Unemployment is pretty common, with a correspondingly high crime rate. The HIV prevalence exceeds the national average. Tuberculosis, malnutrition, hypertension and diabetes are also rampant.

Run by German Doctors Nairobi, BARAKA HEALTH CENTER provides quality, accessible and sustainable health services to the vulnerable population in this community of around half a million people.Picture Baraka health center

Rose has worked in Baraka since 2007, and leads the ‘community team’.  I believe it’s more apt to call them the ‘Community Champions’With the community team

The community team delivers one of the core services of this centre. Their job is to go into the dangerous streets, narrow alleys, unmarked houses and unventilated shacks with ‘flying toilets’. They follow up on patients, identify people too sick to come to the clinic, pick out malnourished children and adults, monitor drug adherence, and refer these people to the feeding centre,the health clinic, the HIV/TB care centre or to other appropriate services.

I spent one day with them on the field to help me understand the center’s work, I couldn’t take pictures to avoid undue attention. Only Rose was bold enough to make phone calls on the street, and she told me: “they see me as their mother, and no matter how ‘bad’ these boys become, they’ll still find it hard to attack their mother; but you make sure you keep your phone well”. (I kept my phone very very well!)

In my time here as an ESMT Responsible Leaders’ Fellow, I hope to contribute to keeping the centre open and running sustainably. If I ever run out of motivation….I’ll just spend another day with Rose and her courageous team-  field trip for me, daily work for her.

With Rose

Fresh Perspectives

Do my experiences make me think about myself and those around me in a new perspective?

Most of us like to experience something new from time to time. Not just for the fun of it, but because new events and observations enrich your thinking, and make you a better person. Thanks to the diversity I encountered, I’ve discovered myself new from time to time. The important part of this whole new-and-diverse-experiences aspect for me, is the learning that lasts. What I experience, does it add a new perspective to my outlook?

I put this question to my decision to join ESMT’s Full-Time MBA program.

As I was putting together the different pieces of information I gathered in my research leading to the MBA application, one factor became more and more prominent: the prospect of enriching experiences. And when I integrated my MBA-selection-criteria with my priorities in life, it came out as a non-negotiable factor. After my fitment analysis, I was convinced that ESMT is the BEST choice for me. With all the research, talking to trusted advisors, figuring out financials, working on essays, profile preparation etc. I had gained substantial momentum, and I was in a very positive frame of mind. I was upbeat on MBA prospects at ESMT.

If only life were such a smooth ride! Gaining from prior experiences, I had factored in contingency, but what transpired next, blew me over. Over the last four months I’ve experienced tumultuous times. My sister-in-law (SiL) died a day before I had my admissions interview at ESMT. And this happened within a few months after my sister lost her unborn baby to pregnancy complications. These events devastated my aging parents, and they both developed serious health issues. The family was shattered. My SiL was more a friend to me than a family member. It was hard to cope with her sudden demise. It still is.

In a short span of time, my priorities changed. I wanted to spend as much quality time as possible with my family. This meant I had to compromise on an essential part of my finances. The momentum I had gained in the run-up to MBA application was waning. Doubts cropped up in my mind if the timing was right for MBA. I couldn’t decide, nevertheless I went ahead with the admission procedure. When ESMT offered me admission, I paid the deposit and left for India, with “Deferral” as Plan B.

The time I spent with my family, though short, proved crucial. My parents totally recovered, my brother came out of depression, and my nephew and niece had a lovely time. I gained momentum, but doubts still lingered. In the initial days after joining the program, I was still asking myself if I made the right choice. After three weeks at ESMT, I can answer affirmatively.

The class has a rich professional and cultural diversity. The first module of MBA@ESMT has provided me a good context of general management, decision making, and economics. And I am sure the modules-to-come will further strengthen my understanding of business and will provide the necessary tools to approach business problems. This however was expected.

What impressed me positively is that this MBA has helped me develop a fresh and more embracing outlook towards uncertainty in life, recognise shortcomings in my approach to decision making, appreciate more than before the importance of Plan B in life, and experience group dynamics in light of changing ground realities.

If I have to choose one word to convey my experience so far, it would be REFLECTION. The program has led me to reflect more – Who am I, as a person, as a group member? How do I perceive others around me? How do I respond to a life situation? And it made me look at my past in a new perspective. I can’t fully verbalise the value of these experiences.

Will I be able to put to use all of what I learnt to my life right from this moment? May be not. But they will surely influence my response to all new situations. Right now, I am trying to internalise what I have undergone so I can make a positive and lasting difference to my approach to life. So, yes, MBA@ESMT does make me think in a new perspective. And it has filled me with hope that this will be a life-changing experience.

Till next time, your’s lovingly

santom!

 

The Race

As I began my race, the wise sage remarked, “Life is too short to be spent on worrying”. I believe it too not because life is too short, but because my dreams are too big to be wasted on worries.

Half way through my race, happiness abounded me and the wise sage once again remarked that “happiness does not remain long so try to enjoy when you have it”. I believe in that too, happiness does not remain long, but it does not mean I cannot enjoy the tough times.

As the race continued, troubles and sorrow overtook me and the old sage laughed and said “Troubles are reserved for the unwise”, it may be true that I was not wise enough, but to be honest to myself was far better than to be wise.

Finally I ran my race and completed the journey and the old sage came and whispered to me “you could have done better; this was not your best effort’. I looked him into his eyes and said “I could have done better as you say, but I have given it all and don’t regret for it, this was my race and not yours”

JBF

Rise of the Phoenix-Part 2 – On the day of the journey

The day of the journey arrived sooner than I hoped. It was not a great day to wake up at 6 am after spending time with friends till 1 am in the night (yes you guessed it right, that was my last supper at least that’s what some of my friends told me. I should thank those friends, who made it really a memorable night). However I managed to wake up and reach the embassy before 9.30 and I was surprised that they kept their promise and issued me the visa. As I was leaving someone working at the embassy asked me why do I want to go to Afghanistan? I expected this question before they issued me the visa, nevertheless I was glad they asked me this question and I informed them about the project. Then he gave me a big smile and said “it is going to be challenging and something like you have never seen before”. I could not distinguish whether it was a warning or a wish, either way I thanked him for the visa and left the embassy.

I reached the school to say my final goodbye’s (I think at some point even I was convinced that I will not come back again, call it peer pressure or fatalism), I was in for a surprise that some of my friends got me a box full of chocolates as my farewell gift. I remember watching the movie Forrest Gump, and one of the dialogues is that “life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you might get”. How symbolic was this that my friends give me a box of chocolates. I could never thank them enough for their concerns and care and I think these are the people that make you think life is worth living. Soon all my colleagues joined in for a picture, maybe it would have been my last one with them, but destiny has its own plan.

After few wishes and goodbye, it was time for me to get to the airport, and every time when I am in Airport, something has gone wrong. This is one situation in my life where Murphy’s Law “everything that is bound to go wrong will go wrong” is applicable every single time. However this time I consciously wanted to change it and hence reached the Airport at least 2 hours before the flight and did not carry anything except my laptop bag (because of my experience of losing my checked in luggage). Finally boarded the flight and everything seemed to go so perfectly well that I began to doubt, whether if this was part of a bigger scheme of things. Soon in six hours (which is quite a long time for sitting in one place), I reached my first destination and to my horror, this was the same airport, only two months back, I promised myself that I will never fly though. As fate would have it I was there, but I can only laugh at how I make these promises only to break them.

After an hour and half of waiting, I boarded my next flight to Dubai, and this was a short one actually I could only see the takeoff and landing, I think in 45 minutes it’s the best you could see. As I had sometime in Dubai, ordered a coffee and was relishing it, when for the first time I witnessed something that made me think. As I was drinking my coffee, I saw a couple of kids playing next to me and taking one of these nicely wrapped sugar package and opened it and ate its contents. I just thought they were having fun and did not want to stop them so kept my focus on the coffee and the kids kept doing this and they were smiling. When suddenly one of the ladies sitting in the table next to me took the sugar from my table and chased the kids away. I was shocked, not because the lady took the sugar from my table, but on the realization that people have lost their ability to enjoy the simplest things in life. After all what is more beautiful than a smile on a child’s face.

Soon I realized it was time for me to collect my boarding pass for my final flight to Kabul. I went to the counter to get the boarding pass and I was given a form to fill in. This was a very strange form, where I need to give my consent saying that if my baggage gets lost in the flight, it’s my fault and the airline is not to blame. I thought to myself, so one has to pay the money to fly in this airline with luggage and they can lose the luggage but it is your fault because you chose to fly with them. This for me is a perfect contract to implement in financial markets (or should I say already implemented), where investors can take your money and invest and if they lose your money then it’s not their fault rather yours because you chose to invest with them in the first place. To my surprise this airline was not as bad as I thought it would be and actually managed to reach Kabul. (What happened on my first day in Kabul… to be continued)

Race, Religion or God – Who created Disparities in the Society

When you reach the heights of boredom and you have nothing to do, there are two possibilities, one you can sleep and two you can do something better than sleeping. Unfortunately, I chose the second and these are my scribbling for the summer break. In my recent trip to San Francisco, I was struck by what I saw; in a span of 500 meters on a single street. I met two kinds of people in these streets, not the old school classification of good and bad and not the modern classification of rich and poor, rather the ones who lost their dreams and the ones who run in search of vain dreams.
So what is the reason for this problem? Is it the race that one is born and of which one has no control? Is it religion that one practices of which one was indoctrinated when they were young? Or is it God, the one who you can attribute everything, when things don’t go your way? These were the questions I had in my mind and I wanted to take a closer look at each of these entities.

First, let’s look at Race, People often blame race as the problem for such disparity, although I am not an expert on the subject, but there may be some truth in it. So what are the disparities that can arise out of race, well first your skin color could be different, you can be either short or tall, you can even be slim or fat but what has it got to do with dreams and the answer is nothing. If you want to dream, you can dream, even if every single aspect of your freedom is curtailed. There were men and women in history, who dreamt even when there was no hope. Their dream had a purpose and this purpose gave them hope and this hope led them to a better place. Maybe race then can’t be the problem for the disparity.

Second, let’s look at Religion. People sometimes ascribe religion and its teachings for every evil in the society including these disparities. But taking a closer look at the teachings of every major religion, none of which asks individuals to forsake their dreams or chase idle dreams. All these religions ask individuals to follow a harmonious path to attain their dreams; dreams that benefit not the narrow minded vision of individual rather dreams that benefit the world at large. Maybe religion is not the problem for these disparities.

Finally, let’s take a look at God. It is not uncommon to hear people state that all disparities were created by God, people often state this, because they know the party ascribed the blame cannot defend. However is there any truth in the guilt ascribed to God? What did God do? (Doesn’t matter what your religious views are), he gave people the mind, he gave the ability to dream and he gave the ability to pursue it and this he gave to everyone irrespective of race or religion. Hence if someone does not use the ability is it the mistake of God or the individuals? So is it right to ascribe the blame to God for all disparities? Maybe not

Finally after having looked up at each of these, I ended up with more question than I started and if someone out there has already found the answers, I bet they were more bored than me.

JBF