Lessons in Happiness

As a Responsible Leaders Fellow I am volunteering in some of the poorest countries in the world. For my work, I frequently travel to some of the remotest regions of these countries where people lack basic infrastructure and facilities. But it doesn’t mean people I meet are complaining or carrying a sad face all the time. On the contrary they are some of the happiest and most content people I have ever met. They sing and dance to everything they can and they share whatever little they have. They need help, aid and education but they need no lessons in happiness from west or east.

And happiest of them all are the children. I make a point to talk to them whenever I go for a project visit (they don’t understand me most of the time but sign and smile languages always work). They have no gadgets or fancy sports equipment. But they are happy with their friends around them.

Seven-years-old Henry and his friends love to play soccer and aspire to be local heroes. They can’t afford to buy a football. But they can make one. Yes they can MAKE one. Carefully wrapping plastic bags one over another around a piece of cloth, they have created their own nice football. So what if it doesn’t bounce enough or go as far as it should when you kick it. It’s no less fun.

Henry and his team

Henry and his team

The Handmade football

The Handmade football

Camera has been my best friend wherever I went. And it helped me make friends. During one of my site visits, little Gloria and Ester followed me wherever I moved, asking for one more picture. They are indeed the most photogenic girls I ever came across. I always show kids the pictures I took of them. Looking themselves in the 2 inch LCD screen increases their happiness many folds. They don’t need a camera to be happy. They are just happy being in it. Soon enough Gloria and Ester brought their friends to share their happiness.

Gloria and Ester

Gloria and Ester

And their friends

And their friends

and more Friends

and more Friends

As one of the projects, my organization Welthungerhilfe  is imparting health trainings in villages in Malawi and Zimbabwe. People graduate and receive certificates if they fulfill all 20 criterion on various health precautions during three months of training. There was a small event hosted in one of the districts for graduating community members. After the event I saw some kids collecting discarded soft drink caps. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of participating. Every cap found was adding more smiles to each face (including my). When I asked what they are going to do with these caps, they said they can play a Strike and Pocket game. Who said only Billiards and Carrom could be fun.

The caps collection

The caps collection

Little Oscar is scared of Murungus (Shona word for Foreigners). Probably his mother uses stories of Murungus to make him finish his food. But hiding and looking from the back of the wooden door makes him happy that he is out of my sight. After some pursuing I managed to tame him for a picture. He is still camera shy. Too young may be. But looking at his own pictures did make him smile finally. And then he was happy teasing me around for the next one hour I was there (well his t-shirt said “T is for Trouble” :) ).

Little Oscar

Little Oscar

I got my lessons in economics and money last year and it made me informed. Now I get my lessons in happiness every day and it makes me humble. I live a privileged life not because I have lived in cities or had a great job. I have a privileged life because so many people are sharing their happiness and smiles everyday with me. I am happy as I have learned to find happiness in anything around me just like these little kids.

* Pictures have been taken at various Welthungerhilfe’s project sites in Zimbabwe and Malawi. Please visit: http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/  and http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/blog/  to know more about Welthungerhilfe’s projects around the world

Happy 125th Birthday Allianz!

Last Wednesday, 4th of February 2015, all of our ESMT Allianz Scholars have been invited to attend Allianz 125th Anniversary and its public dialog regarding “Social and Demographic Change in the 21st Century”. On February 5th, 1890, Allianz was entered into the trade register in Berlin. So…

Happy Birthday Allianz!

The Event

As a summary, the event started with the speech from the CEO of Allianz SE, Michael Diekmann, who introduced the major demographic changes in this era. He mentioned: “Our societies are undergoing profound change as they get older and digital technology becomes more widespread. This will alter the face of tomorrow’s society completely”. The idea was then related directly to the speech from Wolfgang Schäuble, German Federal Minister of Finance. He explained how important sustainable public finances are when it comes to mastering the challenges of demographic change. Followed up was the keynote from the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Jan Eliasson, who acknowledged the change.

There was also a forum where academics from across the globe took part in a panel discussion to talk about key demographic trends and their impact on both individuals and society as a whole from the perspective of the younger generation. Two of our Allianz Scholars: Tida and Bar were in the discussion as well.

Our Participation & Contribution

To celebrate and related to its 125th anniversary, Allianz SE is providing 125 scholarships to ESMT students to be awarded in course of five years for degree program candidates. Among these, 35 scholarships for the MIM and full-time MBA programs are earmarked for Kofi Annan Business Schools Foundation Fellows.

Here, I would like to introduce our current Allianz Scholars. We were presented by Allianz CEO, and prior to that we have been asked to talk about our views about demographic changes and the video is recorded and played in both public dialog events in Berlin & Munich.

ESMT Allianz Scholars

Personal Reflection & Experience

All in all, it was a wonderful event. The keynotes and forum were very interesting and gave a lot of fruits for thoughts. Personally, coming from South East Asia, this event gave a lot of information about welfare in European societies. The gap in demographic change readiness is obviously there. We had a chance to talk to Jan Eliasson and other important figures in Allianz as well. There was also this quote that Tida gracefully concluded during the panel discussion that keeps us all in awe. It was about the philosophy of Ubuntu – a Nguni philosophy which, in English, translates to ‘I am because WE are’.

We were supported, we were involved, and we were given an opportunity to be a part of the Allianz circle. To me – it meant so much. Thank you Allianz!

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



Responsibility begins at School

Since I am already in Harare for over a week now and have walked my talk, I feel entitled to say something about the ESMT Responsible Leaders (RL) Fellowship and the opportunity it has given me to explore the social and nonprofit sides of business. I still remember it was May of 2013 and I was browsing through websites of various Business schools to find a program which best matched my requirements. ESMT’s MBA program design and credentials definitely beckoned me but another thing that appealed to me was RLF, hidden in small texts somewhere under the international exposure options. I didn’t have much idea about it then but I did inquire during my interview with Nick Barniville, Director of MBA Program. When I finally decided to join ESMT, I wouldn’t say RLF was the only reason but it definitely played a role subconsciously. It gave me an impression about how committed ESMT is towards its social responsibility and towards imbibing that in its students and community.

Rahul Jain about the Responsible Leadership Fellowship (RLF)

I joined in January 2014 and the first meeting regarding RLF was held in April, if I remember correctly. Wulff Plinke, founding Dean of ESMT and Professor Emeritus, introduced us to what RLF was all about, what assistance was available and what were the expectations of school from its fellows. Those who were interested were told that they need to find a nonprofit organization of choice and look for a suitable role with it. Once this is done school would be sponsoring the student and pay a stipend for up to six months during the assignment. Student status of the fellow would also be extended by another six months in line with this program. Assignment was supposed to be in a developing region of the world where there were most pressing needs for expertise but safety of fellow was also a priority.

Although we were expected to find organization and role ourselves, I must say that the school’s and Wulff’s network came very handy at every stage. We were presented with host of options during our July meeting where various well known organizations came and presented possible opportunities. Wulff and Nick, who were managing the program, encouraged us throughout and helped us in overcoming our predicaments and making the right choice.

I was committed towards the fellowship from the beginning but there was always an anxiety around whether I would be able to get the right assignment and would there be an impact on my career post it. Keeping all my doubts aside I decided I really wanted to do this and I was able to secure a volunteering opportunity in October with WeltHungerHilfe in their Marketing division. There was no looking back afterwards and I was waiting eagerly to start on this assignment since then.

We graduated in December and I flew to Zimbabwe during the second week of January, after packing all my bags in Berlin. And after spending a week here I would say I did make the right choice by choosing ESMT. What I found in May 2013 was indeed what I was looking for.

I don’t know how many business schools in the world have similar programs but RLF is definitely a unique opportunity provided by ESMT to inculcate a sense of social responsibility in its Graduates. The financial commitment towards it and support provided by ESMT is indeed commendable. I would like to congratulate and wish good luck to my other five classmates and Responsible Leaders Fellows, from this year, who embarked on this journey as well and are excitingly looking forward to their volunteering assignments in different parts of the world.

They say charity begins at home but for me responsibility begins at schools with right values, people and commitment.

MIM Batch 1 Module 1, Checked!

Hello from Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow, Russia!

You readers are lucky today because I am stuck at this airport for 20 hours of layover and I have no other better things to do right now. Haha kidding! I was planning to post this on the plane a few hours ago and I’m going to do it now before holiday kicks in and I would be too busy having fun to write.

So Module 1 of MIM was over and the winter holiday starts, finally! To say “finally” is somehow a bit of a bluff because now that it’s over, I sort of think it was like last week when I set foot on Berlin’s cool, hard ground. Things happened so fast (as we all know) here at ESMT and before we knew it, we have tackled 7 subjects + language course + a series of skilled and career workshops. It looked as if we would never make it, but we did. Now, that reminds me of what Francis (our beloved Decision Theory professor) said one fine day: “I’m not here to make you feel comfortable about yourself. I’m here to challenge you and push you beyond your limits.” He was right. I guess we all need a bit of pull, and push, and maybe a kick once in a while too.

Well, if you ask me how my experience was here at ESMT, I would say it has been a life-changing experience. I’m not going to talk about what I’ve learned or how great ESMT is because we all know that. At a personal level, I have made great friends. There were ups and downs, and as time goes by we’ve grown to share more and more meaningful things. There were tears of frustration, tears of joy, and even tears of laughter. I still remember one fine evening on the U-Bahn to the language school when we looked at each other’s tired faces and we just laughed and laughed till we cried. There were days when everyone’s eye-bags were a little bigger than usual. There are other days when the girls stop wearing even the slightest make-ups or even bother how their hair looks like or what clothes they were wearing. There were also times when tension rises, group dynamics flipped and the air seems less friendly. But hey, we got passed that with high spirits! I absolutely enjoyed the Christmas Dinner last night and the Secret Santa’s events hosted by Blanca and William. It was relaxing, fun, and yummy. Great company, great wine… Now what’s more to ask for? Below are some of us who managed to squeeze into the picture:

MIM Christmas Dinner

Before I get carried away, I would like to send my regards to all my fellow MIMs out there who are either travelling or getting ready to do something fun this winter holiday. Spend your quality time wisely before coming back for the second amazing race, alright?

With Love,
(and sleepiness)