ESMT’s first time at the MBAT. What a Marathon!

When I arrived at Charles du Gaulle airport, I realized that the MBAT would be a greater challenge than what I expected. So far, pre-organization went smoothly, thanks largely to the support of Hongmin Kim, my co-captain and the help of the ESMT Marketing Team, represented by Rick Doyle.

But now, things seemed to be harder than I thought. It was 9am. I should arrive at HEC at around 12am, but the campus was three hours away with public transport. I needed to be on time to register our participants and play our first beach volleyball match in a couple of hours later. Plus, I was the captain. What kind of message would I be sending as a leader if I were not to arrive on time? Anyway, sport is about challenges, so I just tried to get into that spirit. Plus, the weather was awesome.

After a three-hours odyssey, I finally reached HEC campus together with 300 students from Cambridge and Oxford. During registration, I found out that many other schools were late too, which made me relieved. Some of my colleagues were already at HEC, while others were soon to come. HEC understood the struggle of schools to arrive on time and was flexible in the first matches, letting us play with mixed teams. Some colleagues would arrive only in the end of the afternoon, enough soon to attend the first evening party.

In the opening ceremony, crowds from LBS and IE shouted when their mascot and captain came up on stage to bring the school flag. We were the third to present. Even coming with only 19 participants (15 MBAs and 4 Masters in Management students), ESMT was one of the loudest crowds. Carolina Rincón was our mascot: the “beer bear”. Our presentation video showing Berlin sports heroes (from the 1936 Olympics to the 2016 MBAT) entertained the crowd. Carolina gave me the mascot uniform and I dressed it up for a pie-eating contest among mascots. Picture a bunch of dudes dressing as animals trying to eat a whole pie as fast as possible. We argued that the man underneath the lion from Cass was not really eating the cake, but simply throwing the pie inside of the mouth in the uniform and he was declassified. Finally, the giraffe of ESADE won the competition with merits. Party continued strong until drinks stop being sold and we had to go back to out hotels at around 2am. It was a good idea. Next day would be a long one.

The second day was the busiest day in the competition, with tournaments happening in almost all the sports. Since we were a smaller team, we only participated in basketball, beach volleyball, chess, kicker (table football) and cross-country. The day was very sunny and we were chilling at the gym area – stage of most of the sports – waiting for our time to play.

That was our winning day. One of our two beach volleyball teams won all the group matches and a tough quarterfinal match to qualify into the semifinals. The ESMT crowd was so united that our excitement infected our opponents, who jumped in and celebrated with us, even after their defeat. The basketball team won its last group match to get its ticket into the playoffs. The highlight was Patrick El Murr, who used to play at Lebanon’s national team and ended up being selected for the All-Star Team of the Tournament. Last, but not least, one of our kicker teams won the first-ever ESMT medal: silver. Roberto Zincone and Enrique Thayer beat teams from Rotterdam, HEC, Frankfurt and Oxford to face LBS in the final. Roberto and Enrique were practicing a lot at ESMT’s Kicker table and that proved to be helpful against all the teams. In the final, though, the opponent was way too strong, with a young German prodigy from LBS Masters in Management showing powerful skills to overpower our favorites.

After such a long day, we needed to go back home and take a shower and dress up for the party. But where was the shower? Not working! We called the reception and they blamed on us: everybody wanted to take the shower at the same time. We could not wait until the shower would be repaired, so we needed to improvise. Some people asked for water bottles from receptions. Others realized that the shower worked with very hot water, which meant lots of painful shouts coming from the bathroom. The party in the evening proved to be the best with bands from all the schools showing their skills. After the official celebration was over, some of us moved to the after-party at HEC’s MBA Building, with extra drinks and music until 5am.

On the final day, survivors of the tough group matches (and last night’s wild parties) would face the playoffs. We were playing in basketball and beach volleyball, but our opponents were way to strong for us. In basketball, we lost in the quarterfinals against IE and in beach volleyball we stopped in the semifinals against Oxford, who would soon become champions. In the bronze medal match, we had a tough match against HEC, loosing for only two points-difference. Nevertheless, the whole team was united and celebrating and we hugged each other, as well as the opponents. Finally, we went to the lake to see our girls running a confusing cross-country competition. Competitors could not find the right path and got lost on their way. One of our runners, Carolina Rincon, found her way after some time and finished the little marathon with merits.

Later in the evening, our small group gathered to celebrate the final evening with our first-ever medals being given to Roberto and Enrique. We were hugging each other and exchanging love messages even without drinking that much alcohol. It was a tough challenge to be the captain of ESMT at the MBAT. But that team made it easy and, moreover, worth the effort.

Before coming, I thought that the MBAT would be the perfect occasion to connect with students from other schools. But what actually happened was different: I created even stronger bonds with my colleagues and – contrary to the captains of those monster-crowds from the bigger schools – I knew all my team members by name: Alex, Amir, Aniket, Carolina, Cristina, Christoph, Dylan, Enrique, Florian, Hongmin, Matthias, Nai-Wen, Patrick, Phyllis, René, Roberto, Viara and Vladimir. Our partnership evolved to friendship and we will never forget this wonderful time spent together.

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About the MBAT

What is the MBAT?

The MBA Tournament (MBAT) is a student-run 3-day sporting event that takes place on the HEC Paris Campus every year in May, with around 1500 MBA participants from 17 leading European business schools.

ESMT participated in the tournament for the first time, representing Germany along with Frankfurt. From the UK, came LBS, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Cranfield, Lancaster and Cass. ESADE, IE and IESE represented Spain. Rotterdam and TIAS were the Dutch schools. St. Gallen and IMD came from Switzerland. The host, HEC, was the only school from France.

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Sports:

Competitions included Badminton, Basketball, Beach Volleyball, Billiard, Chess, Cross Country, Dodgeball, Football, Table Football, Golf, Petanque, Poker, Rock Climbing, Rowing, Rugby, Salsa, Swimming, Table Tennis, Tennis and Ultimate Frisbee.

Participation in one sport with one team gives the school one point. A bronze medal gives the participant an extra point; a silver medal, two extra points and a gold medal, three extra points. Under that system, the number of participants is the main decider. Therefore, not surprisingly, the host HEC was the overall winner followed by LBS (sending around 200 students) and Oxford (sending 140).

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Networking and Fun:

Besides the sports competition, there is a lot of opportunity to network and have fun. When not in competition, the majority of students gathered around the lake, a beautiful green area in the campus, to drink, chill and chat. Dinner was served in the cantina, offering another chance to get to know people from other schools.

In each of the three evenings, everybody joins a huge thematic party fueled by alcohol and dance music. The first evening was the opening ceremony. In this gala party, young men and women dressed up with suit and business shoes would dance with giraffes, zebras and bears (school mascots), as well as athletes, who did not have time to dress up. The second evening was the battle of the bands. This extra music competition among the participant schools proved to be the best party. In the third evening, there was the closing ceremony, where winners could dance showing off their medals and trophies.

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Organisation:

Located far from Paris, without easy access using public transport, HEC’s main challenge was to host and bring back all the 1500 participants into the school and back to their accommodation every day.

Each participant student paid a fee of around 350 euros, which would include accommodation in a hotel close to HEC, transportation to the campus and three daily meals. A shuttle bus provided by HEC would pass at the hotels each 30 minutes (sometimes less than that, often more than that) to pick up students, reaching HEC in around 30 minutes. Once at HEC, you could pick up your breakfast and/or lunch (usually a banana, a sweet and a sandwich). In the evening, dinner was served in the cantina.

The highlight of the organisation was the payment system: a wristband in which you could charge some money. To buy alcoholic drinks or more food, you could simply show your band to the seller, who would swipe it over his or her phone. That decreased the queues dramatically and allowed us to pick up our drinks in a convenient way, without dealing with cash.

The downside was the transportation between hotels and campus, which took sometimes more than one hour to arrive. Many athletes could not reach campus on time of competition due to the lack of shuttle buses. Hotels were not an unanimity either. ESMT’s hotel shower was not working on the second and third days, forcing us to take showers somewhere else. Finally, the arrival was chaotic. It was on a Friday, during public holiday, when public transportation was not running frequently. We needed more than three hours to reach HEC from downtown Paris or from the airports.

Cape Town Chronicles – III: Food For Life

Hunger. A primal need. To me it’s a special idea that brings forth vivid images from my childhood, some of my strongest memories. Growing up in poverty, starving was one of the constants in my life for more than two decades. The physiological and psychological feelings that empty stomach causes are so indelibly etched into my psyche that they have influenced an essential part of my conscious and reflex behaviors. When I see food getting wasted a part of my stomach aches and I feel the burning of an empty stomach. Perhaps this is why, almost unknowingly, I don’t waste food. Seldom, but if I waste food, I get livid on myself. My friends and family tell me that I never criticise the taste of food, and that I don’t waste food. I didn’t notice these about my eating behavior, until many people gave me this feedback. On my 25th birthday, my best friend inspired me to think about the hungry and the homeless people and feed at least one hungry person before I celebrate. I started doing that, and soon it became a regular activity and not associated with any occasion.

According to the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs we human beings are driven to satisfy our higher needs of social bonding and self-actualization only after we satisfy our basic level needs. That leads to an interesting observation, that our ability to realize our potential, as an individual, as well as as part of a collective unit, is contingent on how well we are able to meet our basic needs. Hunger being one such basic need implies that malnourishment is an impediment to our individual and collective progress.

Consider these facts*

  1. In 2015, close to 800 million people suffered from chronic malnourishment worldwide. This is more than three times the total number of people affected by HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined (about 37 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, approximately 214 million malaria cases reported, and close to 10 million people fell ill with tuberculosis).*
  2. More people worldwide die of hunger than of AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis combined.
  3. Every night, one in every nine people, sleeps with an empty stomach.
  4. About 45% of deaths in children under five – 3.1. million each year – are attributed to poor nutrition.

*Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Health Organization.

These numbers reveal a grim reality of the state of malnourishment globally. It is sad that the problem of malnourishment does not merit the same level of concern in a majority of us as much as the idea of AIDS or Malaria or any other disease does. But there are a few individuals and organizations that are contributing their mite to fight hunger. During my fellowship here in Cape Town I got an opportunity to add value to one such organization, Food For Life Cape Town.

In Mitchells Plain. A mother with her young toddler after receiving food PC: Michelle Sauvage Photography

In Mitchells Plain. A mother with her young toddler after receiving food
PC: Michelle Sauvage Photography

In Mitchells Plain. Children waiting in line for food PC: Michelle Sauvage Photography

In Mitchells Plain. Children waiting in line for food
PC: Michelle Sauvage Photography

Food For Life Cape Town (FFL CT)
A colleague at TSiBA introduced me to FFL CT. It’s a non-profit volunteer organization that distributes freshly cooked vegetarian food in townships in Cape Town on Saturdays, and is affiliated to Food For Life South Africa (FFL SA), which is affiliated to Food For Life Global (FFL G).

How FFL came into being, is an inspiring story. It happened in 1974 in India. Srila Prabhupada, a well-respected wise man and founder of ISKCON, once saw a few hungry children fighting with street dogs to scavenge food. This sight shocked and deeply upset him, but more importantly inspired him to his vision that led to FFL, that no one within ten miles of a temple should go hungry. He urged his yoga students to immediately start serving food to the hungry. This became the seed that slowly and steadily grew into a global humanitarian organization, a worldwide network of kitchens, cafes and services, that feeds the hungry, including daily routines in many cities around the world. Today, FFL feeds more people worldwide than the UN. Amazing!

What we at FFL CT do?
FFL CT uses the kitchen at ISKCON Temple in Rondebosch. There is a lot of emphasis on cleanliness, consciousness and compassion when cooking. Those who cook attend their morning nature routines and shower before entering the kitchen. Once they start cooking they don’t go to the restroom. However, if one needs to, then that person should take a head bath before entering the kitchen again.

Every Saturday morning, one or two volunteers cook vegetable biryani (Biryani is an indian rice-based dish). The vegetables for the biryani are prepared on Friday evening. Cooking starts early morning, between 5:30 and 6 am, on Saturday. Alongside biryani, beans are cooked, to be served as a side dish. Once the food is cooked, it is offered to god. After a little while, the offerings are then mixed with the rest of the food. This is believed to sanctify the food, and the food is called Prasadam (sanctified offering). We then transfer the food into plastic containers, garnish them up with mint and coriander, and load them into the mini-truck. While the food gets decanted into the containers, volunteers enjoy the delicious biryani for breakfast.

Volunteers enjoying delicious biryani for breakfast

Volunteers enjoying delicious biryani for breakfast

In addition to the biryani and beans, we also prepare juice and load it up into the truck. The truck and the participating volunteers then leave, usually between 11 am and 12 pm, for the day’s destination where distribution takes place.

Currently we cook 1,800 meals and distribute in Grabouw, Mitchell’s Plain, Nyanga, Phillipi, Overcome Heights, Stellenbosch, Hanover Park, Kensington and a few shelters. We visit a different township every Saturday, and rotate every two months.

In Overcome Heights. People lined up to receive food

In Overcome Heights. People lined up to receive food

In Hanover Park. Volunteers dishing out food

In Hanover Park. Volunteers dishing out food

In Overcome Heights. Volunteers serving food

In Overcome Heights. Volunteers serving food

In Grabouw. Recipients line up to receive dishings

In Grabouw. Recipients line up to receive dishings

The recipients of our food are predominantly young children, with some elderly and other community members.

In Stellenbosch. Thank you!

In Stellenbosch. Thank you!

In Overcome Heights:. Innocence and curiosity

In Overcome Heights:. Innocence and curiosity

In Overcome Heights

In Overcome Heights

In Grabouw. A child receiving food

In Grabouw. A child receiving food

In Mitchells Plain. Food and friends

In Mitchells Plain. Food and friends

In Overcome Heights

In Overcome Heights

In Overcome Heights

In Overcome Heights

In Overcome Heights. A child receiving food from our community anchor Mymoena

In Overcome Heights. A child receiving food from our community anchor Mymoena

In Stellenbosch

In Stellenbosch

In Mitchells Plain. Happy children posing for the lens

In Mitchells Plain. Happy children posing for the lens

In Stellenbosch. Food, juice and camera - all I ask!

In Stellenbosch. Food, juice and camera – all I ask!

Temple devotees also join us for the food distribution. They bring a lot of joy and celebration to the atmosphere by joyously singing and drumming mantras with the children.

Regardless of the location, children rejoicing and celebrating the music, singing and dancing with our volunteers is an inspiring and a beautiful sight. And this embodies the true spirit of service that we at FFL CT strive for. One of the things that has impressed me about this organization is that none of the people involved, volunteers and management likewise, carry the feeling of charity. No one looks at, and feels, what we do, as an act of charity to underprivileged people. The attitude is one of compassion, and selfless service to fellow human beings. And that sets them apart.

In Hanover Park. Children enjoying their chance to play music

In Hanover Park. Children enjoying their chance to play music

In Overcome Heights. Children dance to Perez's tunes

In Overcome Heights. Children dance and sing in tune with our volunteers

In Hanover Park. FFL brings food and .. Superman too!

In Hanover Park. FFL brings food and .. Superman too!

In Mitchells Plain.

In Mitchells Plain.

In Grabouw. Children getting into vibe with our music master

In Grabouw. Children getting into vibe with our music master

My contribution to FFL CT
I volunteered to help FFL CT by joining them on Saturdays for food distribution. Soon came an opportunity to help the organization with strategy and management. As part of the core management team, I am helping the team with strategy for future. Based on my understanding of the activities involved and the vision for the future, near and long-term, I suggested a simple organizational structure to achieve three-fold impact (1) Make sustainability a key strategic focus for the organization (2) Build and strengthen the brand, and (3) Focus on efficiency for the business-as-usual activities/routines.

Core Team meeting

Core Team meeting

I have been fortunate that around the same time I came onboard, some enthusiastic and energetic folks started volunteering for FFL, and agreed to help us with the execution of above strategy. We formed a task force and we meet once a week to explore, discuss and debate different options to achieve our goals. We’ve made good progress on branding, and we are heading in the right direction with fund-raising and operational efficiency. We have big plans for the next few months, and are pursuing multiple threads to grow our network of benefactors.

The path forward
Strategically, we are evaluating the option of turning our weekly program into a daily one to create a stronger and longer-lasting impact on the communities we serve. This is a major strategic shift in the way our organization works. I am convinced that the current volunteer-based organizational structure has to give way to a few salaried office-bearers, part or full-time, in order for us to make and sustain this strategic shift. We also want to bring joy and smiles into the lives of more people and set ourselves the target of increasing our weekly capacity to 5,000 meals in the near-term. And we are launching a literacy project for young children in townships.

We are pursuing three major options on our path forward.

  • Living The Legends: On 23rd of July 2016, FFL CT will celebrate the legacy of two legends, Nelson Mandela and Srila Prabhupada, whose vision led to the efforts of FFL. Living the spirit of service of these two visionaries, 10,000 meals will be cooked and distributed on this day. This will be a flagship event of FFL CT going forward. This year’s event will have about 50 students from Northeastern University (NU) joining us. NU students will conduct free vision tests, and has sourced 2,000 eyeglasses from VisionSpring, an India-based NGO, to distribute to the needy for a nominal-to-zero price. Work is underway to raise funds, and to source volunteers for the event.
  • TSiBA-NU Consulting: We pursued the TSiBA-NU program for Entrepreneur Business Consulting, where business students from these universities will review and consult businesses in Cape Town to address business challenges, and have been shortlisted as one of the finalists on the program. We are excited to be on the program and hope the recommendations from these young business students will give us insights into how we can create more and sustainable sources of revenue and how we can take the brand closer to the young.
  • Read For Life: We are embarking on a literacy project that will be rolled out as a pilot in one township to begin with, and gradually developed into a working model that can be scaled for a wider roll out across townships, with minimum to no changes. I am anchoring this project for FFL CT and I am very excited about the execution of the pilot. The project has already generated keen interest in some of the people, and we look forward to the pilot roll out. More on this project soon.

How you can help
Every Saturday after our food drive in townships, I return home feeling glad that my efforts brought joy to people who are not as fortunate as I am. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that I grew up in a slum, and I had faced hardships caused by poverty. I can empathise with the people I see on Saturdays, who are living in abject poverty. Seeing the circumstances they are living in, is a humbling experience for me. And I think everyone of us can do something to make the situation better, directly or indirectly.

The best thing we can do is to not waste food. I urge you to sensitize yourself to food wastage, and make an earnest and consistent effort to not waste food. There are millions who are struggling to find food, and your efforts will make sure the situation doesn’t get any worse.

By supporting FFL CT you can make a difference in the lives of potentially many people. The biggest challenge facing us in pursuing the above mentioned goals is the inadequacy of resources, both financial and human. We are looking for people with the right vision and experience in fund raising, marketing and operations to come onboard and help us. We are also looking for generous donations, especially from overseas, to support our weekly operations. Given the fluctuations in Rand, any funding received from overseas would be a great help. You can also help us by volunteering for cooking and distribution on Saturdays.

If you are in Cape Town, join us on a Saturday to experience what we do, and how we do. Find out more on our website http://www.fflsa.org/branches/cape-town/, Facebook page (Food For Life Cape Town) and Instagram (FoodForLifeCapeTown) about FFL CT’s efforts to bring joy and smiles to different communities.

In Hanover Park. Happy team at the end of distribution

In Hanover Park. Happy team at the end of distribution

In Mitchells Plain. After a happy day's work

In Mitchells Plain. After a happy day’s work

Till next time,
santom!

Incredible India: Part 2 – Leadership Through Empowerment

Lessons From The First Mission

We have completed our first mission in Bombay, and quite successfully I have to say. We put in quite some work and effort to produce quality documentation and financial models that will help LeapForWord achieve their growth objectives. It has been a motivating mission with fascinating goals and achievements. During a feedback session with Pranil, the CEO of LeapForWord, I made a mental note of the “Andile’s Key Take Aways” from this mission, and here it goes:

  1. Captain

Pranil is the captain of this ship. He really leads by example and is well respected and appreciated by his staff of five. He makes sure everyone knows what is expected of them, and give them freedom to accomplish their goals without any interference. I really liked his authoritative style of leadership. I guess as a small team, it’s quit difficult to be hierarchal, but knowing Pranil, I know he would prefer the paternalistic leadership style even if his team were to grow from 5 to 500. He is committed to his cause, and is passionate about supporting children in learning English. He is a humble guy, never fancy and prefer a simple life. I have never seen him presenting in public, but I imagine him to be the guy you would want to listen to, just because of his honest face and hunger behind his mission.

  1. Teamwork

Being inspired by their captain, the LeapForWord team is dedicated to the cause. In fact, they live this course, their lives evolve around making a difference through LeapForWord. One can wrongly misinterpret this as “having no life”, which is not the case as these guys are truly committed. They work long hours and sometimes (actually most of the time) even work on weekends. The team knows what is expected of them and they never disappoint to deliver. This makes work quit easy for Pranil as he knows he can trust each and everyone of them with their work and doesn’t need to check up on them, which explains his paternalistic style of leadership.

  1. Good and Transparent Intentions

In the recent years, there have been a lot of village schools being closed down due to the high growth rate of private “English Medium” schools, NGO run schools and thus insufficient learners from the public village schools. The problem is due to the lack of quality English teachers. Most teachers can barely speak English themselves, let alone teach it. LeapForWord’s mission is not to take advantage of this situation but rather to offer a complimentary service to the troubled government system. LeapForWord offers training of English teachers from government school, and if they are still kids who fall through the cracks, LeapForWord then offer classes outside school to help those kids. This is important as they are not against the government system, but rather with it in fighting the good cause of learning English together.

With these lessons in hand, I am ready to move on to the next mission in the health sector in Pune. It will be interesting to see the differences between these sectors, and the next mission promises to be just as challenging and interesting. The next organization is a bit more experienced and has a proper organizational structure. It will be interesting to see changes from the “entrepreneurial” LeapForWord to the next mission.

Teacher Entrepreneur marketing campaign in Nashik

Teacher Entrepreneur marketing campaign in Nashik

Outside work, I have had the pleasure to watch the organized chaos and observe the day-to-day lifestyles. As with any other country, there are things India should be proud of and there are others not so much. Sticking with my optimistic side, I have witnessed an extremely tolerant culture amongst Indian people.

The Love of India

It’s the kind of tolerance that just glues people together. It’s an impeccable character that hinders hatred from the diverse tribes of India. Its the purity that allows mosque, churches and temples to be located several meters from each other, that allows slums to be positioned right next to five star hotels. It’s the fondness that enables Punjabis, Tamils, Bengalis and Kashmiris to tolerate each other. I call this glue, the “Love of India”. You see this love everywhere, from the wives wiping sweat off their husband’s faces using the edges of their shawls, from rickshaw drivers allowing other guys to squeeze in a tiny space in front of them without questioning them and you see it from the passion people like Pranil dedicated in making their missions a success.

With over 120 major languages, 29 states and 1,2 billion people, it’s the love that keeps this cricket mad nation together. I have experienced this love myself. A couple of weeks ago I went for a haircut. Not realizing that it was lunch time (Indian lunchtime start at 2pm), I entered the barber shop and found three men sitting around a small table, hands cupped like spoons and dipping chapattis into a small plastic container with a what looked like a mutton mince and gravy sauce.

Upon realizing this, I quickly retreated, “Sorry gentlemen, I didn’t realize it was lunchtime, I’ll come back in an hour.”

“No, no, no, please sir, have a sit and join us,” the gentlemen at the far corner responded.

“No, I just had lunch and I am full, so you guys go ahead and enjoy your meal”, I insisted trying to escape.

“Ok then just have a taste my friend, it will be our pleasure as my wife cooked for us”.

There was no escape and I wanted to be nice, so I took a small piece of chapatti and dipped it in what I later learnt was mutton keema matar sauce, and indeed it was delicious.

‘Is it good?” the husband asked.

“Yes, it is”

“Ok then, have some more”, he commanded as he pulled a chair for me to join them around the table.

I tried to protest, but it didn’t work. If there is one thing I have learned in India, it’s the fact that you can never say “no” to an Indian. So before I knew it, I had a full piece of chapatti and dipping it in the delicious keema matar gravy. Fifteen minutes later after being served water, banana and had washed my hands, one of the guys finally asked, “So, what’s your name and what can I do for you?” I was so humbled by this experience as what they shared with me was food that was barely enough for three people, yet they couldn’t suppress the love, and they made space for another mouth without thinking twice about it.

As we move to Pune for our next mission, I hope I meet people like my barber. I am looking forward to experience a different city. I am looking forward to starting a new mission and helping a different organization. I will update you, once I am settled and well on our mission. Until then, be safe and please adopt the “Love of India”.

Till next time, namasthae 🙂

M.A.D.

Happy Snaps: clockwise from top-left: Holi Festival, Camel Riding, T20 Cricket World Cup and Happy Children

Happy Snaps: clockwise from top-left: Holi Festival, Camel Riding, T20 Cricket World Cup and Happy Children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cape Town Chronicles – II: When being kind is cruel!

Kindness. Cruelty. Two opposite words. To those who’ve experienced them in one or the other way, these are two different worlds. Where one exists, the other doesn’t. Or at least that’s how I used to think. But this past Monday, I learnt something that gave me a whole new perspective on these two aspects.

A few weeks ago, a student group at TSiBA approached me for some advice on their business. Their idea won an entrepreneurship contest. But the organisers wanted them to turnover a certain level of sales of their product to claim the prize. The product these students have at hand (which I can’t disclose) needs refinement. The prize they won is an equipment that will help them refine the product. Now, without the equipment, they will need to either make or source a raw material that is not environment-friendly. If they have this equipment, they will be able to make the product in a ‘green’ way. And the students want to be green. It is one of their major value propositions. So they were faced with a dilemma: Should we compromise on our values and sell the product in its current state, which is not environment-friendly, or should we give up the prize?

Last Monday, I was a guest at the Rotary Club of Newlands’ weekly meeting. And I had the opportunity to sit and observe their entrepreneurship meeting. This group of business men was looking for opportunities to help budding entrepreneurs. I thought this could be an opportunity for my student group, and so I pitched my students’ business as an opportunity to these entrepreneurs, in case the students do not secure their prize. The group was excited about the green product idea and was open to help the student group. So, I felt very good about it.

On the way back home, I thanked Jenna (my colleague at TSiBA and a Rotarian; I was her guest at the meeting) for letting me go with her to the meeting, and told her this could be a good help to the student group. While talking about this students’ case we wondered why the contest owners wanted the students to sell the environmentally unfriendly product. We considered multiple possibilities and in the context of one of them Jenna shared with me the story of the little boy and his caterpillar.

One day, playing in his garden, a child found a caterpillar. Fascinated, he took it inside, and put it in a clear big jar. He nurtured it every day and took good care of it. A few days later, the caterpillar started building the cocoon. When he showed it to his mother, she told him how the caterpillar would undergo changes to become a butterfly. This fascinated the boy even more. He got very attached to his caterpillar and watched it all the time, eagerly waiting for the caterpillar to turn into a butterfly.

Soon, one day, the cocoon broke and the butterfly started emerging from it. The boy was instantly excited, but his excitement was short-lived. The butterfly struggled to come out, and this saddened the boy. It was hard for the butterfly, it desperately struggled to break the cocoon and emerge out, but it couldn’t. It kept trying. The boy became impatient. He couldn’t understand why the butterfly couldn’t come out. He thought it was stuck and just couldn’t make its way out of the little opening in the cocoon. So, he decided to help, ran to his mother, brought a pair of scissors, and very carefully nipped through the hole in the cocoon to enlarge it. The butterfly came out, but it was not what he expected. Its wings were small, and the body swollen. He was sad but hoped that in a few days the body would shrink and wings would grow large enough for it to fly. But that never happened. The butterfly struggled for the rest of its life, crawling with its swollen body and wings that were not strong enough for it to fly. It never flew and eventually died.

The tiny hole in the cocoon is the key to butterfly’s metamorphosis. The struggle that it faces to get through that small opening, forces the fluid from its body into the wings and one day when the wings are strong enough for its body, it breaks free from the cocoon and flies out. But the little boy’s caterpillar never got to that stage. The child’s kindness subverted the natural struggle that the caterpillar needed in order to develop the necessary strength in its wings and break from the cocoon.

We all go through struggles in life and it is just natural for us to feel sympathy when someone we know struggles. And we don’t stop there. We try to help them in whatever ways we can, to alleviate their struggles. That is precisely what I was trying to do for my students. So when I heard this short story from Jenna, it struck me instantly that by doing so, I was, in a metaphorical sense, widening the tiny hole in their cocoon to help them come out, without realising that their wings are not yet strong enough to fly if they come out of their cocoon.

An important lesson learnt about the journey of an entrepreneur. The long term success of an entrepreneur hinges very much on how s/he responds to the struggles. In fact, I wonder now whether an entrepreneur can build a sustainable business if all the resources required are made available to him/her. How s/he finds solutions when the required resources are inadequate/not available is such a big part of her/his learning process. Don’t get me wrong. I am not against the idea of helping entrepreneurs. All I am saying is perhaps we should not offer help before they try. They need to be immensely driven and should have explored on their own to find solutions to their challenges, and any help that is offered should be a result of their dogged determination to seek that help. Being kind before they explore options to find solutions is tantamount to being cruel to them.

I’ve been reflecting over this story all this week, and I realised that this is relevant to the growth of not just an entrepreneur but any person, and I felt I gained an important insight into leadership. Struggles help us discover who we are, what we are capable of. Through struggles we find out what works for us and what not; we realise our potential. As leaders we enable our proteges to realise their potential. I feel convinced that a major part of our job as leaders has to do with kindness. The kinder we are to our proteges, the crueler we will be to their growth. Sounds so ironical, but the more I think about it, the more I am convinced it is true.

Till next time,
santom!