Green Colleges promote agriculture, economic development in rural India

By Shruti Vasudev and Leonhard Fricke

It has been a month since Leonhard and I, both ESMT Responsible Leaders Fellows, have been in India working with Welthungerhilfe, and our journey has been nothing less than spectacular. In this past month, we have travelled to several places in India and worked with people from different religions, languages, and societal strata. GIZ has given funds to Welterhungerhilfe to set up “Green Colleges” across India. This initiative promotes sustainable rural development via capacity building and assistance in setting up and promoting microenterprises and other sustainable forms of income generation to control rural-urban migration. The project we took on places us as external consultants for Welthungerhilfe India, and our role is tripartite, wherein we first perform an impact evaluation of the project to date, then based on this we develop a business plan, and eventually assist with defining a brand strategy for scaling up the project.

So far about 15 Green Colleges have been set up in 5 Indian states, and we had the opportunity to visit one of them two weeks ago to get a first impression. We travelled to Aurangabad, a city in the state of Maharashtra, by means of a super comfortable sleeper bus, observing beautiful landscapes pass by. Upon arrival, we were received by our hosts, who are also the officials running the IIRD Green College in Aurangabad (the most recently established Green College). We had a series of field visits planned with them where they would not only show us the running of the Green College but also give us the opportunity to conduct focus group sessions with their staff and the past and current beneficiaries.

Several presentations and discussions later it was a true joy to walk into a running training session on goat rearing and watch almost 30 local villagers keen to make a living by perfecting the art. They were delighted to have us over; many of the villagers here are not educated above high school level but their determination to learn and apply their knowledge was clearly notable in their zeal during the discussions. They told us all about how they feel these courses support them as they set out to make a living for their families.

It was also a joy to see many women attending the sessions. Despite belonging to a predominantly patriarchal society, they were just as determined to contribute to their families’ earnings—perhaps an early sign of long overdue change and economic development in rural India.

We then visited the farm of two of IIRD Green College’s recent graduates who completed a course in poultry management and have even established their own microenterprise. As a result of their training, the two sons of a poor farmer who once relied on the unpredictable monsoon to support the family’s income through sugarcane plantation have now established a year-round sustainable income. Their happy faces, the pride in their father’s eyes as they showed off their new business to us, and the satisfaction visible among the IIRD Green College staff who took us on the field visit was truly a delightful sight.

Something that Leo and I learned that day was that no matter how small the impact you think you may be making, its effects are always magnified when done with dedication and commitment to the greater cause. We were also amused to see how hospitable the poor farmer and his family were—as soon as we arrived they rushed to bring us water and fresh fruit from their farm. Their big hearts despite their shallow pockets were admirable!

Next, we were taken to another village where the IIRD Green College staff along with other CSR contributors had established a water conservation project to support the village farmers. The village, run by its “sarpanj,” welcomed us in their meeting hall, where all the key villagers had gathered to witness our arrival and assist us in our project. A small ceremony was performed where Leo and I were each presented with a shawl and a coconut. We were told that Indians believe that “a guest is the equivalent of God.” That is why we were given this special welcome as guests of the entire village.

We were then taken to various village farms and shown the different drip irrigation methods employed by the farmers after training at the IIRD Green College. They told us about how their lives had improved because of the assistance of Welthungerhilfe and the Indian government. We conducted various focus group sessions here to understand the full impact so far and its potential future scope.

Overall, in the course of this one month, we have seen and learned a great deal about rural India, the efforts by the local governments and external agencies such as Welthungerhilfe to uplift the economy, and about the grassroot-level agricultural industry. Over the next months we will endeavour to travel to East India to study the impacts of the Green Colleges there through a series of field visits, case studies, focus group sessions, and surveys.

Along with our work schedule, we have also managed to establish a good sightseeing balance—each time we visit a new city or state we try to accommodate some exploration into the local culture, food, and architecture. For instance, in Aurangabad we had the chance to visit the famous Ellora Caves as well as the mini Taj Mahal known as the Bibi ka Makbara.

The Internship Experience

For me, the main selling point of ESMT Berlin besides its accreditation and rankings were the Internship and the Social Impact Projects. Since it was well placed in the curriculum for you to apply all that you learn and also notice the personal development as you progress. The internship so far has nothing but exceeded my expectations.

Finding Internships (Painful but worth the wait)

After some struggle to find internships, and all a bit of frustration of not being able to find one very easily, I am currently an intern in the strategic team of DHL Supply Chain in Bonn (small but beautiful city in western Germany). My job includes analyzing some key strategic focus areas for the group operations as well as analyzing some operational KPIs on a monthly basis. I work in a team of 5 people, all coming from different nationalities and culture, and thankfully my work is only in English.

Academics/Theory  (Stressful but Useful)

Before the internship, we had several courses which are quite helpful in my current role. Courses such as Operation Management, Strategic Analysis as well as Marketing Management were particularly helpful for me personally. I found the courses sometimes stressful but definitely useful. Most of the professors made an effort to make the theory as close to practical situations as possible. Overall, the internship really brings things that you study into perspective.

European Summer (Fun and Beautiful)

The timing of internship is right during the summer break, and that meant many events such as Barbecues and fun bar night outs at work. And the decent sized intern community at DHL really helped settling in. Additionally, I have been using this time to travel around Europe as well.

Learning and Experiences (Ample)

The internship gives you a lot of opportunity to have fun. But more opportunities to learn and use the theoretical background and to observe how its been used in the practical scenario. I have been pleasantly surprised at the working culture and the kind of responsibility that is asked of an intern. You are as actively involved in a summer party as in team meetings. I have particularly enjoyed the working culture at DHL and its emphasis on diversity and teamwork. To be able to witness the innovations and to learn more about supply chain in general has been a great start to the working life in Germany!

The best 50c I spent in the MBA

I stood in the middle of a crowded street, people weaving past me, their bags occasionally bumping into me as they hurried past. Around me chatter in Swahili from families and couples doing their shopping. I can hear the occasional vendor singing his inventory to attract customers. To the left of me, a man selling knives breaks into a demonstration for a woman and tells her, “Nothing sharper than this madam.” I could spend all week watching the people on Tom Mboya Street. Describing how every person is the heart of a business transaction, how the smart talking salesman can sway a person going about their chores and magically turn them into a satisfied customer when they never even knew the product they bought existed this morning.

To make this story make sense, I need to tell you a little about me. I’m in love with entrepreneurship. I’ve loved every chance to study it during my MBA program. From the International Field Seminar trips to London and Tel Aviv, to networking with founders and advising participants in accelerators and incubators, to classes on how to be an entrepreneur, investment rounds and venture capitalists, I have loved EVERY WORD spoken about Entrepreneurship during my studies, which since we are based in one of the best tech start-up cities is A LOT!! Unfortunately, I’d begun to associate all start-ups with technology. And even worse, I was beginning to frame successful entrepreneurship with models based in developed countries, I was beginning to think that a business that doesn’t disrupt an industry, or one that isn’t supported by government and infrastructure had no hopes of being successful. Till I was standing in Mboya Street. Something that at first looked so foreign and chaotic, began to look passionate, organized when instead of dismissing it, I used my training to I look at it from the business perspective. I could spend all day talking about the beauty of doing business in the underground economy and how elegant, delicate and endearing entrepreneurship is in Africa but today I want to tell you about my journey to Kiambu.

I’m only on Tom Mboya Street to catch a matatu to Kiambu. In case you haven’t been to Nairobi, look at the picture, (taken from my very terrible phone and google)

Tom Mboya Street, Nairobi

 

 

The roads are filed with matatu’s. These small minibuses are public transport. They are a private industry. While matatus get licenses from the government, the system of which matatu takes which route and when is largely regulated by the drivers and their conductors (conductors are the individuals who partner with drivers and are responsible for collecting money and getting customers)

This is my first time going and I have no idea how to get there besides vague instructions from a friend. I’m nervous to ask since my Swahili is all google translate based. But there is no need. The conductor approaches me. He asks me what I need. And here the businessman in him seizes the opportunity. “Where are you going my sister?”  He eases all the uncertainty I was feeling, and assures me, his bus is the right one. I enter his empty matatu. As I sit in the heavily decorated matatu, I realize the passion Matatu owners have. We often don’t see it as that in our daily lives… but take a look at the picture of the matatu I’m in… this man is clearly passionate about Kobe Bryant and his business. These matatus are often covered head to toe in pictures of an inspiring leader e.g. Bob Marley, Martin Luther King. Secretly, I dream of the day I see a matatu covered in pictures and quotes about me.

As I look around I realize there are other matatus filling up and leaving before ours. I stand up ready to search for another one, but the conductor catches me and convinces me to stay. He offers to show me where to stop and which road to take to reach my destination. He makes himself the best option and I sit down. Finally, the journey starts, I and 18 other passengers, fit in a 15-passenger bus. Somehow, he’s found a way to stretch his goals to increase utilization.

As I’m nervously checking the route, trying to find any of the landmarks my friend described I notice a police block. As the bus driver slows down to stop, the risk-taking conductor jumps out of the still moving matatu and goes over to negotiate the “penalty”. He’s back before I’ve even had time to count the number of police at the road block. (A story for another day is how I find in Zimbabwe police road blocks are where you find the highest density of government employees, but that’s for another day.) Before long we are now going up a hill, the car slows down and even with my basic understanding of car engines, I can sense something is wrong. I can feel panic begin to creep up me… until I notice the driver is turning into a gas station. He eases in and the conductor jumps out and gets the matatu refuelled. I realize the two-man team knew exactly when they needed to refuel, they had planned this journey up to the number of kilometres to the gas station. At this point the conductor calls for my attention- he’s telling me it’s my stop. As I descend he’s holding a pregnant lady’s bag so she can enter the matatu with ease. I’m amazed at the level of care he takes with his customers- amazing people/customer relationship management. The best part of this journey is it’s only cost me the equivalent of USD0.50, true value for money.

 

There are many models to use to study business, we learnt some key ones at ESMT, but the Responsible Leaders Fellowship gave me a chance to apply the models. I loved watching business in Nairobi and Harare, realizing the similarities between Amazon and a flea market, how street vendors are like pop up ads on a site, knowing when and how to enter your line of sight and get a sale; or how Uber gives you a map as rider so you can make sure you know where you’re going, similarly, in a matatu the driver assures me continuously I’m on the right route. But most importantly I loved working with Welthungerhilfe’s farmers on treating farming as a business. Doing trainings on analysing output, increasing efficiencies and record keeping was such an amazing experience. Discussing and working on what elements of a digital platform would be valuable to farmers and working on a strategy for Kenya and Zimbabwe with the organization reminded me, business can change the world positively.

Management adaptability and flexibility are key in globalized business

In the past 10 years the world has faced many dramatic changes—from a new economic and financial scenario after the 2008 subprime crisis to a new geo-political setting marked by Brexit and the proliferation of populism in the western world. Many companies and governments continue to struggle with the effects. Nowadays, adaptability has become one of the key factors that determine whether managers succeed or fail, whether companies grow or stagnate, and whether politicians stay relevant or face irrelevance.

In management, adaptability is a critical skill. As a matter of fact, a recent report states that “91% of HR directors think that by 2018 people will be recruited on their ability to deal with change and uncertainty” (2014, The Flux Report by Right Management). In my case, the ability to remain adaptable has helped me beyond any expectations.

In 2015, before moving to Germany from Chile, I co-founded Tree Digital, a digital marketing consulting company, which I managed remotely during my MBA studies at ESMT Berlin in 2016. This year, after the MBA, I made the decision to keep managing the company from Berlin. I saw an opportunity to expand our operations to Germany and the advantage of being in the most important startup hub in Europe. However, I experienced hard resistance from colleagues, family, and from my team. Many thought that this was not a wise decision, stating that it is almost impossible to manage a company remotely and that physical presence is one of the keys to success.

Adapting to the vessel

I have found out that remaining flexible and adaptable has allowed me to make faster decisions, to see a clearer picture, and to respond to my business needs much quicker. Also, I have learned that emotional intelligence is a vital competency when communicating change to any team.

To achieve growth with Tree Digital, I have been promoting an inner culture that embraces change to make us move quickly. We have designed a light organization with fewer hierarchies, yielding more freedom to design, think, and propose new ideas. This has been the secret sauce to keep high levels of motivation, productivity, and growth.

The eight key lessons that I have learned during this experience are:

  1. A flexible manager must be willing to move out of his/her comfort zone.
  2. There is no such thing as “doing things by the book.”
  3. Allow yourself to learn continuously as a vehicle to constant adaptation.
  4. See opportunities where others see failure.
  5. Ask yourself: “What would someone else do in my position?”
  6. Sometimes it is good to do things in a different way.
  7. Focus on the core strategy; do not get distracted by the details.
  8. Embrace change and make it part of your culture.

Even though the future is not written, I know that the only certainty is change. Therefore, I know that staying adaptable will always be the best approach when facing the future.

About the author

Enrique Planas is the Chief Motivator Officer at Tree Digital, an entrepreneur, and an enthusiastic amateur chef. Write to him at enrique@treedigital.cl or +49 176 35747757

A Panda in Myanmar

One of the reasons that made me choose the full-time MBA at ESMT is the international exposure options that the program offers. As part of the curriculum, I had the chance to go to Seoul and Tokyo for the International Field Seminar and to IE Business School in Madrid for the one-week exchange within the Global Network for Advanced Management. And upon graduation, combining my passion for travelling with my desire of making a positive impact, I enrolled in the ESMT Responsible Leaders Fellowship and joined the panda family at WWF in Myanmar.

Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is a country in South East Asia bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. After its independence from the British empire in 1948, Myanmar was flourishing and one of the richest nations in South East Asia. However, five decades of military dictatorship following the coup d’état in 1962 isolated the country and left it in poor shape. Continue reading “A Panda in Myanmar”