As featured on theTechpanda.com
Our 2nd grade social science textbooks are filled with images: Images of women as “teachers” and men as “professionals”, of mothers singing lullabies to the baby and fathers teaching the kids mathematics.
When I was a kid, I remember the girls being as good, if not better than the boys. We did better in tests and were always picked to be Class Prefects. Sometime around the age of 16, things began to change. Boys started doing better in class, topping our engineering entrance exams and getting the more prestigious jobs. I googled “girl topper IIT JEE” and got no results – so I’m assuming there hasn’t ever been one.
Today, the world is entering a new era and India is leading the way into the next century. Yet, as on one hand Bangalore spurs its own Silicon Valley, on the other hand -India has to battle challenges like poverty, lack of sanitation, lack of access to clean drinking water and a lack of electricity. And to tackle these challenges, we need to empower our women. Not just our educated daughters in the cities but also our uneducated, illiterate sisters in the villages of real India.
As part of Jagriti Yatra 2012- I traveled to different parts of India visiting social enterprises. And it was in the deepest trenches of rural India that I realized empowering one woman can create hope- not for just the woman, but for the entire community. Be it the rural women solar engineers setting standards for MIT in Barefoot College, Tilonia, or self-help groups such as SEWA, women were taking charge of their lives, families and communities. These rural women entrepreneurs were now sending their children to good schools, they were investing in homes and were no longer victims of the abuse.
Any household with an empowered woman seems to flourish. Yet, why do we see so very few women in entrepreneurship and business? Are we as a society programming our boys in one-way and girls in another? Are our boys growing up with the notion that it is their responsibility to be “bread winners” and girls growing up with the notion that one day “they have to give up their careers to get married anyway”?
Are those same images in our 2nd standard social science textbooks responsible for a subconscious social programming that shapes our girls in one way and boys in another?
In my personal experience, the most difficult part about being an entrepreneur is “deciding” to be an entrepreneur. Deciding to start a business is hard for the average middle class Indian. Questions plague you everyday – Is it the right thing to do, what if you fail, what about your family, what will the neighbors say? And it is in these moments that it is important to have that one person you can look up to – your sister, neighbor or friend who knows what its like to have been there.
We come from a society, which celebrates success but scoffs at failure – and the risks associated with entrepreneurship make it an incredibly unconventional option. The additional bias of being a “woman” to this stratosphere makes it virtually impossible for an average Indian girl to even consider entrepreneurship as a viable career option.
And it is this bias that we need to tackle as society. We all respect our female teachers and are thankful to our female doctors. But as a society, we are not yet comfortable with the idea of women in business. Yes, we celebrate the success of Kiran Majumdar Shaw and Indira Nooyi – but we have not yet completely ‘accepted’ the possibility of our daughters running their own businesses.
But hope lies – in the 20-something young women such as the Anu Sridharan of Nextdrop.org and Richa Kar of Zivame.com who are redefining women entrepreneurship in India and with that, dissolving societal biases surrounding young women entrepreneurs in India.
And it is time that as a society – we begin to truly “accept” women entrepreneurs. Not look at them with astonishment, not celebrate them- just completely “accept” them.
I met some people who gave me strength and inspired me to do one thing- follow my dreams. No, not Anshu Gupta and Harish Hande who are already Ashoka Fellows and are larger than life.
1. Akram Feroze
Akram has been cycling and hitchhiking India for the last 500 days. With no money, he survives by doing odd jobs and living with the locals. When I asked Akram, what is he planning to do next- he said “I plan to do this till my last breath.” Akram probably knows India better than anyone ever could. And he is happy. Follow Akram’s Facebook page at CycleNatak.
2. Fahad Yunus Mohammed
Fahad quit his job to pursue photography & filmmaking- his real passion- full time. He’s been trekking around the country and doing what he really likes doing with his life. Did I mention? He loves his life! Subscribe to Fahad on Facebook.
3. Pratik Jain
He studied commerce, but decided to pursue videography. Worked in Balaji Telefilms, did some internships in big production houses- but found it stiffling his creativity. Pratik, quit and started his own firm- IMPED productions where they make movies that matter. Check out some cool campaigns they’ve run on anti-smoking and anti-mobile-use-while-driving.
4. Shipra Agarwal
Shipra graduated from IIT Bombay and went on to work in a famous management consulting firm. She’s probably the one person whom everyone thought was ‘settled’ in Indian terms - “IIT se graduate kiya, phir beti consulting main kaam kar rahi hai – haan woh USA bhi jaati rehti hai.” But 2 years into her job, Shipra wasn’t happy. She dream’t of creating her own enterprise- and her high paying consulting job wasn’t satisfying THAT particular need. She wanted to create an ecosystem preserving arts & handicrafts among women in rural areas and connecting them to developed markets to create wealth in rural India. And so she quit. She quit the “dream” consulting job and is working on her own social enterprise to achieve her dream.
The point I’m trying to make here is that – there is no right or wrong anymore. The first realization I had in my final year of university was that I was free to do what I chose to do now- I could get married if I wanted to (I have batchmates who are getting married), I could work on my own startup, I could take a year off and travel the world, I could work in an investment bank, I could work in a technical company, I could study further, I could do research, I could become a full-time writer (I wanted to say dancer/singer et al. but with my dismal singing and dancing skills, even ever-optimistic me says that it is of no avail). And NONE OF THESE are WRONG. And suddenly that scared me. My whole life as a student- there was the ‘right’ thing to do- study hard, take science stream, get into the best engineering colleges, do good internships – and suddenly ‘the right thing to do’ wasn’t there anymore. The world was my oasis. So, nothing that you choose to do can be wrong (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!)- as long as YOU are HAPPY. As long as you are choosing for yourself and not because of what ‘society’ things.
The unfortunate truth is- being unconventional is still frowned upon by society. I still have people frowning at me when I tell them I want to start my own company and I know how hard it is when everyone around you is doing something completely different. And I realize that thanks to all the new govt. schemes and awareness campaigns and events around entrepreneurship, being an entrepreneur is still way easier than becoming a musician/photographer/dancer full time.
I’m writing this blog post to share some things and people I came across that inspired me which I hope might inspire you too. But more importantly, I’m writing this blog post selfishly- I’m writing it for myself. To capture how I feel today. Because I might not feel like this a few days, weeks and months from now. I met someone on the train who had been pretty depressed before the yatra because he hadn’t gotten placed in a certain company. The yatra made him reconsider pretty much his entire vision for what he wanted to do. In his words “This train is crazy man. People here are crazy. I just hope I feel like this even when I go back to college- where all everyone talks about are placements, MBA apps, CAT & GMAT scores etc etc.”
And its so true. I face it everyday. And at Jagriti Yatra, for the first time, I wasn’t a misfit or crazy- infact I fit right in. We were all crazy (or wanted to be crazy). And to be honest, before the yatra- I believed that I might need to go to Silicon Valley to find that environment. Luckily, turns out our very own India is beginning to create its own form of Silicon Valley. So I’m trying to capture my inspiration here on this blog- so when I am in fear, when I question myself, when I am in doubt- I can reread this and it will make me remember my dreams.
And I hope that reading about common people like you and me who had the courage to follow their passion- be it in music, travelling, photography or entrepreneurship would make you realize that it isn’t that difficult. If you’re in doubt- reach out to people and talk to them, understand what its like to be doing what you’re scared of doing full-time. And then, make an informed decision (not a blind one because everyone around you is doing it) that you will never regret looking back.
With Dreams, Come Risk.
Find your way. Not the way everyone preaches.
My fellow yatri, Ravi Kumar Jha at the end of his touching and inspiring life story said “A man makes the job, the job doesn’t make a man.”
Kalkeri is the name of a school for underprivileged kids. It is a boarding school which runs on grants and donations from the outside world. The kids don’t need to pay anything but are given the love, affection and education they deserve. They are taught not just math and science and English, they are taught dance and music, they learn to appreciate our Indian culture, In waysthat even we lucky privileged private school studying kids don’t.
An anthem by itself- the Jagriti Yatra geet. This song can rejuvenate you, no matter how sleep-deprived, tired and annoyed you are.
Brilliant lyrics written by Prasoon Joshi, composed by Adesh Shrivastava, and sung by Babul Supriyo. The choreography by Gauri Mani ma’am is so simple, yet so powerful. (When Gauri ma’am dances, she’s the only one on stage you can look at!)
Dance & Music is such a powerful tool. I realised this only about a year ago. I was always really shy, I have two left feet and I hate dancing. I was fortunate enough to have participated in Bhava Spandana (by the Isha Yoga Centre) which changed my attitude towards dance forever. This was followed by my involvement with AIESEC, and if you’ve ever heard about AIESEC- you’ve heard about AIESEC dance! So for those of you who are too shy to dance at random places- try. This Jagriti Yatra, we danced on railway platforms, in government schools, on buses and in trains. And it was the most liberating experience ever.
In conclusion, Yaaron Chalo is truly a part of every yatri and deserves a mention. Yaaron Chalon, Badalne ki rut hai.
Role Model Visit 1: Mumbai Dabbawallas
Harvard studies them. IIM studies them. Stanford studies them. They are 8th grade passes and do not use any CRM management tool. They’ve been around since 1890 and they still operate the same way they did a century ago. They make 1 mistake in 16 million deliveries. They are the Mumbai Dabbawallas.