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Food for thought!!

Here’s something which really interests me and I’m sure you’ll find it interesting too! Google Public Data Explorer is a free service by the “Google Guys” (yes! another one! and for FREE! Wonder how they do it??).  It catalogs and presents some really useful data in terms of graphs and charts. The best part about this service is its ease of use and simplicity of presentation – even a 6th grader will be able to interpret the graphs! And it is a great visual treat! You will find a graphical representation of the GDP, GDP growth rate and inflation figures of the three most studied economies in the world – India, China and The United States. The color of the bubble indicates the inflation rate. Click the picture below and  it will take you to the actual page. (Sorry, I did not know how to embed the graph in my blog…  😛 ) Just hit the play button on the bottom of the screen and observe the parameters carefully. And feel free to experiment and ponder!

Courtesy: Google Public Data Explorer

I still don’t remember clearly how I ended up on the flight to KL. Events transpired so quickly in the third week of March that I hardly had time to plan my first trip outside the country – Yes, Srikiran Chale China.

The People’s Republic of China – one associates a lot many things with this name. The colour Red, the communist party, Kung-Fu, chopsticks, the Panda and numerous other things come to one’s mind when there is a mention of China in day to day discussions. And honestly speaking, I was the same, maybe slightly more skeptical about the communist party regime – but only until I visited China in the last week of March this year. And I will attempt to describe why in this little write-up. Well, there are three major things I now associate with the country.

  • First, is the wide smile on the people’s faces whenever you say “Nee hao” (hello, in Chinese) or “Sheh sheh nee” (thank you, in Chinese). I was always under the perception that the Chinese would be very unfriendly to the outsiders. But Whoa!! Did they prove me wrong, or what?! I did not come across a single Chinese person who does not return your smile. They WILL smile at you; try to help you out with anything and in whatever way possible, in spite of the fact that some do not understand a word of English!
  • The second thing is their hospitality. They were such good hosts. They always saw to it that everything was according to our convenience. Put simply, they made our lives so easy! The volunteers especially! They went out of the way to help us. Be it the pretty girls at Shantou University, Alice and Sally, or the talented Secretary General of the student body, Wendy Wang in GDUFS (Guangdong University of Foreign Studies), Betty Liang, Bunny Kan, Dante Alan Luo, Sum; I can just go on and on but I will not run out of names. All of them, and I repeat, all of them, were the most willing to help!
  • And lastly, the Chinese discipline. To clarify what I mean to say here, let me tell you about the two girls at GDUFS at the ABBS (Association of BRICS Business Schools) student meet. On either side of the stage, there were a couple of girls who were dressed in traditional Chinese attire. They were there to welcome & lead the guest speakers on to the stage. The most startling thing about those two was that they stood there in the same posture (folding their palms in a particular way) during the entire three and a half hour long conference! Yes, the entire three and half hour long conference. They did not even shift their weight! Let alone show any signs of discomfort. Some might say, “What’s the big deal? Anyone can do that.” But these girls did that with an unflinching smile on their face! Such discipline is not only seen with their students, but also with their working population. Salesgirls in malls will stand outside the stores in the same posture for hours without moving and will welcome every single guest with a smile. This to me was mind boggling. I couldn’t imagine how they could demonstrate such levels of discipline. We asked our director, Prof. Ramesh Venkateswaran, and he had this to say, “If they are asked to do something, they do it. No questions asked.”  And this I think is the main reason for China’s emergence as an economic superpower.

The opportunity which had presented in front of us (on an all expenses paid silver platter) was huge – to spend five days in the fastest growing economy of the world. Not just that, the four of us, Swosti, Vaishnavi, Ragu and me were divide into 2 teams and were asked to present two cases in the case presentation competition. We were competing with colleges from China, Russia, South Africa and India. We worked very hard on our cases, constantly guided by Prof. RV, who is aptly called “The Director” because he has been instrumental in scripting the transformation of us SDMites from regular students into world beaters.

Srikiran China ABBS Case Presentation Competition

With Swosti, Vaishnavi and Ragu

On the very first day we attended a conference which was also graced by the presence of the stalwarts of ABBS including its founder Mr. Phillip. It was a very enlightening stint in which we learned various scenarios of management education in different countries. SIFE (Students Initiative for Free Employment) an initiative by Shantou University as a part of their curriculum was definitely one to watch out for. During the conference we made some really good friends – friends for life! And all of whom I’m in constant touch with at the moment.

Shantou is where we got the first glimpse of Chinese hospitality and our first taste of the Chinese cuisine. And boy! It is ambrosial to say the least. Although I was fortunate to have been a non-vegetarian, getting to taste all the delicious food (meat, mostly) in the finest restaurants, my vegetarian friends weren’t so lucky. Nevertheless, the vegetarian food was also nothing less than mouth watering. We discovered one thing though; authentic Chinese food is nothing like the Chinese food we get in Indian restaurants. It is a lot less spicy and a lot tastier. We all are big fans of authentic Chinese cuisine now. We also went out on a little jaunt outside the college after the conference with our friends Alice and Sally. They were very kind and helpful. The next day they took us on a tour of the campus. The highlight of the campus was their hi-tech floating library, which was bigger and better than any library I have seen till date.

Shantou Universty Library

After bidding a heavy hearted farewell to the people from Shantou University, we left to Guangzhou, host city of the 2010 Asian games the very next day. Although we had seen the grandiose airport during transit, we could not get a look at the city’s beautiful landscape. Early next morning we had to be prepared for one of the biggest days in our lives – the day we were going to present the cases on which we had worked so hard on. The presentation was in the afternoon. In the morning there was a seminar on “Responsibilities of young manager in the today’s world”. Many representatives from different colleges of different countries spoke on the subject – faculty and student alike. But when RV sir went on to the stage, he floored the audience. The “Seven Contradictions faced by today’s manager” is one thing I will distinctly remember for a long time. Not only because of the content, but also because of the way it was put forth. We were privileged enough to get lessons on communication from the man himself.

Spurred on by The Director’s inspiring words, we were ready to present the case in the afternoon. Some very good cases were presented by students from China, South Africa, Russia and India. Our cases were on two Dharmasthala initiatives, RUDSETI (Rural Development and Self Employment Training Institute) and SKDRDP (Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project). Swosti and I were fortunate enough to prevail over participants from different countries and secure the second prize. We had the difficult task of sensitizing the audience to the tremendous impact that these two have had in coastal Karnataka and how they could be emulated in other countries. Fortunately for us, both the cases were well received by the judges. Our best compliment was in the fact that one of the judges from Guangdong University complimented us after the presentation and during the question and answer session, told us that the SKDRDP initiative was indeed very replicable and held tremendous potential for implementation in China. He also asked us to send our report to him. Our director spoke to us after the prize giving ceremony and told us that the major reason for us to win was the conviction we showed in the topic of the case. Once we were through the case presentations, we braced ourselves for the cultural show in the evening. And to be honest, it reminded me of the DJ nights we have in our college. There were lights, there was noise, and best of all – we were performing in front of our lecturers. While Ragu, Vaishnavi and Swosti beautifully sang a melodious song describing India, I pulled off an impromptu dance performance much to the delight of the audience. Some performances were brilliant – especially the Chinese dance by the Shantou girls, the Kung-Fu performance, the Bhartanatyam by the girl from XIME – they were all very good. While the rest of the students decided to party late into the night, we retired to our hotel rooms and reflected on the long day we just went through.

Srikiran China ABBS Case Presentation Second Prize

We won the second prize

Next day, the college had organized an industry visit to Huawei Toy Corporation. Some toys in their showroom were so good; sometimes I wish I was a child in China. We also got a trip through a typical air-conditioner assembly line of Chigo Air conditioners. These trips were very informative. We realized that though the production was always in full swing, the workers had little rights. After lunch, it was our turn to go around the city of Guangzhou with a special tour guide – Wendy, the secretary general of the student body. We first went to the world’s tallest TV tower, the Canton Towers. We bought tickets to the top from where the visuals were breathtaking. Our next destination was the Beijing Lu – a shopping street. This place amazed us beyond imagination with its striking similarity to the New York Times Square – with its gigantic LCD screens all around and the spick and span roads. There was so much to buy, but there was little time, and we never had that much money either. We desperately needed to get good deals on whatever we were going to buy; otherwise we would burn gaping holes in our pockets. Enter Shams Tabrez a student at GDUFS from Delhi, who knew both Hindi and Chinese. Not only that, he was excellent at bargaining. He was just the kind of person we were praying to take along with us for shopping. He took us around the Beijing Lu and you had to see for yourself the way he used to charm the salespeople into selling the goods for 1/10th the price that they originally quoted! Maybe he brought along his experience of shopping in the famous Palika Bazaar of New Delhi, but nevertheless, the way he used to say ‘Tai Gway La’ (‘too expensive’ in Chinese) to the salespersons was in itself a treat to watch. He’s one guy none of us will ever forget. After the shopping spree we headed back to our rooms in a cab. We were already getting nostalgic about our days in China, and lamenting the fact that we were leaving this beautiful country in a few hours time.

There was some significant wisdom we gained from the trip. As an old Chinese adage says, “The lessons learnt from travelling a thousand kilometers are far greater than the lessons learnt from reading a thousand books.” “Indeed!” – That’s the reply you’ll get from anyone in our group. We realized how important it is to experience places like China before writing them off. I personally had read the book “Riding the Indian tiger”, by William Nobrega and Ashish Sinha, which is a comparison of the two fastest growing countries in the world, India and China. Although it described China as fast growing and developed, the book gave India the advantage in the future. In the book, China is portrayed as a country whose fairytale run will soon come to an end. But we realized otherwise. We saw that the kind of infrastructure that Guangzhou, a second string city in China had, was unmatched by any city in India, not even New Delhi. India, in spite of having the tremendous potential and the gigantic talent pool, I feel is lacking in two major aspects – attitude and good governance. The levels of discipline that the Chinese display are almost impossible to emulate here in India. And it is also difficult to inculcate in our children. Then there is the issue of governance. Agreed, there is no freedom of speech, no free press in China, but whatever decisions that the government takes is taken keeping the greater good of the people in mind. When the Chinese government paves a road, it keeps in mind what the traffic on the road is going to be 10 years, or even 20 years down the line. Which is not the case in India – here the focus is on satisfying the demands of the immediate stakeholders, be it the voters, politicians or bureaucrats.  This is a very controversial subject, of which I wish to speak nothing more of. From Shams Tabrez, we learnt that the west is spreading negative propaganda about China, because it is wary of its growing power and wants to cut the flow of funds to the country. Although this is again a debatable issue, but there is no doubt about the fact that what we normally hear about China is far from the truth.

Looking back at our trip, we realized how significant the impact of that trip on our lives it has had. For me personally, it was like “connecting the dots”. Three weeks before the trip, I embarked on a journey to the temple town of Dharmasthala, to work on SKDRDP as a part of our SRP, of which I knew nothing of. It was hard, and I was wondering if this SRP is going to be of any use. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me, as the director asked us to present a case on the same. I worked extra hard on my SRP as well as on the case. And it translated into a prize at the international level! Nothing less than a fairytale! I wonder who’s writing my script!

Before you start googling what all those letters mean, it means Socially Relevant Project at Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala Rural development Project (SKDRDP). Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala Rural development Project (SKDRDP) was a name none of my other three team members had heard anything about before we did some preliminary research to find out that it’s an NGO indulging in microfinance activities. Although I had not heard much about the temple or its social activities in detail, during my 2 year stay in Dharmasthala in my Higher Primary, but I had a faint idea of what was in store for us.

Srikiran SKDRDP SRP Jamalabad Fort

Jamalabad Fort

Just like any new world explorer would, I would also divide our Socially Relevant Project on SKDRDP into two main phases – the exploration part and the discovery part. The exploration part was from the date of commencement of our project to 11th March, and the discovery part was from 14th March till the day we returned.

The exploration part mainly consisted of learning and understanding the system of SKDRDP. This part involved a lot of interviews and meetings with the important officials of SKDRDP – our guide, Mrs. Manorama Bhat being the very first person to brief us about the organization’s working – which I think was ideal for any team working on SKDRDP because she is the Director of Centre for Rural Excellence, that wing of SKDRDP which takes care of the staff training. I would say she was the guide stick we needed to go through with the project. She gave us a lot of freedom to choose our area of study. We chose to study the microfinance sector. Coming back to the exploring phase, in our endeavor to better understand SKDRDP’s working, we spoke to Mrs. Mamatha Rao, Head of the Accounts Dept for Belthangady and Mr. Sathish in the Dharmashri  building – who gave us detailed insights into the working of Microfinance at SKDRDP and how the various models are implemented in theory and in practice.

Srikiran SKDRDP SRP Office

SKDRDP office Belthangady

We had pretty much all the theoretical knowledge we needed about microfinance and we felt that we were ready to put it in writing until we met Mr. Vishal Nayak, Senior Project Officer at the Dharmashri building and former SDMIMD alumnus. He opened our eyes in that he made us realize that microfinance was just one feather in SKDRDP’s cap. As students who have come to do a “socially relevant” project, we should also study various aspects of Community Development Programs and Micro-insurance which have transformed lives of millions. So with this thought in mind, we spoke to Mr. K. V. Bhat, Director of Sammpoorna Surksha – Micro-insurance and Mr. Jayashankar Sharma, Director of Community Development. While the former briefed us in detail about the Micro-insurance schemes and their impact, the latter briefed us on the plethora of community development activities that SKDRDP carries out and also suggested various places we should see to better understand the same. In the meanwhile, we had the privilege to speak to the Dharmadhikari of Dharmasthala, Padmabhushan Dr. D. Veerendra Heggade. He told us to take a look at the grassroots and also the problem area faced by SKDRDP’s microfinance – the ‘D’ graded groups. This is where the exploration phase ended for our team and the discovery phase began.

Srikiran SKDRDP SRP Interview

Interviewing a SKDRDP beneficiary with project mates

After taking the weekend off, on Monday we arranged a Jeep to take us to the field visits. I had missed the visit to a couple of Pragathi Bandhu SHGs with the Sevaniratha the week before because of a few official obligations at SDMIMD, Mysore but this time the whole team was there. We first paid a visit to the Koraga Community in Melanthabettu – an area where SKDRDP’s programs weren’t implemented successfully yet, and spoke to the people there, with an intention to dig deeper into the reasons for the same. Then we attended the federation meeting which was an eye opening experience and a testimony to how SKDRDP has successfully brought the people together to work in a particular direction. Then later during the day we visited a government primary school in Kattadabail, which according to me was the highlight of the SRP. The zeal of the teachers to improve the working of the school, enthusiasm displayed by the neighboring houses, the new and improved curriculum was extraordinary. The later that day, we also met a ‘D’ grade group member and had a lot of insights to gain from his predicament. The next day we visited a milk cooperative society in Somanthadka and understood how SKDRDP had impacted their life. We also visited a 25 acre organic farm nearby, which in a way rekindled all our interests in agriculture.

The takeaway from the course was immense. For the first time in our lives, we were oriented to issues concerned to the proverbial – bottom of the pyramid.

I was wondering if all those friends of mine could blog… So could I! So I typed on my browser and hit Enter. Thereafter just went on with the flow and lo! I am blogging! Isn’t that great???

But in hindsight, I am now wondering… if I shoulda really created a blog before knowing what to blog about!! Nevertheless… here I am… BLOGGING! Lets hope this works out fine.

See ya!

Yours sincerely,
Srikiran C. Rai