My cousin and I being goofy in front of the Taj

Traveling to the Big Apple – Mumbai

The flight that took me from Madurai to Chennai and back.

The flight that took me from Madurai to Chennai and back.

I came to realize while staying here in India, my perception of India is very different than other natives of India. It falls more in line with more conservative parts of India, like Madurai and parts of Tamil Nadu. This probably comes from the fact that every time I come to visit India, it is always to visit my family, which lives predominately in rural areas of Tamil Nadu. I was talking to another fellow here at Madurai, and his view of India is the exact opposite. His family all lives in Bangalore and Mumbai, so his perception of India was extremely liberal. I think after traveling to various parts of India, we both have reached some sort of middle ground and have realized how vast and diverse India really is. Parts of India have really progressed and can’t be differentiated from any other major city in a drastic way while some parts have stuck to their roots. It is really amazing. The vastness of people and having such a successful democracy is something to admire, and I am really proud of that. This blog post, along with the next one, are really about how drastic of a difference those lives are.

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In December, I had the chance to explore Mumbai with my family during the winter holidays. The first couple of days I spent very little time in the city, heading to a local retreat in the mountains called Matheran. Matheran was a nice break from the city

11 Year Old Boy that took me to the top of the mountain on a horse. He told me in Hindi that he loves horses.

11 Year Old Boy that took me to the top of the mountain on a horse. He told me in Hindi that he loves horses.

life, no sounds of auto’s blasting their horns; in fact, no automobiles at all. That’s right, Matheran forbids automobiles, so in order to get to the top of the mountain you have to either walk to the top, take the train (2 hours), or ride some nice horses. On the way up we decided to go by horseback.

The resort had many scenic views of the local area and the mountain had a cool temperature which was welcomed by me personally. This mountain is also known for the monkeys, which outnumber the people that live on this mountain (relatively less, very rural). Overall the trip was relaxing and slow, which is exactly what the doctor ordered for me.

The following couple of days I stayed at my uncle’s flat in Chembur, Mumbai, India. Chembur is a heavy residential area in Mumbai.

On the first day exploring the city, my cousins took to the local mall, and wow! I thought the Christmas/New Year’s shopping spree was isolated to the Western Hemisphere, but boy was I wrong. The mall was Black Friday madness (without the sales) and ridiculously  huge. Growing outside the Greater Philadelphia Area, I would compare it to King of Prussia. Very similar style of stores with all the bells and whistles. I really didn’t buy much because the prices were also highly inflated, but I did get the opportunity to drink some coffee at my first Starbucks in India. They even had the special Christmas flavors in stock. You could walk into this Starbucks and think you were on 34th & Walnut store (interesting Fact: Starbucks is franchised by TATA throughout India).

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TGI Fridays being TGI Fridays in Mumbai!

The mall also had a TGI Friday’s, I ended up eating all the American Food I could possibly eat. Who knows how many opportunities like this would come up, am I right. We also went bowling within the mall, I felt like I was in the suburbs of Philadelphia once again.

The following day, I had the chance to explore South Bombay. A lot of Mumbai’s attractions are here, including the Taj and the Gate of India. Those attraction, though grand, really didn’t catch my eye as much as the trip there.  Most of South Mumbai looks architecturally similar to parts of London, which makes complete sense. The Indian Government is trying to preserve that architecture throughout Southern Mumbai. You can really see and feel the wealth of Mumbai in this district. The Taj uses Jaguar cars to pick up their guests; the local shopping is all high end; you have access to stores like Swaraski Crystal and Tiffany’s Co. It is truly amazing. The discrepancy of wealth in India became obvious in Mumbai. When flying out of Mumbai you can see the slums surrounding the airport, but then Southern Mumbai makes you forget all about that. It feels like a gated community.

Jaguar Taxi service for the Taj hotel.

Jaguar Taxi service for the Taj hotel.

I had a really enjoyable time in Mumbai. I got to experience another side of India totally different from Madurai. It seemed very Western in many ways, but Indian at heart (that the slogan of the Mumbai International Airport).

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Aravind’s Eye Camps in India

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One of two doctors doing Glaucoma screenings.

One of two doctors doing glacoma screenings.Earlier this week I had my first exposure to the eye camps here in Madurai. Both me and Avilash, a Fulbright Scholar who is also working at Aurolab, had the opportunity to go visit one this past Sunday.

Eye Camps are usually held in rural areas; however the one we took part in was just on the outskirts of Madurai at a local temple. The temple/ashram was founded by Mata Amritanandamayi – you may know her as the Hindu spiritual leader who gives hugs to people of all walks of life.

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Picture of Mata Amritanandamayi

At the ashram, all the workers started the day with breakfast. After breakfast was served, the 15 nurses and 2 physicians went to work setting up the camp. Within a couple of minutes, the whole ashram was transformed into a eye screening and diagnoses center- equipped with 10 separate stations for various visual screening purpose. You had basic stations for registration and selecting glasses, while others were a little more sophisticated – including dilation and glaucoma screening. Each station had a number associated with it and was organized in an easy to use fashion. At about 8 PM the locals started rolling in. It was nothing short of amazing, about 2000 patients probably when through all stations in the matter of 4 hours. The physicians had the opportunity to see all the patients and those suffering from cataracts were sent to the main hospital to receive surgical treatment via shuttle bus. It was amazingly efficient and screened for a majority of eye related diseases. I personally thought this was the biggest bright spot of what Aravind had to offer. DSCN0083

Inside India’s Innovation Ecosystem

When I left Delhi last August, I never imagined I would be back so soon, riding autos through the traffic-jammed streets of Bangalore, admiring the Gateway of India alit at night in a million colors, visiting Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram in Ahmedabad, and learning once more about the incredible potential of this beautiful country.

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From December 28 to 31, I took a Global Modular Course on Technology and Entrepreneurship in India taught by Professor Kartik Hosanager on the IIM-Bangalore campus with 30 students from Wharton (executive MBA, full-time MBA, and undergraduate) and 30 students from IIM-B. We heard from executives of Flipkart (India’s version of Amazon), Myntra, Zoomcar, Uber, and Teamlease on the growing opportunity for e-commerce, tech, and mobile startups. Although India has the third highest number of smartphone users and the private and public sectors have increased incubator and accelerator support for startups, India still suffers from poor transportation infrastructure, stringent hiring laws, and lack of quality higher education to serve the needs of its 1.2 trillion people.

After my course ended, I began fieldwork for my Wharton Research Scholars thesis on frugal innovation, funded by a Wharton research grant. Under the guidance of Professors Devesh Kapur and Saikat Chaudhuri, I am conducting case studies of healthcare companies that have achieved high performance under cost constraints through process, product, and business model innovations.

My site visits included two of the most cited sources of “frugal innovation”: Narayana Health, which runs cardiac and multispecialty hospitals in Bangalore, and Aravind Eye Care Hospital in Madurai. NH is a highly scaled operation with 29 hospitals in 17 cities, which provides surgeries for 1% of the cost of similar surgeries in the US. NH has achieved one of the lowest mortality and infection rates in the world (around 1%). A surgeon gave me a tour of the pediatric ward and the telemedicine facility, through which they have offered 53,000 free consultations to people from around the world.

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I also had the great privilege to speak to NH’s founder Dr. Devi Shetty, who served as one of the primary caregivers for Mother Teresa in Calcutta. I then spent two days at the Aravind complex, during which I met up with Vignesh and toured all the medical facilities as well as Aurolab, Aravind’s in-house lens manufacturing company.

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Although NH and Aravind have both achieved incredible success by international standards, they have different operational models – for example, Narayana is a for-profit which provides subsidized operations to 13% of patients through the microinsurance plan Yeshaswini, while Aravind is a financially sustainable nonprofit that treats 70% of patients free of charge through payments from wealthier clients, who receive more comfortable amenities, but the same quality of care.

Later in my trip, I was able to interview Raghu Dharmaraju, VP of Embrace Innovations, a social enterprise that produces low-cost baby incubators, and compare his marketing approach with that of a large multinational, GE Healthcare, in their launch of the Lullaby Warmer. Both and Ashish Gupta, former Global Product Manager for GE, commented on the difficulty of tailoring their price point and distribution strategy to meet the needs of the Indian consumer.

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On January 8, I spoke with Professor Anil Gupta from IIM-Ahmedabad, who founded the Honeybee Network and the National Innovation Foundation to source, license, and commercialize grassroots innovations (e.g. agricultural machinery, herbal remedies, etc.). Although the government has become more receptive to innovation, Gupta said that it is still difficult to secure funding from traditional sources and shift engrained cultural mentalities, which prioritize engineering as a field of study and job security over risk-taking and the creative arts. The NIF holds Shodhyatra (journeys of exploration) to meet innovators in remote areas, tests scientific methods in the Sristi laboratory on the Gujarat University campus to identify traditional processes for patenting, and holds competitions to find new ideas from children, the most open and free-spirited segment of the population.

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India is at such an exciting time in history with huge commercialization potential for basic business ideas from developed countries adapted to the Indian culture as well as grassroots innovations that can serve the BoP (bottom-of-the-pyramid) market through unique cross-subsidization models and knowledge of the local landscape. As much as I am glad to be home, I know that India holds a special place in my heart and I am grateful to have spent a warm winter break amazed once again by the hospitality of its people.

Surgeries & ENABLE

I have visited a lot of hospitals and seen numerous surgeries performed throughout high school and college around Philadelphia. I even had the opportunity to see a cataract surgery performed in Bryn Mawr Hospital. Usually the average cataract surgery lasts 1-2 hours, requires a full operating room staffed with 3 or 4 nurses and an ophthalmologist. That is most certainly not the case at Aravind.

Aravind has about 10-12 operating rooms in their main hospital. On any given day, four or so may be dedicated solely to performing cataract surgery. In each operating room there are usually two operations going on, which means two doctors are stationed in each operating room. The doctors’ sole task is to perform the surgery. Everything from the patient arriving at the hospital, to getting gowned and showing up at the operating room is organized and operated by other staff within the hospital. This makes the system extremely efficient. The magic amount of time it takes for each surgery: 10 minutes.

Each physician will probably perform 50-100 surgeries in a given day. This is kind of amazing, especially considering they need to perform more surgeries due to the influx of patients from both Madurai and outside the city from their eye camps.

These operating rooms are pristine too, they have the latest technology (Alcon’s latest phaco-machine) and everyone is in the proper attire, which I cannot say for in the US- there have been numerous reports and studies that claim hospital staff within the US are not following the proper protocol for attire and hygiene.

I had the chance to watch several cataract surgeries along with seeing a cyst removal from a patient’s eye. Overall I was extremely impressed by their operating room layout and organization of hospital resources.

On another note, one of the more interesting organizations I have been reading about while I was in India is ENABLE. It is an open community that creates prosthetic limbs for children using 3D printers. Because children are constantly growing, children who are missing limbs need replacements to keep up with their growing bodies. This means a lot of money is spent on prosthetics especially as a child. 3D printer technology is a possible solution. It is extremely cheap to create prosthetics with a 3D printer, it just requires experienced engineers and doctors working together. As I have been working in Aurolab, I noticed they had a 3D printer available and one of the other interns at Aurolab also has experience with 3D printer technology. So both of us will be working together to try to get prosthetics to children in India who are in need.

I unfortunately cannot upload picture from my room in Madurai thanks to the slow wifi. I should have some upload later this week when I get access to my work computer. Next week I want to dedicate a post to my awesome visit to the eye camps here in Madurai! Stay tuned!!!

Join us today for CASI’s Annual Student Programs Open House!

TODAY!
CASI Student Programs Annual Open House
Wednesday, December 10, 2014, 2 pm – 5 pm, 3600 Market Street, Suite 560

The Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) at the University of Pennsylvania provides funding and support to current Penn undergraduate and graduate students to travel to India and conduct independent research and participate in volunteer internships based at selected CASI partner organizations. CASI also offers a nine-month post-baccalaureate fellowship, to support a recent Penn graduate to conduct an independent research project in India. Since 2007, CASI has provided funding to over 100 Penn students. CASI internships are made possible through the financial support of Penn’s Office of the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives in conjunction with Penn Abroad and Penn’s International Internship Program (IIP) and through the generous support of CASI donors. The December Open House is an opportunity to meet with past students to learn more about their experiences in India and discuss the application process for CASI Internships, Travel Funds for Research, and the Sobti Family Fellowship.

Join our listserv! Send an email to: casi-student-programs-outreach+subscribe@googlegroups.comCASI Open House

(Re)Introducing Passport to India

If you’ve spent a summer in India on a CASI internship or research assignment, you probably have an understanding of how valuable these experiences are. And unless you’re a jerk, you probably think more of your peers should take up similar opportunities in India!

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I first came to India on a CASI summer research grant in 2010. I’ve now spent the past two years working in Delhi for a company called IndoGenius. Through a partnership with the US State Department and Ohio State University, we’ve re-launched an initiative called Passport to India, which was originally founded by Hillary Clinton in 2011. Our goal is to increase the number of young Americans going to India on study abroad programs and internships.

As US students who have been to India (or anyone else for that matter), we would love to get your feedback as we move forward. We have a brief survey open on our website: www.passporttoindia.com

Click HERE for the direct survey link. Completing it will enter you in raffle for an Apple Watch. So really you can’t lose. You can also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

We’re working in a number of directions, but one of the most exciting is a MOOC on the Importance of India that will be available on Coursera in summer 2015. Hope to see you in class!

Just Run With It

Life has a funny way of making you be honest with yourself. It’s been three months since I left the Kumaoni Himalayas and I am infinitely grateful for the universe’s way of giving me a wake-up call. The past two years at Penn, I was significantly invested in research (both in terms of time and energy)—even sacrificing my academics at times to run experiments and feed my cells in preparation for motherhood. Why? Because it seemed to be the right thing to do given my Bioengineering major. I was convinced that if I didn’t like research I wasn’t in the right major/I had made bad life decisions. (I know, sometimes I can’t believe myself either!!). Now I realize there is no such thing as a bad major—every major is marketable in its own way and successful careers are almost 100% based on what you are willing to put into them, regardless of what you studied! That’s the best part. I have always loved, love, and will love technology, especially in the biotech/pharma/healthcare space– that’s why I studied Bioengineering. In fact, there is nothing that excites me more, and as far as industries go, life sciences is growing at a tremendous rate in the US. For me, there is something so attractive about putting technological innovation and business development in the same space. It combines my engineering background with my secret interests in strategy, commercialization, and management. I say secret because it isn’t until this year (after my internship) that I really took the time to explore the things I enjoyed but wouldn’t admit because I thought it was out of my realm. It takes courage and a lot of confidence in your own ability to adapt, learn-fast, take leadership, and communicate in an effective way.

This summer made me realize how capable I was (and how much I gained) in spaces of management and consulting. I developed infrastructures for trainings, mediated relationships between communities, worked in some of the most challenging team set-ups, and successfully implemented a plan to improve groundwater management in the Kumaoni Himalayas. There is nothing more amazing than realizing you are in love something that you have been exposed to all the time- it’s like suddenly falling in love with a friend you’ve known for a while. My relationship to business development and consulting work is very similar and the scope of my interests have grown to include consulting opportunities in the general and healthcare life-sciences industries, as well as in smaller biotech/pharma startups.

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So where am I at? And what are my interests and plans? I joined Wharton Undergraduate Consulting this semester to work on a project for a rising social enterprise in Ghana looking to expand their market and increase their brand equity. It’s an exciting project because I bring a useful experience-base to the team—I am aware (through CHIRAG) of the challenges organizations (NGOs, social enterprises, etc.) face in developing countries and I am also very much into technology-based startups and product commercialization. The other aspect of what I’m doing is much more informal and equally valuable. I am having conversations. As I eat dinner, grab coffee, walk on Locust, do HW, sit in common lounges, or wait for OH, I perpetually have conversations. I learn the most by talking and listening to people! I see students not as students but as future leaders, entrepreneurs, chairs, and CEOs and I value them for the time and interest they take in speaking with me! Being free from desperation on expectation is a beautiful thing. I think the most successful kind of networking is that which you do naturally and without any desire to get something out of the conversation—instead when you are authentic to yourself and express interest in just speaking with a person because you enjoy it; they too will enjoy it more then!

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I am happy to be in the place that I am in right now- which is 6 am in the comp lounge in Harnwell. But overall, I couldn’t ask for a better experience or support system as I go through the process to find an exciting and awesome summer opportunity which gives me access to the business side of healthcare/life-science industry. I have found advocates in the craziest places, people who are perpetually willing to help and advice. I want to thank everyone who has been with me and will continue with me on this journey of discovery.

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Much love,

Aardra