Goodbye, Hello, and Thank You!

So I’m back at Penn now, and have been for a month. Sometimes summer in India seems like an odd, if vivid sort of dream. Real life is surely not quite so chaotic, so colourful, or so crazy.

The last large project we did before we left India was working on I-gate, a web portal for the facilitation of B2B trade among STSC MSMEs in the country, spearheaded by one of DICCI’s partners. I-gate is still a nascent idea, and our work mostly involved planning the design, features and implementation of the portal. It’s always interesting to apply a theoretical framework to a real problem (and see how well it holds up) and we had a lot of opportunities in this project. We performed almost every strategic analysis in the book, from Porter’s Five Force analysis to a Feasibility study and even applied a little bit of Game Theory. We also worked on strategizing the implementation of I-gate, which involved everything from researching potential partners to deciding which state the portal would first launch in.

Unfortunately our time at DICCI was up before we could see our plans for Igate move toward becoming reality, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it all turns out in the future. Honestly though, by Week 9.5 after our internship, I can safely say that both Sarah and I only had the idea of home and Penn in our minds. Thoughts of Rajput Dairy turned to thoughts of  Wawa, samosas lost their favour. I left with highly mixed feelings on a rainy Saturday night.

Looking back then, with rose tinted glasses:
– Food food food. God I miss the food. I’ve lost weight here for sure, but please someone give me a bread pakora and chai.
– The cheapness of everything – I nearly cried when I had bhel puri the other day and cried again when I saw it was $7.
– The colours everywhere, especially in the fashion – Ann Taylor Loft insults me with its perpetual grayness as I walk past it everyday. And everyone at Penn seems to have entirely black wardrobes.
– The amazing chaos, Indian standard time, and other assorted facets of Indian bureaucracy: Okay, I don’t miss it. But everything seems absurdly straightforward here. Am I playing on easy mode?
– The Taj Mahal, the Gateway of India, the Ellora caves, the Tung fort, the monsoon rain, the yoga classes, the rickshaws. I really want a wooden rickshaw to put on my bookshelf.
– The memorable friendships with both locals and international interns, and the shenanigans which will not be published on this blog.
– The wonderful, warm DICCI staff, the lunch routine, the chocolate runs in the middle of the workday, the second cake on our farewell day because we all love cake that much.
– I can’t end this list of wonderful things without two huge shoutouts – Aparna and Sarah.

Aparna had basically been rock, lifesaver, confidante, resource and friend all in one – all the way from America (god bless Whatsapp). Sarah and I frequently squeal about how much we adore her. Aparna I know you’re reading this, so
a) You’re the absolute best, really you are
b) Thank you, thank you so much for everything
c) I kind of want to text you throughout the semester too because your support was incredible and I feel a little lost without it.

And Sarah. Well, we’d been together 24×7 for ten weeks. Same job, same room, same commute, same friends. For two very different people who didn’t know each other before this internship, that’s a big deal. We differed on many things – but we also had so many adventures together, laughed so much, had intense debates, ate a ridiculous amount of food, conspired, gossiped, travelled, complained, commiserated and basically lived together. It was awesome. So Sarah, if you’re reading this, thank you so much for showing me a lot of different perspectives to a country and lifestyle I thought I knew. I truly respect you so much.

I was sitting in the Philadelphia sunshine a few weeks later when I realised it was August 15th. The date is a sad irony for me – I left India for the first time and for forever on August 15th 2002, and every year while I wore my saffron, white and green dupatta, I still felt a little further away from the country where I was born.  After this summer, I feel like my connection is renewed. I am excited about the country’s future, and invested in its present. Looking back at my first post just confirms it – I am, and forever will be, in love with India.

Jugaad Innovation and the New Year Ahead

When I first returned to Philadelphia at the beginning of August, I was amazed. The streets looked so clean and the cloudless sky radiated. Students had not yet arrived on campus, so Philadelphia was a welcome respite from my last few days in Delhi, trying to shove my way through crowds and hail autos.

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India challenged me in many ways and taught me about my own resilience to difficult circumstances. Traveling through Agra during my final week exposed me to indescribable images – of children playing naked in the streets and houses visibly deteriorating behind piles of trash. I still find myself reflecting on my gratitude for the abundance we have here at Penn – in opportunities, resources, and comfort.

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This year, I am researching jugaad innovations in India for my Wharton Research Scholars project. Jugaad innovation describes the process of searching for solutions under resource constraints, while exceeding quality and performance standards. Examples include:

  • Aravind Eyecare, a network of eye hospitals founded by Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy that performs around 1,000 cataract surgeries per day for $30 each (US price: $3000)
  • Jaipur Foot, a high-quality rubber-based prosthetic leg that retails for $28 (US price: $8000)
  • Dabbawalas, a hot meal system run by bikers in Mumbai which delivers 175,000 tiffin boxes per day with a rate of 3.4 errors per million
  • Vortex Engineering, the producer of solar-powered ATMs that bring banking services to remote villages
  • Mitticool, a low-cost, eco-friendly clay refrigerator that runs without electricity
  • Tata Motors, which produced the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car launched for $2000 in 2009
  • The Indian Space Research Organization, which sent the Mangalyaan space craft to Mars for $73 million (less than the cost of Boeing’s cheapest commercial airplane)

After reading around 30 books and articles and creating a database of product, process, and business model innovations, my current plan is to return to India over winter break to interview companies and produce case studies. From a business perspective, I am very optimistic about India’s future – it holds so much potential – and look forward to further incorporating the lessons I learned this summer into my academic pursuits.

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India at Last

Left to Right: Prabu- Jr Engineer R&D Maanraj- Computer Scientist Sudhakar- Electrical Engineer

Left to Right:
Prabu- Jr Engineer R&D
Maanraj- Computer Scientist
Sudhakar- Electrical Engineer

First of all, super excited to be here in India! It has been a long awaited journey here to Madurai and I am finally ready to begin my project. I hate talking about myself, but a little about my past and my intentions through the Sobti Fellowship seem in order.

I was born in Philadelphia but spent a good part of my childhood in Tamil Nadu, India with my grandfather where I picked up Tamil, the local language. I eventually moved back to the US after my parents were able to kick start their careers, and I have been in the suburbs of Philadelphia or proper Philadelphia city since. At UPenn I studied bioengineering and was also pre-med. I had numerous interests in Penn, including teaching through Weiss Tech House, volunteering my time at CHOP, and working in the Lazar Lab at Perelman. However, it wasn’t until I was a senior that I truly understood what it meant to be an engineer. I took some upper level electrical engineering classes and had the opportunity to create what I think was a cool medical device through senior design my senior year. Originally set on solely focusing on medicine, these projects really sparked my interest in creating medical devices.

As the first Sobti Family Fund Fellow, I will have the opportunity to pursue several of my career interests here in India. My interest in medical devices really stems from how I like to interact with the world around me. I like using my hands and all my senses when working on something meaningful, and to me it doesn’t get much more meaning than making a product out of my own two hands that can help save lives. After working on my senior design project, I came to an important realization. Innovations that are going to be used to create the most advanced devices of the future like Watson or the iPhone 6 can also be used to bring down the cost of health care, and my hope is my career will land me somewhere in that happy medium. Innovations like the 3D printer are making it possible to increase accessibility of basic medical devices (such as Enable the Future – http://enablingthefuture.org/). As a Sobti Fellow, I will be working with Aravind Eye Hospital to create a phacoemulsification device at reduced cost. This is used for cataract surgery, a very common surgery in India and throughout the world. I will be working with Aurolab, the device company partnered with Aravind that provide cheap and quality medical equipment to Hospitals within India and Africa.

Aravind Eye Care System is a hospital in Madurai, India. It is a World Health Organization Hospital known for its many training programs and unique business model. It operates a free clinic that has given thousands of free surgeries here in India. It is self-sustaining but has obtained help from generous donors and volunteers for about 30 years. However for the first half of the year I will be focusing my efforts at Aurolab. Aurolab provides surgical equipment to Aravind and hospitals throughout Asia and Africa. They provide simple products such as blades and sutures, simultaneously producing more complex items like lens’ replacements for cataract surgery. Aravind is also working on creating surgical medical devices like a phacoemulsification device. This is primarily used in cataract surgery to remove the patients lens and replace it with an artificial one. By creating medical devices and surgical equipment, Aurolab and Aravind work together to bring the cost of surgery and those provide cheaper services for area like Madurai. My hope is to complete the phacoemulsification device with the team already working on the product.

For the second half of the year I will be working with doctor and patients to expand surgeries to rural areas. I hope to have the details hammered out soon as I learn more about Aravind’s operations.

Now that I have been in Aurolab for about a month, I have set several tangible goals that I would like to set out and accomplish come next summer that align with my career objective and can really help Aravind, India and other developing countries. If everything goes according to plan (fingers crossed).

My immediate goals for the phacoemulsification device include creating the user interface and user manual for the device. I have already created most of the user interface of the device and am now working on getting the device ready for clinical trials. This is a long process and one I would like to oversee throughout my duration here in Madurai. I will also help create the mechanical design of the final product. The goals centered around this project for Aurolab are all about cost and quality. These values are essential to my future goals in global medicine and low cost medical device. I look forward to learning from my Aurolab and Aravind mentors while I am here, and exploring India too!

I promise the next post won’t be so dry! Enjoy these pictures from Kanyakumari (Southern Tip of India)!

Kanyakumari Rice Fields

Kanyakumari Rice Fields

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dolphins:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/h0r445btuvl2g9g/IMG_0261.MOV?dl=0

To Delhi And Beyond!

For my final blog post I though I’d talk a little more about my trip to Delhi, as it was one of my favorite experiences of the summer. With some of the other interns, I took a weekend trip to the capital. Much larger and a little more chaotic than Chennai, Delhi was a fun change. The moment we landed I was surprised and impressed. Delhi has a great airport- and not just by India’s standards. It’s comparable to almost any top class airport in the world. To top it off, we traveled into the city by a special, airport metro that was overpriced, air conditioned, clean and absolutely empty- it was surreal how different this was from practically every other mode of public transportation in the country. The moment passed quite quickly though- we came back to reality as soon as we stepped outside and got hit with a wave of heat, pollution and noise- ahh India.

And so began our Delhi weekend. Over the next few days we explored restaurants, bars, monuments in the city, and Agra (of course), we stayed in a sketchy little hotel for 2 nights so we could treat ourselves to the Leela Palace on the 3rd night, and we watched a ridiculous Bollywood movie in a dingy cinema (that I had to translate for the others) and kept up with World Cup matches as best as we could. There were a few things that I really loved about Delhi. First and foremost, being able to communicate with auto drivers (in Hindi) was a small yet incredibly fulfilling thing. After weeks of frustrating miscommunications with autos in Chennai it was a relief to be able to move around easily. The food was also fantastic. We made it our mission to eat at some of the city’s best places. The first night we went to a famous restaurant called Bukhara, which has some incredible kebab dishes and probably the best dahl I’ve ever had- they cook the dahl for 18 hours, and you can taste the magic of each hour. The next day we ate at Karim’s- probably the most famous street food vendor in the city, in the heart of the Muslim quarters. We walked through crowded alleys and tiny streets to find this gem of a restaurant, with kebabs that matched and maybe even bettered the likes of Bukhara. Can’t forget about the delicious fusion fine dining either. We were all foodies as you can tell!

IMG_0124And, without a doubt, my favorite part of the trip was seeing the main historical monuments. The Red Fort and the Agra Fort were incredibly massive and well built structures. It’s crazy to think that a few hundred years ago the men and women who ran and protected kingdoms resided in them. And the best, by far, was the Taj Mahal. I was quite awe struck as I walked into the main courtyard. It got bigger and bigger as I moved closer, glistening white, with incredible carvings and wonderful gardens- pictures do not do it justice. In all honesty, as an Indian I felt incredibly proud at that moment. With all the over-population and pollution, India’s beauty is not necessarily in pristine structures or well developed cities, but rather the culture and people. However, the Taj is an incredible building that we’ve maintained for this long, and that was really nice to see. I spent the rest of summer telling my family that they all had to take a trip to Agra! The trip was a lot of fun and a great learning experience too- I got to see parts of India I had always wanted to check out, so that was great. A big thank you to CASI for the whole experience!

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New lines on my resume

These are the new lines on my resume:

Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Pune, India – Intern
  • Researched and wrote proposal, agenda and 10 point memorandum for the new Indian NDA Government advising it on its forthcoming policies for the betterment of minority entrepreneurs
  • Conducted primary research about the welfare and status of minority entrepreneurs in India
  • Interviewed and performed SWOT and other analyses for 5 DICCI member firms
  • Analyzed the feasibility and strategized implementation of I-Gate, a new DICCI initiative

These new lines on my resume can’t hope to fully encapsulate ten weeks of exploring, learning and growing; nevertheless I am very proud of them. We worked on four major projects during our stint at DICCI, and each came with its own exciting challenges and opportunities for learning.

The first, and to me the most exciting, was the proposal and memorandum we wrote for the new Indian government. DICCI commands so much respect in the Indian political sphere that we were looked upon as advisors to the new Cabinet as it devised its budget and policies with regard to STSC MSMEs for the next five years. We were really thrown into the deep end after a slow start as Mr. Kamble assigned this memorandum to us. After a lot of research – from Byzantine documents on tax policy in Andhra Pradesh to critiques of the German government’s MSME policies to comparisons between the Industrial Districts in Maharashtra vs. Gujarat, – we prepared a ten point document that I am very proud of. The agenda represents weeks of research and also learning to deal with the way things work in a small Indian office, and it really was something to know that it was actually presented to the Indian government to consider in their future policy-making. It really got me thinking about public policy, something I’ve never considered before at all, and I’m going to take a couple of BEPP classes next semester because of this new interest.

The other big DICCI project we did was actually 5 mini projects – We visited and interviewed 5 different entrepreneurs in disciplines ranging from steel fabrication to solar energy, and we wrote a report on each, with a SWOT analysis and recommendations tailored to specific problems the firm was having. Here, too, we faced challenges – language barriers, business owners who were skeptical that two young women from abroad could understand their problems, and of course, Indian Standard Time and all the delays involved therein. But I also learned how to apply research to analyse real problems, how labour contracting, supply chains, client demands and obtaining financing work in real life for micro businesses and the unique problems that minority entrepreneurs in India face.  Our deliverable for this project was a casebook of DICCI member’s businesses, showcasing their diversity and resourcefulness.

We switched gears completely for the final task – working to plan the implementation of an online portal envisioned by one of DICCI’s partners and our mentor, Ira. That project was something totally different – but more about that on my next post! [Along with some real withdrawal from samosas and chai - like I love you, Penn, but you are seriously lacking in the chaat and chai department]

Post-Madurai Reflections

It’s been a few weeks since returning from India, but I wanted to wait on this last blog post until I was fully immersed back into Penn. It was an interesting transition, and it casts light onto some of the challenges immigrants face when coming to a new modernized country like the US. Of course, the transition is much easier for me considering I’ve grown up my entire life in the US, but still it does give insight.

One of the biggest changes was the pace of life. There seems to be no lull in the late afternoon like there was in India. Here, there is a push to always be doing something. If not classes or studying, then it’s tennis, information sessions, GBMs, and parties. Sometimes I look back and I’m not even sure how we passed the time after work; somehow with dinner and going to the gym, the day always wrapped. In India, there seemed to be a value placed on just sitting around. Not particularly doing much, but just enjoying and relaxing. Also, the day at Penn ends at 3 am, while in India it rarely went past midnight.

Another hard transition has been the food. Man the food in Madurai was amazing (widely regarded as the best place for South Indian food). Parottas, mutton chucka, and idlis at all hours in the night, it was awesome. Though having gone home first upon coming back to the US helped, now I’m at Penn. And I pretty much refuse to go to the Indian restaurants (at least for the time being until I can’t bear the lack of spice in my food).

One of the funny things I talked about with the other interns who came with me, Jane and Zach, is the “scandalous” clothing in the US. Not saying it’s scandalous to wear shorts or a tank top, but that’s how it would be perceived in Madurai. Not going to lie, I was a little taken aback by the amount of “skin” when I came back to the US. Now of course, it seems the normal again. But it makes more sense when my parents refuse to let my sister wear short shorts, or when they argue the morality of high school dances.

Another tough part is not being able to travel as much. That was one of the best parts of my summer in India. Every weekend, Zach, Jane, and I would go somewhere. As you have probably read in all our blog posts, we pretty much covered most of the major places in South India: Kodaikanal, Ooty, Pondicherry, Bangalore, Cochin, Alleppey, Munnar, Rameshwaram, Coimbatore, and Chennai. Not being able to do so now feels almost empty; there is a lack of new stimulation if you will. I hope that this upcoming school year, I’ll be able to the find the time to make road-trips. Even getting on the road to visit the other east coast cities would be a cool experience.

There are many other major changes when coming back to the US, the way people talk to each other, the technology, the more materialistic lifestyle, everything is more expensive, and of course the weather (who would’ve thought that I now feel 70 degrees to be on the chilly side??). But it’s traveling like this that shows how much we should appreciate the things we take for granted. It shows what we sometimes miss out on in life because we are used to doing this a certain way and fail to consider different perspectives, merely out of ignorance. I made a lifetime of memories in India and gained fresh perspectives on certain aspects in life. I’ll be forever excited to share my experiences with everyone and will fondly look back on this summer. And I hope, sooner rather than later, that I will be boarding a flight to make another trip back.

The concept of learning

Eileen Wang:

Thoughts on my return to India only three weeks after I left it!

Originally posted on 200 Wanderlust Days:

As you may know, I am back in India, but this time a study abroad program with SIT, called International Honors Program: Health and Community. It is a program in which you are supposed to learn about anthropology, public health and research methods in an experiential context – where you put your lectures and textbooks to real life programs and policies, to real life situations and people. And while we do have the opportunity to stay with homestays, to explore Delhi, to visit sites, and hear from guest lecturers, I find that most of the time, I am once again sitting in a classroom, being lectured at. Once again, back to school with formal assignments and curriculums, albeit in a different context than on a college campus. But frankly, as I am listening to the professors and Indian guest lecturers talking about the health system, the National Rural Health Mission…

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