As I board my flight back to New York, I feel mixed emotions – fatigue, relief, nostalgia, gratitude, and sadness.
While working for IFMR, I learned a lot about the challenges of raising debt and equity, navigating managerial hierarchies, and using Excel shortcuts. During our last week in Chennai, Nikhil and I traveled with our supervisor to Thanjavur to visit one of the KGFS branches. We observed the innovative technology that IFMR employs to capture data, saw the balances on which they weigh jewelry for jewel loans, and met with wealth managers. I also worked on an analysis of the competitive landscape of microfinance in India and spoke with representatives from Samasta, Ujjivan, ESAF Microfinance, SEWA, the IIT Madras Center for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Asirvad. It is always interesting to explore how different companies approach the same problem of improving financial access to India’s 833.5 million rural population differently.
As I reflect on these past ten weeks, I realize that the lessons learned outside of the internship were perhaps even more valuable than the soft and hard skills developed in the office. I toured a country of incredible diversity – with mind-blowing natural and architectural beauty manifested in such marvels as the Taj Mahal, Amer Fort, Lotus Temple, Agra Fort, Hawa Mahal, and Qutab Minar. But if you look slightly beyond the perfectly manicured lawns and gardens with chirping birds you’ll see homeless families sleeping on the streets and women with hunched backs cutting the grass to provide these luxuries for tourists.
India is a very difficult country to live in. Although it has many modern restaurants and upscale hotels, the infrastructural, bureaucratic, and environmental problems can make it almost unbearable. And yet it holds so much promise. Companies like Aravind Eyecare, Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital (cardiac surgeries), Jaipur Foot (prosthetic legs), and Mitticool (clay refrigerator) have created extremely high-tech, high-quality products and services at low costs to reach India’s growing consumer market. Over the course of the summer, I dug into IFMR’s library and read several books on India’s potential, such as Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower, Innovative India, and The Fortunate at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits. I find myself amazed by India’s human capital, economic growth, and diversity – how after touring both the south and the north I can still not find words to capture the sentiments it evokes. Over the coming year, I will continue to study frugal innovation in India for my senior thesis and enjoy a deep-dive into profiling the entrepreneurs whose inventions can improve the quality of life not only for BOP customers, but also for the world at large in developed and developing nations alike. Here is a poem that I wrote during my last few days in the country:
I met you one morning on an island paradise, the wind blowing through your sun-kissed hair. Your warmth seduced me, and I wanted an eternity wandering your forts and palaces that promised an endless treasure cove of wealth. When I first saw the Taj Mahal, I was mesmerized by your beauty: the slick marble floors, pristine gardens, and towering spires carved with love. We would ride elephants by sunset and sail on a houseboat made for two through the backwaters of serenity. “I need to live here,” I said.
The monsoon came one afternoon through thunderous shouts on the bedroom wall and angry tears flooding the streets. For the first time, I walked your villages, past dilapidated houses and train stations filled with bodies with nowhere to call home. Garbage piled up on cracked sidewalks and the merciless heat from your mouth bore down on my neck until I could scarcely breathe. I missed carefree barefoot walks through green pastures – the sweet assurance of a golden future and the pure streams of water that I could drink without fear. I shouted, “I hate you! You are cruel.”
And then one evening sitting alone in an air-conditioned room, I realized I missed the familial feel of your bustling streets. The skies cleared, as I met your people and caught the hope radiating from their eyes like a shooting star from the west. We meandered through blossoming gardens, sipping fine wine by candlelight in the elegance of the Leela Palace. We toured the slums of a thousand years, nursing sick children and cleaning up piles of trash until the grounds sparkled with opportunity.
From the heights of the Himalayas to the depths of Rajasthan’s step walls, through every mismanaged bureaucracy and intricately engraved temple, in all your tradition and modernity, for all your potential, I promised, “I will love you unconditionally.”