Fun times!

This past week was very interesting. A lot of cool stuff has been going on at CORD, but my day off was definitely incredibly fun! Here’s a quick recap of it in list form.

  • met a new CORD intern, Soumya (not affiliated with Penn/CASI) who is an amazing addition to our group
  • took Soumya up to Dharamshala, where we met LEAP interns visiting for the weekend and Mara, another Penn student working in India who tagged along
  • had a second breakfast with them all that required squeezing more people on a bench than should be allowed (seems to be a recurring pattern in India)
  • gave the visitors a brief tour of CORD before spontaneously crashing hitting up a wedding
  • freaked out that we didn’t have a gift so hastily purchased 1 kg of sweets before meeting with the host, the groom’s younger cousin, who led us to their house
  • asked the host if I could bring my ten friends, he said to bring twenty
  • walked for what seemed like hours twenty minutes before reading the charmingly decorated village, at which there must have been at least 200 people
  • cooled off with some rose water before having lunch, which consisted of rice and several accompanying lentils
  • took a larger than necessary bite of a long green pepper – there is not enough water in the world to wash down the burn
  • danced awkwardly with the other guests, who were as excited about us as we felt strange around them
  • bid farewell to LEAP and Mara, and then walked back to CORD [stopping for yogurt ice cream along the way]

While it was an exciting and exhausting day filled with a lot of walking through the hills, today we promptly returned to work. Three weeks in, I think I can comfortably say that I have an established routine:

7:56 AM: Snooze alarm for the last time.
8:01 AM: Arrive one minute late for breakfast, which earns me an eye roll from Michelle.
8:30 AM: Shower, do laundry, clean room (so, everything I should have done before breakfast.)
9:01 AM: Get scolded by supervisor, who was expecting me at 8:30. I try and fail to remind him that he asked me to meet him at 8:30/9.
11:15 AM: Show my progress to my supervisor; receive mixed but encouraging feedback.
1:00 PM: Lunch. Eat twice as much as I should. Engage in banter with the kitchen ladies.
2:00 PM: Receive flustered phone call from my aunt in India, who demands to know why I didn’t pick her earlier calls, and proceeds to ask what I ate for breakfast and how I’m dealing with the heat.
5:30 PM: Finish work. Go to retrieve laundry.
5:32 PM: Begin tracking down articles of clothing that had blown away in a storm because I’m intelligent and decided not to use clothespins.
7:00 PM: Eat dinner. Slightly crestfallen because I can’t find underwear that is now probably in somebody’s farm somewhere. (At least it’s clean.) The food is amazing of course so that cheers me up.
8:00 PM Collapse on the couches in the living room with Kurt, Michelle, and Soumya and talk for hours.
11:30 PM Sleep.

The events from 5:30-7:00 PM aren’t usually that ridiculous – sometimes I’m writing/reading/preparing for the next day, because most of the time I never do much in the evenings after dinner. This schedule is for when I’m in the office, but most of CORD’s work happens on the ground with the farmers themselves, and that schedule involves me commuting to the more rural areas and spending the day there.

So now a summary of my project: I am designing a business model for a sales outlet for agricultural produce and inputs for female farmers in rural Himachal Pradesh. Broadly speaking, my goals are to increase the income for individual farmers so as to contribute to their empowerment in the household and help them effectively take advantage of their surplus. There’s already a system in place for all the farmers in the area to come together in collectives and sell their produce, but they often need to buy inputs such as cattle feed, compost, and seeds, and it is more cost-effective if they do so in collectives so that they can have a higher negotiating power. There is actually a lot of potential for the farmers to profit off of the inputs if they produce them themselves, except it’s quite difficult for CORD to encourage them to switch from a subsistence/survival mindset of producing just enough for themselves, with some extra to be sold, to a business one that involves working together and dividing up the responsibilities to be more efficient.

The project is quite similar to consulting actually in the sense that the business already exists and I’m improving it. A lot of it is self-directed (which loosely translates to I have no idea what I’m doing) but my supervisors are very approachable with questions, even if they leave a lot up to me. It’s nerve-wracking but also an incredible opportunity that I’ve been constantly assured I could never have anywhere else.

I’m really fitting in quite well, and I enjoy every day as much as any other. Lots of positive energy here!




the couple and their family

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About Ravi Jain

Penn'17, Economics, sponsored by the Center for the Advanced Study of India to intern at Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development