Happy Friday everyone! While Evanston and finals seem like a long time ago, its still been less than a week since I got to Delhi – the place I love to call home. It has been an incredible, though slightly jet-lag hazy, week. Luckily, the monsoons decided to come a little early, so it wasn’t quite as scorching hot when I got in on Sunday night – but that has definitely changed in the last few days as we quickly try to switch from fans to air conditioners. Delhi certainly benefited from the early rains, but the news these days is filled by those north of us who are trapped with raging floods and landslides in the mountains.
I am excited to start my journey as a CRTI fellow and will be spending the next 10 weeks working at the American India Foundation. At the heart of its mission, AIF seeks to catalyze social and economic change in India through its work in three main sectors – education, livelihood and public health. I was greeted on Monday morning by a very friendly team working in the livelihood sector. The program I will focus on is called Rickshaw Sangh – loosely translated to be a rickshaw association. The purpose of this program is to collectivize and help one of the most marginalized groups of people in the country – the Rickshaw pullers and drivers. Through a partnership model with NGOs and banks, AIF has created a program that allows rickshaw drivers to own their own asset and thus generate a more stable income.
It is estimated that there are approximately 8 million rickshaw drivers in the country each of whom have 4-5 dependents – so we are talking about a program that could impact upwards of 36 million people. That figure to me is mind-boggling, and I’m enthused to work in an area that has such a direct impact on a single person’s life. The project that I will primarily focus on is to figure out additional earning sources for rickshaw drivers. One key area is the possibility of advertising on the rickshaws – they are after all one of the slowest moving vehicles on the road, and weave in and out of the most congested parts of the city, catering to a very specific consumer. Understanding this consumer, their needs and aspirations is going to be my challenge.
This week I have spent time on getting to know the organization and program nuances as much as possible. I have also been doing a lot of research and reading on bottom of the pyramid marketing, products and services aimed at the low-end consumer, and gaining insight on other NGOs that are working on similar programs. The highlight of this week was an afternoon spent with a director of Smile Train (www.smiletrain.org), a NGO that provides free cleft lip and palate surgeries in over 87 countries around the world. After hearing a lot about their interesting operating model, we turned to business and the potential for Smile Train ads on our cycle rickshaws. An idea was formed – and I’m off to Agra on Monday to spend some time in the field and meet with some of the partner NGOs and rickshaw drivers that might support this advertising pilot. More to come on that next week!
Aside from work, it is good to be back home. I have not spent this much time in India for many years, and am excited to learn a lot more about the Indian work environment and the social-impact sector in the next 10 weeks!
A quick hello from one who is excited to have me home for the summer (as long as nap times aren’t disturbed):