“Chai, Anyone?” Exploring Workplace Culture in India

It’s been a little more than four months since I’ve been in India as an AIF Clinton Fellow, and one of the the aspects of Indian workplace culture that stands out to me is the importance of chai time at the office. Chai breaks during the work place are a must, especially for my coworkers and I at BEMPU, my host organization. As a public health startup that creates life-saving technologies in the field of neonatal and maternal health, BEMPU’s office is always busy. My work day at BEMPU ranges from coordinating clinical studies around India to writing grants proposals. BEMPU consists of the Public Health, Product Design, Production, Government, Engineering, Finance, and Customer Service Teams, and we all work closely with each other in interdisciplinary teams to ensure that our products create as much impact in neonatal health as possible.

To support our productivity, everyday we have someone who comes to serve us chai at 11am and 4pm, whom we call Auntie. My coworkers always look forward to their daily fix of chai as we sit on our desks and get work done under tight deadlines. 

Breaking from this routine, we have day-long meetings at least twice a month that involve nearly all BEMPU employees. In that case, we order chai from our favorite spot nearby, Chai Point. It’s a popular chain around Bangalore that delivers hot chai and pastries within 30 minutes. As we discuss the research and development of our current and upcoming products, having a cup of chai is a must to power through the meetings and stay productive. Important decisions are made during these meetings: we discuss the timeline of our projects, adjustments to be made to improve the projects, marketing of our life-saving products, and the clinical studies needed to test the products. It is a chance for BEMPU to revisit where we are now and where we are going in the near future.

Over my first few months here, I’ve found that chai time not only serves as an opportunity to converse about work-related topics, but it has also been a way to get to know some of my coworkers and receive advice on how to handle life in Bangalore. My coworkers have given me valuable tips on how to deal with the madness of Bangalore traffic, where the best places to eat are located, and more. We also have a few cross-cultural conversations about food habits. For example, during one of our chai conversations, I’ve learned that iced chai is an absolute no-go in India, despite its massive popularity in the United States.

So far, I am so grateful for chai time, not only does it allow me to take a quick break from work and refocus, but it has also allowed me to foster relationships with my fellow BEMPU employees.

Kembo is a recent graduate of Boston University’s 5-year Bachelor of Science and Master of Public Health program. She has lived in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and these experiences fostered her passion for global health, international development and cultural diplomacy. During her undergraduate studies, she spent a semester abroad in Switzerland, where she interned for an NGO and wrote briefs and recommendations on Middle Eastern refugee mental health and gender-based violence in areas of conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa. During her graduate studies, she interned for Harvard University’s School of Public Health, where she worked in survey and protocol development for a mixed-method study on sexual and reproductive health of adolescent girls and women in Burundi. She was also a Virtual Student Foreign Service Intern for the U.S. Department of State. For this role, she helped foster U.S.-Ecuador relations by serving as an English Tutor for university students in Ecuador. In summer 2017, Kembo participated in her university’s service learning trip to India to learn about healthcare disparities the country faces, which drew her to pursue the AIF Clinton Fellowship. In her free time, she loves to travel, improve her Spanish-speaking skills, and make music playlists on Spotify.

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