Grinding Away

Before continuing, I’ll make a quick apology for the admittedly unfunny pun in the title of this post. Above is a picture of me on a soy bean grinder, which is an integral part of the machinery that we use to produce tofu and soy milk, the products of our budding social enterprise.

After the initial excitement of getting our soy business up and running, which included drafting marketing materials, preparing financial spreadsheets, and working out the packaging of the product, I find that the pace of progress has slowed significantly. Only now are the difficulties of beginning a social enterprise manifesting themselves to me. Many frustrating, time-consuming sales trips to various restaurants and hotels in and around Udaipur have yet to yield a regular client interested in buying our products. I’ve sat around many days thinking about what I can do differently (or at least tell my coworker to do differently, since he much better at communicating with the locals), but either come up with blanks, or worse yet, come up with an idea that just can’t work in India.

Perseverance is a virtue however, and I am determined to get our Urja brand up and running (or at least spend much effort and energy in the processing of trying to do so). The blessing of encountering one roadblock however is that you get to take some detours. I’ve had a chance to get to know the city I’m living in, join a local gym, and even see a Hindi movie or two at the local theater. After some lessons and studying, my Hindi has gotten to the point that I can get around and communicate, albeit very haphazardly. On those nights I seek a quick escape from the 6-day work week, I head to the tourist part of Udaipur and take in the sights of the beautiful lakes and palatial hotels.

From a professional standpoint, I have been forced to look inward and outward to figure out additional ways to add value at Seva Mandir. One common issue that Fellows often write about their NGOs is that the staff may not have great communication abilities, cannot draft presentations and documents in an effective manner, and may otherwise lack soft skills that we often take for granted in the United States. Seva Mandir is no exception to this. So I figured, why not get involved in initiatives that, although they may not directly affect the poor of Rajasthan, will impact the employees that do see to that direct sort of intervention. Enable the enablers, so to speak. To date we have launched an English class for Seva Mandir employees, and I am in tentative talks to even provide skills training for youths in Udaipur similar to the MAST program that AIF heads.

No one said that the Fellowship would be easy and straightforward, but I am learning to appreciate the necessarily winding nature of the program. Just like a driver in Indian traffic, I am not forcing myself into strict lanes and rules; instead, I am bracing myself for a winding, unpredictable and above all else energizing ride through India.

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