Somewhere between an iPhone and an iPheno

A tiger's welcome | Tehri Gharwal, Uttarakhand state
A tiger’s welcome | Tehri Gharwal, Uttarakhand

I am the type of person that cannot stop asking questions. In trying to comprehend the massive discrepancy in wealth distribution among people in my new, adopted megalopolis, Bangalore, I have been told several times over that “you can get lunch anywhere from 10 rupees to 1000 rupees” ($0.17 to $17.00, respectively). My limited experience verifies the maxim, and equally sates my appetite.

Likewise, I took a taxi to get to a meeting and at the stop light, the driver asked, “Is that an iPhone?” I replied, “Yeah.” He responds that he also has an iPhone, to which I wiggle my head with motions of approval. The driver hands his phone over for my perusal, and alas, it’s clearly not an iPhone. In fact, inscribed on the back is “iPheno”. The driver admits with a smile that just maybe, the phone in question is not the genuine article. He goes on to explain that his iPheno lies in something of a comatose state – the background light works; however, the touch screen does not activate. A trusty backup Nokia serves his communication needs well, while the iPheno remains charged just for show.

Working hard to move forward

Of course none of this phone business is of any consequence. What does matter is that the two of us will crawl through 22 kilometers of urban jungle in the course of the next two hours. The city of Bangalore has grown so rapidly in its economic, demographic, and physical chrysalis that the municipal infrastructure simply cannot keep pace. The nascent, slick metro lines do operate but provide such limited functionality that they are seen more as a tourist attraction or theme park ride than as a viable public transport option. Native Bangaloreans explain that only ten years ago many of these buildings did not exist nor were many of the roads paved.

The reality is that to get anywhere one must travel by road. Whether toting an iPhone or iPheno, everyone inhales the same harsh exhaust fumes. Such negative externalities affect us all, although perhaps not in equal measures. Occupants of auto-rickshaws or impossibly-crowded buses have a much harder go than those of us sitting in air-conditioned Maruthi Suzuki cabs or Mercedes C-Class sedans.

What little exposure I have had to India thus far has taught me much about the inherent issues surrounding this burgeoning, middle-income power. To me, the sheer diversity of the nation (in seemingly every respect imaginable) indicates that India’s future is as exciting as it is unclear. What is clear, though, is that India lies at a critical juncture in this modern reincarnation. As such, I feel quite fortunate not only to live here and witness this momentous change, but also to do my small part to work towards its positive trajectory.

‘Creating jobs for millions’

So what is it that I’m doing here?

My Fellowship has placed me with a large, philanthropic organization called the Wadhwani Foundation (http://wadhwani-foundation.org/). The Wadhwani Foundation was founded by one of India’s (and the world’s) wealthiest people, Mr. Romesh Wadhwani. As a signatory to Bill Gates and Warren Buffets’ “Giving Pledge”, Wadhwani has pledged the vast sum of his money towards job creation and economic creation in India and abroad.

The foundation’s Skills Development Network arm with which I work, focuses on providing practical job skills through an innovative eLearning curriculum to high school and college students as well as entry-level, corporate trainees. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has identified the need to leverage the demographic dividend of a youthful nation as one of his core platforms in office. In 2012, the-then Congress Party led government set an unprecedented target of creating 500 million new jobs by the year 2022. That’s right, 500 million. The Wadhwani Foundation is well-positioned to work towards this most ambitious of goals as it strives to ‘Create jobs for millions.’

My primary task is to assist with the rollout of this program to corporations, government, and community colleges throughout the country. I am fortunate to work with an extremely capable and friendly group of colleagues, mentors, and supervisors whom have welcomed me with big smiles and open arms. Moreover, former 2013-14 AIF Clinton Fellow, Taylor Robinson, laid tremendous groundwork from which I am already benefiting. Much like India itself, the challenges of this initiative are numerous, but the realm of potential benefit is exponential.

One month, and that’s just the appetizer

I am excited to be living this opportunity and look forward to learning everything I can possibly absorb. In the coming months, I’ll be using this blog to discuss various development issues in both India, and perhaps even within myself. I promise you one thing: I’ll have a good time.

Thanks for reading!

: Frank comes to AIF with a background in international development with a particular focus on the empowerment of marginalized populations through livelihoods and education initiatives. He began his development work in Liberia, where he lived for three years. Frank worked with Innovations for Poverty Action, where he led a survey team in tracking and interviewing ex-combatants from Liberia's civil war to gather data for an impact evaluation. Following this, he joined Building Markets, where he led both market research and monitoring and evaluation efforts to promote the integration of local small and medium enterprise into the supply chains of multinational corporations. Most recently, Frank worked with the International Rescue Committee, where he implemented vocational and agricultural training programs for Ivorian refugees' communities in three refugee camps across Liberia's eastern border. Prior to Liberia, Frank taught English and cultural studies in northern Japan for two years with the Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme (JET). He has extensive volunteer experience with organizations including AfricAid, Africa Today, Refugee Assistance Program, Search for Common Ground, the Shalom Community Center, Special Olympics Japan.

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2 thoughts on “Somewhere between an iPhone and an iPheno

  1. Thanks! Enjoy the opportunity to glimpse your adventures in a far away place with strange sounding names. Know that you will approach your assignment with your usual intense commitment and goal orientated aplomb.Happy to understand more of what you do and eager to share your journey. Pass the appetizers and on to the next course! Bev

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