Sunday, April 17, 2011

Indescribable Mumbai

The Trident Bandra Kurla Lobby
Arriving in Mumbai from Johannesburg, we were blessed to find that our hotel, the Trident in Bandra Kurla, was a beautiful, cool, quiet and (unbelievably) very affordable place, with impeccable service. And, thank heavens our hotel was the peaceful respite it was, as we allowed little time for rest among interviews in Mumbai.

Pooja's Team with Pooja on the Left in the Middle
Beginning with our first interview with Pooja Warier, Director and co-founder (with Richard Alderson of the UK) of UnLtd India (, a seed fund and incubator for social entrepreneurs, we were pretty much on the run every day. Pooja was a delightful start to our visit, making us feel welcome the moment we arrived at the Bombay Hub, where the organization provides co-space and services to its members. The organization's distinction is working with early-stage social entrepreneurs, offering them a "complete ecosystem of seed funding, incubation support and co-working space with which to launch their ventures."

During our visit to the Hub, we met Karen Peters (who is actually from Wisconsin, continuing to live in Mumbai with her Mom after her Dad's working time in the city), who with Adrienne Thadani founded a nonprofit called 'Fresh and Local' at the Hub. The organization aims to "design, plant and maintain fruit and vegetable gardens in the urban setting of Mumbai to address problems of lack of access to organic, nutritious, fresh and locally grown food." Their intention is to work with local people to create fifteen hundred gardens of a size that would benefit thirty people each.We also had the opportunity to spend a delightful evening with Pooja at Juhu Beach during our stay in Mumbai, discovering many intersections and connections in our lives. Our children will not be surprised to know that Pooja is our most recent "adoptee."

As the days went by, we began to more deeply understand the need for social entrepreneurship and an agressive civil and social sector in Mumbai (some say that the Indian government lacks the "will" to intervene in the seemingly insurmountable social problems). The city is gigantic - more than 19 million people by some estimates - and the great majority live below the poverty level of less than $1.00/day income. Mumbai is a magnet to Indians from rural areas seeking a better life, but many who arrive dreaming of Bollywood end up in prostitution or organised crime. The city's population has doubled in 25 years, with half living in slums. In some parts, 50,000 people are said to be crammed into each square kilometre.

This scale of poverty is nearly impossible to imagine, but impossible to ignore on most any street, where families live beneath tarps on the sidewalk, and young girls with babies knock on our taxi windows asking for money at intersection after intersection. More about our visit to Dharavi (locale of 'Slumdog Millionaire' filming) later in the blog.

Creative Handicrafts New Building
Helping us greatly to begin to understand how NGO's are playing a role in alieviating poverty was our visit with Mr. Johny Joseph at Creative Handicrafts. Creative Handicrafts was founded 25 years ago by Spanish Missionary, Isabel Martin, in response to research findings that women in the Mumbai slums, whose husbands were abusive, alcoholics or absent, were unable to care for themselves or their children without any means of earning a livelihood. The organization set out to train women in sewing and handicrafts that could be sold for a profit. Eventually, services were added to include primary education, health assistance, savings and micro-credit, and adult education.

Today, Creative Handicrafts coordinates the production of 12 textile cooperatives spread in different slums, each one producing garments, complements, soft toys, and other handicrafts that are aimed at both local and international markets. The international market is managed through the NGOs involved in fair trade projects, the local one through exhibitions, sales at schools, universities, institutions, stalls and their own store. Johny notes how important it has been to the organization over the past several years to design and create products that sell based on their global level quality, rather than on their charitable development "story." In addition, a food catering and delivery project, Asli Foods, was born as an employment alternative to those women that, for several reasons, cannot get involved in sewing activities.

Women in Training at Creative Handicrafts

Although the organization's headquarters has moved in recent months into a large building donated by the Spanish government, Johny was kind enough to take us to their prior offices and workshops in a nearby slum. We were able to interact with kids at the creche, the women of 2 cooperatives, and women preparing food for the catering business. We learned a great deal from our interview, especially about the ways out of poverty by helping women in the slums and rural areas to become productive and able to educate their children.

The most striking thing about Mumbai, of course, is the extraordinarily stark contrast between the slums and the fast-paced, cosmopolitan, urban economic powerhouse that Mumbai is determined to become.  We were most fortunate to be able to glimpse the private industry and government sides of the equation, due to the generous introductions made for us by Professor Prasad Kaipa, an Indian professor and executive coach to many Mumbai leaders, who our friend Mark Nepo suggested that we contact. The result was three fascinating interviews including Mr. Ravi Kant, Vice Chairman of Tata Motors; Mr. Prakash Apte, President/Managing Director of Syngenta India, Ltd.; and Rear Admiral (Retd.) Chary, Director (Shipbuilding) of Mazagon Dock Limited.

Nano - the People's Car
We traveled to Bombay House, the headquarters of Tata Motors (, passed through very tight security, and were led to the outer offices of Mr. Ravi Kant, the company's very highly respected Vice Chairman. Founded by Ratan Tata, one of India's most successful businessmen with multiple enterprises around the country, Tata Motors is perhaps best known for having recently purchased Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motor Company, and its introduction in 2010 of the world's first $2500 car, the Nano, known as "the people's car."

It would be hard to imagine a more wise, warm, gentle, generous and forthcoming an industrial leader than Ravi Kant. Having scheduled a 15 minute appointment, we were able to spend nearly an hour learning about his decade long tenure at the helm of the company, during which time its remarkable growth and transformation has occurred. At the end of our visit, he asked us to wait outside the office for a few minutes, disappeared for a bit, and then invited us back into his office, presenting us with a bag full of goodies - company literature, a recently published book about the Nano's painful and exhilerating introduction into the marketplace, and a lovely wristwatch for each of us (made by Titan Industries, a Tata company).

We're looking forward to opportunities that may arise to share the results of Dave's sabbatical research with Mr. Kant, as he is becoming deeply involved in his "retirement" role as Chairperson of the Board of Governors for the new Indian Institute for Management/Rohtak, a graduate school intended to "produce world-class managers and leaders through its philosophy of exposing students to real life unstructured situations apart from imbibing them with knowledge of the analytical tools and business philosophies required to be a success in the current, and foreseeable, economic scenario."

If Ravi Kant was pure charm, Prakash Apte, President/Managing Director of Syngenta India, Ltd. was pure delight. With a self-deprecating style, an infectious laugh, and an amazing story of leading his company's transformation, our interview with Prakash was surely a highlight of our Mumbai experience. We were so fortunate that he agreed to our interview, and then drove 2 hours from the city of Pune to Mumbai (on his day off!) to meet with us as our hotel.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of a company like Syngenta ( to India's survival. The company's purpose, "bringing plant life to potential," indicates its commitment to helping farmers increase their production, while preserving the environment, and ensuring healthy food supplies for all. In other words, their work as a huge agribusiness is sustainable agriculture through two main types of products: seeds and crop protection.

We will look forward to sharing the story of Syngenta's recent change initiative, which was based on a marriage of two things: wise business strategy and the Indian spiritual concept of sankalpa; san meaning "altogether," and kalpa meaning "idea." While having much deeper meaning than can be stated here, the idea of sankalpa in this context means taking an individual and collective oath of intention or will toward a specific outcome. While strategy is rational, sankalpa is pure intuition.

The final Mumbai interview, with Rear Admiral (Retd.) Chary, Director (Shipbuilding) of Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), was a fascinating look into the supplier/builder of warships, stealth frigates and submarines for the Indian Navy and others. Mazadon also builds offshore platforms and associated support vessels for offshore oil drilling. It also builds tankers, cargo bulk carriers and passenger ships and ferries. The shipyards of MDL were established in the 18th century. Ownership of the yards passed through various entities, including the British India Steam Navigation Company. Eventually, Mazagon Dock Limited was registered as a public compan in 1934. The shipyard was nationalized in 1960, and is now a function of the Government of India.

Admiral Chary (also having taken time away from a national holiday to visit with us at our hotel) shared with us his perspective on the differences between his lifelong career as a Naval officer, and the challenges of managing the enormous complexities of a huge government organization, employing thousands of unskilled (but now cross-trained) employees doing extremely difficult and demanding physical work, along with highly skilled workers doing very technical and precise work.

Ghandi's Bedroom
By the end of these interviews we were a tired pair, and knowing that we would be unlikely to visit Mumbai again, we went looking for a brief "tourist" experience. Little did we know how much territory we could cover with our wonderful driver from the Trident. Beginning with a visit to Ghandi's home, we ventured onto a brief shopping expedition, and then on to the primary sites of Mumbai's November 2008 terrorist attack. During the attack, witnessed worldwide on television, 120 people, some from the US, Australia and Europe, but primarily ordinary Indians, were killed and many hundreds wounded. One of the first targets was the historic Leopold's Cafe, a favorite hang-out of foreigners, where we had lunch during our tour. Then we went on to the famous Taj Mahal Palace hotel, where hundreds of people were held hostage and many died (the other hotel attacked was the other Trident hotel at Naimon Point).
Leopold's Cafe
Finally, and completely impossible to describe, was a brief visit to the gigantic Dharavi slum (the site of the filming of the movie, 'Slumdog Millionaire'). We had actually passed up a longer Dharavi visit and interview with the founders of Reality Tours, due to pure exhaustion, but we did get a bit of a walk-through down one street with our driver. Our immediate and surprising impression (besides the oppressive heat) was an alive hub of entrepreneurial activity taking place in the most unlikely and harsh environment imaginable. In every shop we saw, there was an enterprise at work recycling scrap - from large, household applicances to all sorts of other metals and plastics. Untold numbers of people just trying to eke out their survival from the rest of the city's discarded trash. And a few goats.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Gift of South Africa

It is difficult to even know what to share about our time here in South Africa, except that it is an extraordinary gift to be able to learn just a bit more about this precious land, its history, its pain, its glory, its people and their desire for a better future.


View from the yard of our Lodge

The astonishing beauty of Cape Town's rugged coastline and mile upon mile of beautiful beaches is most impossible to describe.

Our digs at Fullham Lodge
Our stay at Fullham Lodge, the seafood at Camps Bay, and the caretaking of Isaac, our ever-ready-to-help driver, made us feel about as spoiled and fortunate as privileged white Americans can get. Even spending many hours at the Water Front (think San Francisco wharf on steroids) solving multiple technology problems was (almost) pure delight.

A little Sunday afternoon wine tasting
 A visit to Groot Constantia winery was a lesson in the Cape's history, as well as a picture of family pleasures on a Sunday afternoon, and the lush beauty of the wine lands.

While experiencing the wonders of Cape Town, it is astonishingly easy to forget that over a million of its residents live in a mammoth squatters camp just behind the city's airport. And it was stunning to us to learn, as we were leaving in our taxi for the airport at 4:30 am, that many homeless people were living in the bush just outside the door of the guesthouse where we had been so pampered and cared for. These are among many more millions of men, women and children all over South Africa who have yet to realize Nelson Mandela's dream

Carole and Isaac at the Tutu Center
Our first interview here, with Nomfundo Walaza, CEO at the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre (founded in 1998 to build on and leverage the legacy of Archbishop Tutu to foster peace in the world), was worth the entire trip to South Africa. Nomfundo is a clinical psychologist who has worked in the human rights field for the last two decades, where she has focused on empowering and healing victims of torture, trauma, and violence, many of whom suffered severely at the hands of the apartheid government. She served as a commissioner in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where she was instrumental in ensuring that the voices of women were raised, and as the Executive Director of the Trauma Centre for survivors of violence and torture. It will be a great privilege for us to share a bit of the story of this most wise, passionate, resolute, stately and generous woman with others.

Our interview with Maryse Barak and dinner with she and her husband, Steve, was an opportunity to hear about Maryse's consultancy, focusing on creating "thinking environments," as well as an opportunity to share an evening with a Cape Town couple who are living the story of South Africa's emergent democracy first hand. Maryse is also part of a group of women who own and operate a retreat center and sustainable farm near Cape Town.

Our new Chaeli Campaign friends
Our final interview in Cape Town was with the founders of the Chaeli Campaign, a non-profit organization whose mission is the inclusion and empowerment of differently abled people. The organization's story begins with two pairs of sisters, determined to raise the money to purchase an electric wheel chair for Chaeli (who has cerebral palsy), then only nine years old. The girls, ages six to twelve, astonished their mothers by raising the funds in a matter of weeks, primarily by selling their own artwork. The rest, as they say, is history, an incredibly worthy one at that. The Campaign now supports numerous fundraising, rehabilitative, cultural, artistic, and sports programs.


Our stay at The Melville House in Joburg was everything promised in its reviews, the highlights of which were the joys of engaging with owner, Heidi Holland, and other guests over an early evening glass of wine. Heidi, born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), long-time resident of Joburg, newspaper columnist and author of numerous books, including a History of the ANC, African Magic, and Dinner with Mugabe, is hostess to a range of most fascinating writers, diplomats, development workers and others who pass through for a night or a while. A fascinating interview with Heidi, revealed the insightful views of a sensitive, caring and courageous observer of sub-Saharan Africa's social, economic and political scene.

Chene Swart, who generously drove from Pretoria for our interview, and Colleen Magner, partner in REOS, a global consulting firm, provided fascinating insights into what it means to work with managers and leaders in a culture still deep in the throes of transition from the systemic abuses of apartheid to the promises of democracy.  Much of Chene's work in recent years has been with an enormous platinum mining company, whose  exploitation of people and place is an essential part of South Africa's history. Chene has built a professional practice based on the discipline of "narrative therapy," which she uses with cross-sections of all employees of the mine to surface the old "problem stories" and evoke stories of possibility for the future.

Colleen and her team, focusing largely on the work of Adam Kahane, author of Power and Love: Solving Tough Social and Organizational Problems, work across difference in many forms, including race, class, culture and institutional boundaries. When asked to tell a story of possibility for the future of South Africa, Colleen spoke of the recent hosting of the World Cup. What she observed was a joyful, proud, lived experience by thousands upon thousands of South Africans who may have, for the first time since the end of apartheid, actually experienced what a future beyond the pain and suffering could bring.

Our final interview here in South Africa was one of the most moving experiences of our lives. Mabule Mokhine of the GreenHouse Project in Joubert Park here in Joburg, is a young man whose wisdom opened our eyes to how little we know and how much we have to learn from those who have lived the South African experience. Born in Soweto during the years of apartheid, he embodies the spirit of ubuntu or a connection with the wholeness of everything that is, and serves to both demonstrate and invite others into a life of sustainability, sufficiency, and care for one another and the earth's blessings. It will only be the sharing of his own words, not ours, that can express who Mabule is and what he brings to life.

David and our guide, Lasuto in the Court
 Yesterday, we visited Constitution Hill, the home of the country's Constitutional Court, built on the site of the unimaginably cruel prisons of the apartheid era. It is difficult to get one's mind around the fact that it was only in 1991 that apartheid laws making it illegal for any black person to enter Johannesburg without the infamous passbook through which they could prove employment were abolished. Impossible to understand are the conditions in which these and perpetrators of other "crimes" under the regime were held for days, weeks, months or years. Among those who served time in the site's prisons were Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, along with countless others who were fighting for freedom or simply trying to stay alive.

Cell for up to 60 "non-white" men

The Court, built in 2003-04 in part with the bricks from the "Waiting for Trial" prison, stands as a symbol of what an era of justice in South Africa can mean. Its theme and logo, depicting people gathered beneath a tree symbolizes a justice system where people come together in a spirit of equality to resolve the injustices of the past, the present and the future.

Entrance to the Men's Prison

Today, we visited the Apartheid Museum where we spent four hours and could have spent many, many more. Having learned a lot, we came away with the sense that no one will ever really know how it is possible that humans can knowingly inflict such degrading pain, humiliation, brutality and suffering on others.

Tomorrow we may visit the Origins Centre, and then must prepare to move on to Mumbai. We remain astonished, joyful and humbled by this opportunity to see the world and to be in the company of so many people modeling ways of thinking and being that hold the potential for transforming our workplaces, communities and societies.

Humanity was born in Africa
All people ultimately are African