Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The little birdie

Sania recently suggested that I should get on Twitter, given the amount of traveling I would be doing as part of my internship. Nor was she the first to suggest it. I dithered for long, unwilling to get on yet another social network platform and leaving another trail of footprints online. But I decided to give it a shot anyway and so now I’m tweeting – I swear I never expected to be using a verb like that!

It amazes me how much you can say in 140 characters. Or how little for that matter. It also amazes me how much you can do with a medium like that. For starters, I can follow friends who decide to tweet when they’re stuck in traffic in NYC. Or I could follow those that decide to backpack across Europe. I could have followed Brin but he stopped tweeting! Jokes apart, what has me totally amazed is how Twitter has catapulted to this super important status in the backdrop of the turmoil in Iran (here's what I'm talking about). There is a wealth of information from the ground that is being broadcasted on the net by ordinary citizens, where journalists are no longer permitted. As an ex-techie, my thoughts go immediately to information security – does this mean that corporations would have to install cell phone signal-jammers in the meeting room and disconnect the internet during confidential market-influencing discussions? What does that do to the rights and freedoms of people? As we innovate, we seem to push the boundaries of our laws and societies further, exposing all the loopholes.

It must be a sign of times that corporations are quick to get on the bandwagon. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, in the hope and anticipation that more eyeballs or ears would translate to more sales. And that is driving corporations to find ways to monetize the platform. Google’s revenue from sponsored links is the best case in point. It’s brilliant how companies that create products for people indirectly create platforms for other companies, an important feature of this ultra connected world that we live in.

Just like blogging and maybe even Facebook to some extent, Twitter seems to follow in the footsteps of satisfying the narcissist inside us. Judging by how many subscribers each of these media have, it seems like everyone who is anyone feels the need to have her voice heard. In all the white noise we’re generating, it is getting harder to sift out the voices of substance. Our willingness to embrace technology results in the cup overflowing and being just another source of information spam that despite our good sense, we feel the obsessive need to log in and check every day… while somewhere in the world, another college drop out is on his/her way to millionaire-hood and potentially a place in HBR’s next 30 page case!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mahayatra through Maharashtra

Tomorrow I leave for the first of a few trips as part of my internship (refer to map of Maharashtra state). I leave early morning for Aurangabad where I will spend the day observing Project Shakti in action in the villages around the city. The following day I will travel to Shirdi where once again I will get to observe Shakti Ammas as they go about their duties. And finally on Day 3, I will be in Nasik where I will get to interview some Shakti Ammas and understand what the missing links are.

I’m very excited about this trip not just because I’ve never travelled to these areas before, but also because of the sudden attention that rural India has been garnering in the media. I’m referring to two much emailed articles that came out in the WSJ and Mint newspapers today (Mint is a business newspaper that partners with WSJ). Rural India has been untouched by the recession and continues to consume and purchase more consumer products in the market than urban India. In fact, sales from rural India account for more than 50% of Unilever’s total sales in personal care products in India. Rural India has accounted for 50% of Vodafone’s new subscriptions for cell phone connections in the last year, and just today, the Indian prime minister has said that the economy will target for 9% growth rate, fuelled no doubt by the growing consumerism in the robust rural economy.

To know more about HUL’s Project Shakti, try this and this. This project has been successfully implemented in countries in Asia under Unilever Bangladesh (UBL) as Joyeeta and in Unilever Sri Lanka as Saubaghya.


Mahayatra: long journey

Amma: mother

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Turning the page

** Warning: Looooooong post ahead

First I must apologize for the extended period of silence. Things have been a little unwieldy since school gave in to summer. That’s right; I am officially done with first year. I have spent the better part of the last few days trying to come to terms with the feeling… I don’t know if I should be happy or sad… Honestly, I feel kind of numb. This year has been a little hard to digest. Typical of the Darden program, so much has been thrown at us this year and so fast, that sometimes I have trouble believing I actually went through the whole year and lived to tell about it!

I remember how it felt at orientation, oh 10 months ago. A sea of unfamiliar faces, everything was at once befuddling yet exciting. There was a sense of nervous expectation, a sort of go getter attitude. I walked in to Darden with dreams that were big for where I came from, yet seemingly modest given the type of school I had come to. The economy was just showing some signs of weariness, but the red alerts had not set in as yet. I may have been $60000 in debt but I felt like a million bucks!

And then the floodgates opened and suddenly it felt like sensory overload. Names gave way to faces, acquaintances became buddies and second years became inspirations to look up to. Suddenly Microsoft, McKinsey, AT Kearney, UTC, Danaher became more than just tickers on CNBC, they were for real and I was sharing glasses of wine with them or corresponding via email. In class, we were talking about real companies, real people, real problems. Excel became my new best friend, my alarm clock my worst foe. On Thursday mornings, it seemed like the night couldn’t come soon enough to go back to bed, and yet there I was letting my hair down at TNDC. Weekends left only a whooshing sound in their wake as they sped by and then there was the 100 case party where I sang till my voice went hoarse, forging new bonds even as I did so. Days merged into nights and days again, and I stopped to take it all in only during winter break, when time seemed to stretch on forever. Soon it was 2009 and with it came a slew of disappointments as the recession had spread its tentacles into our summer recruiting. The upbeat mood of the first semester gave way to more somber countenances in the second semester and expectations we reset and we scrambled to find employment for the summer. Even in the midst of all the self doubt and falling self confidence, I made time for the GBE to Brazil, the best forced vacation in all my life and one that I’m not likely to forget for years to come. Business school taught me to leave my worries behind as I went to explore a new country and was enriched by the experience.

I don’t really know where the last quarter of school went, but here we are. The year seems to have flown by and as I meet people who are joining business school this fall, even the recession seems to bounce off them and their optimism. But for me and my class at Darden, there is something about this recession that has bonded us together like no previous batch at school. We rallied around one another, lauding one person’s success with a bulge bracket investment bank just as we supported the other that got yet another I-regret-to-inform-you email. It was May and 20% of us were without direction for the summer, yet we threw farewell parties and danced our hearts out at the Bollywood, Japan and LASA parties. There were days when I was filled with hope that everything will be ok, yet there were days of despair. On the latter, I was never alone, finding support and encouragement in the success stories of others or just in having lunch together at CafĂ© 67. And yet, this much cursed recession forced us to expand our boundaries. People took risks, followed dreams and went where others would not look in a regular year. While someone went to Africa to do economic development another went to DC to work in sustainability. Someone found intellectually rewarding work in an 11 member VC firm while someone else found a window to showcase his Crystal Ball skills to a government firm. Some people traded their dream jobs for more satisfying start up experiences, while others just walked away from the rat race to start their own thing and thus give employment to another classmate through the Batten institute. As for me, I had a strange turn of events. I came to Mumbai to work with the firm that was my dream employer through most of undergrad and my days at Infosys, one I had lost hope in when I chose to pursue an MBA abroad. Not only was this opportunity at Unilever serendipitous, even more interesting is the nature of work I get to do. I am working with one of their most talked about CSR initiatives, the Project Shakti.

I have a ton of impressions from coming back to India after a year. A lot of time spent in commuting has given me enough fodder to ponder and reminisce. And while I miss Darden and its familiarity, I am discovering a different work culture at Unilever, and I constantly compare and evaluate. I also spam my friends’ inboxes with all the conversations I wish I could have with them! But as I go into week 2 of my internship, I look forward to being able to get back to writing about all that goes on in my head.


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