This year Louis Vuitton launches celebrating Monogram Project. Breaking the traditional Louis Vuitton Monogram was the premise of this one work by Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo —which was to find something that would be new, some kind of new value.
“Although there are various ways of breaking to create something new, this time I tried to play it straight: I simply made some holes in the fabric of the bag. I generally like small bags.I feel that Louis Vuitton is the house that most beautifully and skilfully transforms what is tradition into what is now.Yet I always approach all of my work in a way that is exactly the same: I look to create something new.”
— Louis Vuitton Japan (@LouisVuitton_JP) September 11, 2014
“When designing the bag for this project, I was looking for some new design, something that hadn’t been done before, something within the limits of possibility.”
Upon seeing Japan’s first Louis Vuitton store in 1978, Rei Kawakubo discovered the allure of French craftsmanship and art de vivre. Today, the creator of Comme des Garçons applies her radical, refined aesthetic to a House icon, revisiting the Sac Plat with boldly conceived asymmetrical cutouts and raw-edged details to produce this provocative “Bag with Holes.” Sleek and capacious, the bag is a natural for travel in durable Monogram canvas. The practical insert pouch keeps belongings secure.( Louis Vitton)
East Shopping Centre (ESC), Europe’s first major indoor Asian shopping mall, is opening in October 2014 in the heart of East London’s bustling shopping district, Green Street.
The vibrant new centre is being developed on the one-acre plus site of a former bus depot, which is a landmark in the area. It comprises 35 two-storey units, a 17-unit Souk – a smaller marketplace for retailers and local businesses – and a spacious 220-capacity, six unit Food Court, bringing a taste of the world’s flavours to Green Street. A spectacular glass roof spans the length of the centre, giving East Shopping Centre a light, airy and open ambience.
East has contributed to the regeneration of the area and the developers have taken specific measures to ensure that the centre retains its original façade and is as sustainable to the degree that it comply with the scheme’s stringent BREEAM requirements. Eco-friendly features include solar panels to save on electricity usage; flow restrictors to help save water; and harvesters to recycle water throughout the mall – as well as carefully sourced materials for the entire development– all of which not only help to protect the environment, but also reduce costs for the retailers.
East has contributed to the regeneration of the area and the developers have taken specific measures to ensure that the centre retains its original façade and is as sustainable
This multi-million pound project is spearheaded by ACR Investments Ltd who between its four partners have over a hundred years of combined experience within the property and construction industries.
The partners at ACR Investments Ltd said: “We couldn’t be more excited to be making history with East Shopping Centre, being the first development of it’s kind in Europe. The borough of Newham is a wonderful district with so much potential and Green Street is already a major hub for people to shop for clothes, food, accessories and everything in between. Our aim is for East Shopping Centre to enhance the street’s appeal and expand on this vibrant shopping destination by attracting new consumers and businesses.
East is building on the strong cultural heritage of Green Street and has had support from local retailers and Newham council. The shopping centre will also have a positive impact on the local community through commerce opportunities and it’s generation of approximately 150-200 jobs.
Leading Asian designer fashions, luxury jewellery and accessory brands are keen to be a part of this historic venture and although many of the units are already taken, some remain available. East will provide consumers one centralised destination to do their shopping and create a comfortable, convenient and enjoyable experience for consumers of any community.
Directed by Lasse Hallströmand produced by Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Juliet Blake, the film stars Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren as the icy proprietress of a Michelin starred classical French eatery in Southern France, veteran Indian film actor Om Puri (East is East, The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Manish Dayal (Law & Order, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Bollywood film Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna) and Canadian-French actress and television personality, Charlotte Le Bon. The screenplay is written by Steven Knight.
This highly-anticipated culinary delight that is THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY also stars a stellar cast of Indian and British Asian actors including Rohan Chand(Jack and Jill), Amit Shah (The Infidel), Farzana Dua Elahe (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Eastenders). Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla (Gulaab Gang) also features in a cameo role in the film.
A flavour brimming mix of food, passion and heart, THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is a story of persistence and triumph over exile. The film depicts a gastronomical fusion of cultures and cuisine and a boy’s compassionate drive to find himself in the comfort of a new home in a foreign country.
In the film, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is a culinary ingénue with the gastronomic equivalent of perfect pitch. When Hassan and his family, led by Papa (Om Puri), move to a quaint village in the South of France with the grand plan of opening an Indian restaurant in the picturesque countryside, they are undeterred by the fact that only 100 feet opposite stands a Michelin starred classical French eatery.
However upon encountering the icy proprietress, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the Kadam family realise they may have bitten off more than they can chew. Outraged by the new arrivals, Madame Mallory is determined to have their business shut down. As cultures clash and food flies, a heated battle escalates between the two establishments – until, that is, Hassan’s passion and talent for French cuisine begin to enchant Madame Mallory and even she can’t deny this young chef could have what it takes to garner even more acclaim for her beloved restaurant.
This, along with his new-found friendship with her beautiful sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), starts to weave a magic between the two cultures and, despite their different tastes, they discover an unlikely recipe for success that surprises them all.
Entertainment One UK will be releasing The Hundred-Foot Journey nationwide on Friday 5thSeptember 2014.
Job rejection is always hard to take but here we tell you how to cope with it and keep your head held high. Article by Antal International
A Facebook reject went on to sign a $19 billion deal with the company that once did not consider him worth employing… This story about WhatsApp founder Brian Acton is fast becoming the stuff of legend. However, equally interesting is what Acton posted online in the year 2009 once he was told he wasn’t getting the job – “Facebook turned me down. It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people. Looking forward to life’s next adventure.”
Hey, even Twitter didn’t think Acton had what it takes. “Got denied by Twitter HQ. That’s ok. Would have been a long commute,” is what he had posted on his, ahem, Twitter account after getting to know of the rejection.
As a recruiter, it’s these two sentences by Acton that have really caught my attention in the entire ‘WhatsApp sold to FB” saga. If only our candidates reacted so positively when informed that they were not considered a suitable fit in the companies we had helped them contact for job change. While the more positive ones shrug and move on with a “It’s their loss if they are not hiring a talent… I was doing well in my current company and another new company has recognised my talent,” more often than not I’m faced with reactions like “How is that possible? I had an hour long interview with the CEO? Was I being led along for the last 6 months only to be rejected now?” Oh yes, I have had one of these too. Worse, he insisted on speaking directly to the MD about his rejection, only to earn himself a black mark.
To be fair, rejections are sad news, especially in these lean times, what with the Indian economy in doldrums. But it is especially in times as these when candidates need to be more positive about rejections. For, when the economy is in a bad shape, companies tend to be very conservative in hiring and one may not get selected for minor points that work against him. For instance, the candidate I was talking about earlier was rejected because, according to the hiring heads at the major pharma company that rejected him, he did not display “energy”. Their exact words to me were, “The role we were interviewing him for requires one to display energy and aggression, which during our interaction with him we felt was lacking.” Now, they did not understand that the candidate having cleared up to 7 rounds for a role he really aspired for, was understandably nervous and maybe just slightly subdued. Does that make him a bad candidate? Not at all. The hiring heads can also be excused for misconstruing his nervousness as lack of energy and aggression.
However, it is very important for candidates to not take a rejection as the end of the world. For that may force them to take wrong decisions. And this also comes from experience. In fact, even as we speak I’m dealing with a candidate, who is aggressively looking for a job as his current firm is downsizing. Now, having been rejected in an interview, this particular candidate seems to be losing hope. If we are not careful he may end up accepting positions in minor firms which will give his entire career graph a negative turn.
Therefore, my advice to jobseekers in today’s times: a rejection does not mean you are a hopeless candidate, it just indicates that you may not be the right fit for a particular role or company. Similarly, HR heads agree that judging a candidate in even an hour’s worth interview is tough. So, when faced with a rejection slip, sit back and review. Always go back to your recruitment consultant to discuss what went wrong because HR heads are able to explain freely to consultants the reason for rejecting a candidate. Even this can be illustrated with an example.
My recruitment consultants were dealing with a candidate who had applied for the senior manager position at the multinational company. Unfortunately he was rejected in the final round and was understandably upset about it. My recruitment consultant, after having a detailed talk with the hiring manager discovered that the candidate was seen as lacking on the commercial aspect. It took a little convincing but in the end, the candidate took the entire episode on the chin as learning experience and went on to have better interactions after some training in these aspects.
So, take time out to iron out the wrinkles and go to the next interview with your head held high and a confident smile.
Antal International Lucknow
China Decision Makers Consultancy (CDMC) will be presenting China Retail Focus 2014 to be held in Shanghai, China on the 24-25 April 2014. The summit will discuss the right directions, strategic opportunities and potential challenges of China retail market in the transformation era, including Understanding the Dynamics and Opportunities of the Chinese Retail Market, Innovation in E-commerce and E-payment, IT Solution and Innovative Management and Omni-channel Retailing.
Despite China’s slowing economic growth, the retail industry in the world’s second-largest economy will maintain sustainable growth in the medium and long term. “Following the restructuring process of the economic growth model, the improvement of the consumption structure, the advancing urbanization, and especially the development of e-commerce, China’s retail industry in the remainder of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) will keep steady growth,” said Wang Desheng, deputy director of the department of circulation industry development at the Ministry of Commerce.
Meanwhile, the industry is undergoing a transformation and the government will make efforts to enhance its quality and efficiency and to optimize its structure. In 2013, as retailers confront challenges in China, many are scaling back plans for new stores and choosing sites more carefully. Not only global retailer both also local physical stores undergo hard times.
We will invite speakers from Ministry of Commerce, China Commerce Association for General Merchandise, China Chain Store & Franchise Association, National Retail Federation, Mahindra Retail, Carrefour China,Tesco China, Jingdong Mall, Taobao Mall, eBay, John Lewis, Beijing Wangfujing Department Store(Group) Co.,Ltd, Parkson China, Suning Ego, Five-Star Appliances Co.,Ltd, Adidas, Tiger Stores and American Eagle, etc.
Baroness Verma is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. She gives an account of her recent visit to India in which she visited five cities in six days meeting parliamentarians, state legislators, business people and students to discuss climate change, clean energy and women’s empowerment.
Throughout my visit I was struck by three things:
First, the importance of the relationship on energy and climate change. India’s population, currently 1.25 billion, could be 1.6 billion by 2040. The huge strides India is taking to reduce poverty mean that more Indians than ever before are enjoying a better quality of life and are able to afford air conditioning, televisions, computers, motorbikes and cars. This reduction in poverty is a wonderful thing which should be celebrated. But it also poses a challenge: how to provide the increased energy required by a growing and prospering India, without increasing the risks of the most severe impacts of climate change.
The energy choices India makes today will dictate how much impact India will have in reducing global carbon emissions and tackling widespread and dangerous climate change. So it is in our interests to engage with India as it makes these choices. It was good to see first-hand what this engagement means in practice, this includes helping legislators to understand what climate change will mean at a local level, deepening government to government relationships, establishing networks to support business to business collaboration, and working closely with Indian institutions to provide support to some of the poorest in society. A particular highlight was my visit to see the DFID funded TERI work on business models for the dissemination of clean cookstoves and solar lanterns. I was delighted to meet the women entrepreneurs who were providing the services and those who were benefitting from the programme to hear about the co-benefits of the more efficient and cleaner stoves to their health, income and even the cleanliness of their household.
Second, I was struck by the positive amount of activity already underway to combat climate change. The Government of India published its National Action Plan on Climate Change in 2008, which identified eight “national missions” to combat climate change. These include the national solar mission to install 20GW of grid connected solar power by 2022 and the national mission on enhanced energy efficiency, which by 2012 had resulted in an estimated 11GW of avoided power capacity. Additionally, many states have developed state action plans on climate change which mandate action at a state level around renewable energy, off-grid clean energy, smart grids and a host of other new technologies. Indian policy-makers, business people and researchers are taking real action on climate change – and the UK is working with them as they do so.
Closer collaboration between India and the UK could be extremely valuable. India is a huge and rapidly growing market. Even in the current economic environment its economy is still growing at over 5% a year, and in the medium term it should return to sustained stronger growth
Thirdly, in my interactions with Indian businesses, I was struck by their appetite for Indian-UK collaboration on developing clean energy systems and energy efficiency technologies. Closer collaboration between India and the UK could be extremely valuable. India is a huge and rapidly growing market. Even in the current economic environment its economy is still growing at over 5% a year, and in the medium term it should return to sustained stronger growth. Again and again when I spoke to Indian business people in different parts of the country they highlighted their interest in collaborating with UK companies. Building that collaboration not only makes sense from an economic point of view, creating jobs and growth in UK and India, it also makes sense from a climate change point of view, building cleaner and more sustainable businesses in the UK and India. The UK and India’s economies are a natural fit when it comes to clean energy and sustainable business. We should build on our already strong relationship for the benefit of all our peoples.
Like last year, organisers are keen to showcase a diverse range of talent. This is demonstrated perfectly by Raga Jam – a ‘Blues Concert’ with a difference. This session will feature musicians playing instruments not normally associated with the Blues, including some extraordinary tabla and sitar players. The festival programme features rich and varied music, film and dance to celebrate the heritage of one of London’s most culturally enriched boroughs.
The Festival will take place in and around the centre of Ealing from Wednesday 12 to Sunday 16 February 2014. This year’s Festival will be celebrating dance and also feature numerous artists from in and around Ealing.
Robert Hokum, the vocalist and guitarist for Blues San Frontiers, one of the bands performing in the Raga Jam said: “Ealing Music& Film
Festival provides people with an opportunity to experience art they may not normally be able access – it’s unique and not mainstream.
However, that does not mean it’s any less enjoyable. I am very excited to be part of the Raga Jam with my band and other fellow musicians. Mehboob Nadeem will be playing the sitar. He is a world class musician with numerous accolades to his name and this is an amazing opportunity to watch him play – so don’t miss it.”
As before, the Festival has been organised by an independent Charitable Trust of the same name, specially set up by a group of residents and Angie Bray MP, and it is being supported by more than 20 local organisations and businesses including Ealing Council and the University of West London.
Patrick Chapman, Chairman of the Trust, said of what is now becoming an annual event: “We have a fabulous tradition of music and film in Ealing; we should celebrate that fact. We are putting on a stunning programme this year around the theme of dance that involves world-class local and international talent, music – classical, blues, choral, fusion – dance, talking heads and of course film, and we are already helping young musicians in our Borough through our outreach programme.”
Peter John, Vice Chancellor at the University of West London, said: “I am delighted to support the Ealing Music& Film Valentine Festival and its aim to, quite rightly, remind us of our cultural heritage. It provides something for everyone. And we can sit back and savour the borough’s fine contribution to the arts while, in the process, also showcasing some of Ealing’s venues and talent.”
For more information and the full programme, visit www.ealingmusicandfilmfestival.org/
Activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal gave the ruling elite in India sleepless nights over corruption scandals in 2012 and shook the Indian middle class out of their infamous apathy. His newly launched political party—Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is calling for a total change.
The overall mood of his party is populist—whipping up anger against big establishments, an unprecedented belief in people and a stronger democracy much like the theory propagated by Indian independence leader Jayprakash Narayan who called for total revolution; a revolution that doesn’t merely change the government but the society and the individual. Cynics might mock Kejriwal’s utopian concept but as the drama unfolds; we’re sure it is an experiment worth watching. AGI quizzes Kejriwal about his movement and vision.
You’ve been a social activist most of your life. What triggered you to plunge into full-time politics? How’s the change been?
K: I joined the Indian Revenue Service as an income tax commissioner in 1995. Then in 2000, along with some friends, I started the NGO Parivartan. We wanted to help people to navigate issues related to income tax, electricity and food supply. Then from 2001 to 2005, I was involved in passing the Right to Information Act. By that time; I was only too aware of corruption in our society. 2011 saw the mass protests for Jan Lokpal Bill and stronger anti-corruption laws. We pleaded with them; while we were promised a lot nothing happened; the entire political system is corrupt. Whether it is BJP or Congress they are all hand-in-glove with each other. We were forced in politics. None of the present political party will pass a stronger anti-corruption bill because it will come to bite them only. Political cleansing is the crux of any social change so I thought it is necessary to be an active participant. The journey has been challenging but somewhere down the line it is positive to know that people wants a change now.
India has a multi-party system with over six recognized national parties and many state parties. How is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) different from any of these?
K: Firstly, we don’t have a central high command. Our party structure will follow a bottom to top approach where council members elect the executive body and also have the power to recall it. We will definitely not entertain criminals. We also will have a good representation of women, students, Dalits and other minor segments at all party levels. We will not indulge in dynasty politics, members of the same family will not get a ticket and we will keep all our financial dealings transparent. Our expenditure and income will be put up on the website. While we are a political party now our spirit is still that of a movement.
What is AAP’s strategy for the 2014 elections? How many constituencies will AAP represent?
K: We will be representing all the constituencies (there 543 Parliamentary constituencies in India). Our strategy will change on daily basis. We are travelling the various pockets of the country to identify the major issues. Our manifesto’s main aim is to pass the Jan-Lokpal bill. Decentralisation of power is another point where people are strongly involved in daily governance. We are following the model of countries like the US, Brazil and Switzerland. Free education and health is an area to look into. It has become increasingly difficult even for urban middle class to go to private schools and hospitals; so these are imperative things the government should provide. Land-acquisition and farmer’s issue is also major concerns. Like highlighted in the Robert Vadra case; he was grabbing land not meant for him. Farmers are not getting the adequate cost. We are at the moment putting all our energy to reach out to the people. Our manifesto is dynamic; we will keep on adding things as we move.
So are people ready? Indians are known for being politically indifferent.
K: That’s because people did not have any choice. They had given up because they saw no hope in the present system. Today, they have an alternative and I am hopeful they will come and vote.
AAP runs purely on donations but “cash for vote” is a notorious reality in Indian politics- especially to catch out poor, uneducated and uninformed voters. How will you tackle this issue?
K: I understand it’s a major challenge. Buying and selling votes is an age-old concept. The party along with various NGOs are sensitising all kinds of voters. One must also see why the voters were doing this? Till now they knew that after the election is over; none of the elected representatives will be actually keeping any of the promises so they thought why not take full advantage of the situation. But now they have an alternative and we are sure they will choose us.
Apart from corruption, according to AAP what is the other burning issues facing India? What is AAP’s stand on FDI, for instance?
K: While FDI is welcome in some sectors in others it wouldn’t be favourable. For instance, if FDI is bringing new technology, better practices it is welcome. But thinking that investment is coming is wrong perception. There are instances which show that if they are bringing the money in, they are taking out more three years later. So, it’s not an inflow but an outflow of capital. As far as the retail section is concerned; the promises made are the company will remove all the middle men. They will give better deals to both the farmers and the consumers. The middlemen are traders; they might be inefficient but they are traders. If a company comes into picture only they will get all the profits in effect these traders will be unemployed. The assumption that the company will make it easier for both the farmers and consumers is wrong as they are in a monopolistic situation. It is a universal phenomenon. These companies are not coming here for charity. They are here for profits. Another promise is to make cold storages why do we need a Walmart to make cold storages why cannot we do it? The government has enough funds. So these questions need to be answered first.
You’ve recently been seen campaigning for women’s safety. Keeping in mind all the recent events, what’s your stand when it comes to gender sensitisation?
K: Gender sensitisation and strong laws go together. The laws should be undoubtedly strengthened in this respect. We need fast-track courts where the guilty are punished within two months. We also need to teach our police and judiciary to treat the victims with sensitivity. Molestation shouldn’t be treated as a minor issue. It should be treated as a grave matter.
The roots of your movement lie in socialism, but the foundation of middle class aspiration in India is capitalism. There is genuine concern that the corruption that has taken root in India is unfixable. Do you think this perception will hamper your campaign?
K: We are neither socialist, capitalist, leftist nor Right wing. We’re fed up and we want a solution. It is not people don’t want to be honest. They don’t have a choice and they end up with bribing but we are hopeful that if the system is more organized and transparent things will change. They are as disgruntled as us and I am sure they need a change.
The annual international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition features a range of exciting works from an ornate necklace and video art to contemporary calligraphy this year.
Shortlisting entries for the first time from Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and India, the prize was set up by the V&A and Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives in 2009 following the inauguration of the exceptional Jameel Islamic galleries at the V&A in 2006, the small but powerful exhibition features this year’s award winners of £25,000 – alongside the other eight shortlisted finalists – selected by this year’s judging panel which includes British designer and architect Thomas Heatherwick and 2011 Prize winner Rashid Koraïchi.
The four calligraphy entries all feature intriguing, unique and detailed concepts of adaptation and development of one of the most influential scripts of the world; Saudi Arabian artist Nasser Al Salem finds that focussing on certain aspects of Arabic calligraphy, he is able to magnify and create abstract shapes of certain words or letters. His repetition of the word ‘all’ has been precisely distilled into striking and elegant vortex.
The four calligraphy entries all feature intriguing, unique and detailed concepts of adaptation and development of one of the most influential scripts of the world;
Arabic script is certainly shown to be very adaptable in this exhibition – Typographer Pascal Zograbi successfully blends the contemporary pursuit of the ‘new’ by reshaping and paying homage to the rich heritage and multiple styles of Arabic calligraphy in creating new fonts for digital and design platforms.
Influenced by Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times, Moroccan artist Mounir Fatmi constructs digital calligraphy circles as cogs of a much larger machine gathering pace to represent the modernity of the Arab world in his video artwork Modern Times: A History of the Machine.
Lebanese furniture designer Nada Debs combines specially commissioned Arabic font with the minimalism of the country she was born in – Japan – to create a hybrid tatami/prayer mat of concrete which features a poem written in a blend of Japanese Kanji and Arabic Kufic scripts.
Another inherited and much vaunted practice aside from calligraphy are carpets, jewellery and embroidery which feature as the remaining entries; Azeri artist Faig Ahmed – who lives and works in Baku – has had his double artworks created according to Azerbaijan’s ancient weaving traditions but has subverted the centre of the carpet to include abstract designs which meld ancient and contemporary.
Inspired by the tribal jewellery of women in the Western Sahara and the work of refugee crafts charity Sandblast, French designer Florie Salnot seeks to raise awareness of their craft made from limited resources by taking up the task herself – rendering sand and plastic bottles into a marvellous necklace of Plastic Gold.
Istanbul’s incredible architecture serves as the direct inspiration for Turkish fashion designers Dice Kayek work Istanbul Contrast, which features a trio of intricately beaded dresses. Indian textile designer Rahul Jain also alludes to the past through his textiles in recreating sumptuous silks inspired by the era of the Mughal emperors, which depict snow leopards and birds of paradise.
Pakistani artist Waqas Khan’s meditative geometric drawings amplify and distil the traditional mark-makings of miniature painting into a large and abstract work of simple beauty. Finally, Laurent Mareschal, a French artist, has created a witty and literally fragrant work by stencilling Islamic geometric tile patterns onto the gallery floor by using different Middle Eastern spices – alluding to the ephemeral and the senses in his unique subversion of permanence.
The 3rd Jameel Prize has certainly excelled itself this year in that it continues to feature an exciting and internationally diverse range of contemporary practices enlivened and inspired by Islamic culture, craftsmanship and arts, as well as going beyond artifice in engaging with various communities and craftsmen in the artistic process.
UNTIL APRIL 2014
Dice Kayek has won the £25,000 Jameel Prize 3 forIstanbul Contrast, a collection of garments that evoke Istanbul’s architectural and artistic heritage. The judges felt that Dice Kayek’s work demonstrates how vibrant and creative Islamic traditions continue to be today. Their translation of architectural ideas into fashion shows how Islamic traditions can still transfer from one art form to another, as they did in the past. Ece and Ayşe Ege were presented with the prize by Martin Roth, Director of the V&A and Fady Jameel, President of Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI) at an awards ceremony at the V&A on Tuesday 10 December
by Ranbir Jhutty
Jagriti Yatra, or the ‘Journey of Awareness’, is equipping young entrepreneurs in India with skills for success in social business, says Charukesi Ramadurai
When Delhi-born Ashmeet Kapoor, 28, returned to India after seven years in the US, he knew that he wanted to start a social venture based around energy or agriculture. However, this electrical engineer, with a master’s degree in entrepreneurship from Brown University, an Ivy League institution, was also aware of his own ignorance about rural India, having only experienced it from a distance.
To remedy this he went on a 15-day, 8,000km train journey across India – the Jagriti Yatra, meaning ‘Journey of Awareness’. For the past five years, this project has been taking 400-450 young people, chosen from thousands of applicants, to 12 destinations in India. On the journey, these yatris (translated as ‘travellers’) meet successful social entrepreneurs, in order to learn techniques which they can apply to their own business ideas. The role models come from a variety of backgrounds: Anshu Gupta of Goonj in New Delhi, for instance, works with clothing for the underprivileged, while Dr. S. Aravind of Aravind Eye Care in Coimbatore provides quick turn-around, low-cost eye surgeries. All mentors must have been running a commercially viable social enterprises for a minimum of 10 years to be selected for the scheme.
The Jagriti Yatra team argues that social enterprise is the key to long-term sustainable development in India. This is borne out by a recent report by WWF, ‘Green Game-changers’, which claims that small business and social enterprises in India and other parts of Asia are tackling local and international challenges in a variety of innovative ways, sending “ripples across the globe”. In particular, many entrepreneurs are embracing a concept known as, “Jugaad”, – the creation of innovative solutions to problems using fewer resources [see ‘Frugal plenty’ in the Green Futures special edition India: innovation nation].
However, no matter how frugal they are, in the absence of mentorship and guidance many small businesses struggle to get off the ground. Byzantine bureaucracy, corruption and infrastructural challenges can all take their toll on fledgling operations. In fact, India ranks among the world’s worst countries in terms of encouraging entrepreneurs: 166th out of 183 countries, according to World Bank figures from 2011. A poll conducted by Gallup in 2012 seems to bear this out: nearly half of the 5,000 Indian adults surveyed said that the Government was a significant stumbling block to starting a business, while only 37% of current business owners and 28% of those seeking to start a business said that they knew someone who can offer advice about business management.
This is where a project like Jagriti Yatra can make a difference. It helps young entrepreneurs to identify market needs and make business plans, and offers insights into the challenges of starting a social enterprise and the skills needed to keep it economically sound. This process often continues long after the train journey has been completed. In Kapoor’s case, Jagriti Yatra set him up to spend six months at Deoria, a village in Uttar Pradesh, where he leased land and interacted with farmers to understand their lives and their problems.
This led to the creation of Jagriti Agro Tech (note the homage in the name), which supplies organic fruit and vegetables online under the brand I Say Organic; the produce is sourced from farmers in five surrounding states, connecting them directly to markets. Kapoor received Rs.10 million (roughly £98,100) from his family to start the business, which now employees 20 people. The absence of middle-men has allowed him to pay farmers 25% more than market rates for their produce, and he is now in conversation with external investors, promising a five-fold growth of the business.
Extended placements like the one Kapoor benefited from are just one of the ways Jagriti Yatra provides follow up support. During last year’s journey, participants were asked to form teams and present business ideas; 15 of these teams were then selected and called for a follow-up meeting session called Biz Gyan Tree (meaning the ‘Tree of Business Knowledge’) in February. Here, mentors helped the teams to refine their business ideas, trained them in formal business plan writing and provided leads for financial investment.
Ben Kellard, Head of Sustainable Business at Forum for the Future, says social enterprises need a wide range of skills and knowledge in order to be successful, from the kind of business planning advice that Biz Gyan Tree offers, to guidance in understanding consumer needs. “They also need to learn rapidly in order to refine their offer and business model to ensure it meets the need and makes money”, he adds. “The Jagriti Yatra project is a great example of how to help social entrepreneurs gain these skills and apply them, setting them up for success.”
In the last five years, over 225 yatris have started their own social enterprise, and roughly half of them are already established in small towns and villages. “By taking a national perspective, the ‘travellers’ will get insights into how they could grow their enterprises beyond their state borders”, says Kellard.
Rema Subramanian, partner with Ankur Capital, an angel fund that invests in social enterprises, including Daily Dump [also featured in India: innovation nation] is also enthusiastic about the scheme: “Most of us lead cocooned lives with our version of problems and solutions. A journey like this opens up our minds to the realities out there.” She isn’t worried about a lack of formal business training among the aspiring social entrepreneurs, given that most do not come from business backgrounds. “A sleek PowerPoint presentation or Excel spreadsheets with fancy business plans have very limited value if the entrepreneur has not actually got their hands dirty”, she adds.
Aditi Prakash certainly takes a hands-on approach to her business: she makes designer handbags from traditional Indian textiles that have been largely forgotten by modern generations. As Prakash began experimenting with her bags, a friend participating in a trade fair in New Delhi suggested sharing a stall. With the help of a local tailor she managed to make 100 bags, which sold exceedingly well. Prakash now works with three skilled tailors and provides livelihood to dozens of women from the village. Over 400 Pure Ghee handbags, each of them entirely handmade, are sold across the country every month.
Prakash’s most recent collection of bags, called Allika (‘weaving’ in the local language), was made by weavers in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The bags are made solely from organic cotton and organic dyes like indigo, and are one of Prakash’s bestselling ranges. Another collection called Mashru – meaning ‘permitted’ in Arabic – uses a fabric popular among the Muslim community of Gujarat. Since the religion forbids them from letting their skin touch anything made from animals, the fabric is glossy silk on the outside and cotton on the inside.
Prakash, a graduate from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, is also passionate about recycling and makes it work for her commercially. “In the name of recycling, people make and sell things which look dull and are poorly finished”, she says. “When I cut the cloth for my bags, my women sort through the bigger pieces and create a colourful patchwork out of it.” These limited edition bags – the Tutti Frutti collection – have also proved popular with her customers. “However,” she adds, “I would never cut out cloth just to make a patchwork bag.”
In Bangalore, the Information Technology capital of India, Kuldeep Dantewadia’s organisation, Reap Benefit, works with school and college children to “make green a habit” from a young age. The aim is to encourage students to make an impact on their immediate environment by reducing and managing waste, while using natural resources responsibly. They also help educational institutions – and increasingly corporates who are taking their sustainability aims seriously – to go green. Dantewadia candidly admits that the young people Reap Benefit works with were initially cynical about their approach because “we were talking about concepts like global warming that they could not relate to at a personal level”. However, the enterprise is clearly doing something right: they have now worked with over 60 schools as well as numerous corporate clients.
Reap Benefit also designs waste/water management, carbon footprint management and energy optimisation solutions, and helps organisations with auditing. It acts as a consultancy for educational institutions too, training staff in waste, water and energy management techniques. Dantewadia claims his business has evolved in an organic not a planned-manner. Profits from work with corporates and private schools, and sales of environmental products like composting enzymes, are ploughed back into the business, making for a circular business model – an approach that Prakash has also adopted.
According to these entrepreneurs, exposure to a business ethos was one of Jagriti Yatra’s biggest contributions to their success. Prakash says, “When I went on the yatra, I was selling bags but not really running a business. But we would come back every night and we would have to analyse the business plans of the enterprise we visited. That gave me an understanding of how successful entrepreneurs were doing it.”
The journey also gave them an insight into some of the most pressing needs in rural areas of India. “It opened my eyes to the fact that providing a livelihood was more the need of the hour than bringing in services to rural areas,” says Kapoor, “which is why I thought of I Say Organic.” While Dantewadia claims he “came across so many new conversations and perspectives about my country, which I kept thinking over, long after I got off the train. I realised that there was no one right approach to development work.”
There is considerable potential for social enterprises in India to foster change, but the problem has always been for such projects to sustain themselves commercially. This is compounded by a cultural hesitation to discuss money matters. However, by unapologetically focusing on this aspect, Jagriti Yatra has provided a platform for participants to see how a social project can work successfully as a business. As Prakash says, “In my business, I always wanted to balance the social and commercial sides because I never saw myself purely as a do-gooder. For the first time, I got a sense of how this is possible.”
Charukesi Ramadurai is a freelance writer and journalist from India.
- See more at: http://forumforthefuture.org/greenfutures/articles/indias-train-odyssey-entrepreneurs#sthash.1HKrdYFk.dpuf
This article originally appeared in the Green Futures January 2014 Edition.Green Futures is the leading magazine on environmental solutions and sustainable futures, published by global non-profit Forum for the Future. To find out more about Forum for the Future’s work in India, please visit: www.forumforthefuture.org/