A passage to India

A passage to India

October 31, 2013

I recently returned from a trip to India, the tail end of which was spent in a 3 day summit in the lovely setting of Samode Bagh and Palace outside Jaipur, in the company of a hundred or so remarkable individuals who are passionate about making a difference.  The Pow Wow summit which was organized by Leaders’ Quest (a social enterprise committed to improving the quality and impact of leaders and their organizations,https://www.leadersquest.org/) was designed as an experiential learning program, an environment in which theseinteresting people from all over the world and from varying backgrounds could ask hard questions about making a difference, explore answers together and influence each another.  It was a privilege to attend and I found the experience phenomenal and impactful.


I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to our inaugural Indiaspora meeting in Mohonk and it served as a powerful reminder that as a group we also have the extraordinary opportunity to collectively make an impact.


Part of the Quest also involved visits to a few different organizations in Jaipur.  The first was to Akshaya Patra in Jaipur, which completely upended my view of the Hare Krishna community.  As most of you are probably aware, Akshaya Patra (https://www.akshayapatra.org/ ) was founded in Bangalore by the Hare Krishna ISKON Temple. Its custom built industrial kitchens deliver nutritious hot lunches to over 1.3 million school children every day all over India.  We met with RG Dasa, who heads up its operations in Jaipur and he gave us a tour of the kitchens and we got to sample the chapatis, dal and vegetables that were being served later that day at schools around Jaipur.  The management structure of the operation in Jaipur is run by Mr. Dasa with a group of other devotees who oversee a set of paid employees at the kitchens.  What was striking was the simplicity of the model, the discipline with which the Hare Krishna volunteers had dedicated their lives to improving and expanding Akshaya Patra and the impact of their efforts (measured in a a number of key ways including improved school attendance, health etc.).


We also visited Jaipur Foot (https://jaipurfoot.org/) an NGO focused on providing prosthetics and other assistance, totally free to the disabled.  The organization is run by Mr. D.R. Mehta, who, inspired by the near-loss of his leg in an accident, pioneered the idea that every Indian who loses a limb should be able to get a low cost, high-functioning replacement. Jaipur Foot has made over 1.6 million prosthetic limbs and has expanded beyond India.  What Mr. Mehta embodied was my ideal of mindful consciousness, integrating one’s emotional, ethical and spiritual selves, in a way that can drive impact.  Here was a connected individual who was obviously so delighted at where he was in life, with the mission and impact of the organization, surrounded by friends (who were also part of the management team at Jaipur Foot) and holding forth on Jaipur Foot with such supreme confidence and mastery, all with a twinkle in his eye and a broad smile.


As a business person, I came away humbled with the focus on customer centricity – allow me to explain.  Jaipur Foot focuses on the indigent (a quick sample of the 30 or so people in the waiting room confirmed that the most anyone had was around 20 Rupees or so) as their customers, yet they have an unusual high quality approach to customer satisfaction and on preserving the dignity and self-respect of their patients.  For example, they have a sophisticated, advanced gait lab, that is designed to analyze and improve the fit of a given prosthetic, a world-class service offering even though it is aimed at the destitute.  Leaving Jaipur Foot and observing its transformational effects, on watching people who had crawled or hobbled there from all over the subcontinent leave with dignity and a new lease on life, I was again drawn to the notion of simplicity, discipline and impact.


The opening speech at the Pow Wow (https://www.leadersquest.org/blog/lindsay-levins-opening-speech-at-the-leaders-quest-pow-wow-2013/ ) by Lindsay Levin, the founder and managing partner of Leaders’ Quest, laid out the notion of active hope, hope that requires the courage to ask tough question, the courage to listen even when it is difficult to do so, and the courage to act.


I think that is a terrific metaphor for the impact we want to have as Indiaspora.