Need of the hour: Social Innovation

 

I came across this on Sir Richard Branson’s blog: “I’ve always felt that social impact and profitability are two sides of the same coin. The most successful businesses are prosperous because they offer products and services that make tangible, positive differences in people’s lives (without destroying the planet or causing more harm to others, of course),” Richard says. “Viewed through this lens, social impact is a powerful selling proposition.”

Building Aqaya as a social enterprise has taught me lessons that I’d like to share.

  • Most people will discount all your hard-work just because your aim is social impact, but your idea can appeal to the rare audience- a small, select group that is fueled by the same ambition as you, to create prosperity and empowerment for others. Find them, early on, if you really want to pursue the idea long-term.
  • The needs of the communities, especially in the rural areas, are vast. I went in thinking I would train artisans to make beautiful garments, help them earn higher and thus improve the quality of their lives. But no, as I spent more time, I realized much broader needs such as lack of electricity and resources to allow them to spend their time at trainings. Thus, Aqaya’s model has been evolving, we are testing prototypes for NFC technology, renewable energy and organizing programs for awareness on health issues and organic farming. Given Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the basics of life missing from their lives, would not allow them to indeed be happier- thus Aqaya Source Foundation needed to elevate to a level of becoming a holistic provider for its communities.
  • As I increased my buyers’ list and got more artisans on-board, the model’s need for technological disruption dramatically shot up. Training their family members in computers was the first step, but I needed to do more than that. The question that has been on my mind for more than a year: How do I bridge the gap and make knowledge and opportunity accessible on a massive scale? Hence, the need to find exponential solutions- we’ve decided to take the NFC route to empower communities with resources once they get connected and online. As the prediction goes, there will be an additional 3-5 Billion people online by 2020, and through ASF we’re working on finding ways to cater to them.
  • Our training programs need to be made into educational content for our artisans. With advancements such as smartphones for INR 251 and RJio, it presents immense opportunity to bring awareness about possibilities to them. Earlier, I could show them YouTube videos, now I can bring the world to them. This is amazing. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. As I stay on my path to social innovation, several other factors are making it easier for me to find solutions. That’s what social entrepreneurs need to make use of: their macro-environment. Stay up to date, use new information and rapid iteration. Try, test, if it fails- move on, try something new. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to bring digitization to the communities. Possibly with NFC chips that could connect consumers to artisans or through selling platforms that promote artisans, or through educational content that bridges that gap- I’m testing, trying and experimenting.
  •  Influencing the whole value chain, instead of focusing on one entity. To sensitize the market and the average consumer, the respect for artisan crafts is needed. I could not have kept on producing without the consumers willing to buy from me. Making artisans and their crafts relatable to the consumers was more important than manufacturing the designs. Lionizing and championing artisans who do the work has helped, describing the plight of the producers certainly helped- but it’s an ongoing process.
  • I’m reading Krishnamurthi’s work which talks about how self-concern is what motivates every single one of us. Pursuing a social enterprise idea might be satisfying and rewarding to you, but ultimately it is self-concern, that drives all of us. Be honest about your motivations- yes you can make your idea very profitable, but social entrepreneurship moves rather slow compared to other tech-starups. You won’t raise millions in funding right away, for investors are mostly impact-averse. If the motivation isn’t real, you will give up for the road is longer, harder, rougher- so if your idea really doesn’t reward you or bring you internal satisfaction, move on to something that does. Don’t half-heart anything, give it your best while you’re at it.
  • If you’re still willing to go ahead, congratulations- it will be a hell of a ride. Keep striving.

“You have an advantage over many of your competitors: the excitement and goodwill of customers who will support your ideas.”

In my daily meditations, I channelize some version of this: “I function from a place of service and surrender. I trust the timing of life and seek to be a source of love, abundance and service.” 🙂

 

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2015 to 2016

I promised myself last year to write an annual reflection post at the end of the year and on my birthday, so here it is- my year in review.

My religion is spirituality. I was never religious, always thought of myself as spiritual. This year, I’ve been fortunate to read Swami Vivekananda’s books, and boy have they transformed how I think! I’ve gained clarity on my WHYs and have come to discover practices that have sworn me to sanity (or insanity, as it may seem to many). I meditate daily, without fail, and believe in cosmic intelligence and the Infinite One. I have been able to develop strong reasons to not support or believe in a particular religion, for I’ve studied material that talks about evolving the human body as it is, and reaching a higher state of being. I’m not against anyone or any religion, I’m just stating my personal views: that all religions lead to the same truth, and one God. Ignorance is not healthy, holding a particular worldview without knowing why is lack of self-awareness, and religion is meant to help you get past the layers and lift the veil to ultimate self-realisation.

God, family, business- in that order. I watched this movie in which a footballer always talks about three things that he holds sacred: God, family, football- and that made me think about my three core reasons. For me too it is God and Family, and then there’s business, for one and one reason only, to impact lives. Bhagavad Gita made me realise that because of the position/family/circumstances you’re born into, you have certain duties that you need to fulfil to elevate your being to the next level. As someone born into financial security, I feel my duty is to create value and prosperity for others- and my background is most suited for business because that’s what I’ve been raised around and all I’ve ever wanted to do.  While many people view business is selfish, I am greatly opposed to that for the core essence of a business should lie in helping others, and that is where I get my passion for social enterprises. I often meditate on ‘love and abundance’ for the words fill me with a sense of purpose.

Finding love. This is the decade when all my friends will be married, most of them already started with it this year. To all my friends looking for love, I only have one advice: Your life needs to already possess and be abundant with the love that you are seeking. It won’t be new love when you find it, but a reflection of the love in your heart that you will share with a partner. Stop feeling like you always need a significant other to validate your presence, you need to learn to enjoy being single too, and that way you’ll be able to attract and build a healthy relationship. Needy and lonely are states we impose on ourselves, because of how we perceive our external surroundings. Value and cherish your life as it is, believe in grand possibilities but love every single bit of the present, and that’s when you will attract a partner that deserves you: when you are at your highest state of self-esteem and self-love.

Nothing in life is an accident, but everything is a miracle. I can’t exactly explain how deeply meditation has changed me but I can confirm this: I often dream, wake up to, or realise certain truths that I feel come directly from my heart. You have to learn how to acknowledge opposites- there’s good and evil, pessimism and optimism, evolution and involution, and that’s just how the cycle works. There can never be one without the other, where there is life, there is bound to be death. There are only two ways to live life: you believe that nothing is sacred OR everything is. Everything that happened this year has turned me into a believer of the law of cause and effect. Good attracts good, just focus on good, and you will learn how to escape evil and return to good, every time. There will always be negativity around, but you have to find a place within you, the place that’ll keep you safe, where you can re-introduce yourself to the good. I don’t mean to come across as a preachy-hippy, but I can tell you this: I’ve seen how my thoughts affect the quality of my day.

Work incessantly, work to live life to the hilt. While a lot of this post is turning out to be about trusting the timing of your life, and believing in the higher power- it doesn’t mean that I’m asking you to take a backseat until its all done. Yes there are things beyond your control, but you have to find your own meaning through your efforts, and you must put in the work without caring about the consequences. Discipline is freedom, when you find the work that fulfils you or even as you are trying to find it , you can design a life of discipline to achieve freedom. I aspire to live a life of discipline, in fact I felt my top form as I was training for Ironman, cause it filled me with a sense of satisfaction and contentment because I was working hard on something. I was able to compartmentalise my time and efforts with everything, and my whole life gained a new idea of balance. The first try didn’t work out- I got a ligament tear, but that didn’t make my journey any less beautiful, for I wasn’t training to reach the finish line (in my head, I already had crossed it multiple times) but for the virtue of discipline.

As this year ends, I promise to spend more time with my two loves: travel and music. Next year, I want to explore more places, meet new people and produce some music. I don’t have any idea how to, I don’t even know if I’m good but it’s something that I’ve always secretly wanted to do- just to live life one notch up. While I haven’t planned the details how the HOWs for those two yet, definitely on the menu are: publishing my first book, completing the Ironman, finding a way to harvest kinetic energy and giving a TED talk.

Happy New Year! Welcome 2016, we’re gon have a blast!

 

Wisdom = Knowledge + Integration

As an entrepreneur and someone who wants to experience a lot of life, I’ve come to a conclusion that’ll help me stay sane in all of the noise.

You see, when you’re always venturing out into the unknown, trying to meet new people, finding out latest advancements and trying to always be on the lookout for new experiences or what the future’s going to look like, you start missing out on the present moment. ‘Mindfulness’ as they’d call it, and I’d read tons about it, hit me in the face this weekend when I found myself unable to focus at all. You might have experienced the urge to pick up your phone every 15 minutes, getting distracted in the middle of writing an email and completely missing out on an hour sometimes just because of trying to learn ‘new’ things. 

I don’t say present moment, like a guru, but as someone futuristic always trying to look ahead. Where do we draw the line between ‘thinking ahead’ and ‘living the now‘? Why are we constantly losing out on our lives and on what’s really happening? When did it become more important to ‘look like you’re having a great time’ than actually and truly enjoying yourself? It’s a shame that sometimes we forget to realize, sit back and adopt lessons from our learning, as we’re unconsciously devolving to the level of a gold fish.

The ‘missing key’ to everything we learn and actually experiencing or implementing it in our lives, is the fact that we do not integrate. We’re always learning new things, consuming more knowledge, and midst all this new information and facts we forget the fact that the only useful information is the one we choose to integrate into our daily routines.

It is pointless if you know something and don’t use it. I’ve got a hundred books on the book stand next to my bed, and I’ve read most of them however, the shame is that I don’t necessarily remember the essence of the books, or what I liked the most about them- cause I just focused on getting through the pages, not digesting what I read. As we go through life, I think it’s more important to keep coming back to the things that matter, the principles and the fundamentals. What do you actually believe in? What did you really learn from an experience, from your day or your interaction with someone new?

I’ve learnt the fact that we constantly need to evolve through integration and implementation, and I hope to changes things from here on. I will take time to integrate my new learnings. Less is more, when you use the less to your advantage through action. Whatever you might learn, be it in the day or during your week, take some time to see how you can fit it into your life. What differentiates knowledge and wisdom for me, is integration, and I’m going to be mindful of this from here on. 

How to beat competition every time.

Your ambition has to be greater than the sum of all your fears, inhibitions and doubts put together. You won’t always believe in yourself, but make sure that those moments are far outnumbered by the ones that you feel invincible, almost unstoppable- even when it feels unreal, especially when it feels unreal. Winner’s minds go further than most people’s realms of imagination.

My loyalty is to excellence.

I’m committed to becoming the best that I can be. My vision is of reaching my higher potential, forever evolving for the better. As I meet people I judge them on the basis of their ambition- not their bank balance, and definitely not their appearance. If you’re hungry to go after what you want, if you’re committed to your vision, and if you’re striving – I’m going to hold your hand, and support you till the very end.
I really believe in energy. Everybody we see or meet is bouncing off energies from the walls- what we gotta do is try and catch how they make us feel about ourselves. There are certain people who will leave you feeling drained and tired- the smartest thing is to stay clear of them, for their energy doesn’t resonate with yours. For people who leave you feeling happy, feeling like you’ve got to become a better person- spend as much time as you can with them. But know the difference between people who are trying to compete with you and the ones who wish to see you do well.
As much it’s important to have meaningful relationships, the most meaningful relationship that you’ll ever have, is with your own self. You gotta protect your vision, safeguard yourself from toxicity and negativity that some people will try and add to your life. The whole goal should be to be loyal to your inner being and not get distracted by what happens externally. For one thing will always remain true- nobody expect your own self is going to want the better, the best for you. You’re on your own journey and while people may love you unconditionally, you gotta respect your own self enough to be loyal, committed and focused.
What inspired me to write this post is the feeling that it is easy to get distracted by what people around us, especially our competitors are doing. If you keep looking in the rear-view mirror, you lose out on the opportunity to get further. Keep creating the best content that you can, do the best you can, so that you can feel content because of your efforts, and are constantly fueled by your own motivation rather than somebody else’s performance. Let the others play catch-up, while you show them what potential and capability can do. You have a reality that is your own, and have a life that you can tribute to through your wholesome contribution, keep striving and be loyal to your personal excellence!

What’s your poison for extraordinary success?

I read somewhere that extraordinary success is sequential and not simultaneous and that the key is over time. It’s one thing at a time, over time, one small success after the other.

I think the statement touched a sentimental nerve within me. I was always one of the students who were self-proclaimed smart workers. I never slogged through the year for exams, yet managed to ace them after a hellish overnight right before. I tried way too many things as a child be it Indian classical music, to traditional dance forms, to painting and basically an endless list of ‘hobby’ classes that I would always show up at, thanks to my beautiful mother. In short, I was never one who tried to master one particular skill. At School, I played a lot of basketball, right from grade 3 till the time I graduated, but that wasn’t the only sport I played, I was doing a bit of everything- I was trying to excel as a ‘sportsperson’. Of course, I think somewhere within me was that hunger to become excessively good at whatever I did- hence, the love for winning. I won several competitions and matches, held leadership roles, in short, had a pretty good addiction to trying new things and getting ridiculously good at them.

Then I launched my business, and was told, “It takes patience to build brands, you have to stick around and focus on traction for years before you start getting somewhere.” I agree. So, what did I do? I started looking for other start-ups to work with, to basically hedge my risks and feel like a winner again. In the last year and a couple of months, I’ve become a liscensed Zumba instructor, tried 2 months of Kung-Fu, ran several half-marathons (basically now I run 20K at least once a week in addition to my three 10Ks and one 15K), write religiously, obsessively read 3 books a week, swim, do yoga, meditate, work towards social causes and have even passionately been educating a group of young children. Ah, take a breath. No, I don’t think that’s a lot to be honest, but yes I obsess about becoming good at missions I undertake, and then find new ones because I’m exposed to new stuff, all the time!

Take a break, read the quote that I started with, once again, please.

Thinking out loud now, what is the ONE thing that I’m good at? What have I been doing over time? Have I been all over the place, well, seems quite like it. But after pondering on this for a while, I have come to believe that life is too short to CHOOSE not to experiment with different things. If I were so lucky to have figured out already what I’m most passionate about, how would I know all that I know? How would I be able to expose and place myself in diverse atmospheres of growth? If anything, I think I’m good at pursuing excellence. Period.

Contrary to the common opinion, which asks us to find one thing and follow it to the hilt, I feel our younger years are the years to seek exposure. We MUST experiment, we must get to experience for ourselves various fields, so that we can proactively choose how to spend our later years. I’ve had heated arguments with people about this, but I’m just going to put it out there: Don’t expect to find your passion sitting on one golden egg all your life. The more you do something, the better you get at it, over time. However, that does not mean that you won’t fall in love with something else, just as much or even more. Life’s short to restrict yourself in the boundaries; we tend to create for ourselves. If you never try, you’ll never know what exists beyond your walls.

To end with, if you’re choosing your poison, choose to be infected with life- there’s insurmountable beauty that it has to offer. Don’t stop striving or being excited about life, in general. Also, if you’re prodigally born with it, of course you’ll beg to differ- but if you aren’t already a world-class name, with a reputation and title to uphold, there is literally nothing that should stop you.

People.

I have learnt a great deal about people since I’ve started in business. I wanted to write down a few thoughts I’ve had on my mind.

First of all, I’ve learnt that life is in the moments when you’re striving for something, trying to excel, trying to become, trying to achieve- otherwise, it’s not living, it is surviving. Everyone wants to be happier, better, more successful, more wealthy, more talented etc- and maybe that’s exactly how it is supposed to be. Ever wondered how life would be like if we weren’t trying? It would be so directionless, so meaningless and push you on the brink of depression. For this reason, I’m always going to keep trying, keep pushing, keep wanting and keep achieving. Maybe if you’re feeling low, dejected or lost- life is insinuating that you need a bigger picture- a goal, a want, another personal victory, another something. As I feel that feeling, I just envision my future- and somehow, the momentary feelings of dejection are lost in the air.

It is astonishing how many people I’ve encountered and how unique each one is! I so deeply admire the beauty that each one has- there is something so special about knowing that even though each is blessed with similar features- NONE is exactly the same. It is so empowering to feel unique, like the only one, and the exclusive exotic kind. I’ve seen a lot of people dealing with misery as well, and no matter how awful or good the past is- people always find a reason to be miserable about. Maybe it is human tendency to identify with sadness easily? Maybe we just resist change till we can’t control it anymore-and hate it secretly from deep corners of our hearts. Maybe, “life is all about letting go- but we never take a moment to say goodbye!” (Yes, stole that one from Life of Pi)

Having said that, I’ve realised that each person has things both under and beyond his control. The people who seem most empowered- actually seem thus, because they let go of what lies beyond them. There is a difference between people who try with all their might and people who try the right- you know? It’s like even if you’re focusing all your energy into something that isn’t the fit for you then it won’t materialise- but if you channel your energy into the right area of focus, there is a great deal to be accomplished. Whatever the other person says while conversing, reflects more of their personality than mine. There will always be people trying to belittle your ambition, trying to pull you down or talking down to you- but in those moments you need to know that those people do not deserve your energy or your focus. What people think of you, how the society perceives you and everything in that regard, is for them to worry about and ponder on- you can just go ahead, live your life, without inhibitions and shine a little more of the bright light you exude- don’t dull your shine for anyone else.

Lastly, there is a natural addictive that exists for all mankind- it is called being pro-active, i.e. being in charge of yourself. You are not your emotions, you are not your thoughts, you are not your moods and you are not your feelings- the very fact that you can process them , makes you bigger than all of them individually. (Stole this from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People- Stephen Covey) The more you identify with yourself i.e. become self-aware- you realise that you’re the choice-maker instead of a victim. YOU decide, YOU lead, YOU make your life happen– all the externalities exist in a relative manner to the power within you. No, I’m not talking about The Secret or the Universe conspiring to bring what you want to you- but I’m talking about putting yourself out ‘there’ and choosing living over following, pro-actively.

“Envision, dream and CREATE your own Universe.” (Stole that from Tony Hsiegh’s book Delivering Happiness) While it is easy to feel helpless or out of control- what if I told you that you can choose who you want in your life, distance yourself from people who add negativity, make life decisions, are free to do whatever you want to and can actually make your life, your own? Yes!? YOU CAN! Be the master of your destiny, be the captain of your soul– who are you waiting for? Just go ahead, and take charge.

Remember to surround yourself with the doers, dreamers and the seekers- let go of the negativity,  think big, become better and let your success be an inspiration.

My talk for Women Techmakers at Google, India.

I recently was invited as a speaker to Women Techmakers at the Google office in Gurgaon, India. I know nothing about coding, even though I’ve tried to learn and not much about cloud, anyway- but I knew what the focus of my talk would be- entrepreneurship for women.

And that’s exactly what it was. I spoke about my venture AQAYA, the challenges that women in business face and business model generation. I wanted to tell those 100 college kids, so desperately, that the stereotypes and negativity that has been grilled into their young brains is such a farce. My head was clear, and I had so much to talk about- I wanted them to realize that even though I’m only 21 and a woman, I have got my feet grounded and am striving towards financial independence; and that they could do it, too. All you gotta have, is the burning desire to really, really want it; and want it bad enough that you can’t resist taking steps toward making it happen.

I feel women in general, globally, prioritize families, marriage and kids so much that they forget that they have personal responsibilities too- they too can have a career, and they can be as smart, competent and driven, if not more, as men. Not everyone can have the same goals, not everyone wants a career- similarly, not every woman wants kids. Women can do both too, yes. One question that really bothers me is that why do we never expect men to leave the workforce when they get married or have kids? Because that’s just so obvious right? When are we going to think of women the same way? Why is a non-working man a stigma in the society but not a non-working woman?

As I have meetings, sometimes, I feel that at the first meeting, people are glazing over my shoulder when I talk about projections, financials and business systems. Maybe, they’re wondering why and how I got to the other side of the table, maybe they’ve already decided that I have no future and maybe they’ve exiled me into marriage and kids already. It disgusts me that society categorizes women into 3 categories: wife, daughter or lover. Why can’t women be leaders, pioneers or game-changers?

You know why so many women lack the ambition and drive? It’s because powerful women are so few that girls in middle school start accepting that they aren’t born to lead. With such few examples to aspire to, women start doubting their abilities, start believing in stereotypes, and quit. Warren Buffett, once stated, that one of the reasons for his great success was that he was only competing with half of the population. Conditions for women can only improve, when there are more women behind the decision making processes and leading. (Read ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg- she addresses these issues so truthfully in her book.) Only then, can we expect fairness and rightful representation.

The crowd that I was addressing was mostly full of developers, and I could only think of one question to ask them- Why, even though, they’re equipped with the most sought for skill (i.e. coding), were they holding themselves back? I personally don’t do any coding, but here I am, about to launch my venture in 2 weeks- so believe me when I tell you- that you are adequate. You’ll have all the resources you need, just start talking to people, get to know what they do and take genuine interest in learning. The networks that we are a part of really are incredible, everybody knows somebody who might know another somebody- and those somebody’s can end up being really useful. So, exploit your network!

I wish to inspire dreamers to become doers- to make people see that action cures everything. Take actions to achieve the goals, believe that nothing is impossible and strive to excel. What I’ve learnt during my journey is that you really are never going to be ‘completely ready’ for what you want to do, you just need to GET STARTED and get it done.

You are responsible for your own success. You have nothing to fear and everything to become, so go on, go ahead and take charge, NOW.