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!

 

Communication, Mindset & Vulnerability

I often find myself questioning my thought process and my mindset. Is your thinking a product of your own beliefs or of the society you were conditioned in? How much of you and your mindset is really you, and how much has been influenced and shaped by your environment? I’ve realized the importance of spending time alone and living away from home for a while when you’re young, for it helps you choose what you nourish your mind with. You start developing your own ideologies, methods, ways of dealing with elation and stress and life in general. Having that personal code to face life with plays a major role in long-term success, as you know yourself and know what you’re capable of. Once you realize your value and your worth, the question shifts from settling with what’s available to striving for what you aspire. That shift is essential for real growth.

On a personal level, I treasure beautiful minds. I love the feeling you get when you are midway through a conversation, and you can feel the person opening up and letting you in. Once you’re in, you realize how much treasure is hidden behind misguiding appearances. In a single conversation, you’re able to experience life through someone else’s eyes, come face to face with their insecurities, ambition, dreams and failures alike. If the person is set on inspiring and changing lives, that beauty is tenfold.

There are people who have had transformative experiences and strive to live a life that has meaning. Once you discover what ‘meaning’ means to them, you are able to unleash their most sacred possession and develop a real bond with them. The people who feel everything deeply, are the hidden gems of the society, as their intense take on life, can help you live several times in the same lifetime. For them a failure is not an end, a victory is not a celebration, for every morning they celebrate life and every night they end their day in bliss. Bliss that comes from knowing that you gave the day your all, you faced it with resilience and made it through.

These are also the kind of people who know that if they protect their mind, then they have the ultimate control. So when you try to step into their zone, they’ll flinch several times before you make it inside their circle of trust.

I’m writing this for I finally acknowledge the fact that most people live their lives emotionally shut down and stunted. Don’t try and conceal the beauty of your struggle, for every life is a battle of its own. Be better because of your journey, and don’t let the outside ‘noise of happiness’ fool you into believing that struggles aren’t universal. Everyone is fighting something, everyone craves for something more- that’s just how life is structured. While I admit to not being vulnerable enough, I realize that the best conversations that I’ve ever had, are with the people who let others in. I’m challenging myself to be more open and honest, and I hope this inspires you too.

Communication is strategic everywhere- be it business, relationships or networking. Rather than trying to be the person who’s got his/her shit together all the time, it’s better if you admit when you don’t. It helps in creating an environment where you can co-creatively address issues and arrive at solutions. Being more vulnerable personally, will help you thrive professionally by improving your skills of communication.

Questions that I’ve been working on

Most people set out and spend their younger years looking for answers to make sense out of life. I was obsessed with figuring life out too, but a recent realization left me wondering if it is ever about answers at all?

I’ve discovered that it all comes down to the right questions for our own, unique selves rather than the set list that the world sets for us. How can all of us be given the same questions when our capabilities and personalities are each unique? We must proactively create a specific line of questions for ourselves, our lives, tailored to our goals and ambition.

I’ve arrived on some questions for myself, that I’m constantly thinking about, almost obsessively. I feel comfortable sharing them, as I’m doing real groundwork on them, and have now aligned my focus completely to the questions I created for myself.

Question 1: What work should I be doing that will create a significant impact on generations to come? How do I create an organization that shelters and protects my employees and their families’ futures?

Laying a strong foundation based on people as its pillars is important to me, as it is integrity, generosity and ambition that I respect the most. Giving people an atmosphere to grow, to feel secure in, not only for themselves but also their kids is what I’m trying to build. If, in this life, I’m able to do work that empowers and creates prosperity for the people involved for decades to come, I will feel that I’ve had a meaningful life.

Question 2: How do we make technology accessible on a grand scale? 

Our biggest problem is also our biggest opportunity in this case, as it gives us a chance right now, to build the future world. I do agree with Peter Thiel when he says that technology  is the most significant force of our times, even more than globalization. I’m crazy optimistic about our future, but that optimism has to be constantly fueled by work done in the field, we need more lives to feel the positive impact of technology.

Question 3: How do we create new resources that benefit the society? What issues do we need to be working on?

Advancements and progress as a society come from taking bold steps to create a different future. We need to be unraveling new truths, new technologies and new methods of doing things.

Question 4: How do we educate and create jobs for the current generation, while planning for our future generations?

Is the work that we’re doing protecting interests of our current generation? Also, is our plan in place to create a secure future for the next generations?

Question 5: How do I use Aqaya to create prosperity through empowerment?

Aqaya means Eudaimonia, we’re building on ideals of belonging and benefiting others, flourishing, thriving and exercising excellence. How do I create multiple avenues and streams to attract the best talent to benefit people in huge numbers?

Question 6: How do I create and access a platform to interact with the brightest minds of our time?

I’m a firm believer in the fact that what differentiates the most successful and sharpest minds from the masses is their consistency and access to a different wave of information. My efforts are aligned in meeting and interacting with the best in their fields so that I’m always fed quality information.

Most people aspire to lead a certain kind of lifestyle or become a certain someone but don’t want to put the work that demands to be input. Creating ‘something’ (could be anything) while you’re here, is the easiest way to try and leave a mark and legacy behind. In other words, you will only be remembered for your own unique creation, so what’s going to be your contribution to our history?

I’ll close this with something I wrote to myself recently, “How differently would you live if you truly believed that limitless possibilities were under your feet? Better start living that way, cause they are! Your dream is as scalable as your mind believes it is.”

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. 

Year 22: Annual reflection post

Starting out, I made a decision to transform myself and the year of ‘me’ has been the best year of my life so far, and it’s only going to get better from here. I am committed to getting better each day, as cliched as that might sound. However, those who do it, know the feeling you get every day upon waking up, when you know that it’s a fresh start, and the day has to be made grand. While there are ups and downs, the determination and fearlessness make it seem like progress regardless of how the day goes. When you’re driven to do better, live better, feel better, everything you do, every person you meet, every thought changes, and you experience abundance for being true to yourself.

Once the mind set itself I realised, that I wasn’t competing with anyone anymore, rather, creating my own segment. Most people work because they want to prove something to someone, for me, that person is myself. It’s been a roller coaster of a year but I’ve had me throughout, and I’ll always have me. When you shift from being emotionally dependent to independent, you realise that it is ultimately your own wellness that transcends into all relationships in your life. So, I choose to be happy, so I can make all the people in my life, happy! I do believe that most people come not to stay but to teach you something in life, so all the ones who’ve left me, have left me with a valuable lesson that adds to my life, for that I’m thankful.

I seriously set out this year with the mission to improve the quality of my life. For that, I decided to start meditating and while I had done it off and on as a runner and athlete off and on, doing it on a daily basis has affected me very, very deeply. I’m calmer, much more proactive, creative and am able to observe and monitor my thoughts. They say life is what you think of it, and for me, my life is love, growth and abundance.

I must acknowledge how blessed I feel for I’ve traveled the world and back. Most people cannot envision a better way of life, for they’ve never stepped out of their homes. Through my travels and my books, my mind has expanded my imagination and filled up with gratitude. If one is seriously considering personal development, the combination of meditation, traveling and books is what I would recommend, undoubtedly.

Always been a thinker and never one to share much, however, I tested vulnerability this year and shared some unspeakable truths about my life with certain people I only met this year. It has improved not incrementally but at least 10x the quality of relationships in my life. And while everyone I chose might’ve not been the right person to confide in, I’m glad I did it, for it was a personal growth experiment and it was important to me.

After a lot of soul searching and working on it, I’ve finally found the meaning I wish to give to Aqaya. It is my first venture and my baby, but it is not a real word and has no definition. I’ve decided what it will mean from here on, and it is ‘eudaimonia’, human flourishing i.e. prosperity through empowerment. One of my entrepreneur friends made me realise that how in every society there are people who fight for the next generation. Who work towards making the world better for the coming generation, and are responsible for continuation of human progress and evolution. I want to be one of those people who fight for change, of thought, especially. The logo of Aqaya has double infinity in it, and now I want it to mean continuation of progress and flourishing.

While this year, I worked with several start-ups, now I feel like Aqaya is ready for its next big steps. I felt it was important for me to experiment with various things so as to define what I wanted to spend my next few years building. On purpose, I chose to work a lot with the underprivileged , travel, run half marathons, teach Zumba, move to another city, meet new people, work on several start-ups and a lot of new experiences just so I could arrive at what mission Aqaya should be aligned to.

May this coming year, help me take the warming up of this year to another level, and bring life to what is already a reality in my head. Speaking of reality, I wrote a particular sentence after something had a profound effect on me,”My reality was painful so I created a different one.” You see, as devastated as you might be, or how much you might’ve suffered previously, is no reason to still let it affect your future going forward. You can claim your life, if you stop playing victim, and take charge of your thoughts, your vision and your ambition.

After all, “where there’s life there’s hope.” (Steven Hawking)

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.