More than a hundred pairs of curious intense dark eyes were following my every movement as I chewed on my (self baked) chapati. I had just spent the last hour rolling and baking the small loafs of bread on a very basic wood fired oven, then pressed some hot chillis with a few onions between two stones to turn them into a smooth but fierce paste that with some fantasy could be called a chutney – not unsupervised: Twenty local woman were shouting instructions at me in their local Mewati dialect – all at once of course!
I was at in the village of Radhakhurt, more than four bumpy hours north of Jaipur, for a field visit to local non profit- SPECTRA, which empowers woman in local communities by self organizing them and giving them access to education. The visit was part of an annual get together of business leaders, non-profits, social entrepreneurs, artists and philanthropists, called the Pow-Wow, in the midst of the colorful pastures and ancient palaces of Rajasthan.
For four days a multitude on interesting discussions, meetings, mediations and get togethers asked the participants to share and re-evaluate their goals, learn about fascinating grassroots community leaders, and explore big questions about the environment and society,
There were retired US army hostage negotiators, bollywood stars, experts in sustainability, venture capitalists, UN advisors, social enterpreneurs, dancers, singers, the world’s largest rug exporter and even a Nobel peace price winner. A hundred people from thirty countries – an amazing mix of minds, views and visions.
For me it represented an opportunity to re-evaluate some of the discoveries of the last few months – in particular how we bridge the gap between all the technological progress and our human values and the sustainability on this planet. It was also one of those rare times to think, take big breath and step back – contemplating about ones own purpose in midst of the wonderful gardens of the ancient Maharadjas.
Its hard to summarize all the amazing, eye opening discussions I had. I want to however share in brief the storys of three amazing people I had the honour to meet:
Santari is 33, she has three kids and lives in a rural village in norther Rajasthan. She married early, never completed her schooling and for years her role was restrained to be running the household, living under a veil with practically no contact with anybody else outside her house. A year and a half ago, she became member of a local self help group. In such groups up to fifteen woman local woman join together, share information, education and most importantly start saving regularly money. Through the savings they get easier and cheaper access to credit. They also ensure that their kids, in particular their daughters go to school and complete their education.
Over the last year the woman managed to improve the local milk business by taking over the role of the middle men and improving the village sale price of a liter of milk from 18 to 40Rupees. With the additional income they are now looking to get better farming seeds to improve the yield on their fields. Now she exchanges herself regularly with other members of the community, she is not afraid to bring herself into discussions and all her kids go to school– the first step to empowerment.
Sunil is 34 from Mumbai and is the first member of his family that ever receive an education. He finished secondary school, but when due to his social and financial status he got denied access to university to study computer sciences he learned it himself. He has built a digital dictionary of more than 10 million words in 22 different Indian languages covering the key legal, agricultural and pharmaceutical terms – he has more than 130 million users. In addition he has built a school project that reaches now more than 2000 kids by bringing teachers into rural villages.
In his latest venture is building an incubator that will empower local social enterpreneurs – he has already started a cooperation with MITMedialab. As if it wouldn’t be enough, he is also a keen cyclist and currently runs a project to create a “Google Streetview” of rural Indian communities.
Makes me very humble about what can be achieved already with a young age!
Abeer is from the Holy Land, a Palestinian living in Israel with a Jordan passport. I met her first on our field trip to Rhadakhurt, when she immediately connected with the woman of the community. She herself is facing big challenges every day. Alone the stories she shared with me about the obstacles she has to overcome daily by living on the wrong side of the wall would fill several pages. Just recently she has started a successful company that teaches and promotes woman’s skills in consumer electronics. Giving woman the power and the tool to connect with their smartphones!
So what do I take away:
- I am not too bad at making an Indian meal and even my skills at fetching water from the well with a gigantic pot on my head were not too bad. Even the villagers seemed to agree as the cheered me along.
- For our future I take away the optimism, that with so many good hearted, well intentioned people all around us, that want to make this world a better place, we will be in good hands! (No reason however to be complacent!)
- And for me personally- Probably best summarized by: Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up!