Friday, June 18, 2010

Entrepreneurship in India

India was a plethora of small businesses. It certainly doesn't appear to take much to start a business. All you need is a product that people want to buy. Everything ranging from chai, food, paan, haircuts or soda. One really only needs a gas stove (if they are cooking something) and possibly a cart or stand. Although this isn't a necessity either. While walking through Ahmedabad on a Saturday night we found ourselves walking through a spontaneous restaurant. Groups of people sat on blankets laying in the street and they surrounded large thali plates. Men ran through the crowd with bowls and pots refilling food on the plates as they saw fit. It appears as though the only real necessity is being willing to sell a product that people are willing to buy.

A haircutting 'saloon' consists of a storage closet sized garage. Just large enough for about 3 clients.

Our favorite breakfast spot in Hampi. The kitchen is in the corner where there is a two burner gas stove. Customers sit along the wall on a single bench or crowd around the tiny table in the center.

Second favorite breakfast spot in Hampi. This small business consists of a tent, a single table for cooking the idli, sambar, poori and instant coffee.

This street side cafe turned into an almost full-scale restaurant. Food is prepared on gas stoves on this cart and then brought to customers who sit at picnic tables behind the cart.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yes, that is a hand-powered ferrris wheel

This was possibly one of the most mind-bending things that I saw. There was a small festival in the village where we were staying and I had to do a double-take once I saw the ferris wheel. There is a man on each side of the wheel who take turns turning the wheel around for the riders. As we walked past, the man furthest away in the photo grinned widely and gestured for us to come take a ride (unfortunately, we did not). This is just another example of the ingenuity that can occur when resources are limited.

Also notice the bike in the background loaded with boxes and pots (this is customary for India).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

When Package Design Fails

You know it's a bad sign when the package design induces the response: "I hope I don't see that in this house again."

The design not only lacks purpose and aesthetic but it also fails in the ergonomics department. The carton holds more milk, therefore making it heavier. It was almost too heavy to hold with one hand without spilling milk all over the carton. Perhaps it's time to go back to the old design?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

India....a lesson in efficiency part one

My recent four-month trip throughout India was a lesson in out-of-the-box thinking if not flat out inefficiency. In the states you see work being done on the highway by a handful of people accompanied by caterpillars and trucks. Work in India is done mainly by hand. The machines are replaced by a man laying down a fresh layer of tar from a bucket and several men following with brooms smoothing it down. Why use ten people to do a job when you only need one and a machine? But n a country with a lot of people and not a lot of people this makes sense that human capital would be the cheapest option. Creativity or (for a westerner) out-of-the-box thinking is necessary to adapt. Through my foreign eyes it appeared largely inefficient. But then I thought, perhaps we have gotten far too used to our comfortable lives with our technology and machinery. These things that were once the product of creativity are now inhibiting it. India taught me that there is more than one way to get a job done and you don't need always need fancy machinery to do it.

India....a lesson in efficiency part two

I often found myself grumbling about Indian-made tools. Especially when doing a project such as the one described in the following photos. Our mission was to clear a field of grass, make the ground level and then spread it with cow manure that would dry smooth into a threshing floor for millet. It was tedious work especially when using muntis (short handled shovel like tools).

I thought the tools were primitive (merely a stripped branch thrust through a hole in the iron made tool portion) and poorly crafted since they break often. The wood handle splits or becomes worn from use and slides out of the hole. We were told multiple times to 'be careful' with the tool so that it wouldn't break. I longed for the 'better' American made tools. I wondered why the Indians put up with such crappy tools.

I later realized, however, that these tools were only 'crappy' to me. I was not used to working with them like the Indians were. My boyfriend who traveled with me, was always hatching plans to make a new tool (more like an American one that we were used to) or finding some way to 'improve' the Indian tool. I decided that there was no point in introducing a new or 'better' tool because the Indians were perfectly fine using what they already had. They worked with the same tools we did, but at a much faster pace. We were slow because we were not accustomed to their tools. If we had provided new tools I was positive that they would not use them, or would take up their old practices as soon as we left the farm. Our tools may have been just as tedious for them to use as theirs were for us.

"Each nation has many customs and practices which are not only unknown to another nation but barbarous and a cause of wonder"

The majority of tools have short handles such as these muntis causing the user to always be bent towards the ground.

The first attempt to flatten and smooth the ground using a section cut from a coconut tree. This was not the fastest process since the branch is not very wide and the floor to be was quite large in comparison.

Attempt number two to flatten and smooth the floor. This time using animal labor. Unfortunately, even with Babuna being dragged behind, there was not enough weight to smooth the ground to it's desired finish. The decision was made to get a tractor for the job instead.