Change Through Business

writings on my journey

 

Gearing Up for An Adventure of a Lifetime

May 6th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (0)

In exactly two weeks, I will be embarking on an amazing adventure.  This summer, for ten weeks, I will be living in India.  Day by day, the excitement builds within me, as I prepare for what I know will be a mind-opening, heart-opening, and life changing experience.

Through the Global Impact Program, hosted by the USC Stevens Center for Innovation, I will be working with a team on a water and health project in a city called Hubli in Karnataka, India.  Broadly, our aim will be to: 1) help educate the community about health and sanitation issues, and 2) implement effective and scalable solutions that address these issues.  Namely, we will focus on improving families’ water quality.  We will achieve this be forming working realtionships with local NGOs and community partners to establish sustainable channels of distribution for water filters and other health-related products.

This opportunity is a social entrepreneur’s dream come true.  What this opportunity presents is both an incredible challenge and incredible potential for positive impact.  My team and I will be thrown right into the middle of problems and forced to think on our feet to figure out the most innovative solutions.

Through my years of entrepreneurial background and training sessions through the Program, I feel equipped with powerful tools to create real change once in India.  Yet, I know this task will be unlike any other.  And no matter how many books I read, videos I watch, or lectures I attend, I will not be adaquetly prepared to really make a difference until I fully immerse myself with the people and culture there.

Over and over, I have heard people describe India as both “the most beautiful” and “the most ugly” place in the world.  I will do my best to enter India with an open mind and an open heart so that I can fully experience this land of contrast.

Hopefully, I can take in India for all that it is though my strength to recognize its ugliness and my awareness to appreciate its beauty.  From this recognition and appreciation, I hope to grow an unsurmontable inspiration to be the change I wish I see in the world during my time there and for years and years to come.

 

 

 

The Countdown

May 13th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (0)

It’s Wednesday’s morning, 5:17am. Minutes ago, I uncharacteristically awoke from a deep sleep in the complete darkness of my room. I then proceeded to simply lay in my bed, trying but failing to go back to sleep. My mind was too busy with the prospect of my up-coming adventure: ten weeks of living, learning, and serving in India.

In just seven short days, my USC Global Impact friends and I will embark on what will truly be an adventure of a lifetime. The excitement within me is almost beyond words. I mean, this excitement got a college student like myself to willingly wake up even before the sun got up! So, here I am: sitting at my desk in the calm of my plain Los Angeles apartment, writing with an Indiana Jones-like excitement for this up-coming adventure to the exotic lands of India.

What excites me about this summer is knowing that I will be fully immersed by a whole new culture, people, and lifestyle all the way on the other side of the globe. What excites me is the opportunity to truly experience and grow from the “most beautiful and most ugly” place in the world. What excites me is the chance to pursue my life passion for creating meaningful change in the lives of others through social entrepreneurship.

Mostly however, what excites me most is knowing that when I write in this blog seven days after all is said and done, I will have gone on an adventure that profoundly changed who I am.

 

 

17 Hours to the Start of an Adventure

May 20th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (2)

In just about seventeen hours, I will be in a plane officially commencing my exciting summer adventure to India.  As close as my departure is, the fact has yet to sink in: for the next ten weeks, I will be experiencing life all the way on the other side of the world in a completely new and foreign country and culture.  And I don’t think this fact will really sink in until I finally step foot in India.  Until I find myself walking down the bustling streets of Bangalore meandering through busy crowds only half-conscious after nineteen hours of flying.

India book spine

As someone who has never traveled further east than Arizona (no joke, it’s true), my adventure begins immediately.  I am excited just to know I will be flying over parts of the United States I’ve never flown over!  Soon enough, for the first time in my life, I will be in Europe during a layover in London.

Once in India, my friend/teammate/travel partner Alex and I plan to simply take each day as it comes.  For two weeks before we migrate to Hubli to begin project work, we will be exploring South India first-hand and itinerary-free.  Thus, at this point, I really cannot say what these next two weeks will bring–sounds like an adventure to me.

All in all, my true excitement and sense of adventure really comes from this belief: in seventeen hours, I will officially have begun what will be a life-changing experience.  Through this experience I will see things I have never seen both beautiful and ugly and live life in ways never before lived both familiar and alien.  Through this adventure, I will learn and grow more than I could even try to imagine.

 

 

Six Day Summary

May 29th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (0)

The last six days since I last posted have been quite the ride!  Every day has brought completely new experiences and new places as I continue my adventure in India.  Regrettably, I did a poor job staying in contact with everyone over this time and got my parents worried sick about me.  Sorry Mom and Dad!     

 

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All that aside, I’m currently sitting comfortably and safely in an internet cafe in the heights of Tekkady, Kerela trying to write a post that could do these last six days justice.  Unfortunately, it’s already 8:35pm, and the best I can do with such limited time is provide a list of a few highlights:

I wanted to thank everyone who has been following me through this blog.  I constantly have all of you in my heart and mind as I explore this amazing land of India.  Thanks for all the comments.  I really look forward to them! 

 

Lastly, while on the houseboat yesterday afternoon, I did some reflective writing that I wanted to share.  Please see the previous post to read all about it!    

 

 

Inspired By India’s Beauty

May 29th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (5)

Originally written: 3:08pm, Thursday, May 28, 2009

 

I’m basking in the beauty of India as I slowly float along the backwaters of Alleppey in a private houseboat.  The expansive murky river ripples by quietly while lines of tall coconut trees go past swaying to the gentle Indian breeze.  Birds glide and sing through the pale blue sky lighted by the warmth of the sun and decorated by fluffy white clouds.  My friends Alex and Tapasya peacefully take an afternoon nap after a delicious South Indian feast just freshly prepared aboard by the chef.  The boat operator and deckhand sit at the front of the vessel as they “talk story” behind the wheel.  My heart and mind are still, and I am happy.  It almost seems like a dream too good to be real.  But then, I remember and realize where I am.  I’m in Kerala: God’s Own Country.          

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 As I take in the great beauty of this place, I’m filled with a simple, powerful, and deep sense of tranquility, inspiration, and meaning.  This feeling is what beauty does to you.  At first, beauty overtakes you and places you in complete stillness.  Later, beauty compels you to share the richness of the world with others.  It calls you to live life in all its fullness and motivates you to help humanity reach similar experiences of real meaningfulness.  

For the past couple days and the rest of the week, my life can be summed up by three words: “just going places”.  I am taking in India for all that it is without any level of responsibility or obligation.  And as a person who is so driven to make the most of my abilities, talents, and resources to better the lives of others, it’s almost difficult to simply sit back, relax, and get treated like a king (feasts three times a day, amazing accommodations, on-demand transportation and services).

 

But then, I justify this incredible vacationing: life is about balance.  Right now I am balancing all the “work” in my life with some play.  By taking some time for myself to soak in the world’s beauty, I will find more time to passionately serve others to remove its ugliness.

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So I am excited to continue my life of “just going places”.  Yet, I feel it already.  I feel the even greater and deeper excitement to unleash all my building inspiration to share life’s beauty with others.

 

 

Learning through Sickness

Jun 5th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (2)

The bulk of the past two days have been one long menacing nightmare.  After a relaxing escape filled with great food and good health in beautiful Kerala, I came down with a fever, chills, headache, body aches, and diarrhea as soon as I made it to my main destination of Hubli, Karnataka to start project work.

Almost at the very moment of arriving to Hubli after a total of 21 hours of train riding (12 hours from Cochin-Banagalore, 9 hours from Bangalore-Hubli), I fell completely sick.  To make things worse, a few hours into my sleep in the wee hours of the morning, I awoke from itching bites all over my sweaty body ultimately forcing me to half-consciously stumble into the bathroom for an unwanted cold shower.  I’m hard pressed to recall a night’s rest as terrible as this one.  Putting it all together, the night was made of a miserable mix of ingredients: a fever, an aching body, a dozen mosquito bites, the mental stress of thinking of what those mosquitoes could be carrying, and the desperate need for sleep after such tiring travels.

The following day was filled with more of the same.  I tried my best to rest as much as I could to beat this bug, but found it difficult to overcome my body’s uncomfortable oscillations between hot and cold.  I lost all sense of time.  Every time I dozed, I had an irritating, incomprehensible, and reoccurring dream (or should I say nightmare) filled with feelings of stickiness and stress.  My day went by at snail’s pace.

The second night was bad but not as bad.  And luckily today has been much better.  I saw a doctor to make sure my illness was nothing serious, and by this afternoon I felt noticeably better.  Most likely (and hopefully) my sickness was due to basic case of food poisoning based on its short duration.

All in all, as terrible as this cloudy experience has been, it has brought with it many benefits through recognition of its silver lining.  And by seeing the value through the struggle, it definitely helped me maintain a more optimistic attitude to the course of things.

Through the ordeal, I’ve learned and reflected on the healthcare system in rural/low-income India by going through it first-hand.  Overall, I witnessed the system’s lack of service capacity and its barriers to entry for the community’s poor.  As an illustration, I waited two hours past my scheduled appointment time for a simple four minute check-up; financially, the check-up billed at 80 rupees and the prescription at 90 rupees, a hefty sum for any low-income family in India especially just for treating a mild illness.  It’s now much clearer to me how and why a family would pass up receiving medical help from professionals.  And sadly, in severe cases, such bypassing of simple help and intervention often leads to preventable long-term health problems and the crippling financial problems.

Finally, through this experience I have literally felt the problem and pain that I will be spending my summer trying to alleviate here in Hubli.  Through my two days of suffering, I have developed an even stronger motivation to tackle the problems of poor sanitation and contaminated water which are causing similar illnesses to what I felt.  Experiencing the overwhelmingly averse effects of bad health that completely upends life, I’ve grown a deeper connection to the real value of the impact I hope to make in the next eight weeks.

 

 

Let the Project Begin!

Jun 9th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (3)

It’s Day 21 in India.  My feet are “sufficiently” settled in this new place (not fully, but I don’t think they’ll ever be completely), and I’m thankfully almost finished with my fight with food poisoning.

The past two long, activity-packed, exciting days have been dedicated to orientation through Deshpande.  “Long” in that each day has lasted over ten hours.  “Activity-packed” in that each day has squeezed together a mix of Kannada language lessons, lectures, networking, and site visits to NGOs.  And finally “exciting” in that each day has been solely directed to learning and thinking about innovation, social entrepreneurship, and development work.

These two days of orientation have opened my eyes to two main things.  First is that so much of the value of this opportunity of working in India is getting to work alongside like-hearted and like-minded people from all around the world.  There are 30 total innovators (from USC, UNC, and UC Berkeley) each with their own unique background, experience, and personality. Yet, we are all here together in India working towards a common goal of leaving this place in a better state than when we arrived.

Second is that there is so much work, effort, and progress already happening in Hubli through the community and NGOs.  However, this development is only the start of greater things to come.  There is so much room and so much need for new ideas and new growth.  This understanding furthers the importance of collaboration with local stakeholders because it builds on the idea that our summer’s task is not to build something radically new, rather it is to add something innovative to the base already set.

 

 

The Biggest Challenge: Uncertainty and Ambiguity

Jun 13th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (3)

What I predicted is true: this summer’s project will be the most challenging entrepreneurial endeavor I’ve faced to date.

I’m operating in a completely new and unfamiliar environment.  And not just any environment, but India: an extremely complex country made of confusing contrasts between ancient and modern thinking and living.  Further, I’m working to solve problems in areas not of my expertise–education, water, and health–within this unfamiliar context.  Simultaneously, I’m taking on personal issues like adapting to a different culture and surviving new living conditions.  To top it all off, I’m pressured to create meaningful change in the short span of two months.

All in all, what makes this summer so challenging is dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity.  Right now, I have more questions than answers.  I know parents care about the health of their kids, but why do let them drink contaminated water?  I know there is effective technology to treat contaminated water, but why is it so hard to diffuse this technology?

Never before have I recognized so many individual opportunities to act and create value, but at the same time I have never been so unsure about how each relates.  I am surrounded by passionate and capable NGOs and social entrepreneurs so excited and willing to meet our team.  Which should my team engage with?  What true value can we add to already long-standing efforts with our limited time and experience?

Importance of Handling Uncertainty and Ambiguity

Ultimately, the ability to handle uncertainty and ambiguity is what defines an entrepreneur.  An entrepreneur is a person who can actively gather bits and pieces of information and resources, organize and sort them, then finally take these disconnected fragments to construct a cohesive and valuable mosaic.  Therefore, the success of entrepreneur can be directly linked to their capacity to effectively deal with uncertainty and ambiguity.

Dr. Saras Saravasthy has conducted a lot of great research on entrepreneurial thinking that would support my claim.  She found that what really separates entrepreneurs from managers is the way they think.  Managers tend to use “causal thinking” whereby one takes a predetermined goal and a given set of means then seeks to find the optimal route to achieve that goal.  On the other hand, entrepreneurs tend to also use “effectual thinking” whereby one takes a given set of means then allows a goal(s) to emerge.

Effectual thinking entrepreneurs collect, organize, and create using already available resources.  As such, they can continually realize new opportunities for growth, ways to build beautiful mosaics, when others can only see stagnancy and a littering of broken fragments.

How to Effectively Deal with Uncertainty and Ambiguity

Seeing the importance of effectively handling uncertainty and ambiguity, I’ve reflected on two practical guides to direct my work.

First is to “operate with openness”.  Be open to meeting new people and participating in seemingly irrelevant experiences.  For example, yesterday while shopping with a group of friends, we spontaneously decided to play cricket with some kids in their narrow alleyway.  We learned a little bit about the lives of the kids, got a glimpse into India’s sports obsession, and just had some simple fun that inspired and motivated everyone.  We now have a match setup for 2pm this afternoon, and the kids are inviting all their friends.  Who knows what this could evolve into?

Operating with openness ensures a steady flow of new information and new contacts–the collection of more fragments–that in the end provides the materials to construct new goals that otherwise would never be discovered.

Second is to “value the small steps” like meeting strangers or doing a small act of compassion.  No matter where you are going, or how big or small your goal, getting there is a step-by-step process.  Therefore, every step is valuable, and every step is essential to getting to the destination.  By valuing each small step, it is easier to handle uncertainty and ambiguity; it becomes possible to recognize and appreciate your forward progress even though you may not know for what or to where you are progressing.

 

 

Short Stories of the Week

Jun 20th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (6)

It’s a relaxing Sunday morning. The start of the single day of the week solely dedicated to non-project related activities. It’s the perfect time for some blog writing. It’s the best time to remember and reflect on the closing week.

So, here it goes–a collection of assorted short stories of the week.

***

It’s early: 6:09am. I roll out of bed, get dressed, and step out of the apartment to the noises of a slowly waking community. I stroll. A half-clothed three-year-old from the “squatter” home next door cries unabashedly while a group of roosters confidently make their morning calls. Birds trill their exotic tweets above while auto rickshaws distantly honk their mechanical horns. Sleeping dogs are scattered here and there nestled in mounds of trash and mud. Two minutes go by, and I arrive at my destination: guided morning yoga on the rooftop.

***

I walk behind the podium stationed at the front of the classroom. Externally, I look calm. Internally, I feel my nerves firing. In front of me are thirty pairs of focused eyes watching my every gesture and thirty pairs of attentive ears listening to my every word about the value of community service and serving others. Our team’s presentation ends. We circulate the sign-up sheet and patiently watch it fill up with the names of almost half the audience. We are relieved and excited. We say our good-byes happy to be partnered with a great group of student volunteers from this Women’s College eager to teach our health education curriculum at a primary school in the local slum community.

***

A smile lingers on my face from all the fun I just had playing alleyway cricket with the neighborhood kids. Without warning, rain begins pouring and lightning illuminates the darkening sky. This is monsoon season. My two friends and I keep walking along the side of the street seeking cover and dinner. Suddenly, three young children–one brother and two sisters—close in on each of us. The oldest girl, probably around seven years old, isolates me. Her tiny left hand tugs forcefully on my wrist. Her right hand makes a hand gesture to her mouth. We keep walking. The kids keep up stride-by-stride. My compassionate heart yells “please help, your pockets are full with rupees”. My thoughtful mind counters “be smart, you shouldn’t perpetuate the cycle of begging”. I’m torn. After nearly a hundred meters of walking and countless reluctant shakes of my head, the kids resign. I look back as they drift away, now soaked from the falling rain. I’m disappointed with myself for letting an opportunity to make a genuine, even small, positive impact in someone else’s life slip through my fingertips.

***

It’s Friday Movie Night in the Deshpande Center’s seminar room. The credits roll as Jamal and Latika dance to the beats of “Jai Ho”. The film hits me with an even stronger emotional punch after seeing it a second time. For this time, I am witnessing first-hand the land of “Slumdog Millionaire”. I am in India: the amazing place of unbelievable contrasts.

***

Eyes glued to my laptop screen, I realize that I haven’t moved from this couch for over three hours. Completely immersed in the task at hand–assessing the financial feasibility of implementing a community-level reverse-osmosis water plant–time passes so quickly. The prospect of having uncovered a legitimate water solution for S.M. Krishna Nagar sends pulses of inspiration through me. The potential opportunity: clean pure drinking water for a family for only 2.5 rupees a day, a viable business model with significant earnings potential and long-term sustainability, a way to improve and protect the health of over 4,000 individuals. I keep plugging on applying entrepreneurial frameworks I’ve learned at USC to a real-life problem. I’m in my element: changing the world through business.

***

The four of us comfortably sit in red plastic chairs eating ice cream under the dark night’s sky. Our conversation moves from topic to topic: exercise, girls, USC, spirituality, strawberry ice cream. Enjoying our late night Hubli hangout, I remind myself for the fifth time today, “I’m in India”.

 

 

Memories of the Past - Aspirations for the Future

Jul 2nd, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (3)

As I gazed across the rows upon rows of school children standing in the open dirt grounds, a feeling of remembrance swept through  me.  I remembered how not so long ago, I was just like one of them.  I was just a kid.

My thoughts drifted back, back to a time when life was so simple and innocent.  I loved playing basketball, and my dream was set on being the next Michael Jordan.  I couldn’t wait for school to get out so I could go home and watch Power Rangers with my brother and sister.  My favorite cereal was Pops.

My attention returned to the present, and I was back to my 21 year old self.  Oh, how so much has changed.  Oh, how much have I experienced to evolve into the man I am today.  A man seeking self-realization by going head-on with life’s deepest and most difficult questions.  A man willing to self-sacrifice to fulfill his aspirations of profoundly impacting the world.  A man driven to live a life of great responsibility and grand expectations.

Being in India this summer has both rekindled my childlike personality from the past and emblazoned my mature visions for the future.  In one moment, I am wildly running around playing alleyway cricket with other innocent kids, without a single responsibility.  In another moment, I am conducting an important meeting with influential community leaders, with the great responsibility of bringing clean drinking water to hundreds of needy families.

My hope is that I can stay in the present moment.  Most sharply aware of who I am today, but also attuned to who I was yesterday and who I can be tomorrow.  Living this way, I know decades from now, I can reminisce about when I was just 21, be happy for who I am then, and excited for the years to come.

 

 

A Guest Lecture

Jul 11th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (8)

Yesterday, I gave my first ever guest lecture at the Arts and Commerce Women’s College in Hubli. In front of 70+ second-year commerce students, I passionately shared my presentation titled “Change Through Business: My Journey as a Social Entrepreneur”. Although my pulse raced as I took the stage, my words flowed calmly and my mind stayed pin-point sharp. For all the while, I recognized the great magnitude of what was happening and I needed to “bring it”; this was an amazing opportunity to inspire, if even just one person in the crowd, to see entrepreneurship as a tool for social change, but more importantly to live with Pure Aloha.

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In my presentation, I gave a “Crash Course on Social Entrepreneurship” that went over the “what”, “how”, and “why” of the concept. I talked about my definition of social entrepreneurship, the “three Ps” and “triple bottom line”, and pioneering social entrepreneurs like Muhammad Yunus (Grameen Bank) and Bill Drayton (Ashoka: Innovators for the Public).

Following this crash course, to really bring the concepts home, I shared the story of Uncle Clay’s as a real-life and personal example. First however, to truly understand Uncle Clay’s I wanted and needed everyone to understand and experience Pure Aloha: the absolute core of Uncle Clay’s.

To do this, I prompted an “experiment” that aimed to connect hearts by opening them to one another via expressions of gratitude. The hope was to fill the lecture hall with Pure Aloha to provide everyone the experience of being in such a special space. I started the experiment by directing my sincere thanks to Hema, the head of the Economics Department and organizer of the event, “I appreciate you for being a great teacher that truly cares about her students and empowers so many through education”. A huge smile formed on Hema’s face.

“Now, you see how it works? Now you try. Go for it,” I announced. At first, only a few pairs of students embraced the experiment. The rest of the crowd remained unmoved. Yet, only a small part of me worried that this experiment was going to disprove the hypothesis I was “testing”: 1) that Pure Aloha goes beyond all distinctions–ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion–as it exists in the heart of every human being, and 2) spaces of Pure Aloha could be instantly created anywhere in the world–even a large and sterile college lecture hall–by the simple opening of people’s hearts and minds. I just need to try a little harder.

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So, I asked one of the girls who did catch on to the experiment to share what she told her partner. She hesitantly agreed, slowly stood up, and took the microphone, “I want to say thank you to Sophie for being such a great friend who has always been there to help and support me”. The room filled with applause. The Pure Aloha energy meter spiked.

Now, with hearts a little more open and hesitations a little more subdued, exchanges of gratitude initiated here and there in pockets throughout the audience. I could feel the room filling with more and more Pure Aloha. It felt great. The experiment worked. The hypothesis was validated.

I continued the presentation explaining how Uncle Clay’s aim is to create a restaurant where Pure Aloha flows powerfully and easily. At Uncle Clay’s, ohana members (customers) can taste the flavors of the world through a multicultural menu that brings the best of the best foods from different countries across the globe. More importantly, Uncle Clay’s will bring people from all walks of life together, under a single roof where each person is recognized as a member of our one world ohana (family) in space of Pure Aloha.

To wrap everything up, I ended the presentation by introducing “The Pure Aloha Oath”. I passed out pocket-sized copies printed on yellow paper to each person in the audience. Stanza by stanza, I explained the meaning behind the Oath, as everyone followed along, some reading the words with me.

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Finally, I asked each to take out a pen and draw a heart on the back of their Oath, write their name, and finally write an action of Pure Aloha inside the heart. Minds plunged deep in thought and pens scribbled away.

“Finished? Could everyone show me their hearts?” I proclaimed after waiting for about a minute. Yellow Oaths sprang to the air as I peered across the crowd smiling. My eyes met hearts of all different shapes and sizes, each filled with something personal, meaningful, and unique. At that very point, the hour was up. So I gave my sincere thanks and descended from the stage with a profound feeling and absolute knowing that, in that moment, Pure Aloha truly lived in me and every other person in the room.

 

 

Planting a Reverse-Osmosis Water Plant: A Sustainable and Scalable Clean Water Solution

Jul 16th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (2)

What if there is an opportunity to sell purified drinking water to an entire needy family of five for a measly $0.04 a day?

What if this opportunity would initially serve hundreds of households, generate significant profits, and thus eventually could scale to bring clean water to tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of individuals?

On practically the first day I landed in India, just eight weeks ago, I got connected to a company that takes the “what if” out of these questions.  Sam Reid, a USC MBA alumnus and the Asia Portfolio Manager of the Grassroots Business Fund, sent me an e-mail after I invited him to read this CTB blog, “I just finished due diligence on a company focused on setting up franchised Reverse Osmosis water purification plants in rural India…”  My curiosity picqued.

After a few introductory e-mails from Sam–as they say–the rest was history.  Upon arriving in Hubli, I began furiously exchanging e-mails with Deepinder Mohan, the visionary CEO of Environmental Planning Group Limited (EPGL).  EPGL currently operates over 35 community-level R/O water plants in North India (Punjab, Delhi, and Rajasthan) and is the recipient of grants from reputable funders like Acumen Fund.  EPGL takes an advanced and proven water technology traditionally limited to the rich (think bottled water), and makes it financially and structurally accessible to the poor who could benefit from this technology the most.

With my team’s very broad project goal of “improving needy people’s health through improvements in sanitation and water quality”, I was very open and extremely excited to explore any potential collaborations with EPGL.  So I quickly dove in.  I worked closely with Deepinder and wrote a mini business plan and created proforma statements to test financial feasibility.

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Initially, the intention was to launch a R/O plant in S.M. Krishna Nagar: the target slum community in Hubli from last summer’s project.  However, during a meeting with Jabashetti, Director of the Water Literacy Foundation and an invaluable contributor to our project, I soon discovered that such a plant was not the appropriate water technology that could help this community; the handful of borewells–from which R/O plants got input water–were drying up and were thus necessarily tightly controlled by the Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation (government entity).

Not willing to toss the R/O plant idea in the can, I asked Jabashetti a simple question that changed everything, “Well, do you know of any nearby community that could benefit from such a system?”

Almost instantly, Jabashetti excitedly replied, “Gadag!  Water quality problems are abundant in Gadag.  Gadag has so many borewells available.  And, I know an influential Swamiji who will listen to me.  If I say to bring a R/O system, there will be a R/O system”.

A few days later, I was on the bus to Gadag to meet and discuss the plant opportunity with the Swamiji, a local spiritual leader as well as environmentalist who founded the KNS Foundation responsible for recently planting over 300,000 trees!  Seated next to me on the bumpy hour-long ride was my friend Dan, another Innovator from a different USC Global Impact project who kindly agreed to be the “token white guy” for the day.  Although my Chinese/Filipino looks caught eyes in South India, Dan’s fair skin could catch even more, and more importantly establish instant credibility in the community.

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To make a long story short, after hours of ceremonies and such, we eventually sat down in a quiet room with Shivakumara Swamiji and Jabashetti and received his buy-in.  He could provide his private borewell, electricity, and handle sales and operations.  We jumped back on the bus to Hubli: mission accomplished.

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Over the next week or so, I helped facilitate negotiations then agreement of terms between Deepinder and Shivakumara Swamiji.  Originally, we aimed to create a partnership scheme whereby EPGL could front some start-up capital, share a percentage of sales, and cover certain expenses.  However, eventually discussions led to following a different more simplified and traditional scheme whereby EPGL would simply serve as a plant supplier and maintenance provider, and KNS Foundation would retain complete ownership.

*   *   *

This takes us up to where we are today.  With two key players–manufacturer and implementer–secured and aligned, there is just one last player to bring into the game: the financial funder.  Currently, Jabashetti and I are seeking an organization/individual interested in helping to plant this single pilot R/O water plant that could eventually germinate dozens more throughout Gadag and bring clean water to tens, or even hundreds, or thousands of people.  Gadag is home to a major fluorosis problem with debilitating dental and skeletal effects on those affected.  This problem could be significantly mitigated by establishing community-level R/O plants at just a fraction of the 300-450 borewells throughout Gadag’s many villages.

All we are requesting from the financial funder is to cover the start-up costs (~INR 400,000, ~$8,000) via an interest-free loan guaranteed full reimbursement within 18 months.

And thus, my last call is this: if you, someone in your network, or an organization you know may be interested in acting as a financial funder to this project, please shoot me an e-mail (bchang20@gmail.com) so we can connect and discuss things in greater detail.

The finish line is close, but we are not there yet.  We have only two more weeks to complete this final leg of the race, but we will fight on, and we will finish.

 

 

Reverse-Osmosis Plant Update

Jul 25th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (5)

It’s mind-boggling.  Just 5 weeks ago, I was first introduced to Deepinder Mohan, CEO of the R/O manufacturing company Environment Planning Group Limited, over e-mail.  Tomorrow, I will be spending the entire day with him face-to-face, experiencing first-hand the transformation of an opportunity–to bring clean drinking water to a needy community in India–into reality.

In convenient bullet-form, here is what has happened in the past eight days (since the last post):

And, here are the plans for the next eight days, a furious sprint to the finish line:

 

 

A Pictorial Update: Agreement Signed, Construction Commences!

Jul 28th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (2)

A Pictorial Update

the past two days (Sunday/Monday) in images

Reviewing and negotiating the terms of the tripartite agreement. Concluded to sell @ 15 paise/L for school-children, @ 20 paise/L for below-poverty line card holders, @ 100 paise/L for non-below-poverty line card holders. The brand name chosen as : “Shuddhodaka” (”Pure Water”) sold by the “EPGL-KNS Foundation Karnataka Model” water system.

A done deal! Agreement signed between EPGL (Deepinder), KNS Foundation (Swami Ji), and Financial Funder (myself, as representative)

About 20 community leaders were invited and introduced to the project, including people who would help with implementation (construction, electricity), and individuals who could play crucial roles in future expansion throughoutGadag. Picture shows us surveying the compound for proper placement of the water plant.

Group photo - amazing momentum behind the water plant from the get-go!

After Gadag, Deepinder, Jabashetti, and I drove about 60km to Kukanoor, Koppal to explore another opportunity to plant a reverse-osmosis system in this community suffering from a flurosis problem. Interest was very high - the 2nd community-based R/O system of Karnataka may not be very far away!

Breaking ground - Day One of construction: excavating the ground to lay the foundation for the plant housing.  My form was pretty poor to say the least.

Alex, Nina, and I were invited to lunch by a beautiful family who literally live just three minutes away from the water plant. As an above-poverty line family, their living conditions were visibly much better than their BPL neighbors throughout the community. And yes, if you did not notice, I am holding a baby squirrel in my hand.

Progress of the excavation by early afternoon. This lone construction worker blew me away with his endurance and strength, working hour after hour, while I exhausted after just 30 minutes… Every person is vital to the water plant, from planning to implementation, start to finish.

 

 

 

India Adventure Completed: Meaningful Change

Aug 17th, 2009 by Bronson | Comments (2)

In May, just one week before embarking on my India adventure, I expressed in a blog post the following:

“What excites me is the chance to pursue my life passion for creating meaningful change in the lives of others through social entrepreneurship.

Mostly however, what excites me most is knowing that when I write in this blog seven days after all is said and done, I will have gone on an adventure that profoundly changed who I am.”

Now August, just about two weeks after completing my India adventure, I am sitting here in the living room of my home in Honolulu, realizing these excitements fully manifested: meaningful change to others, profound change in myself.

Meaningful Change to Others

My team of “The Hubli Water and Health Project” came to India with the very broad mission of: improving the quality of drinking water and sanitation of local families through education and technology”.  With India representing about one-third of the 1.6 million people dying from unsafe water and poor sanitation per year (90% of which are children under 5), we were compelled to seek meaningful change.

We accomplished this through three different initiatives: 1) Water and Health Education Program, 2) Household-Level Water Filter Distribution, 3) Community-Level Water Purification Plant.

Initiative #1: Water and Health Education Program

The first initiative represented the foundation that needed to be laid for anysuccess in improving the water situation.  In most development projects, it is only through education (in this case, education about the necessity of clean water and proper sanitation) that communities could truly start eliminating bad habits, embracing personal responsibility, and taking initiative towards improving their circumstances.

In a nutshell, the Education Program aimed to educate primary (elementary) school children from low-income areas about clean water and sanitation through local college volunteer teachers.  By influencing the open and developing minds of younger children, we hoped the Program could generate ripples of change emerging from the up-coming generation.  Furthermore, by seeking college-aged volunteers, we aimed to empower the hearts of future leaders through opportunities to serve others.

With the curriculum already developed last summer, our team mainly focused on expanding the Program for larger impact.  To do this, we successfully partnered with two colleges–Women’s College in Hubli and KIMS of Karnatak Univeristy in Dharwad–and connected their collective 30+ volunteers with six different primary schools.  All in all, over the next 12 weeks, about 270 elementary students will learn 12 important lessons like properly washing their hands, how the water cycle works, how germs are spread, and why it is important to respect the environment.

Initiative #2: Household-Level Water Filter Distribution

The second initiative aimed at diffusing a proven yet simple water technology–an affordable household water filter–to as many families as possible.  Thus, like most development projects, the biggest challenge was a marketing versus product one.  The obstacle to overcome was diffusing a readily available and working technology in a way that ensured long-term and wide-spread adoption.

The highly effective water filter we sought to distribute removes sediment and kills water-borne bacteria through a gravity-fed ceramic filter infused with silver-ions.  A single filter costs only USD $5-7 and can produce enough clean drinking and cooking water for a family of five for an entire year (~10,000L).  After about one year, the ceramic filter can be replaced at a cost of just $1.

Initially, we thought we should establish a water filter kiosk that would be operated by a local entrepreneur.  However we realized a much greater opportunity after an exploratory meeting with Chinyard, a microcredit NGO with an established network of over 3,000 self-help women groups throughout Karnataka.  Chinyard was the perfect distribution solution: the organization had direct and immediate access to the right target consumers (poor families who suffer most from water contamination and women who are responsible for the house’s water supply), established credibility within communities, channels to distribute (bi-weekly SHG meetings), and capacity to provide payment plans for those who needed financial assistance.  Chinyard was all-aboard in taking this new initiative of water filter distribution that would both improve health of their members and bring in profits.

To launch the initiative, we needed to test the demand, so we requested Chinyard to do product demos then generate a list of people interested in purchasing the filter.  One week later, Chinyard presented us a stack of papers inscribed by 270+ names of eager consumers!

With demand secured, we were ready to assist Chinyard and provided them an interest-free loan to purchase 150 of the 270 filters through our project budget.  The loan terms were lenient and repayment will be extremely easy for Chinyard.  The ultimate aim will be for Chinyard to successfully handle this first order then use profits to build distribution to the rest of the market of tens of thousands of needy families.  This certainly has the potential to be the innovative, scalable, and sustainable solution to distributing technology to the poorest of the poor: microcredit self-help group networks!

Initiative #3: Community-Level Water Purification Plant

This third initiative was the focus of most of my other blog posts. So rather than writing more, please have a read of those.

In a nutshell, we successfully installed a 1000 liter/hour reverse-osmosis water plant aimed to bring clean drinking water to 500 needy families in Gadag district. Furthermore, the plant projects to break-even within the next year and has the potential to generate enough profit to finance a new plant every five months. The pure water should begin flowing by August 25th.

Profound Change in Myself

Yet, with all the change I helped bring to others, others helped bring even greater change to me.  Namely, it was through selfless service to others that my self-understanding deepened.  As the great Mahatma Ghandi, a dedicated Karma Yogi, said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.

I laid out some of my major life philosophies, or convictions, over a year ago when I established this blog.  As convictions, based in reason but ultimately dependent on faith, both my heart and mind have only been fortified through this India adventure.

I am Lucky and with a Responsibility

Watching videos and reading articles about the needless suffering and unbelievably difficult lives of others worldwide was enough to develop this conviction.  However, this summer I witnessed this suffering and difficulty first-hand in India.

From the disheveled beggar kids who tugged at my hands for rupees to the personal interactions with locals like: an overworked and underpaid bus driver getting schemed by fraudulent “business opportunities”, a high school dropout teen stuck in low-caste work of cleaning tables for 15 cents/hour at the canteen, and the heartbroken college girl forcefully separated from her true love then arranged to marry an unlikable man and denied her professional dreams.

In result, my belief that my life is abundantly blessed has only deepened, and the luminous fire that drives me to help others only burns brighter.

Furthermore, even as “my” accomplishments grow grander, my humility only grows truer. More and more, I see my truly minute existence within the expansive web of causes and effects. More and more, I recognize that there are simply too many influences that I am lucky to have–people, experiences, opportunities–to ever have room for ego.

We are Equal

As human beings, I believe we all share a fundamental equality based on our inherent human dignity.  This human dignity comes from my deepening spiritual belief that every person possesses something beyond the

physical, something Infinite, something divine.  As the Bhagavad Gita states, “They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them”.  The wise recognize the divine which pervades all people and things. The wise can see the wonderful oneness of reality and can see beyond the illusion of separateness.

Be Myself - Listen to my Heart

Yet, such metaphysical comprehensions of our interconnectedness and the existence of the divine, only compel my mind through logic to believe in equality. Ultimately, believing comes down to being myself through listening to my compassionate heart.

Working tirelessly in a foreign land for complete strangers while also immersing myself in ancient Hindu and Buddhist wisdom this summer, I witnessed and learned about the power of compassion. Compassion supports our fundamental equality and applies universally to every single being.  Where there is a violation to someone’s basic human rights, our heart will alert us, and compassion will seek change.  My compassion sought to unlock the shackles of poverty that deny the impoverished their right to freedom.  My small compassionate contribution was to help as many people in Karnataka, India by eradicating a major contributing factor to their poverty: dirty water.

My Heartfelt Thanks

I hope you made it this far, and if you did congratulations, this is a long post!

For in conclusion, I wanted to send my sincerest thanks to everyone who has followed this blog and traveled beside me on this amazing India adventure over the past three months. Your encouraging comments definitely helped fuel the fire throughout. Simply knowing I had a readership pushed me to authentically share this experience, and to make sure I actually had a good experience to share! My heartfelt gratitude goes out to each and every one of you. Namaskara and Pure Aloha.