The Indian Adventure: Purushwadi and Grassroutes

2014-03-04 07.29.03I had now been in India for 8 days, and all of the consultancy work in Mumbai was complete. As part of the trip, I had been fortunate enough to be invited to spend a few nights in Purushwadi, which is a village in central India. It was a 5 hour coach ride, during which time I witnessed some ‘interesting’ motorway driving and some breath-taking scenery. What made Purushwadi so special was that it was a self-sustaining village which had no electricity of running water. This was facilitated by an organisation called Grassroutes, who do a lot of work abroad to help educate people on the way in which other cultures live.

Because of Grassroutes direct link with Purushwadi, portable toilets with occasional running water had been installed for visitors; as had concrete block tents. As you can imagine sleeping on a concrete block mattress wasn’t the most comfortable, but after a long day, where I slept was irrelevant.

The village itself was incredible; stray animals were common – we seemed to adopt a dog – and the villagers were very resourceful. I quickly discovered that dung was used to insulate houses, which, if applied correctly, created a smooth floor, kept houses cool and in fact had no fragrance at all. The amount of work which everyone undertook on a daily basis, sowing and picking crops was astounding. Something which will live long in my memory is playing cricket with the local kids, who, of course, were far better than any of us.

The views were amazing; given that there was no electricity and that we were on the equator, you wake up when the sun comes up – around 6am – and you go to bed when the sun goes down; by 8pm it was pitch black. Without artificial lights which curse our skies, the sky was lit up by hundreds of stars, something I had never witnessed.

From a business point of view, it was a huge personal learning experience. In the west we are focused on material possessions and working for money, because that’s the culture in which we live. In Purushwadi, they have no need for money; everyone eats from the land and works hard to ensure that food is available for themselves and their community. People seemed incredibly content and probably happier given that they didn’t have the constant worry of how they were going to afford to pay bills. Of course there are obvious drawbacks, most importantly the lack of healthcare, however, this had been countered by their link with Grassroutes, who made a Doctor available to them regularly.

I left Purushwadi after 3 days having had an unforgettable experience which opened my eyes and changed my opinions on so many things. Upon returning to Mumbai, I had 9 hours until making my way to Mumbai International Airport to begin my epic 14 hour return journey. Without a shadow of a doubt, my view on ‘international development’ had been hugely altered (no doubt a topic I will discuss in the future), and I had learnt a great deal about business abroad and been proud to have had a part in 3 such ambitious and successful growing social ventures.

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New year, new resolutions?

Historically a New Year creates a new opportunity for people to reinvent themselves through resolutions, be that losing a few pounds, trying something new or focusing on a certain aspect of life more.

I’ve always been slightly reserved about the idea of creating a raft of resolutions; why wait for the excuse of a new year to make changes? In Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup, there is a big focus on ‘pivoting’ if something doesn’t work. Granted, this theory applies to business, i.e. your business model doesn’t allow for you to significantly scale, so you pivot in an attempt to alter this with the hope that this will be achieved in a new iteration of your model. But why can’t this be replicated in all aspects of life?

I recently read an article in on 10 Resolutions from Young Entrepreneurs. They focused on better delegation, celebrate achievements and find a better work-life balance, all of which are good goals to set yourself, however, there is no requirement to wait for an occasion as big as a New Year to make these changes. There has been a lot of press around ’30 day challenges’ of late, and I have indeed jumped on the band wagon. These are challenges which you set yourself for a month, for which you do (or don’t do) a certain activity for a month. These can be giving up certain things, physically pushing yourself, or taking up something new. With the challenges I have set myself in the past, this has created self-improvement, diversity and goal setting.

I’ve often thought that one of the most difficult aspects about working for yourself is the motivation to actually do it. Waking up at 7am to go into the office, finishing very late or working weekends when no one is around to tell or motivate you to do so can be daunting. I’ve actually found that the complete opposite is the case. When you have ownership over something, you are intrinsically more passionate about it, hence you spend more time to develop it. When this is linked to finances and whether you can afford to pay rent or feed yourself for a month, there is an obvious additional incentive. But if you are passionate enough about something as to look forward to each day of work, each new challenge and you surround yourself with the right support, then more often than not, financial benefits follow.

So my message is clear, don’t wait for a significant life or time event to set yourself new challenges, that’s certainly something I’ve found when dealing with start-ups and the quest for personal development.

This blog is also available on the Kindle Store and you can follow me on Twitter (@benpfsmith) to find out more or get in touch.