Having had the opportunity to live and work in France and Italy, when I was given the chance by RBS and Birmingham Leadership Foundation to go to India to work with three growing social enterprises as a consultant, I didn’t need to be asked twice!
Arriving at Mumbai International airport following a 10 hour flight via Istanbul – which seemed more like a street market than an airport: people everywhere with no real sense of where anything was – I was initially struck by the humidity. I finally got through immigration and out of the airport at 6am local time, the heat and humidity punching me in the face. It was then that I had my first experience of Indian roads…lunacy! Considering the time, in the UK the roads would be quite empty, not so in India. Cars littered the road and the sound of constant honking was alien to me. I’m told that people drive on the left-hand side of the road in India, although I remain unconvinced. However, I quickly adapted to this element of Indian life, and in fact, it soon became a highlight of my day. Fortunately I had a driver to take me to meetings and other locations; but the thrill of not quite knowing if I would reach my destination was quite exhilarating. Although the accommodation was located in Bandra East, most of our time was spent in Mumbai. I had arrived on a Saturday, so Sunday provided an opportunity to adjust, being given a guided tour of the vast city centre. This also gave me my first taste of the market stalls and bartering culture, something I found incredibly enjoyable.
Monday was the first day with company number one: Under the Mango Tree. They attempted to increase the production of fruit and vegetables for farmers through bee pollination; by selling farmers small bee hives and transforming them into bee keepers. Bees are proven to enhance the growth of fruits and vegetables, thus enhancing revenue for the farmers. Their social mission was clear: enhance food production to reduce hunger in India, a clear problem given the number of people who officially live below the poverty line – roughly 30%, although this is dropping. In order to generate money to support their social mission, they charge farmers for the bee hive units whilst also selling the honey which is produced; although, the bees chosen produce little honey, but are the most efficient in terms of food productivity. They were eager to build brand awareness and ambassadors to spread their word, and after several good sessions working with them, they left with the blueprint for a strategy and I left with a greater understanding of business in India.