Women are the face of change in India

Yesterday I had the opportunity yesterday to lead a change management / project management workshop for 3 brilliant women from Villgro. It was a great idea suggested by the Australian on our team. She recognized that we could only have so much of an impact in four weeks, but if we could equip them to keep the momentum going, they have a better chance to make our recommendations a reality. We’d actually planned to just have 2 of the ladies in there, but a 3rd asked if she could join because she is passionate about helping Villgro transform. Can’t remember the last time a client asked to come to an all-day workshop for something that isn’t on their performance plan. Very nice.

Even though change management and project management are my bread and butter, this made me more nervous than when I led the Design Thinking workshop. It was going to be much more detailed, and I expected that they’d ask some very thought-provoking questions. After the intense amount of work we’d already put in, would we have the brain power left to really give good guidance? And did I mention that our party crasher (whom I adore) went to Harvard? Because that isn’t at all intimidating… Yikes. Luckily my Aussie pal is a great color commentator and contributor, and between the two of us talking and a very attentive and sharp audience, the 7 hours flew by.

So why the title for this entry? I see a major shift between the generations in India. Young women feel empowered and are willing to push for change. We covered a wide range of ages in the room: 22, 29, 31, 38, and 45. We talked about how the women in India who are my age (aka the Gen X’ers) were more complacent. They recognized the challenges in the country but didn’t have the power to do anything. However, and this is awesome, they DID raise daughters with the knowledge that they could and should be treated as equals, and that they would be the pioneers of change. We also discussed the difference between generations in general, and how their leadership doesn’t communicate with them the way that most employees would like, because they are from my generation. We’re not as big on feedback as millennials are. They started to think about how they should approach change and projects in a way that the older workers would relate better to, while still giving them the opportunities that millenials crave. As we discussed how corporations run, these ladies were immediately noticing the gaps in how they currently work, and we collaborated to come up with some ideas to make change happen. They took to the concepts of project management and change management incredibly well.

They face a difficult road ahead. Big business in India is still dominated by men. I have no doubt that these ladies have the skills to one day lead a major corporation, but it will be even harder for them than it is for American women (and we think we have a glass ceiling? theirs is lead). Because men are still seen as the breadwinner, you see more women in NGOs where the pay is less but their passion for contributing to the betterment of the country is fulfilled. That means that women are really the ones on the front line of battling poverty, abuse, child labor, health care gaps, etc. They are the face of India’s future.

Woman power! Go Heera, Chaarvi, and Kavita!!!

Building our report in 3 different voice

We’ve broken every tenet of report writing by assigning different sections to different team members. Our chief stakeholder is on vacation beginning next Tuesday, so we had to move our presentation to Monday. That’s four days less than planned to develop the report and presentation – pretty fast for a company-wide review and analysis. The only area we didn’t look at was HR. Dividing and conquering was required to meet the shortened deadline, but we didn’t take into account that there might be some rough transitions from one voice to the next.

It was interesting to me that the Australian and I have very similar writing styles. A few times during review, I wasn’t certain what she had written versus what I had written. The difference wasn’t apparent until we added in the German’s sections. His style is quite different. The surprising part was that the differences came from the German. He and I are both quiet and reflective types. The Australian is vivacious, talkative, and occasionally breaks out into dance. In other words, my polar opposite (and that makes her very good for me). So what influences our writing styles? Is it because she and I are both customer-facing and we’ve both adapted our style to always communicating with customers, while the German is internally-focused working solely with SAP colleagues? Is it because we are both women and he is male? Is it because she and I are native English speakers and he is English-as-a-second language? It can’t be age, because I’m 6 years younger than he and 14 years older than she. Don’t know why, but it really intrigues me to see that the writing style isn’t aligned to personalities. Oh well. I’ll ponder it some more while reworking this blasted thing to unify the voice.

This weekend, 5 of us are going to New Delhi then Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. I’m really looking forward to it. Can’t believe I have to get on another plane, yet I didn’t think it made sense to come all the way to India and not see the most famous site in the country. We have a tour operator picking us up in Delhi to drive us to Agra, making stops along the way to visit various tourist sites. Best part is it will be a full moon, and Taj is supposed to be amazing under a full moon. I will take lots of pics and try to survive the heat. Weather forecast has the temperature at 107 degrees. Ouch. I’m basically going to melt. As much as I appreciate this experience, I’m glad that it is our last weekend here because it means I’m getting closer to going home.

Meeting our “customers”

Today, several representatives from each of our customer projects joined us in a workshop. It was inspiring to meet such incredible people who see the opportunity to make India a better place and act on it.

Arunodhaya was the first organization to present. Virgil is a woman who, in 1992, dedicated her life to reducing child slavery and labor. Her stories are a mix of heartbreaking and encouraging. Can you imagine someone in this day and age saying that child labor is just a fact of life? That comment was made to her recently by someone questioning her work. Unreal. She and her organization work closely with slums to ensure that children are given the chance to be children, to play and to learn, be safe from sexual and physical abuse, and not be forced into labor. They have met with such success that if someone in one of the 100+ slums sees a child being taken out of school or treated inappropriately, they contact the center to intervene. Virgil is passionate and strong, and her mission to save children is a great success. They are guaranteeing the future of India through their work with the youth.

The next presenter was Srini from Hand in Hand. This is a massive organization that started in 2002, initially focused also on the reduction of child labor, now expanding into many areas of empowerment. One of their great areas of success is with self-help groups for women. This isn’t what an American thinks of with self-help (I sort of pictured them sitting around reading Dr. Phil books). It is women sharing resources and building financial opportunities to support their families. They are provided with education, business support, and care to move them from below the poverty line via B2B opportunities. The goal of the overall program is to provide 5 million jobs by 2020. Think about that: the organization will be only 18 years old at that time, yet having that kind of impact. Wow.

The third organization is the one I will work with, Villgro. This group was started in 2001 to match social entrepreneurs with funding opportunities. Each funding recipient must be focused on building business to improve health care, reduce poverty, or increase education in rural areas. For example, one of their recipients had a plan for how to better test for anemia in pregnant women. Anemia affects 60% of Indian women, and rural women are particularly at risk for childbirth complications, including death, due to undiagnosed anemia. These rural women can’t afford to take a full day to travel to a larger city where their blood can be tested, and they strongly fear contracting diseases from needles, so they tend to ignore the risk. The Villgro organzation funded and advised a start-up in developing an ocular scanner that has 98% accuracy for measuring anemia, and it means the ladies can be tested right in their village. Another recipient was for a stovetop manufacturer for rural cooking that reduces the consumption of firewood by 50%. This not only cut firewood costs and pollution in half, it also greatly reduces the chance of lung disease for the restaurant cooks. Villgro supports many start-ups like this not just with funds, but also with mentorship and business expertise. It is an honor to work with Guns, Heera, and the rest of their team of innovators.

The final project is Bhumi. This is a very new volunteer organization, founded in 2006 by Dr. Prahalathan KK. He wanted to start an initiative for young people in India to volunteer within their communities. They have grown into one of the largest youth volunteer groups in all of India. The average age of their volunteer is 22-23 years old. That made me feel so old! At that age, my priorities were less inspiring to say the least. Their focus is on educational opportunities for underprivileged or orphaned children, and on improving the environment. For the children, the program is supplemental to their daily school work, focused on keeping them in school and making it to college or finding careers that help them escape poverty. For the environment, the volunteers participate in activities such as planting trees, sweeping parks, cleaning beaches, etc. All volunteers are under the age of 30. The program builds civic pride in a young generation.

A commonality among the leaders who spoke is humility. These are individuals who are positively affecting the lives of literally millions of people, yet they take no personal credit. They are proud of their teams and the overall achievements, and seek no personal praise for all that has been accomplished. I am humbled to be around these people. I can’t wait to learn and share more!