What a successful, memorable community day

Today, our CSC India 32 team delivered our community service day at CECOEDECON’s founding location. We were welcoming more than 120 women from rural village communities, organised in self help groups. Our agenda was about self-empowerment of women. We organised three workshops about being proud, financial well-being and setting priorities.

Welcoming with the first delegation of women
Welcoming with the first delegation of women

We enjoyed a very warm welcome with the first delegation of women arriving. Everyone of these guests wore a different saree. In the sunlight, these vibrant colours have a very powerful effect. Some women transformed this energy with dancing to the music and they encouraged us to participate as well… While some were still dancing, we were surprised again as all the men were given a turban. In the last few days, I got more and more fascinated about the different colours and styles of turbans I see. I developed a desire to once experience how to fold this 6 m long fabric into a turban on my head. And suddenly, this idea took place much earlier than I could have imagined. A very nice surprise!

Proper setup of a turban
Proper setup of a turban
CSC Team India 32 with turban
CSC Team India 32 with turban

All 5 of us equipped with a turban, we were asked to move to the backyard of the building. Manish explained us that for a community service day, they would like to leave something behind. When you plant a tree, you are making the world a better place for all those generations that follow you. That’s why everyone of our 10 CSC India 32 team members was able to plant an ashoka tree. I had the honour to start this special procedure.

Planting a tree for the following generations
Planting a tree for the following generations
First women in the audience
First women in the audience

Based on my observations in the first 2-3 weeks in India, I realised that people here like to be photographed. The women we invited for this community service day likely did not have a semi-professional photo of them before. That’s why I proposed to use my camera for this day, taking portrait photos of all participants. We framed this idea into the topic of being proud. While I took photos, my colleagues Ale and Mark discussed with the women the connection of body language and pride. At the end of the community service day, every participant received a print of the personal portrait.

Beneficiaries of the IBM CSC Community Service Day India 32
Beneficiaries of the IBM CSC Community Service Day India 32

In the closing session, some women stood up and started singing and dancing. To me, this was a very emotional moment. The room was filled with energy. I got the impression that this was one day in their life they will remember for long.

Singing and dancing in the closing session
Singing and dancing in the closing session

For this community service day, we were expecting about 60 participants. With an attendance of more than 120 people, the printing took longer than planned. Some of the women started to worry about their livestock and other duties they have to look after. Therefore, we offered those still waiting for the print to pick up the photo next week. However, everyone decided setting priority to receiving their photo. This showed us that this personal gift was of high importance to all participants. The smile and pride I saw in their faces when they received their portrait photo was a big reward to our contribution.

IBM CSC Community Service Day India 32 team with CECOEDECON and VSO
IBM CSC Community Service Day India 32 team with CECOEDECON and VSO

The whole team was very pleased with the outcome of this successful, memorable community service day. It was one day everyone who was there will remember for a long time!

Omar Abdullah

Manish, our primary contact at CECOEDECON recently mentioned that I reminded him of Omar Abdullah, a famous politician from the Kashmir area. Since this day, team members from time to time call me Omar. And Indian people are buying in to this comparison. What do you think?

Omar Abdullah
Omar Abdullah
Markus Fehr
Markus Fehr

#ibmcsc india

We made it to the Times of India today

This morning, a hotel employee approached me with a big smile, while I was at the breakfast buffet. “You’re on the Newspaper, together with your friends”. I was very surprised and honoured that the hotel staff identified Natasja, Mark and myself in today’s newspaper in an article about the Jaipur by nite marathon. I was also surprised about my quote. I did not say much more than what appeared in the newspaper. Apart from the time information (we are here for a full month in total, not 4 weeks in the country already), everything else is what I said.

The Times of India - Jaipur, September 20, 2016

The Times of India – Jaipur, September 20, 2016

So this was my first media experience of my IBM Corporate Service Corps mission and a positive one.

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Jaipur by nite Marathon

When I prepared for my trip to India, I asked Sid, an Indian work colleague of mine about hints for running in India. He convinced me to not plan running outdoors as it would be very hot during the day (correct: today’s temperature was just about 39°C…) and the streets are too dangerous as no one expects a person running, apart from the fact that there usually are no sidewalks existing. Therefore, for my CSC assignment, I mentally prepared myself to run on treadmills during my stay to keep a minimum of sport activity.

Last week, I learned that Jaipur runs the 4th edition of the Jaipur by nite marathon. I started to investigate more about this event. It turned out that the marathon event actually only has two distances: 10k and 5k. No mention of 42.195 k… On the other hand, such short distances are doable for many. That’s why I asked the team if someone is interested to join. Over three days, the idea increased popularity and I could sign up all of our 10 team members for the race. We planned two groups: the first group will be running together, the second will be walking. The main intent was a fun and joint experience.

Team cscindia32 ready for the Jaipur by nite marathon
Team cscindia32 ready for the Jaipur by nite marathon

Information about the race on the website was little. It said that participants are expected to be at the starting point by 9 pm. Given this schedule, we arranged an early dinner at 6 pm at our hotel.

On our way to the event location, our taxi was riding on the street that was planned for the running track. Traffic on this 3-lane street was just normal and we wondered by what time they intend to block the traffic so the street is safe enough to run.

Half an hour before the event started, we arrived at the event location. We were surprised to barely see anyone around with a start number. Not much happened at this time, which confused us very much. We found someone who looked like a representative of the event. He explained us that the start of the race is around 11 pm for the 10k, and 11:30 pm for the 5k. This was some different timing than everyone of our team expected. These timings were not published anywhere. Further checks resulted in similar times, all between 10:30 and 11:30 pm… Many of our team lost confidence into the (approximate) start time; waiting for 2,5 hours or even more was a reason some were not pleased with this situation. That’s why we decided to split up: Natasja, Mark and I decided to stay, “taking the risk” for a long wait. The rest went to our drivers who drove them back to the hotel.

The three of us returned to the start area which finally began filling with people. Local bands were playing and we noticed an increasing media presence. Being non-Indian, we became a target for many photographers and video journalists. Two young guys asked us for a YouTube video interview and a journalist of the Times of India was curious to hear our story what motivated us to attend this event. These actions kept us busy and so the time to the start of our race went by quickly. At 11 pm, the 10k run started and we were asked to line-up at the start. I was surprised to see all the different gear people wore: Some turned up in running gear with shorts, the way we were dressed. Much more people were seen in a running shirt and long trainer trousers. The less usual run gear (at least for me) was a number of people in jeans with a cotton T-Shirt or shirt. I was somewhat surprised to even see some women in their spree, with a start number attached. Another woman attached her start number on her hand bag. – I have been in start lines of many races but this mix of attire was a first but refreshing to me. It showed that you do not require special gear to attend a fun run. Attending and having fun is more important than the gear.

With the start of the race, it quickly became clear that most ones in running gear had the intention to run these 5k. The majority of the people in street wear were walking or fast walking. In any case, it was supposed to be a fun run and I had the impression that everyone enjoyed the atmosphere.

Happy finisher of Jaipur by nite marathon: Natasja, Mar & Markus
Happy finisher of Jaipur by nite marathon: Natasja, Mark & Markus

The 3-lane street provided a lot of comfortable space for all runners. Yes, they managed to completely block the street in a length of 5k for this race. This must have been the most quiet time for a very long time in this street: In regular indian traffic, there is always at least one vehicle using it’s horn…

The temperature of 29°C during the race made me quickly sweating, even running at a comfortable pace. We happily finished the race together, as planned. At the finishing line, Natasja heard someone saying that she was the first women to cross the finishing line. And Mark clocked a new personal best for the 5k distance. We were all glad to “risk” waiting longer. The payback was a fun experience.

#ibmcsc india

Second week at the IBM Corporate Service Corps

Time flies and my second week in the IBM Corporate Service Corps already comes to an end. This week was dominated by a series of interviews with employees of CECOEDECON. We learned a lot about this NGO and it’s wide ecosystem from rural villages up to the united nations level. I also got a chance to dedicate some time to learn about the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030 (SDG). At the Climate Summit 2014 where the SDGs were finalised, Kofi Annan explained the importance of these global goals with the statement There is no “Plan B” for climate action as there is no “Planet B”. It could not be said any better…

Natasha and I performing an Interview with Ritu
Natasha and I performing an Interview with Ritu

During the week, we visited the field. We went to the place were CECOEDECON started 35 years ago. I liked seeing their company motto at the entrance of their premises saying “where action speaks louder an words”. – We saw the result of a project CECOEDECON ran 10 years ago. They supported villages that suffered from water resources for their agriculture and personal needs.

Where action speaks louder than words
Where action speaks louder than words

Together with the locals, they built some dams to create a large lake to store rain water. The dam was built based on local material, local knowledge to identify the best area to use and historical methods that were successfully applied in this region in the past. Today, this lake serves the needs of about 200 families and it’s agriculture needs in the villages around. Apart from availability of water over the entire year, farmers happily noticed that their buffalos now create a larger volume and better quality of milk. The Buffaloes now regularly have the possibility for a bath, which is important for Them and they have access to stronger grass, etc.

Interview in the field at the dam
Interview in the field at the dam

After the dam, we were able to talk to 2 teachers of CECOEDECON. They train 35 women from rural villages about child care, malnutrition, etc. these women were elected in their villages to participate in this training. As the training takes 4 weeks, they stay at the CECOEDECON premises for the entire time.

As we arrived at the headquarters of CECOEDECON, we were invited to have lunch in the board room. This was different than usual. Many of the people that were present at the office were assembled at the board room. The reason was that Hindus celebrate Pitru Paksha to remember their forefathers. The food which consisted of at least 20 different choices was all prepared by the founder himself to remember his father. We were pleased to witness such a tradition.

Lunch at the boardroom for Pitru Paksha
Lunch at the boardroom for Pitru Paksha

#ibmcsc india

Weekend-trip to Taj Mahal

 

Markus @ Taj Mahal
Markus @ Taj Mahal

This weekend, we went for a 2-day trip to Agra. From Jaipur, it took us about 5.5 hours to drive this 230 km to Agra. The reason for this long time lies in the fact that the maximum speed that our bus was riding on the highway was about 80 km/h. Most times, our bus had to ride slower due to other cars, trucks, cows, tractors, etc.

CSC Team India 32 at Agra Fort
CSC Team India 32 at Agra Fort

Early afternoon, we first stopped at our hotel where I enjoyed a first view of the Taj Mahal, directly from my room. The Taj, however, was planned for Sunday early morning. That’s why we visited the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah (also known as “Baby Taj”) as well as Agra Fort. These are very impressive monuments. Both are heavily influenced from the arabic world. However, you find multiple references to acceptance of all religions. Many walls, pillars, etc unite hinduism, islam, christian and jewish religion in a single design. They must have been very open to all major religions.

Baby Taj
Baby Taj
Agra Fort
Agra Fort

In the evening, we chose one of the top rated restaurants of tripadvisor, only a few hundred meters away from our hotel. We were lucky that we went early. Half an hour later, people already had to queue to get a seat. This would have been difficult for us, being a group of 10 people…

Sunday morning, we met a 5 am to arrive at the gate of Taj Mahal as one of the first. When we arrived at 5:10 am, we joined a group of 4 people. The plan worked well to see Taj Mahal without many tourists. We had to wait until 6 am until the gate officially opened. In the mean time, about 200-300 people queued behind us, with the same goal to enter Taj Mahal as one of the first of the day. The Taj Mahal, one of the 7 new wonders of the world, is a symbol for eternal love: The Mogul built this mausoleum for his wive, who gave him 14 children, to demonstrate how much he loved her. – Visiting the Taj Mahal in the early morning was a good advise I read in multiple places: There were fewer people than can be expected later in the day. Even so important is that temperatures were not yet so hot at this time.

agra-taj-mahal-00111

In Fatehpur Sikri, another huge fort, we then experienced a site around mid-day, which was very hot. As visitors have to take their shoes off, they layed carpets on the floor so people can cross the big areas barefoot without burning their feet due to the heat on the ground…

Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri

The last stop was at the Stepwell in Abhaneri, about 100 km before Jaipur. These world heritage listed steppwell is a huge water storage. People used the stairs to walk down to the water level to collect water. This Stepwell is very attractive from a design point of view, creating nice regular patterns.

Stepwell Abhaneri
Stepwell Abhaneri

This weekend finished our first week in India. Our CSC team was able to recharge our batteries in order to be ready for week 2 where we continue working with our four NGO partners.

#ibmcsc india

First week is ending already

Time flies. Natasja and I have spent a significant amount of time doing interviews with our client. We also did a good amount of research on the internet about the ecosystem our client is embedded in, to get an external view to the company. As a result, we have a much better understanding of the company, it’s challenges and how we plan to perform the following three weeks for our strategy review.

Today, we were presented with our office. This will be a good place for taking interviews with employees and partners in different roles, located at or visiting the headquarters. We are in the fortunate situation that our room is air conditioned and breezy. At temperatures of 36°C around mid day, this is a great comfort for us two Europeans…

Our office for the next 3 weeks
Our office for the next 3 weeks

During this week, I learned a lot more about India, it’s people and it’s culture. One thing which is very refreshing are the vibrant colours you discover in various places like temples, plants, colourful sarees, etc. I discovered that the neighbour building of our client processes colour powder, apparently mainly used in templates. For a while, they leave the coloured material on the roof to let it dry. As a next step, this material is going to be processed to a finer grain, before it will be packaged and sold to it’s customers.

Coloured powder for temples
Coloured powder for temples

The first week is now almost over. Tomorrow, we will be heading to Agra for a 2-day trip. Sunday morning, we plan to see the famous Taj Mahal at sunrise. I look forward to a very interesting weekend with all 10 of us IBM CSC India 32 team members!

#ibmcsc india

First day with our Client

Today was the first day we were with our client CECEODECON (Centre for Community Economics & Development Consultants Society). It took us one hour from the hotel to their headquarter office. Half of the time was lost as the taxi driver did not find the address of our client. I must admit that the numbering system of buildings was not clear to me either. Our taxi frequently stopped the car in the street to ask people of the way to our destination. After a while, and some phone calls with Manish, the CEO of CECEODECON, Manish promised to send someone to pick us up. As we were in the morning rush hour, the streets were full of cars, motorbikes, some camels, cows and a huge number of pedestrians. I was wondering how they will find us. While waiting, a motorbike rider stopped in front of our car checking us up in the car. It took a moment for us to realise that this was the person Manish sent to guide us to his office.

Manish, Natasja, Markus
Markus, Manish, Natasja (left to right)

We finally made it to his office in the basement. We were introduced to Sharad Joshi, the founder of CECEODECON. We had long and very informative sessions that allowed us to better understand the client, its core capabilities and its challenges. It was an intense day with loads of new information to digest.

On the way home, we witnessed a procession for the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, a Hindu festival in honour of the elegant-headed god Ganesha. In the front, there was a car playing loud music, followed by about 200 people all in a special bright red gear. This procession stopped the entire traffic as they crossed a main street. Interestingly, all cars stopped, waiting the procession to cross the street. No horns were used at this time and I did not see motorbikes squeezing in between the cars. I also discovered an elephant which likely was decorated for the festival, with a painted tail and some coloured stars on his legs…

Painted elephant
Painted elephant

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Settling in India

At 3:10 am in the morning my plane landed in Jaipur. To me, such an arrival time is very unusual. I was told that in Jaipur, and other India cities, many international flights arrive during the night. I was surprised to see so many people at the airport arrivals, waiting for friends, family members or business partners. Amongst them, I was relieved to quickly identify a sign with my name. Satish from our local partner organisation provided me a warm welcome in Jaipur. He joined me on the transfer to the hotel, which was relatively quick: There were only a few cars in the street, the number of dogs and cows was almost higher at this time of the night but our driver was well used to surround all obstacles on the way. I was happy to enter my room and finally go to bed at 4ish in the morning.

However, the first night was very short. I was eager to join the team at 9:30 am to discover the city of Jaipur together. I was the last one of our team to arrive in Jaipur. Unfortunately, our team lost two team members. Johnny from China had to cancel due to a customer project and Wale from Nigeria had visa issues. He was promised a visa for September 27 which is almost the end of our 4 week assignment. I am sorry that Johnny and Wale can’t make it as they both put a lot of energy into preparation work before the start of our trip.

After 12 weeks of preparations, having spoken to all members of the team on many phone calls, I finally had the opportunity to meet my team members face to face. This is always a special moment: You have an image of a person, based on a profile picture and the voice you hear over a long period of time. And then you finally see the person in front of you. Although this is the first time you meet face to face, you bond very quickly.

We were guided through the city of Jaipur, which is also known as the pink city. This is because of the color of the stone exclusively used for the construction of all the structures in today’s old town. In 1876, the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited India on a tour. Since pink denotes the color of hospitality, Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the whole city pink in color to welcome the guests. The tradition has been sincerely followed by the residents who are now, by law, compelled to maintain the pink color.

160904-Jaipur-00086
Hawa Mahal, Palace of Winds

Indian streets are always noisy. Every driver uses it’s horn in many situations. The streets are crowded with cars, busses, Tuk-Tuks (many of them are battery powered!), motorbikes, normal bikes, cows, horse carriages, etc. Motorised drivers regularly use the horn to indicate the vehicles in front of them that they are approaching from the back. It looks very chaotic and hectic. Everyone seems to be late. Therefore, all drivers in the streets take every single opportunity they see to come to their destination faster. Of course, there are rules – but no-one follows them, except the red lights. Interestingly, I have not yet seen any crash in the streets nor do the cars look damaged. They might have some scratches of passing objects too close but no big damages.

Our team below Amer Fort: Ottavia, Léon, Silvia, John, Alé, Natasja, Satish, Sridi, Anna, Sireth, Preston, myself and Mark
Our team below Amer Fort: Ottavia, Léon, Silvia, John, Alé, Natasja, Satish, Sridi, Anna, Sireth, Preston, myself and Mark

Our tour first started with Fort Amer, a few km outside of Jaipur, elevated in the mountains. This is a very impressing, huge location for a Maharaja and the full entourage, all made of sandstone. Totally unexpected, I learned that Jaipur has the largest “Jantar Mantar” which is a sundial with a precision of 2 seconds. The larger the sundial the more precision it provides. The park includes a number of different sundials which have a history back to the 18th century. We finished our tour walking up the Hawa Mahal, also known as the palace of winds.

160904-Jaipur-00024
Fort Amer

One thing I was very curious about my India experience was the local food and how I will like it from both a flavour and a spicy point of view. In this context, I also had a very positive start: The first Lunch and Dinner were delicious and surprisingly mild. My history of Indian cuisine I enjoyed in Europe is little and very different to what I have experienced in Jaipur on my first day. I wonder if this was coincidence… In any case, I will have plenty of opportunities to learn more about Indian cuisine and look forward to experience more!

This first day with my team for the next 4 weeks was very positive. I learned a lot more about my team and I look forward to work with them for this unique IBM Corporate Service Corps project in Jaipur.

Jantar Mantar
Jantar Mantar, the largest and most precise sundial in the world

#ibmcsc india

My philanthropic journey to India

This week, I will depart to Jaipur, India to start my engagement in the IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC). The CSC is part of IBM’s Global Citizen’s Portfolio initiative. It is a program to develop leadership skills while addressing economic challenges in emerging markets. This involves IBMers who can contribute valuable and much-needed skills, talent, and capabilities in emerging market countries and help make an impact in that country.

This video gives you an idea of the impact a former CSC team made for handicapped people in India:

I will be working in a team of 12 IBMer from 11 different countries (Brasil, Mexico, US, Canada, The Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, Nigeria, China, Australia and myself from Switzerland) as the CSC team “India 32”.

During my engagement in Jaipur, I plan to regularly provide updates on this unique journey through this blog as well as on Twitter (@mfehr_ch). Stay tuned!

#ibmcsc india