When I was asked last September if TEAM BOLD would be willing to host a business exchange fellowship participant from India I had no idea that saying “yes” would change my life.
I would have been satisfied with the first life-changing part of the experience that came in the form of a radio jockey from Baroda. I will be forever grateful that I met and worked with Aditi. She has a contagious spark that filled my days with joy.
Then, just when I thought we would be saying good-bye indefinitely, opportunity rose its head once again. “Are you interested in the return trip?” The casual question came during the fellowship farewell reception. My brain nearly exploded. I attempted to sound equally as casual in my response of, “I think so.” I then wasted no time in crossing the room to whisper a squeal in Aditi’s ear, “They just asked me to come on the return visit! AHHHHH!!!!” We were both cautiously overjoyed. Could this actually happen?
Indeed it could.
Nary two months later I found myself kissing my amazing husband and adorable children goodbye at Will Rogers World Airport and turning to accompany a heretofore stranger turned traveling companion, Sarah Beth, on the 30 + hour trans-Atlantic, trans-continental journey of a lifetime. In London we joined up with Quinn and Jonathan then finally found our way to Ahmedabad, India and the company of our fearless leader, Joe Foote.
The next 12 days were a flurry of activity. New sights, sounds, smells and tastes. New ideas, new friends, new connections. We interacted with entrepreneurship students from India and around the world, visited small and medium sized manufacturing plants, met with students and faculty at creative arts institutions, toured a large-scale dairy and a local Hitachi plant, explored local artisan cooperatives and shopped and visited tourist destinations. We were reunited with the business people we had been blessed to host in Oklahoma which meant I got to see Aditi in her element on the radio and as a sponsor of a local event. Aditi took me shopping and while we were out she was even approached by a fan who wanted a photo. She also arranged a visit with the local United Way office and a meeting with a very successful creative firm that does work similar to our team at BOLD.
It was invigorating to see how business is done in another culture. In broad strokes I can say that Indians work hard, are innovative and love to see new ideas come to fruition. They aren’t afraid to demand the best and no one is offended by it. On the contrary, it’s expected that you look after your own best interest. They don’t seem to play games or operate in unspoken subtleties. They lay the cards on the table and deal in honest handshakes.
The Indian people are also incredibly hospitable. Don’t let them catch you turning down afternoon tea - that is an unforgivable offense. And don’t attempt to clean your plate at any meal, it will simply be refilled!
Perhaps my favorite visit was with the Self Employed Women’s Association or SEWA. SEWA operates as a cooperative of artisans from villages who produce high quality handcrafted embroidered items. These items are sold under SEWA’s brand “hansiba” and also under other labels around the world. The craftsmanship is incredible but more so, the knowledge that purchasing a SEWA item is supporting the livelihood of a woman and family in rural India is uplifting to the spirit.
While there we were also faced with some of the dichotomies of the Indian culture. The quality of work produced is first class, but many of the operations we visited had unexpectedly modest and simple facilities in areas that utilize camel-drawn carts to transport materials from one location to the next. High-end condominiums are being constructed by workers who live with their families in tent villages next to the work site and utilize bamboo scaffolding to scale 10+ story structures. There is great wealth beside extreme poverty; world-class development beside unkempt landscaping and litter. Equal numbers of cars, people, cows and dogs attempting to navigate the streets.
But what stands out to me is the warmth and vibrancy of people who truly embraced us. We received a lot of second looks and stares, more than our fair share of requests for pictures (I shudder to think of how many Facebook pages my mug has shown up on!) but an even greater number of smiles and open doors.
Thank you, India!