Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Youthpal bill

Sharng a guest column I wrote for India Today's Youth Special issue. Pasting below my original, slightly extended version.

Youthpal Bill
by Rashmi Bansal

If we want a Facebook or Google from India, we have to stop telling Johnny and Jyoti to "be good"

The moment I walked into Christ College, Bangalore I knew something was wrong. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Until a student giggled and whispered to me, “You are wearing jeans. We are not allowed.”

College without jeans? That's like Dabbang without Salman. Is it even possible? The old fogies seem to think so!

Welcome to the brave new college campus where 'discipline' rules. Students will be less distracted if they are neatly dressed in t-shirts with collars and formal shoes. Girls, please don't leave your hair open and stick to salwar kameez. Now, nose in books!

Of course, we encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. Can't you see the shiny new incubation centre we have set up? Please - feel free to disregard conventional thinking and come up with the next Facebook or Google.

But no bunking classes, and complete your syllabus first. We are disabling the net connection after 12 midnight, because we care about your future more than you do.

Our college had 100% placement last year. Students got jobs in a wide variety of jobs which require very little thinking but everyone has at least heard of the company names. It looks good in our brochure.

We would very much like this trend to continue.

Across India, from Kota to Kakinada, I have visited college campuses where students are being moulded, into sheep. The kind of minds which will not think, or question but accept what is told to them. Instead of searching for answers from within.

'Be good and we will be good to you'. That is the unspoken letter of blackmail posted into young hearts by parents. Whether it's career choice or whom to marry, the Family Stamp of Approval still dictates dynamics. Surrender and you will get a pink laptop and study abroad and inherit the family business.

Who wants to be a rebel and lose all this?

And yet, in moments of darkness, moments of doubt, the Young Indian knows there is something more out there, waiting to be discovered. A hidden potential, a secret spark.

Ki hum bhi koi cheez hain, is duniya mein. Our time on this earth has made some difference.

I see a small but growing band of young Indians taking the path of idealism.
Breaking out of the 'Be Good' box and breathing free.

Some, leaving plum jobs to set up their own companies. Others, choosing the path of social entrepreneurship. Many more thinking and dreaming of such options.

“Please help me, guide me, mentor me…..” they write to me, after reading one or another of my books.

Very well, I say, but remember there are no shortcuts on the path of Self Actualisation. Unlike that Bournville chocolate you really have to earn it.

Do not be fickle, do not be weak. Be steady on the path, and persevere. Your life is your life, live it while you have it.

Or, wear Levi’s jeans and forever hold your peace.

Choose whichever path makes you happy. Just remember, you owe the same to your children. When it's their time, their day.

A note to Indian parents
Kahlil Gibran on Children

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams….

My last word: Let your children live their dreams, not yours.

Friday, September 16, 2011

'I Have a Dream' - ebook (kindle edition) now available

For those of you who live outside India and are unable to lay your hands on my physical books.

Or those of you, ahead of the curve, who prefer reading ebooks.

I have good news for you! The kindle edition of 'I Have a Dream' is now available on Amazon.

I have priced the book at $2.99, a very reasonable price. I want this book to reach out to more people across the world. In fact, I look forward to 'I Have a Dream' becoming the highest downloaded Indian ebook in the next 6 months.

So go ahead, download without a second thought. Those of you using ipads can also download the book and read it using the kindle app.

And if you've already read the book, do add a review on the kindle page, to help people decide if this book is worth their time and money!

P.S. Amazon adds $2 as charges for those using the 3G download facility from outside the US making the price $ 4.99 :(

P.P.S. 'Connect the Dots' and 'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish' will also be available on kindle very soon. Watch this space!

Start of the month: Godparents.in

A few days ago I invited nominations for 'Start up of the Month' on my facebook fan page. The idea being to give some exposure to young entrepreneurs and for me to learn something in the process, as well.

Well, I received 18 entries in all - amazing work being done by an amazing group of people. With help from my virtual assistant Tabish Azeem I shortlisted 5 start-ups. The criteria used was: Uniqueness & relevance (10), Execution (10), Revenue generation (10) and X factor (10).

The start-up which received the highest score - of 37 out of 40 - was Godparents.in. And here is why:

Entrepreneurship is not always about creating a radical new concept. It could be about taking an existing idea and executing it in a better way.

That is whatGodparents is doing. There are many NGOs connecting donors with those in need, CRY and Helpage have been pioneers in this field. But Godparents addresses the idea in a new and interesting way.

A Better Product
Like GiveIndia (which I covered in Stay Hungry Stay Foolish), Godparents is an online system connecting people like you and me with those in need. But, Godparents goes a step further in making me want to give to that needy person.
By giving him or her a name, a face and a background story,

Ranjith G is 10 years old and lives in Kerala. He is a student in 4th class hailing from backward tribal community. His father isdisabled and hence the mother looks after the family with her meager income (Rs 7000 or so a year). He studies well and stands as first in the class. Also good in sports activities.

Ranjith requires Rs 12,000 a year to continue in school and also for basic food and medical expenses.

6 donors have already contributed Rs 8750 for Ranjith. Their profiles also appear below his name. Yes, donors also get a profile page which displays the names of their godchildren and the amount donated to support each one.

I think connecting people on both sides of the giving rainbow is a beautiful idea. It's apt use of technology to increase the emotional bar and hence raise more money, from the haves for the have-nots.

While GiveIndia also uses this idea it only displays the cause, not the actual person you will be helping. GiveIndia does send you a feedback report detailing name and photo of the person your money went to, and its impact. But that may take a couple of weeks or months.

With Godparents, the feel good factor is more real and immediate.

Effective Promotion
There is also a very well made video on the homepage which is a collection of responses of people to the question: “What would you do if I gave you 500 bucks?”

It’s clear that for people like you and me Rs 500 has very little value but for a poor person it can make all the difference. And this point is put across very beautifully.

Godparents has also come up with a novel way to promote itself – by inserting bookmarks in books delivered by Flipkart.

Clear Communication
The main homepage of Godparents very simple and effective. It explains everything you need to know upfront – what is the site all about and how does it work.

The fact that your donation is eligible for tax exemption under Sec 80 G is also prominently displayed. )Many first time donors don’t know that and many NGOs don’t really educate them about it).

Credibility & Commitment
I also like the fact that the site displays the amount raised so far:
The total amount of donations is a little over Rs 18 lakhs. 1022 donations have created 305 fully supported children and 456 'godparents'.

It is rare to see this kind of transparency from any social organization!

The other interesting fact about Godparents is that the entire team appears to be running the service as a social activity, while working elsewhere.

Shubham Srivatsava (BITS Pilani 2009) and Shivam Srivastava (IIT Kanpur) are the co-founders, the rest of the team is also mainly BTech grads working in MNCs or doing their PhDs abroad.

According to an interview given to CNBC Young Turks given in Oct 2009, two months after setting up, Shivam got this idea after reading Nandan Nilekani’s ‘Imagining India’. A book which suggested that technology could be used to solve large no of problems in India,

With Rs 1 lakh investment, Shubham and Shivam, along with a team of friends and wellwishers made a small start. The toughest part was convincing NGOs to participate, and on the other side, giving donors the confidence in these NGOs. For this, Godparents has evolved its own due diligence/ credibility criteria.

In conclusion
The voluntary nature of this enterprise is its greatest strength and also its major weakness. Since everyone appears to have a day job, there is no pressure of cost on the start-up.

But to take the idea to the next level, one of the founders or team members will need to devote full time attention to it.

I wish Godparents.in all the very best. God bless and may many more feel a tug in your heart and the desire to contribute through them. To make a difference.

P.S. I will exchange notes with the co-founders and update this post with additional inputs. But that will take a couple of days.

P.P.S. Many of the other start-ups are also very interesting... lagey raho bhaiyon aur behnon. You may very well make it to this space next month :) I will shortly be inviting nominations for the Start up of the Month, for October.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Goodbye, Ved

Exactly one week ago, friend and IIMA batchmate Ved Prakash Arya passed away. He was just 42.

Hundreds of friends, co-workers and former colleagues attended the condolence meeting held on a hellishly rainy Saturday.

Unable to find any words to comfort the family.

Or any rational explanation for the bizarre manner in which he met his end.

Read my tribute to Ved Prakash Arya - entrepreneur, outstanding professional, and above all, a good human being: An Unfinished Life. (published by Businwssworld magazine).

May his soul rest in peace.

And may we all remember that life is short and fragile.

Think about what you *really* want and make it happen today. Instead of just making plans and promises... for tomorrow.

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth