Deepanjali Kakati's blog
US-India: "Forward together we go - Chalein sath sath"
As nations committed to values of democracy, liberty, diversity and enterprise, India and US are bound by common values and increasingly convergent mutual and global interests. With our top leaders President Obama and PM Modi sharing great camaraderie and rapport, there is a renewed energy in the relationship and we must not miss this historic opportunity to take our relationship to the next level. In the next five years, we need to focus on key areas like bilateral trade, energy, science and technology, defense and global peace to help both the countries prosper together. Let us discus these focus areas one by one.
The value of our bilateral trade tripled during 2004-08 and continues to grow. India is a 1.3 billion strong market for goods and services waiting to be tapped. US already is the biggest investor to India and with areas like defense, telecom, insurance and railways opening up for FDI, US has an opportunity to be part of India’s growth and reap rich dividends.
As a fast growing nation, India has a huge demand of energy. India has huge potential for harnessing clean energy sources like nuclear, solar and wind energy and US can play a key role in promoting the use of clean energy by financing and sharing technology for it. India also needs help in achieving better energy efficiency. Better cooperation here will also result in ironing out our differences on climate change issues and we will move towards a common ground.
Further, through its proven scientific and technical expertise, US can help us build core infrastructure of highways, rail networks, riverways, seaways, ports, cold-storages and telecom networks; assist in imparting quality education to the largest workforce in the world; drive the second generation of green revolution and help us build self-sufficient smart cities. As India is ambitiously digitizing its villages, we have a lot to learn from the e-governance models in US. We also need to jointly research on healthcare that would help us cure diseases like cancer and conquer diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and dengue. Existing collaboration in space, technical institutions and IT needs further push through more people-to-people contact and exchange of ideas.
In defense sector, India is the largest importer of arms in the world and bought more military equipment from US over the last three years than from any other country. US can play a bigger role here, by exporting and helping Indian firms produce arms via the “Make in India” initiative.
The global reach and influence of both countries can ensure peaceful functioning of the world. India, being a stabilizing force in the South Asia and a potential counterweight to China, is key to US’ ability to create balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region. India and US should also cooperate better for stability in volatile regions like Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan. Moreover, with the continuous rise of terrorism and organized crime, we must work together by sharing intelligence, through counter-terrorism and law-enforcement cooperation to curb this menace. Going forward, we should see more thrust into Indo-US campaign to promote stable, well-governed democracies around the world.
High time the two greatest democracies of the world, the oldest and the biggest, deepen people-to-people, business-to-business and government-to-government linkages and move forward together for a better, safer and happier world.
Writing a Stellar Undergraduate Application
As the application season for Class of 2019 closes, many future applicants worry about their fate. I am no outsider to that feeling. Last year, I was on that very same boat - terrified of applying to American universities with jaw-dropping acceptance rates. Thankfully, for me that uncertainty is over. Looking back, the admissions process has been full of reflection, reevaluation, and rigour.
In this article, I will underline my experience of applying to university in the US, and shell out my two cents.
1. Start Early
American schools are interested in growth - consistent growth. One way to show this is through your academic transcript: your records from Class IX onwards. So, do pay special attention to your grades early on.
Starting early gives you the option of finding out and spacing the tests you must take. For example, if applying to a first-tier school, you would know that you have to take Subject SATs along with the SAT Reasoning Test. Here, a good strategy would be to write the SAT Reasoning Test in Class XI, so that you can dedicate your time to in Class XII to Subject SATs, boards, and college applications.
A great way to boost your application is to undertake a challenging high-school curriculum like the IB or the CIE A Levels. If this is not an option for you, try convincing your school to let you take more, or diverse subjects in the CBSE curriculum. Be aware that only some schools are so flexible. American schools do love students who challenge themselves. And following a demanding curriculum gives them an idea that YOU are that kind of a person. Only starting early can give you these options.
2. Find a mentor
Find someone who is experienced in the admissions process, and can coach you to college. This could be a school counsellor, a friend who is already at university, or a professional consultant. Look for how willing and able someone is to mentor you. I had various mentors at various points - friends, teachers, parents, and acquaintances. However the two people who saw me through the final application season were Poshak Agarwal and Rahul Subramanian, two Princeton graduates, who offer professional guidance to students hoping to study in top American schools.
My mentors helped me write the best essays I could possibly write, made me critique my work, gave me constructive suggestions, debated with me endlessly to streamline my thoughts, took me to various talks by academics and networking events, and prepared me for interviews. Applying to college is not about “packaging yourself well” - that sounds like cheating. It is about truly challenging yourself, and reflecting the depth of a challenge on your character. A good mentor(s) can help you do that.
3. Be “well-rounded”
Colleges look for “well-rounded” individuals, but their definition of well-rounded is not quite literal. A well-rounded individual does not mean someone who is “good” at everything, but good at everything and best at something. In my case, I was School Head, academically well-rounded, and actively engaged in music and debate. However, most applicants to the US have these traits, and most top American schools expect them. So how does one stand out?
The answer: add “spikes” to your application. Pursue something very unique, and pursue it far. In my case, this was my NGO Handbook, a compilation of my analyses of various social endeavors, from which I derived common lessons for aspiring social entrepreneurs. On viewing this handbook, a member of the WEF Global Shapers Community offered me to co-author her newspaper column. Another successful applicant I know spiked in her voracious reading habit. She presented this interest through winning the National Spelling Bee, writing for newspapers, and maintaining a critical literature blog. So while it is necessary to develop “holistically”, you must also offer something unique and specialised to the university.
4. Structure your application
The question now arises: how should you show your “spike”? The answer is: structure. You claim to be an environmentalist, but do you have concrete participation in environmental organisations like the WWF, Greenpeace, etc,. to show? You claim to be a highly skilled drummer, but do have studio or concert recordings, or a YouTube channel to prove it? Structurally presenting your achievements gives weight to your application, by verifying your commitment to your interests.
I had executive and volunteering experience with NGOs and social impact groups. However, simply stating that I had worked for a set number of hours could not do justice to my interest in studying NGO structures, improving existing programs, and helping the community. I needed to structure my interest, my work, and the experiential data I had gained. I did this by composing My NGO Handbook.
Structure indicates professionalism. And professionalism is appreciated by American schools who are to place their trust in you, the applicant.
5. Develop your verbal abilities
You may be a star athlete, an accomplished musician, a culture enthusiast, gifted with artistry, and/or a theorising philosopher. At the end of the day, your titles are less important than your expression in conveying experience, character and growth. Remember that four years of your life are to be condensed into four sheets of paper. To do this well, verbal abilities are essential. As Mark Twain wrote “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
But it’s not just the “right words”, you must also use the right style and the right structure to powerfully impact the Admissions Committee - which sees between 12,000 and 92,000 applications, depending on where you apply.
To write compelling college essays, you can take essay-based subjects in school, have your mentor(s) correct your writing pieces regularly, and rework your college essays with advisors, teachers, and other professionals.
6. Show interest
Remember that American schools look for a spirit of self-improvement, consistency, and commitment. You can show this not just by presenting a great application about yourself, but also by highlighting your interest in the university. For example, if you are applying to UChicago, you should show awareness about the academic-centric dynamic of the school, and consequently show how this community suits you (and vice-versa). You can also frequently visit the UChicago Centre in New Delhi, involve yourself in UChicago efforts in India and so on. By communicating your interest in the university, you send out a clear signal of commitment.
7. Spread your risks
As international application numbers to American universities break ceilings every year, acceptance rates drop dangerously low, and often your acceptance depends on sheer chance. It is a bad idea to pin all your hopes on top schools, only to have no university to attend in the fall. To avoid this, strategize your resources: time and money.
From the Common Application portal, you can at most send 20 applications. Chalk out your dream (reach) schools, mid-level safeties, and safety schools. This strategy ensures that you spread your resources so as to maximise your chances to attend an American university.
The US is undoubtedly an enriching place to study. It offers liberal, integrated education, and some generous funding opportunities for students. There is an inherent dual-emphasis on learning for learning’s sake and preparing individuals for work. Having said that, competition for places at these schools is unfathomable, especially for international students. Therefore, work as hard as you can, take a leap of faith, and hit Apply.
Tanya Sharma is the author of My NGO Handbook, political commentator, researcher, columnist, and blogger. Tanya hopes to study Economics, and has secured admission in prestigious American universities including Cornell University, University of California at Berkeley, and UCLA.
Social Entrepreneurship: Redefining Development
A popular proverb suggests that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime and in my experience, I find social enterprises working towards achieving the same vision. As socio- economic problems are increasing in multitudes, it has given impetus to social enterprises to step up and deliver innovative solutions to these problems and this has also led to the mushrooming of social enterprises worldwide.
The concept of social entrepreneurship is much talked about due to its increasing relevance to the development sector. A social entrepreneur is one who deftly combines social responsibility and business acumen to build enterprises that foster social progress. Moreover, apart from offering solutions, social entrepreneurship contributes greatly in nation building. I saw this first hand during my visit to the United States of America in the fall of 2014 as part of the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) on the theme “Changemakers: The Impact of Social Entrepreneurs in the U.S.”. The programme that, took me across 10 states in the USA exposed me to the different kinds of social entrepreneurship movements, the perks of public- private participation in social entrepreneurship and the best practices in the social sector. During the course of my visit, I was fortunate enough to interact with several social entrepreneurs who encountered a problem and were determined to solve it for the welfare of the world even at the cost of having to shift careers and making significant changes to their lives. They were self- starters solely committed to the cause of driving social change through their ventures. I saw that the successful social ventures across the country had revolutionized development and made it more participatory through the creation of multiple employment opportunities thereby opening up avenues for more and more citizens to come forward and take ownership of the development of their region. It was enlightening to see that these social entrepreneurs were not alone in their endeavours. More and more investors were proactively investing their capital to enable the delivery of solutions that not only generates positive impact but also has the potential for financial returns.
Greatly inspired from this exposure, I began to think about how I could apply the knowledge derived from the IVLP to the development of my motherland. Meticulous thought, critical debates and deliberations in this direction paved the way for the launch of Sandesh One- Social Enterprises Network for Women in 2015.
Sandesh One- Social Enterprises Network for Women is proposed to be set up in all the urban and rural areas of Kerala with the objective of unifying, facilitating and supporting the efforts of women entrepreneurs in the state. Sandesh One is driven by an underlying conviction that women are natural social entrepreneurs and as social enterprises are vehicles for far- reaching social impact, they must be led by entrepreneurs with the heart and passion to promote social development. Since women are inherently fuelled by their desire to contribute to the betterment of mankind, Sandesh One will support their determination to enable change. The foray into entrepreneurship will give the women of Kerala a flexible work space where their hope for employment, financial autonomy and creativity will converge.
Sandesh One will operate under a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model and will provide a state wide platform that will encourage, initiate and give shape to a new and wide range of innovative products and services. The project will be executed in a decentralized manner where ownership and responsibility of each center would rest with the entrepreneur herself. The salient features of the Sandesh One Entrepreneurship Network is as follows:
A Centre in every Panchayat / local body: As part of the Sandesh One initiative, a network of women entrepreneurs will be trained to manage a center in every panchayat of Kerala. This center will offer solutions in areas such as precision farming, advanced fish breeding, high density plantation, renewable energy, preventive health care applications, water management, waste management and afforestation. One woman from each of the local bodies will be selected to undergo a certification programme in entrepreneurship, developed by IIM Ahmedabad, in association with IL&FS Skill Development Corporation. The entire programme is designed in such a way as to make them social entrepreneurs adept in communication, networking and risk management.
Bridging the gap: India is witnessing an innovation boom and it is increasingly the young who are working towards creating solutions to tackle the pressing needs of society. Sandesh One will provide financial backing to these new enterprises. The network will provide collateral support for setting up an enterprise, seed funding and support for Intellectual Property Registrations among several other support systems. As most of these social enterprises are start- ups or cannot yet employ the economies of scale, Sandesh One will support them in securing good linkages, funds and help them in post-production sales/marketing activities.
Impact: Sandesh One will be the most empowered high-impact project implementation network. A lot of agencies work in scouting for innovations and seed funding. Innovators can leverage this network to take their solutions to the grassroots. There is ample scope for bringing in many high-impact interventions through this network and entrepreneurs can deliver umpteen products that definitely will generate a sustainable income. The center may well be developed into an economic hub/nodal center for implementation of various programmes and services of the government in the long run.
Sandesh One is an ambitious project that derives from a diverse range of experiences from the United States of America and aims to bridge a significant gap within the development sector in Kerala. This is a project that will provide thrust to priority areas resulting in more employment opportunities, innovation and sustainability and lead to a high social capital. The fact that Sandesh One will be wholly owned and operated by women will further contribute to the creation of a just, equal and humane society.
The project – Sandesh One, I am sure is just but one of the several phenomenal outcomes of the IVLP by the U.S Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and am sure that my fellow participants at the programme have similar success stories to share. The programme was one of most enriching experience I had, one that provided insight into the best practices of the social sector in the United States and I would vouch for such programmes that go that extra mile, for facilitating knowledge sharing across the world.
Dr. PT M Sunish is the MD, Kerala State Women’s Development Corporation and CEO, The Gender Park Social Justice Department, Government of Kerala, Kerala, India
Fond Memories of UNI
I came to the University of Northern Iowa three years ago on a cool summer day in August. I am a shy person and don’t do well around strangers; to be in a whole new country where I don’t know anyone and experience a totally new culture and speak a different language was very overwhelming. My only experience with the United States was what Hollywood showed me through the many movies I’ve watched; I was nervous. But what I experienced here in Iowa was something that I never expected. Iowa has one of the warmest and friendliest people I have ever met in the world.
I still remember the gentleman who sat next to me on the flight who was from Cedar Falls, where the school is located in Iowa. He recognized the nervousness in my eyes and assured me that I would love the city. He was in fact the first American I ever spoke to, and it was comforting when he told me that it was an honor that his city had students from all over the world studying there. The first thing that you notice about the people in Cedar Falls is how polite and welcoming they are.
When I first started looking into different opportunities to study in the US, I was overwhelmed because the procedure was different than what I was used to and some of the terms in the application forms were different as well. I sent emails to quite a few Universities explaining my situation and inquiring about the possible opportunities I would have there. I felt the warmth from the personalized emails and assistance I received from UNI’s Admissions Office. They pretty much guided me throughout the entire process to successfully come to the US. The staff had explained to me step by step that after I’ve submitted my application as a transfer student, I would have to send my transcripts from my previous educational institutions. They were very flexible with me because they understood there would be some delay in obtaining the transcripts from my High school and College. Once the transcripts were sent, and I was officially admitted to UNI, I got my Admissions package, along with my I-20. I had scheduled my interview with the US Consulate in New Delhi, and obtained my visa to study in the United States. UNI always stayed in touch with me throughout the entire process, keeping track of my progress. This personalized communication and warmth, as well as UNI having one of the best Accounting programs in the United States, made me decide to choose UNI over other universities. I also felt welcome when I first arrived and I was contacted by other current international students who understood the situation I was in and offered to assist. A student organization, the International Student Association, even help organize pre-orientation events that help new students who arrived early to settle in and not feel homesick. By the end of Orientation, I felt like I already belonged here.
If you do ever miss home, the city also offers two Indian restaurants and an international store to buy spices so you can share your food with others. This is a great way to bond with people and share some of your culture. Doing this and participating in other cultural activities on campus, made me realize how unique I was and how people are really interested to find out about life is in our countries and learn about our traditions. A lot of things that we take for granted about ourselves have so much value here. I have never felt homesick because of the warmth and friendliness I experience here. People here do a really good job to make you feel special, and I have become accustomed to their warmth. They are appreciative of who you are and what you have to offer.
I have come a long way forward than the shy person I used to be three years ago. UNI has taught me how to best use the opportunities that I had in front of me. I am currently the vice president of the International Students Association and am recognized as a student leader among staff and other students. I coordinate with various departments on campus and host events to encourage diversity and promote cultures from different countries. Although I’m graduating this May, I will be working closely with my family at UNI and sharing my experiences.
A sojourn across America’s awesome sights
"How long do you plan to stay” asked the Visa Officer? “About six months,” I said. “Will you get that much leave,” he retorted. “At least two months then,” I replied. My heart pulsating whether I had made the cut. He quipped: “You have got Visa”, retaining my passport.
One big hurdle crossed, I mulled over steeling myself for that 18-plus hour flight to the Land of Liberty. Goaded by my brother in Sacramento: “It may be last sabbatical I get to be with you,” I booked that proverbial flight with much trepidation.
A passage of rite that would reinforce my perspective of a nation, which, since childhood, was like James Hilton’s Shangri-La in Lost Horizon, fed by fascinating accounts by Voice of America, Span and literature.
From India of chaos and cacophony, dust, din and delirium, it seemed I had reached the Elysian heights of Eden, where calm and quietude, order and discipline, verdant vales, daunting deserts, mighty mountains, historic districts, multifarious museums, winsome waterfalls, natural and man-made marvels, transported me to nirvana.
The shimmering engineering marvel – Golden Gate Bridge - muse of Vikram Seth’s eponymous verse novel, Twin Peaks View Point providing panoramic visage of San Francisco City, Fisherman’s Wharf, school of sea lions at Pier 39, ensemble street performers, cable cars cruising by, seemed surreal as jet lag and rigours of tiresome travel notwithstanding, my adventurous odyssey with America began.
With my niece playing perfect host and her hubby ferrying us on 17-Mile Drive to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with its redwood grove, falls and trails, one rejoiced in the scenic surroundings.
An intrepid hiker, niece’s hubby ensured my every sinew and tendon of resilience was tested at various trails, before frolicking in freezing cold water of Pebbly Beach, delighting in Pfeiffer Falls.
The Folsom Historic District, Old Sacramento, among other scintillating San Francisco and California sights transporting me to the idyllic Wordsworthian world, I thirsted for more.
That these were appetisers for sumptuous buffet in weeks to come, I realised when my brother took the wheels and we hit the highway, reminded of Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road: Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, the long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
A whirlwind Discover America trip where highways and exits, sylvan landscapes, serenading azure skyline, symphonic sounds of tyres trundling on track, deers fleeting by, flanked forested foliage, became constant companions, adding to the allure and adventure of awe-inspiring attractions at every port of call.
The 45 days I spent hurtling across savouring America’s multi-dimensional tourist attractions, I lived the American Dream, made memorable thanks to a brother becoming chauffer-guide and his college-going son, navigator.
As we snaked uphill vertigo climb to Yosemite Valley, which photographer Ansel Adam described as “glitter of green and golden wonder, vast edifice of stone and space,” to soak in its natural marvels – Bridal Veil, Vernal waterfalls, granite domes, peaks, meadows, trails, rivulets, glacier and inspiration points, John Muir’s words: It is the grandest of all special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter, resonated in me.
Thereafter, Lake Tahoe, Redwood Park, Yellowstone National Park, Historic Walk in Muir Woods, Meteor Crater, Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, Mojave Desert, Las Vegas, Red Canyon, shopping strips, casinos squared off with scintillating performance by KA at Cirque Du Soleil, were elixir.
The strolls in downtown New York, visit to Niagara, showery ride in Maid of Mist to American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls, Statue of Liberty, Twin Tower memorial, Grand Central station, treat full toppings of a tantalising tour.
Washington DC with its Smithsonian museums, national zoo, various memorials, Pentagon, US Capitol, Library of Congress, Newseum, were aperitif providing ethereal experience of a wonderland of education which words fail to provide fulsome praise. Oh! America, Mon amour.
My rollicking, roller-coaster romance with America over, truly blessed, I emplaned, pledging to book another passage back, crooning Eurhythmics eponymous Sweet dreams are made of this, Who am I to disagree? I travel (led) the world and the seven seas as reality sunk in that it was diurnal grind, once home.
All Things American
For a generation that spends its nights watching American sitcoms – I confess my day is incomplete without Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory - and following Americans ranging from Obama to Oprah on Twitter, most of us are fairly clueless about the events and nuances that shaped America. I am an exception only because I had an American History paper for a year in college. And I loved it. So it was a minor heartbreak to see that American history isn’t on offer in Delhi University’s Masters Course.
A wonderful Professor was the catalyst for my interest in the subject but then that interest only grew because American history has it all: blood and tears, gore and glory, quotable quotes and unmentionable scandals. What more do you want in a best-seller? And once the study and exams are over, it is a combination of the significant and the mundane, the highs and the lows that stays on in your mind: George Washington rejecting a third tenure, declaring that two tenures were enough for any president; the burning of the presidential palace during the War of 1812; Lincoln’s struggle to abolish slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, Andrew Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet, the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr... Reading about that last one always cracked me up because for some weird reason, I could only picture it as a Harry Potter-ish scene with robes and wands and wizards....though a scene from a Wild West movie would have been more geographically accurate .
Ok, so I’ve had this thrown at me often: “You only like studying American History because there is so little of it.” I don't agree. Quite apart from the obvious fact that a paper in American history has as many lectures as one in Chinese history (admittedly the names in the former are easier to remember!), one only has to follow the dramatic changes that unfolded decade after decade since 1776 (or much earlier when Columbus landed there...or even earlier) to be faced with its complexity.
Fascinating complexity. American history may not have the dynasties that pepper British, Indian, Chinese, Japanese histories, but the everyday political soap opera of the United states and its government in the past 237 years has had me riveted. I remember studying with complete fascination the role of Booker.T.Washington, Marcus Garvey , W.E.B Du Bois...their inspirations and their flaws. Talking of inspiring American figures, few of us go beyond Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.I have other heroes and heroines too - the striking (in more ways than one!) women from the Lowell mills who created the first women’s labour unions; Wyatt Earp – gambler/bouncer/marshal/sheriff (What a story! What a life!); John Brown the abolitionist; pioneering birth control activist and sex educator Margaret Sanger; slave to slave rebellion leader Nat Turner...
So as I dive into my Masters, I will miss you, Am History. But, actually, whatever history you study, can American influence be far behind?
Neha Dasgupta, a Masters students of History at the University of Delhi, has a hobby for every mood. TV when she is bored. Painting (Madhubani) when she is bored of TV. Baking when she is bored of everyone else's cooking. The constants through them all are her dogs, her books, her BBMs and her Facebook updates. But maybe she is a little bored of them and so makes her blogging debut here....
America, I think I know you so well, But do I?
The year was 1995, a relaxing summer holiday Sunday morning, I had no clue I was about to be introduced to the ‘Land of opportunity’. The cable guy who was sweating it out on the roof top, finally had our television hooked up to Rupert Murdoch’s Star Network, MTV, Star TV, National Geographic, CNN you name it, just like that, there is was. A window to USA, 22 square inches to view ‘the land of the brave & the home of the free’.
By the end of the summer vacations I was an informed American Tele-citizen, knew all about the Jersey Devil- thanks to the X-Files, Scully (my first crush) & Mulder had clarified that for me, about the beautiful ladies in bikini being on the beaches of LA being saved by Mitch Buchannon, how Pizza revitalized your kung-fu skills against an evil martial arts supremo ( ref: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) & most of all my only idol till date ‘Michael Jordan’ the magician wearing Chicago Bulls Jersey number 23.
As we returned to school that year, we brought with us America into the class room. Suddenly world geography made more sense, English had an added value & most of all a land which used to be far-far away, only visited by the privileged, seemed so close. I know many would question & debate that Television is not such a great influence, well in my life & life of my friends it certainly was.
Before we knew the innocent changes in our social traits were creating clichés in our minds, such as all Americans are rich, live of fast-food, everyone is in a flamboyant romantic relationship, it was a long list. Over the years I met many Americans, some amazing, some not so spectacular, this interaction with AMI’s ( as they are referred to in Germany) led me to realize how normal they were. How incorrect my perception of America was & how with vast differences there were many similarities between us.
Today living in Delhi, being local, thinking global, US is closer than ever before. Be it corn flakes for breakfast, social media for my raising awareness about gender based violence or basketball to unwind, I have bits n pieces of American culture in my life. But do I really know America? Can I claim that without visiting USA? Does information ever match up to experience? I guess I will only know once I have made that trip (which has been planned & promised for a very long time)
I leave this blog incomplete to open questions, will surely complete it after my visit.
Entrepreneurship is a choice. It is not reserved for an elite race of humanity. It can be learned. I realized this in my early twenties, after reading a study by a prominent Stanford professor. We tend to over-glamorize the solo characteristics of an entrepreneur. I believe that more than singular traits like brilliance or passion, social tendencies matter. Individuals who are able to create and nurture relationships with people have a leg up. Relationships with strategic mentors, customers and even your team can make or break your success. Relationships are key because they provide quick and relevant feedback allowing a business to stay agile and forward thinking. Big companies move slower because of bureaucracy and stakeholders, so agility is a key advantage. Remember, it takes more than a visionary like Steve Jobs. Apple is and was an outlier.
A successful entrepreneur, is an individual who realizes the importance of relationships. One such relationship is mentorship. Young entrepreneurs need to prioritize sourcing and leveraging content-specific mentors. People who can help with various business obstacles like financing or creative customer acquisition. Mentors can be industry experts, professors or even peers who are tackling adjacent problems. Everyone should have a mentor and life advisory board. Mentors should provide clear strategic value, not just slap you on the back when you are doing a swell job. This is specifically important for women who tend to be socialized to have lower self-esteem compared to their male counterparts. A recent HBR article noted that in developed countries it is by 17%, and in emerging countries much lower. This is probably why 44% of top women CEO’s attribute mentorship as a major driver to their success.
Another key relationship is with your customer. It is important to incorporate customer feedback throughout the life-cycle of your venture. Whether it is determining targeted messaging, developing design that customers love or deciding on your MVP (Minimal Viable Product). Often times, entrepreneurs forget to engage with their target customer face to face. Instead, they only engage in market sizing analysis as opposed to anthropological analysis. In short, startups prioritize viability over desirability. Both are critical. This theory is not new. Philosophies like Lean Startup and IDEO’s user centered design teach this type of thinking.
The final element to an entrepreneur’s success is their team. Putting together a diverse team is critical to the long-term creativity of a business. The founder of a venture must appreciate their team members generously through compensation but also emotionally through incorporating their feedback. After all, your team is taking a risk by working for you so you have to reward and value their input. For generalization sake, this is not yet a habit in South Asian businesses. Specifically with the distribution of ESOPs, and the tendency to hoard equity.
Relationships are critical, because they provide feedback. In order to get through obstacles more efficiently, you need to incorporate a trusted feedback loop from your mentors, customers and team members. 95% of startups fail, feedback is a tool to stack the odds in your favor. I am not advocating to incorporate every single persons opinion, this would be absurd. But rather that an entrepreneur should be open and consider founded perspectives. Remember, it takes a village to be successful.
Shruti Challa (http://shrutichalla.com/), a young Indian American entrepreneur, has been part of several social consumer Internet companies. Her latest venture is Mentorzen, where college students advise prospective high school applicants via video conferencing.