Today 16th August 2010 (Chinese Calender is 7th day of the 7th month)
Project Dignity PD is registered as an entity.
PD was conceived 4 years ago wlth the idea of giving back to society.
PD has to be a platform where varlous races, religion, creed; rich or poor can come together. It has be be a platform that everyone can relate to - the food court.
One don't just wake up and want to do social work. I have been going social work since I came back to Singapore in 1994. Firstly with senlor citizen at Spottiswoode Park Resident Committee & then with Changi Prison.
The impetus to PD birth has to do with an altuistic boy (as the caregiver/parent grow older the child as grow older. The child must be able to care for himself),The ex prisoners of A5 Changi prison (Do they really have a second chance?) & the queue at South East CDC of family queuing for state help.
Why the four years to startup? PD has four key considerations in starting up.
1. Issue of Rental.
PD has to find a place where the initial investment and the running cost cannot go too much to rental expense. Looking for a site was priority. Many sites were evaluated and many disappointments like
- the church in Paya Lebar,
- the halfway house cafe in Geylang,
- Bukit Merah coffee shop
- factory canteen in Ubi
- failed tender of ex Queenstown police station
- Yeo's building in Telok Blangah
- Kallang warehouse conversion
The current site was purely incidental. Just having coffee with my accountant at the food court when he suggest taking over the 4 empty stalls and there is a glass room which is ideal for a classroom, the rest is history.
2. Issue of trainers.
Where do I start to look for trainers who can talk local dialects,work with hawkers and can cook good hawker food. I do not look for certified trainers; just someone with the passion to teach hawkers. The solution comes from a combining an educated trainers combine with someone with hawker experience.
3 Issue of students.
Having worked with prisoners and handicapped people, I realised that their self confidence and self esteem is low. I am not suggesting that all of such cases is of this nature, but a large majority especially ex prisoners. In prison I guess to get compliance you have to remove the self esteem. Recruiting student will require some selling.
4. Issue of Perception.
I guess this is the hardest to resolve. Buyer of my hawker food will have certain inhibition when they buy from someone with disability. Only solution is through education and that will cost money. About 40% of my startup funding is in education of the general public to accept the notion of buying food prepared and sold by disabled.
Sitting at the airport waiting to go home. Strange feeling that this will be my last business tour of India for some time.
It has been ten years since I started this Indian development. Still remember the first trip to New Delhi. I know it was crazy at that time to even think that I can start sometime in India. No one wants to come to India. You can't do consultancy work for India. They don't pay. Those were the comments that always haunt me in the early days.
Looking back it was really funny how the India network got started. I remember the first trip. I book the hotel somewhere in South Extension. I did ask someone to recommend a hotel that is cheap and near to town. Did not know that the whole New Delhi is a 'town'.
When I check in, I do not mind the occasional cockroaches that runs along the edge of the window sill, but showering in hard water was another thing. Strange sensation on the skin after the shower. Not much effect. Room-wise was small and there was a TV that screen all India movies. Not really that bad, I mean the movies. There was room service, cannot expect much for $60 per room.
The idea of the trip is to build up a network of client which will be useful for me. Consultant needs network and India is the next growth area in the world.
Four appointments were made for the next two days with two accountants and two local consultants. Got the contacts from the library and the Indian Embassy. Internet was not much help as only the big boys are featured in the net. The rest was through cold calls from the yellow pages I found in the hotels. The lesson I learnt is Indian speaks English at a faster pace.
After three days, no one really want to see me. Firstly I got nothing they want and secondly I do not know what I can do for the Indian. The first trip was a disaster. Sigh. Down by nearly 2K (air ticket, hotel, food etc) and nothing to show except a $4 leather sandals. (I did return several times to the same road side stall to buy the sandals for my wife and children).
The Indian visa is for six months and I decided that I want to try a second time. This time I manage to fixed a few more appointments from the first trip and this time I am also going over to Mumbai just to make the visa worth it. The meeting is cordial and most are looking for funding of project. (this was to change as the years go by where it was money chasing project to invest)
This time I decided to give myself a treat. By the way, Indian do judge by where you stay. I was staying at the Taj. Got a good rate. At least there is no cockroaches. The day's appt was not fruitful. No real money making opportunity (I was to appreciate what these early contacts did for me in later years when they start inroducing new contacts to me).
That night, at the Taj lobby there was a wedding. Guest was streaming in, the music was loud and rythmic. Dancers then start dancing in front of the groom coming in a white horse. The festivities carry on in this big ballroom. Curosity kills the cat and I was curious. I walk in and started asking questions like a blurred tourist seeing a wedding for the first time. Seeing a Chinese in a Indian wedding must also be a rare occurence and started getting people staring at me.
A smile is a powerful weapon and the a sense of wanting to understand an Indian wedding helps, for next thing I know I started joining the festivities. Whoever said that India do not know how to have a good time have never attended an Indian wedding.
By the end of the night, I finished all my name cards in my wallet and have about a stack of Indian contacts. Jackpot. I just found a way to network and have contacts for India market. It is the wedding.
By the way for those who do not understand Indian weddings
1. It is over many days - 5days
2.Everyone from all over the country to attend the weddings
4.Held from Oct to March
5.It is always a big event
I got invited the next day to attend another wedding across town and another in some farm house. From then on it is network through weddings. I must confess that I sometime gatecrash weddings but selectively on a certain caste & only if they are at a major sites & have elephants :-) Wedding takes me from Kolkatta to Lucknow, from Pune to Jummu Kashmir. Must have attended many weddings and visited many parts of India.
The initial three or four years of building the network in India has given me a fantastic insight of India. The learning is great and I love India.
Now for the next phase for Christopher Benjamin Consultancy........ Project Dignity 2010
Staying at the Park Hotel. Many foreigners. Hotel rates has gone up exponentially for the last years. A good sign of the growing economy and yet the cost of the shoe polisher charges at CP has not gone up.
I am on a water project and looking for partner in India and after the days meeting, I realised that water is politics in India. Lobbying on water issues in the state parliament can win and lose an election. cannot talk much about this project as it is still work in progress. Interesting bringing water to India is very easy to interested investors.
Leaving Delhi in the old terminal Via Go Air - a domestic airline, for Bangalore or Bangaluru but I still prefer the old name.
The last time I was here I was to do a talk for lecturers on teaching of entrepreneurship. Bangalore has become one big car park - a series of traffic jam every corners. Worst is there is always a motor bike or 3 wheelers trying to squeeze in. The city is growing faster than what the infrastructure can code. I believe Bangalore has grown because of the coming of big multi national corporation and the reason these MNC are here has to do with the quality of its work force - very smart and well educated young Indians. All goes to the good university existing.
Went to visit a water plant on the outskirt of Bangalore. Surprising the standard is very good. Companies are recognizing the importance of good manufacturing practices and accreditation. You cannot undermine the Indian manufacturing base who are going up the value chain.
One meeting today is with a NRI, Indians who return to their motherland after many years aboard. Many are coming back - for their children education, to catch the growth of India and wanting to give back to India.
Just landed in New Delhi. Not bad. Things are changing. A new airport, especially so in the car park where the taxi is better organised. All these for the coming Commonwealth Game.
I was last here in 2008. Many things have changed. First is arriving in the new airport. Look nice on the outside, look nice on the inside but still long long queue. Hardware there software not there. At least the officers are friendlier.
Delhi is a city in the midst of change. Every time I landed we will go passed the highway and finally NH8 is completed. Many of the marg cleaned & greened. As for poverty not quite eradicated. You still get beggars - young ones with babies stopping at traffic light junction begging & pleading. Always a disturbing sight for a foreigner.
Indian are people that live & accept imperfection. Road incomplete,house in derelict state, sand dune everywhere,pot holes on highway & many more. Imperfection I believe create resilience. This resilience allow the Indian to take on anything in their stride.
In CP one part is clean and orderly and the other half is like a big construction site. This is July and the Commonwealth Game is just around the corner. Don't thing that it can get ready for the game. Following China's Olympic I got a feeling that India is looking to This game to showoff.