Courage to Start Small

By Pallavi Tak

I sit in a whirlpool of sounds. The life-saving machines beeping from all directions switching from one note to another, as if playing a piano deciphering a unique symphony. The staff is changing shifts, greeting one another, giggling and taking stock of patients. The housekeeping engaging itself in the daily chores and taking instructions from the staff. These noises in the backdrop of a clear signboard shouting ‘Please maintain silence’, gives me some reason to keep my sense of humour intact.

The data screen in front of me shows numbers gradually normalizing, the chest harmonics do not bother the doctor now. Blood reports remain a matter of serious concern though. As I perch on the chair beside Abba’s bed in the Intensive Care Unit of Jawahar Lal Nehru Hospital, Ajmer; I indulge in visualizing the Valedictory function of Jagriti Yatra 2016. The social networking platforms have already started buzzing and are poured with pictures of beautifully dressed yatris in their traditional attires. This day is sacred, as the yatra comes to a conclusion. In the last fifteen days this train carrying over five hundred yatris has transformed into a home away from home for all. Parting ways now is difficult, emotions are on their high and promises to stay connected beyond the yatra get further pronounced.

Shashank Mani rightly puts it as, the yatra is not about getting immediate business ideas or strategies or funding, instead creating human relations during the yatra. This flourishing network of over 4,000 yatris built since 2008, the first formal Jagriti Yatra, is its real achievement. From here comes the first lesson, entrepreneurship is not just about ideas – they are plenty; not even about funding – resources are abundant; but it is about the people, the team and their commitment.

No wonder I am waiting for my ‘yatri parichay’ more than the participation or Business Gyan Tree winner certificates. Enterprises have never really been built over qualifications. Entrepreneurs swim against the currents and the dogmas. Their concern is people, their problems and apt solutions, eventually – impact creation.

It was adequately forewarned that yatra is not meant to be easy, to be experienced from the comfort zones, and it is more than outside, a journey within oneself. Yatra runs parallel, outside and inside. One that is seen, the other felt. One that is witnessed, other experienced. One that pushes you in all directions, the other that weeds out. One that fills you with stories of role models, the other that compels you to have one of your own. Lot many pull and push factors work diligently on the individual till he reaches a complete disequilibrium. From this nadir point of complete unlearning, begins the true beginning. One has to feel small to get the fire in the belly to grow big. This journey is about shedding ego, to be able to focus on the people, problem, and zeal to find a solution.

While for me the very reaching to the yatra was a challenge, and my learning started five years before the yatra actually began in 2016. I give credit to Dr Jyoti Chandiramani, my ex-boss to have introduced me to the yatra in 2011. I had just got enrolled for PhD programme then, and was struggling to capture the highs and lows of research agendas and methodologies. In the midst of the circus that I had created around myself of running a home, conducting research, teaching economics, and deep down my heart conspiring to shed it all for my passion for entrepreneurship; here I was filling up Jagriti Yatra (JY) form. I was so excited to see the length and width of the form, which took me an entire two days to furbish the information asked for. And of course my honesty and due diligence were to be rewarded by an affirmative response from the JY office. But life does not really give you things so easily, especially the ones you strive for the most. Of course I was not selected. And not once but twice. It was a futile effort and good enough of a reason for me to quit, but I was tempted to apply a third time in 2016.By now I had completed my PhD and shifted my base to another town. So effectively had a lot more mental space to actually become a yatri. Except for the major challenge that by now both my parents had been diagnosed with cancer. I had already reached my nadir, it seemed. And now my desire to board the JY train was stronger than ever before. Time had tested my determination enough, to have finally said yes to my wish.

Enthusiastically I took the JY mail to my current boss, announcing that I am selected as a Facilitator for JY 2016. It should have been a proud moment I thought, which would help me win some weight in front of my new boss. And I thought I would stand as a person among the crowd. A hassle free leave grant with financial support was the least I expected. My boss asked me – “What do you want?” I politely answered – “I want to go for it” He added, “So if tomorrow somebody said he would like to go to Antarctica, I should send him?” further he questioned, “ How does the institute gain?”. “You are not even one year old in the organisation, this is too much to ask for.”

My fight had seemed to have begun, and I started feeling like an entrepreneur already. Later I was to meet couple of authorities to justify my 18 days leave and an investment of Rs 62,000/-. One of the seniors claimed that she had also been selected as a facilitator few years back, but her sense of duty towards her institution was far more important than her wish to have a long vacation with JY. I gave up on giving any further explanation beyond, “For me it is not a vacation, but a long conceived dream that should be actualized now. And I come from a situation where I will have to make proper arrangements for my ailing parents to leave them behind for this span.” It took them two and a half months to understand that I was not wanting to go, but had made up my mind to GO. By now I was made the Co-convener of the Entrepreneurship-Cell at my university, considering my spirit of enterprise. My conviction was well supported by Mr Raj Kishor, a senior professor who went for me from one door to another to get my application moved. Eventually just a day before I was to start for my journey, I got the permission along with a decent allowance to cover my JY expenses. Half the entrepreneur in me was already brought out in the process.  And I was loving it. I had never fought for myself so hard before. I was experiencing a new me. Sometimes we are made to face the brick wall, this is only to filter the determined and the prepared, from the rest.

I had never fought for myself so hard before. I was experiencing a new me. Sometimes we are made to face the brick wall, this is only to filter the determined and the prepared, from the rest.

Another incentive for me to board the JY train, was that there would be an uninterrupted flow of warm chai on the train. Morning 6.30 would be this lovely call for chai, and in the winters of December what could be more delightful than having a masala chai, on your berth, in a moving train. Two cups of chai back to back would confer enough warmth and courage to head for a cold water bath. Followed by another round of tea at the breakfast table. The usual exchange of greetings with fellow yatris and introductions; discussions on role-models, business ideas, problems and innovative solutions; quiet reflections; or just sipping tea with a blank mind; so much could happen over breakfast tea. Though the evening chai times were relatively less rigorous and more bent towards friendly conversations, relaxed murmurings, or just dedicated to

Though the evening chai times were relatively less rigorous and more bent towards friendly conversations, relaxed murmurings, or just dedicated to process of unlearning, or even quiet absorptions. Yatra, yatris, chai and business-ideas made such an awesome combination. I can board the JY train again to experience this a one more time.

Vivid memories of the ‘life-cycle’ discussions will also be cherished very fondly, this was the first point of relationship building among the yatris in true sense. Unintimidated each would be required to share his life story, the ups and downs faced and challenges conquered. The whole group comprising of twenty-one yatris fitted in on one berth or another, hanging in one corner or the next, concentrating on the yatri sharing his life graph whose voice would get faded in the noise of the moving train or fan. The group would hold themselves physically close to conduct this exercise and come out of it as a team emotionally connected, with tremendous amount of respect for each other. This exercise was the first high point for each yatri in general. He not only met warriors, but also while narrating his own story discovered a hero in himself. The second high the group experienced was while making a group business plan to be presented at Deoria. Till now they would be emotionally, intellectually and individually bonded well, to carry the baton of this JY human network to the next level.

Having been a witness to the discussions on lives of role-models, fellow yatris, ambitions of the organising team, dreams of the young minds, determination of the budding entrepreneurs, sitting in the ICU today, despite all the challenges at hand, I feel energized. I could not complete the yatra and had to give it up at the end of the fourteenth day. On this day call for my hospitalized father became more crucial than the finishing line of the yatra. May be this stays as an incentive for me to return to JY a one more time, to witness the valedictory once. For now, I have my precious take-away from the yatra that would remain unparalleled and unequivocal to any other learning experience of my life. For over a decade, I had been a dreamer, wanting to do something big and becoming a change catalyst, but still in many ways was directionless. My focus was on dreaming big, which of course is the mandatory ingredient, but equally important is STARTING SMALL. Dreaming big does not require courage, what demands it is starting small and staying persistent, despite all odds. And this small start may encompass big sacrifices too. The most interesting part of the journey of an entrepreneur is, self-inflicted and embraced pain to quit the comfort zones, starting it small and not stopping till the big dream has been accomplished. Also not forgetting that the human threads is what should bind it all. Entrepreneurship is not a race for finishing line, rather it is the starting point for self-awakening. And so is Jagriti Yatra.

Yaaron Chalo!!! Let us Start!

Nikhil aboard the Jagriti Express

Ideation, self-realisation, traveling, knowing about one’s country up close and much more figure among the motivations that bring Yatri’s onboard this Jagriti yatra. While the reasons for joining this journey may be varied, there is one underlying theme uniting them all, the burning desire ‘To make a difference’.

The participants, like many others, may be at crossroads in their lives, struggling to figure out the channels to achieve success in their lifetime but what success means to them uniquely positions them in that ‘crazy’, ‘outliers’ pool who are stupid but bold enough to have the conviction that what all can be imagined is achievable. Dreams for them are not something one experiences with eyes closed, they dream in broad daylight while working towards their realisation. Impossible to them means ‘I am possible’ and hard work is their second nature like the role models they meet. You may term them foolish but can’t ignore the wisdom of their dreams, you may find them young but can’t ignore the maturity of their thought process, you may be eager to sideline them as an eccentric breed but can’t ignore their centerpiece vision. This is what makes this journey special, this is what makes it unparallel.
The one of its kind melting pot of cultures, purpose, vision, and learning give this yatra an enviable pedestal. The carefully handpicked role models give the fantastic participants a sneak into the real world. While Aravind Eye Care organisation in Madurai teaches you to find the joy of doing something beautiful in life, the Kalkeri Sangeet Mahavidhyala in Dharwar puts you in front of Adam Woodsworth from UK whose excellent work in liberal arts and education space in the region teaches you that countries and borders are irrelevant when it comes to serving humanity. Sri City in Nellore teaches you to dream big and scale while Mr. Osama Manzar taught to go out there in the world without the fear of failure. With thoughts like “Youth are not useless, but used less” and “Entrepreneurship is not cool but one that begets sacrifices and effort of the highest order”, you can’t help but feel inspired and humbled at the same time.

With the second half of the Yatra yet to play out, packed with enthralling lineup and participants infused with energy and optimism, I cannot imagine a better way to bid adieu to 2016, traveling, exploring, learning on a moving workstation called the “Jagriti express”.

Nikhil currently resides in Delhi. He is 25 years old and has done his Bachelor’s from Delhi Technological University. He worked with J.P. Morgan in Mumbai before moving to the World Bank Group in Delhi where he works presently. He came to know about the Yatra from his brother who recommended it as a “must do thing in life”.

The Aravind Eye Care Model

Aravinda Eye Hospitals need no introduction.

Founded by Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy (fondly called Dr.V) in 1976, it has grown from just 11 beds in a small building in Madurai to a network of eye hospitals containing 4,000+ spread across many cities.


According to executive director R.D. Thulasiraj, 65 per cent of the total surgeries in Aravind Eye Hospital were performed either free of cost or heavily subsidized rates. The hospital contributed to 45% of the total cataract surgeries done in Tamil Nadu, making a significant dent in eradicating cataract-related blindness in India.

As of 2012, Aravind has treated nearly 32 million patients and performed 4 million surgeries, the majority of them being cheap or free making it the world’s largest and most productive eye-care service group.

The model of Aravind Eye Care hospitals has been applauded and has become a subject for numerous case studies across the world, including premium schools like Harvard Business School, and Indian Institutes of Management.

What intrigues business enthusiasts about it is their sustainable model whereby the free patient care is provided through the revenue generated from the paying patients without raising any donations from any sources. The model was driven by Dr. V, who wanted to replicate the service efficiency of McDonalds fast food into the eye care system to cope with increasing the numbers of patients requiring treatment.

As a result, Aravind started performing 5 times the number of cataract surgeries that were performed in the entire country and 16 times more than that of the entire U.S.

Substantial innovation has been done on majorly three fronts in order to achieve a successful enterprise. These are as follows:

  • Innovation on the product front – They started manufacturing ophthalmic lenses under the aegis of AuroLabs, instead of importing them. This stabilized supply, and reduced the cost of lens from $100 to a mere $5.
  • Innovation in the process – They use assembly line processes which helps the doctors to perform 6-8 surgeries per hour with the help of sufficient number of paramedics as compared to the normal rate of 1-2 surgeries per hour.
  • Innovation in approach – They have employed mobile vans which increases their reach by relaying information to the doctors through telemedicine.

Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must also be the joy of doing something beautiful. Being of service to God and humanity means going well beyond the sophistication of the best technology, to the humble demonstration of courtesy and compassion to each patient.– Dr.G.Venkataswamy

The Jagriti Train will visit the Aravind Eye Care Hospital on the 28th of December.

Padhaaro: Experience a new city like a native

If you are visiting a new place in India, you typically hire a guide who takes you around the major tourist attractions, takes some pictures, and lets you go. By the end of it, you’ve visited the place as a tourist, and yearn to get the pulse of the place. This yearning to experience a new place as a native has given birth to a lot of new-age travel start-ups in India. Because in a guided tour of major attractions, one would have never known how a native experiences that place. One wouldn’t have got the chance to know the culture and unique practices or one might have missed that yummy street food in that locality or a cycle tour in a city. Wouldn’t it be better if one had a friend who could have taken him all around the city and help one get the feel of the place he is visiting? Tapping this niche segment by offering the local flavor of the place with the help of a local greeter, an interesting new-age travel enterprise ‘Padhaaro’ was launched by a group of young, passionate travel enthusiasts in 2012.

Wouldn’t it be better if one had a friend who could have taken him all around the city and help one get the feel of the place he is visiting?

Padhaaro_2Tapping this niche segment by offering the local flavor of the place with the help of a local greeter, an interesting new-age travel enterprise ‘Padhaaro’ was launched by a group of young, passionate travel enthusiasts in 2012.

Padhaaro offers local tour services through the eyes of a native expert which otherwise one wouldn’t have explored. It is a curator of travel experiences beyond standardized tourist itineraries.

“The idea was born when I was traveling in Moscow after attending a youth forum in 2011 and couldn’t figure out what to do and how to explore the city really well. And what’s better than having a knowledgeable local who knows the city and has expertise to deliver the right experience?” asks Ish Jindal, co-founder of Padhaaro. By then, having travelled in Jagriti Yatra 2010, he was already part of the amazing yatri network and he speaks high of it in his entrepreneurial journey. The thought evolved after they came back and started it as a volunteer-based model. They bootstrapped their venture for a while and are now funded by Morpheus, a start-up accelerator which is mentoring them as well.

Padhaaro

The model is designed in such a way that both the tourists and greeters are connected and benefit from it. The revenue model is through a certain cut on every experience booked. Apart from creating a network of locals whom tourists can trust, it could also help locals to incentivize their skill sets and talents in their interactions with tourists. This would enable greeters to be micro-entrepreneurs as well. In the longer run, when locals sell their hometown well, tourists go back home with a happy experience, which augurs well for tourism in the country.

Padhaaro’s primary customers are foreign tourists who contribute about 75% to their customer base. The Bengaluru-based start-up has now expanded to 18 cities and has to deal with competition as a number of startups are cropping up in this space. According to Ish, “Customer acquisition has been a challenge all through and in

According to Ish, “Customer acquisition has been a challenge all through and with Airbnb expanding in this, the competition is tough.”

Padhaaro’s larger vision is to make the discovery of travel experiences easier, safer, local and social and a very memorable one.

 

Srujna: For a dignified life

Someone wisely said, “Travel far enough, and you’ll eventually find yourself.”

This is what happened with Vaishali, a textile designer, when she decided to quit her unsatisfying job and travel.

12249592_10154337271154554_76184448215590372_nIn 2007, she backpacked across India (before it was a trend), and met with “the real, genuine people of the country.” She volunteered with a rural NGO in Himachal Pradesh for almost a year, where she got to understand the challenges faced by them first-hand.

It was here a seed was born. She wanted to help underprivileged women break the vicious cycle of poverty, domestic violence, and illiteracy. She finished her MBA in Social Entrepreneurship, where she heard of Jagriti Yatra.

“I was very inspired because impacting lives was what I’d always wanted to know more about. I had no direction, but I had hope. At Jagriti, I interacted with a lot of peers, and met with role-models. It was an eye-opener, knowing that you could make this much impact, especially without being a societal outcast, which was very unheard of, back in 2009, in the kind of community I hail from. It gave me friendships and memories that have transcended time and distance. They’re always around…they were the first guests on my wedding list.”

2010: After coming back from Jagriti, Srujna was born.

It is a not-for-profit that aims at assisting underprivileged women through skill-training, business training, and linking them to markets and opportunities. Since 2010, it has generated jobs worth INR 1.6 Million for more than 5000 underprivileged women.

“I know it seems like we are helping them but the truth is, they are the ones changing our lives.” 

– Vaishali

13700184_10155013941849554_9220242840951257641_nWhile starting Srujna in Maharashtra, she met women who knew how to sew, knit, and embroider, but did not possess the business skills to make it a viable, sustainable source of income. Her professional knowledge helped them in production, and reach a wider audience. Her vision through Srujna is to create a world where every woman has the resources and the ability to live a meaningful life.

“They get confidence from this. They derive their identity from this. Surprisingly, money is a secondary concern for them. I knew right there and then that this is what I want to do the rest of my life. Even now when I think about what we do, the impact we are making, the point of it…it all boils down to their stories in the end.”

– Vaishali

Predict your PNR status

No more sweating when in waiting list, just use Trainman

Jagriti Yatra is a 15-day journey in a train that you end up thinking of as home; that leaves its 500+ tenants changed forever.

In fact, the Indian railways is used by 22 million passengers to travel across a 1,15,000-km network, every day.

To put it in perspective, 120+ countries in the world have their total population LESS than 22 million.

The railways’ website alone receives over 10L hits per minute.

And hundreds of thousands of these million passengers every day deal with a waiting list instead of a confirmed seat. How many times have you faced the same situation? Going home for Diwali vacation? Oops, waiting.

Important interview for a college?

Oops, waiting.

What do you do? What if it doesn’t get confirmed? Should I go ahead and try for a flight anyway? Or do I leave my fate up to chance? The problem that every second common man has to face on a daily basis.

Well, not anymore.

Vineet Kumar Chirania, a 2011 yatri has developed an app called Trainman that provides the intelligence to tell you the probability of your ticket getting confirmed. It is intelligence, combined with information. The app provides you everything you need about your train ticket – using your PNR number, it will tell you the average delays and coach positions, as well as any changes. It also uses a large dataset of the train itself with higher accuracy of prediction.

With daily visits of over two lakh, the startup is partnering with some other players to offer services such as food delivery and bookings.

And all of this started with another train journey, a trip called Jagriti Yatra.

Inspired by his colleague who took the Yatra in 2009 and came back a changed man, Vineet took a chance and signed up.

The idea sparked then. He was in a comfortable job, but his interactions with other entrepreneurs aboard the Yatra train shifted his perceptions about putting expertise to use. He describes it as a crash course MBA.

For him, the Yatra brought him face-to-face with problems of different strata of society. In Patna, he learnt the value of sustainability, while in Rajasthan, Bunkar Roy(Barefoot College) taught him about empowering the common man. The most important part, however, was learning not to take people – and their stories – for granted. The lessons that he learnt whilst on Jagriti Yatra, paved the path to Trainman.

Here’s to your story, Vineet! May you create many more of them.

Unsure about your ticket confirmation, don’t sweat, just visit www.trainman.in or download the application your application store(available for all the mobile platforms).

– Written by Shriya Garg

Just keep moving!

Story of a travelpreneur: Akram Feroze

For 28-year-old activist and travelpreneur, Akram, to travel is to, literally, live. He has been on the road constantly since 2009 and has bicycled, hitch-hiked, trekked, and walked almost 32,000 kilometers across India.

It all started with Jagriti Yatra, a 15-day long train journey that he undertook in 2009. Hailing from a small town, he was an engineering student, trying desperately not to end up in the rat race, but unable to find a way to break free. At the yatra, he felt for the first time, like he belonged.

“After being alone most of my life in my thought process, there were suddenly 500 people around me who were as insane – if not one step further – as was me! It was exhilarating.”

It was an eye-opening experience for Akram, who made sure to capitalize on this opportunity. The next step was the final plunge, he dropped out of his college, and he pursued what was really dear to him, performing arts while he travelled. As he covered various stretches on his journey, he shared his ideas with the people he met on the way, breaking regional and language barriers.

Breaking the chains
Breaking the chains

He started The Cycle Natak, a one-man natak mandli, with barely 300 rupees in his pocket, but an immense faith in humanity to sustain him. And has it paid off!

Yes!

Complete strangers, and of course, the immense Yatri network, has stepped in at every junction to offer him food, accommodation, opportunities, and of course, validation.

“I once lost my phone while I was cycling near Chennai. A few of my friends pooled money and bought me another one immediately. They even bought me a camera for my birthday this January,” says Akram. To support his travel, Akram at times has run Kickstarter campaigns to generate funds, and to his awe, each of his campaigns has received an immense support.

At this exclusive interview, we asked him about his life as a nomad and the wonderful thrills and challenges associated with it.

“One of my biggest challenges continues to be society’s expectations of what it considers as normal. And I definitely don’t fit in those bounds of a normal person. My family constantly faces questions about the kind of lifestyle I lead and the small size of my wallet. I belong to a very small town – nobody there has ever experienced anything like it! I am lucky my family accepts me for who I am, without judgment.”

Travelling thrills

Being on the road constantly is another battle. He’s faced terrible accidents but made sure he showed up for the performance the next day. Backaches from traveling cross-country on a bike in terrible winters, or endless bus rides through the hills, nausea, headache…it’s a struggle to not let physical pain detract from the joys of new experiences.

One of the life’s biggest twists happened when he decided to launch a campaign for a world without borders through theater.

And was arrested two days before India’s Independence Day. He was “illegally detained” for a week in Rajasthan simply because police thought he seemed “suspicious”. He was at the Rajasthan border, inquiring about the further movement to the restricted area when the police arrested him.

He was kept in the police station in the name of interrogation and several agencies such as IB, and RAW grilled him on various issues.

He was kept in custody for three days, while his family ran pillar to post, looking up all contacts who could help release him.

It was the most traumatic time of his life, both physically and emotionally.

But the show must go on.

Akram is currently planning an Africa Caravan, in order to take his travels to Africa, and shall be back soon with new stories! At Jagriti Yatra, we understand how not all those who wander are lost, and truly commend Akram’s spirit. He is a true inspiration for all of us sitting at our office desks.

To hear Akram live, watch his TED Talk here.

To follow his fantastic journey, stalk him here.

Akram's Journey

 – Written by Shriya Garg