About Haegwan Kim
Haegwan Kim is a writer who was born in Osaka, Japan in 1989 and grew up near Tokyo where went to a Korean school for 12 years.
Latest Posts by Haegwan Kim
Below is a Q&A with Eriko Yamaguchi of Motherhouse.
Haegwan Kim: You’re helping developing countries through producing bags — was that what you wanted to do, or did you realize that’s what you wanted to do during the process?
Eriko Yamaguchi: It’s the former.
HK: I’m just wondering whether you’re happiness links to other’s happiness. In your case, does contributing to developing countries mean to increase your own happiness?
EY: Well… I hope both connect one another, but we sometimes work for projects which are not necessarily for others. So our primary is not others, it’s ourselves.
HK: So working needs personal incentive first?
EY: Yes, I think so.
HK: Today, many social entrepreneurs appear in various areas saying that their motivations come from “other’s happiness”. You disagree with them? By the way, I agree with you in many ways. Through my projects, I realized that I would fail if I seek incentive from others. So, I always look for the reason from my inside.
EY: … Otherwise people can’t keep on, I think. If you work on just projects for others, I doubt that can be sustainable.
HK: What is the biggest lesson you learn from Motherhouse’s activities?
EY: When I founded the company, I had some sort of certainty to make my ideas happen — even that’s invisible — and I made it real. Our company is still a venture, but having six stores, making tens of thousands of bags per year, I feel there’s nothing we can’t do. That’s my biggest lesson.
HK: When you founded the company, you overcame uncertainty, concern and stigma which Japanese female entrepreneurs often encounter. Why?
EY: The imagination of success surpassed my all concerns.
HK: Don’t you link your activities and developing countries?
EY: Of course yes, but that’s a long-term view. We’re now just focusing on creating better products. It’s not time to talk about the big picture yet.
HK: Bringing developing countries’ products to developed countries – this model is now proliferated in many countries but when you started the company it wasn’t. What was the reason you chose this model?
EY: I didn’t think about the model at all. I even didn’t consider selling. I just started to create great bags.
HK: Wow, you’re brave! Then the beginning was a tiny challenge…
EY: Yes, through selling and making bags, we’ve been thinking, thinking, thinking, then we found our model. We created a website, we failed, then we went to whole trade, we failed and finally we had our own store.
HK: Let’s get back to our first topic of success. I always ask this question: what would be your advice be to achieve success? You told me “do what you want to do” at first, but there’s plenty of people who even don’t know what they’d like to do. Do you have advice for them?
EY: I think you have to keep on working. Continuing your work — I wrote about this in my book, which is “keep walking” — it’s the key. Whether you fail or succeed totally depends on whether you keep on working or not. If I stop working in the first year, I would fail. But since I tried to continue our projects, now we can see success. Many people have the thought, “if I’d keep on a little bit more.” But it’s difficult. The last thing that drives you is an attitude of challenge.
HK: I see, then you never failed? I mean, you can stay on top of everything until success?
EY: What I’m most afraid of is the time when I can’t keep working. For example, breaking my body, having an accident, something like that. But as long as I can keep on working on my own challenges, I’d like to do it.
HK: What is your motivation to work on so many things?
EY: It’s a habit.
HK: Habit? [Laughter]
EY: In sports you can’t do anything if you don’t practice well before the match. The same thing goes for a company. So I make bags constantly to keep my attitude. It’s really like a habit. [Laughter]
HK: I’ve heard you did Judo. Did it help you with this idea of habit? Or did any child education help you maintain this attitude?
EY: Of course Judo did, but education is also important into adulthood. For instance, improving customer service always and linking service with the number of sales — these experiences would be your nourishment and they are practicable, mentally. Hard work, then you make it. Then you can see, “Oh, this works well.” What’ the important is continuing those experiences, earnestly.
Eriko Yamaguchi is the founder of Motherhouse. Translated by Hagewan Kim.
Haegwan Kim: What is your definition of success?
Tumi Makgabo: You know I think that’s a very difficult question because success is a little bit of an intangible thing. I think, for a lot of people, they measure it in terms of wealth, and wealth creation, and so on, but I think that’s superficial. In real terms, sometimes people who are successful don’t know they’re successful.
But the reality is that when you’re thinking about what is success, I think if you’re doing something, one, that you enjoy doing, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but something that you enjoy doing, and something that you can do well with a positive result that impacts other people positively, for me then you will have been successful.
Not only are you fulfilling your own need to do something that you enjoy but you’re also allowing yourself to influence other people in a positive way, and I think if we all did that you would be quite successful. And I’m not talking about the monetary issues, because I think that’s a very debatable thing. When you look at somebody like Bernie Madoff who had a lot of money, and now is in jail, you know, is he successful?
HK: Nah. Ok, I got your point. So it’s not about money but it’s about how you influence others in a positive way.
TM: Yes, it’s about influencing others, and I think maybe even, I won’t say inspiring, but hoping other people make positive changes, or decisions, in their own life, because at the end of the day you don’t live in isolation, you live with other people. So I think that becomes very important.
HK: As I said you succeeded in a lot of things as a TV presenter and a broadcaster, so can I ask about what is the key element to be such a great, so-called “successful” presenter?
TM: You know it’s funny because I think whenever you look at people that other people regard as being successful, the qualities that differentiate them from everybody else are not always easy to point out. So, for example, you can say if you want to be successful at business, you have to do well at High School, so that you can get good grades that get you into Harvard. So, you can go to Harvard Business School, and hopefully then you become a very successful businessperson.
And then you look at somebody like Bill Gates who never actually finished College, or you look at somebody like Richard Branson who never actually finished even High School, so I think for me it’s a similar principle that applies to broadcasting, or to anything that people regard as successful when it’s an external view. We all have our internal motivators but when you’re looking from the outside I don’t know that it’s easy to define what it is.
There’re a lot of people who work really, really hard, there’re a lot of people who do a lot of research, there’re a lot of people who put in the hours, and never get to do that. So, what makes a good presenter, I don’t know, I don’t know that I can answer that question.
But, what I would say is that an important characteristic that comes across for most people who are successful in that industry is that they’re very true to who they are, they don’t try to be somebody else. They just are who they are, and they look, and feel really comfortable in their own skin, and I don’t think that that necessarily happens by happenstance.
I think it’s a conscious decision to say, you know what, I can only do what I know how to do, and that’s what I’m going to stick to doing. So, yes, it’s a combination of things, but I suppose if I had to pinpoint one thing it would be that, that you try to be true to who you are, and that usually fixes it I think.
HK: You’ve interviewed prominent people like presidents of the United States, billionaires, artists, entrepreneurs. Since I also do interviews, I’m just wondering what do you most carer about when you interview people?
TM: I’m very much interested in people, not in a sociological context, but what interests me, in my own mind, getting to know what the person is like. And looking beyond that sort of wall, of this is what I’m supposed to be like, because of my position, because of my fame, and my fortune this is what I’m supposed to be like, and trying to get a sense, or a feeling of what the person really is like. So I always approach things as a conversation.
To me an interview is more of a conversation than a list of questions that you have with someone, because when you have that conversation they’ll let you see sides of them, or parts of them, or parts of their personality that sort of slip out, because they’re comfortable, and that’s what really matters to me.
Of course you want to get the facts, of course you want to challenge people, but it’s also, it’s part of the exercise, is to show people a side that they may not readily have seen, and I think that’s really what I try to do.
HK: You have a really unique background as a South African lady, can you tell me pros and cons of that background to be a broadcaster?
TM: I think one of the big challenges, and I don’t think it’s because I’m a South African, I think one of the big challenges that women generally have on the continent is that most countries on the continent are patriarchal. So you’re functioning in the context of a male environment and I think that’s one of the big challenges that we all have.
That’s not a challenge that’s unique to me and I think because of that you have to work harder at defining who you want to be, and that’s not in a superficial context. In other words if I say I just want to be the best Tumi that I can be I have to focus on that, and work, and be true to that, and I have to decide what is Tumi like, and when Tumi’s confronted by a situation that feels very patriarchal, or where she feel constrained, because she’s a woman, she needs to fight that.
And it may mean she doesn’t get work sometimes, or it may mean that people don’t want to engage with her, but she’s still being true to who she is, so I’d say the biggest challenge that you have is that. But, in terms of the pros, you know, I live in Africa, so there’re a lot of pros, and I think one of the biggest pros is that in many ways people… It’s a lot more community driven, not just in the sense that everybody lives in community but people enjoy that socialisation, which I think is wonderful living here.
I’ve had the good fortune to travel to a number of different places and one of the things that one misses about being in South Africa is that feeling of family; you know, even if people aren’t your family you can create your own family fairly easily, because people are so much more outgoing, and so much more open about themselves, and welcoming of you into their lives.
So I think the pros of that is the very fact that I live in this country that’s, it’s a beautiful country, with some amazing people in it. I’m looking out the window today, and the sun is shining, and the weekend, and barbeques are coming up, so… Yes, that’s the pro; the pro is that I live in South Africa.
HK: Many people are now looking forward to seeing a huge development of that beautiful country, especially after the World Cup, can you tell me briefly your perspective on the future of South Africa?
TM: I think the continent has been on the cusp of really defining itself for a number of years and I think that the future has a lot of promise, but as is the case with so many things that have promise it can only materialize, or it can only realise when we actually take ownership of it. I think one of the challenges for many developing countries is that everything we do is done in the context of developed countries.
So the way we behave, the way we eat, our rules, and everything are done in the context of developed countries, and I think that for us we now, with the global economic crises, and so many other things, we really have a unique opportunity to find solutions that work for us on the continent, and to make those things happen in our own way.
You know whether we’re talking about the way we use our natural resources, or the way we deal with our intellectual property, or all of those things, that we really embrace this moment that we have to make our own decisions about how we want to be, and how we want to view, and to be viewed, and how we want our story, or stories, to be told.
The potential is great but potential is only as great as one is willing to maximise it. I think there’re a lot of people who want to do that right now, which is different, perhaps, you know, a few decades, it’s not so much about revolution, but it’s about empowering, and building a continent. We just have to do the hard work of getting there, and it’s hard work, but we’ll get there.
HK: As a final question, can you tell me your general advice to be successful?
TM: You know it sounds very clichéd but it’s a couple of things. At first you have to believe; you have to believe in your ability and in your inner strength to achieve the things that you want to achieve. So when I say believe I don’t mean think you’re better than everybody else, but think, for example, here’s a good idea, and I can work hard to make this real. So I think that’s one thing, so you have to believe.
Number two; you have to do the work. Without the work it’s not going to happen. And the third thing is don’t forget to bring other people along with you on your journey, because it can get lonely sometimes, and also it allows you to spread that knowledge, and to help to make things better. So the three things for success is that you have to believe, you have to do the work, and you have to bring others along with you as best you can.
Tumi Makgabo is a broadcaster and was an anchor at CNN International.
Haegwan Kim: Define your personal definition of success.
Sreekanth Rameshaiah: It’s a very interesting question. It’s a simple question, but the answer is not so simple, but personally I feel success is… the change that you imagine, when you get it to happen, I will call it a success particularly. It may not be financial, it may not be just socially, it may not be personal wealth. If you work towards a goal and if you put in enough effort and if you see the end result coming closer to the goal that’s impossible, your goal, and you as achievement, that is success.
HK: You have an interesting background as once a programmer and the CEO of the non-profit, Mahiti. Can you tell me why this happens?
SR: It’s a personal story. Actually I was using computers as early as 1985 and in India that’s a very early stage for someone to have his computer, so I was a programmer from a very early age. I was ten years and because my father was a scientist I had access to computer at home. I always grew up thinking I would become an engineer one day, working for Philips research labs, working on an exhibition, fancy stuffs. I know it’s stupid but when I was 32 I thanked God that I did not go on that path. At the time I came across Sunil, and then we two together set up Mahiti. We started providing technology to other non-profits, so it’s now really natural we are, slowly we grew, and when the bank came to spin off on some of our works. We wanted to set it up as a social enterprise so that we continued to do cutting edge work, but primarily our focus should be on social sector and our profit should go back to the social sector.
HK: Why are you focussing on social sector and not on private sector?
SR: See, you would be surprised, there are families in night after night journey from Bangalore where $2 is enough money a the week. India’s a very contrasting country that way. In Bangalore, $2 won’t get you a cup of coffee so the comparisons are very different. Bangalore is highly evolved, but if you go a little further away you will see people who are really far behind in terms of development. Many people don’t even have a well roofed house so we learnt a lot about the social life working in some of our projects. So at that time it was somehow becoming very clear to us that we had to be a social enterprise which focuses on technology for society, technology for the social sector.
And one of the key things that we had in mind was we did not want to go through the donor route for doing our projects, and some of our learnings assurance that when we get funds from donors, then we’ll have to implement their ideas and their wishes. So many times we end up doing things which is not correct but that’s what the donor wants. And we saw it happening, so we were really upset about it, so that’s why we thought we’d set up Mahiti as a social enterprise. It would do commercial work but it will use its profits to do social work that increases character and use it for the people.
HK: How do you measure your success as a social entrepreneur?
SR: When we started, we were three-people company, less than one third of this room, providing services to very few non-profits. Today, we have a working relationship with more than thousand non-profits. We must have Indian more than 3,000 non-profits inside India. In the last year, alone, we brought more than 1,200 non-profits on user of IT in their work, and in the last one here we have engaged with more than a thousand students across the country. We have projects in Burma, we have projects in South America, Africa, we have commercial plans in Europe and testing. We have worked in social projects in Mongolia.
Today Mahiti has its businesses spread out across all the five continents and we are a team of about 80 people now and we have our own premises. We have our own recognition, we are globally distinct, so I feel we have grown quite a bit. One of the key things that we decided when we started the company was not to grow in comparison to someone else. For Mahiti the competition is Mahiti. We don’t look at someone else to figure out whether we have performed our part. We set our own performance benchmarks, and we achieve them and we move out.
HK: What’s your perspective on how technology can help the people mostly in India, but in the world as well?
SR: Technology can change people’s life in a dramatic way, in an unprecedented way. See, I can give a very good example; when I was working in Samopan, then we were working in villages and in one of the places the nearest telephone line was 16 kilometres away, and sometimes in the late evenings or in the night if you wanted to communicate with someone, there was no way you could call people.
Today, if you go to any village in India, almost every family has access to the mobile phone. That has changed the way they live. It has really transformed it because today for the 1% are missing mobiles phone has communication device, but for the average poor person in India who comes from a very poor family, mobile phone is their value, mobile phone is their camera, mobile phone is identity.
I think four years before, less than 1% of the poor people in India had access to camera. Today at least 50% of them have access to the camera thanks to mobile phone. They’re able to capture photographs of the children growing, of the family. For them it’s a very big improvement for families, for which taking photo was a very, very, very expensive big thing; today it’s in their hands.
It has changed the way they add value with the rest of the world. Slowly and steadily mobile phone is becoming a very important tool. This is helping the aims for girl children in the villages to encourage their parents to let them go to schools and colleges far away because parents now know that their children are just one phone call away so it’s okay to send them to a college which is 12 kilometres, 15 kilometres away from their house. This is a very big movement. Technology will bring a lot of change to this country. It will increase transparency. It will make paying accountable. It will give power to the poor people.
HK: I feel like a huge wave is coming to India. Final question, I want to ask you about your general advice to be successful?
SR: I think it’s important to take the road that is not taken before. If you’re afraid of experimenting, if you’re afraid of pushing yourself to the limits you cannot really be successful, so and anybody has to be successful, they should dream the innovation and then work towards that even and do not be afraid of going beyond the traditional limits, then I think success will particularly come.
Sreekanth Rameshaiah is the CEO of Mahiti.
Award-winning actor Anupam Kher talks about success…..He says, the definition of success keeps changing over years. You can’t have the same definition of success all your life. Success as a struggling actor for me when I was looking for work to get into movies, success for me was becoming an actor. When I became an actor, success for me was getting an award, becoming more successful. So it’s completely different.
Today, for me success is more important to do as a person. To me, success is about not greed; that you should not be greedy. Today, the success for me is to be able to be yourself. Today, the success means to me that you should deal with life simply. And today, success for me is to be able to change people’s lives through my work, through my deeds, through my thoughts.
It’s a very fixed thing to say that this is what success to me is. It’s very difficult for me to describe success. Success is achieving something. Now what do you achieve as a person, as a professional? And success is always related to happiness. But materialistic success, spiritual success, that depends from people to people.
HK: So when people get older, their success become more outside-oriented?
AK: Not with everybody else. People are greedy at the age of 70. In India, there are father-in-laws, mother-in-laws who kill their daughter for money. It depends how evolved you are as a person. It depends from people to people. Age has nothing to do with success or the thought. If that was the case, then we would have had no problems in history.
All the prime ministers and presidents are old. All the dictators are old, so they have not understood the meaning. It is what makes you an evolved person. To me, life is about reinventing yourself. You have to keep reinventing. So that’s what is important.
HK: You teach for many superstars of the future. So I’d like to ask about a key element to be a successful actor?
AK: There is no alternative to honesty and hard work in any profession. That’s what I believe in. You have to be honest and you have to be hard working. There are no short cuts. Short cut successes are for just short term. I’ve been in movies for the last 26 years and done about 400 films. I am still working. If I compare myself with the success of Amitabh Bachchan, then I’m not successful, but if I compare myself with so many people who are wanting to be successful, then I’m a very successful person.
But I have maintained that I have to be hard working and I have to be honest with my profession, and then success will happen to me. It’s a matter of time.
Also, success comes with attitude, not with talent. It’s what your attitude towards life is.
HK: Talent comes later?
AK: Yes, talent comes later. First attitude comes. Attitude gets you work; attitude gets you singled out.
HK: You teach, have a foundation and working for many social goods. Do you have any obligation for that?
AK: No. I want to grow as a person. I want to be rich in my mind. Bill Gates decides to give almost of his wealth. I don’t think he’s giving it only to pay back to the society, that’s what he feels. That’s what makes him happy. Foundation work, I work with mentally challenged children, it makes me happy. I’m doing it for selfish own reasons. You want to feel better. More than anybody else you are doing it for yourself. As I said earlier, life is about growing up. You have to grow up as a person. If you don’t grow up as a person, then how can you grow up as a professional?
HK: That’s true. I came here in India, so I want to ask about Indian philosophy on success.
AK: We are a very young country. We are only 63 years old.
HK: After independence.
AK: Yes. As an independent country we are a young country and we are raring to go; we are raring to prove it. Technology is on our side and the new Internet, mobile, etc., is happening, and the free market has happened. But tradition strangely used to give grounding to the people. I think tradition-wise we are missing on that. People used to chant, people used to sing. Similarly in India, we may be a new country but we have old traditions. Learning and information is very good, but it does not really translate into knowledge. Today’s generation has less sense of wonder; oh my God, life is like that, because everything is at a Google search button.
Today, a 12-year old child can find out everything. But that is information, that is not knowledge. So by the age of 16, you know everything. Then, the frustration comes in. Why are the suicide rates in Japan and other places more among youth people? Because there is no sense of wonder. There is nothing to look forward to. Then you get into drugs, then you get into drinking, then you get into rape, and then you get into all negative things.
I hope that does not happen to India because we are traditionally a very old country, so the grounding, our DNA is very strong. Otherwise, in America. I was recently talking as a motivational speaker. In India if I have a problem, I will tell my boy, the shopkeeper, or whoever like oh, I have a problem, I just can’t sleep these days. Or even I will tell you who I know. We will have somebody to rely on. Bus driver? we will tell our problem. In America, to tell your problem, you have to pay $500 to the person, the psychiatrist. Same thing. Oh, I can’s sleep, man. I can’t sleep. I’ve got this horrible dream. So that idiot is telling the person, and the psychoanalyst is saying, actually, what I think you should do, etc., etc., give me $500. We have no communication left unfortunately. We are not communicating with people. There was a time when people used to communicate with people.
HK: Mmm, it’s really difficult problem. What is the biggest lesson from your total career?
AK: Life is beautiful.
The lesson is life is beautiful. It’s still worth it. It’s amazing to be alive. It’s amazing to chat with somebody. It’s amazing to make a difference in somebody’s life. I’m an optimist. I’m an eternal optimist. To me, life is fantastic. God has been kind to me. God is kind to you. So I think people should be happy.
Sadness is like a drug. The more you become sad the more you want to be sad. And sadness is also personal. Nobody’s interested in your sadness. But if you’re happy, you can make five people happy.
HK: That’s a really great lesson.
AK: And happiness, you have to choose to happen. You have to decide that I want to be happy. Today, if you want to be happy, you say that, okay, from today onwards, from 7th December 2010, sitting with Mr. Kher, I decided to be happy. Then you have to practice that happiness for three months. It’s a practice. Anything happen? No, no, no; I’m happy. I’m happy. Nothing, I’m happy. You say it for three months and you do it for three months, then it becomes a habit.
Like you practice motor driving. You want to learn it so you go to a motor driving school. Then you bang into some car. You do this, but ultimately, you can drive with one hand and do this, and you talk on the phone also, and you flirt also with the other person in the car, because you have practiced it.
HK: Everyone can be happy!
AK: Everybody can be happy. My grandfather used to say that happiness and sadness is in your hands. You can feel very sad by thinking how many people are better than you, but you can feel very happy by thinking how many people are worse than you. You are better than the person who is getting you cup of tea. You are better than him. You are better than person who is driving your bus. But you may say that I’m not better than somebody who has an aircraft.
HK: What’s your advice to be successful in general life?
AK: Follow your dreams and don’t give up. Dreams keep you busy. Dreams do not make you feel miserable. The day you stop dreaming, you are dead. Follow your dreams and reinvent more dreams; not greed, but dreams. Footsteps on the sands of time were not made by sitting down. You have to get up. Footsteps on the sands of time are not made by sitting down. You have to rise. You have to walk. If you try, you risk failure. If you don’t, you ensure it, so you have to try. Today, world is trying to make you feel frightened. This is happening; nuclear power; environments; this issue; that issue. Murder, rape, so you are constantly thinking that I am living in a world which is not safe. Breaking news is always about bad things. It’s never about good things. So your strength is you, not outsiders. If your strength is you, then you have to go in and bring out the strength.
What is your strength? You decided to come to India for one month like that, and there was no plan. You would not take my appointment from Japan. Dear Mr. Kher, I would like to meet you so meet me on so and so date. You took chances, and life is about taking chances. Life is about taking risks. If you live a secure life, if you live a balanced protected life, that’s what you want. But if you want to develop your mind, if you want to do something about life, then you have to take a difficult path. That’s why they say that a bend in the road is not the end of the road.
Anupam Kher is an award-winning actor and working on various projects including foundation and teaching for the future.
Haegwan Kim: First question is, your personal definition of success.
Gautum John: Success to me is a journey. It’s not a destination. I don’t think I can look back as where I am today and say, I’m successful. I think success is like all things, an ongoing process. It’s not a place you reach. I would not define success in terms of money. To me, success would be, it would be more external, like how many difficulties have you had to overcome to get where you have, where you are, and I think the biggest measure of success for me would be, what have you left behind for everyone else? Have you made the world a better place?
In that sense education is important to me, so have you helped one child study better, study harder? Have you made the world a better place for children, in terms of being able to give them access to education that they otherwise would not have. I think I’m too early in my journey to define success.
Success is something that takes time, and more important than where you’ve got and to say that you’re successful is to look back at the road you’ve taken to success, and look at the road as a metaphor for what it is you’ve done. Along the way, have you caused, have you created more happiness in the world?
Money to a lot of people could be a measure of success, and I’m fine with that. Success at the end of the day is something that’s very personal and is something that I have to be happy with. If I end up with a lot of money, people might consider me successful, but I would not necessarily be the happiest person.
Also, I think that success in many ways is a function of what it is you find meaning in doing. It’s also a function of time. What you consider important is different when you’re 20, 30, 40 and 50, and your definition of success will change, or rather how you measure your success will change over time, but to me, I’m very clear that to me success really is, have I made the world a better place? And, have I impacted people in a meaningful way?
HK: There are many ways to make the world a better place, and you pick up education as a way to change. Why?
GJ: It’s something that I’m passionate about. Some people are passionate about health, some people about the rights, about ecology, about environment. Everything is as important as the other. At the end of the day, one chooses to walk the path that one is most interested and one is most passionate about, and I really think that’s the only one you can, that’s the only way to really be effective and meaningful in your work.
I would hesitate to tell someone to choose a path of environmental sciences just because it’s really important and it’s something that everyone is talking about now. If what you’re passionate about is making the world a better place by having less cars on the road, or by helping children read better, or by creating more access for the visually, for the physically handicapped, those are equally important as well, and you need to choose to walk the path that you want to walk, not the path that people say you should walk.
HK: Then was education your personal choice?
GJ: Education is my very, very personal choice.
HK: So for you, it’s fine to create public benefits that started from personal emotion?
GJ: Yes, to me that’s the only way you can do it. There are two or three ways to approach the social sector. A lot of people grow up in an environment that’s conducive to them choosing to lead a life in the social sector.
There are people who decide to spend a short while in the social sector, because it looks good on your resume, because for whatever reason, which is as good a reason as any to do it, and there are people like me, who chose to come to the social sector, both to spend five or ten years…..
A) because I believe I have been fortunate enough to come to a place in my life where I can afford to do this and……
B) because it’s important to me, so the nature of the people working in the social sector, whether it be for profit, be it for profit social enterprises, or non-profit, non-governmental organisations, everyone has different motivations, and to me, any motivation is as good as the other, so what I think has changed in the last few years, is that has made it more possible, is that I think people have realised that governments can’t solve everyone’s problems, and that the for profit world of business also cannot solve everyone’s problems, and that’s led to a lot more visibility and some amount of funding and support for the ecosystem around non-profits and social enterprises, which has also made it at some level financially possible to walk that path, because otherwise the traditional thing was if you chose to work in a non-profit or the social enterprise sector, is that you were going to be subject to a great degree of financial uncertainty, and I think the last decade has changed that.
We’ve had examples of large non-profits and social enterprises that have actually made a difference, and I think that creates a vicious cycle of good, so to speak. People hear about non-profits and social enterprise doing good, because of which there’s an ecosystem of funders and donors, because of which more people are interested, because it becomes possible, and I think that’s an ecosystem that has now been built and it’s possible for people to come in and do that, though I still maintain that the only reason someone should come into the sector is because they want to, not because they’ve been told that they should.
HK: Since I came to India, I’ve been impressed by its diversity, and I love it, but on the other hand, it’s quite problematic to have huge gap between the rich and poor. As one of the most prominent social entrepreneurs, can you tell me your perspective on this financial problems or financial gap in India?
GJ: In the social sector, it’s still not very good. In the West, if you choose to leave your corporate job and go to the non-profit sector or to the social enterprise sector, you will give up somewhere between 20 and 30% of your salary, if you’re getting paid 100, you will get paid somewhere between 60 and 70 in the non-profit sector, or the social enterprise sector, whereas in India it’s actually reversed.
If you’re getting 100 in the for profit space, you will give up between 60 and 70% to come and join the social sector, so you will get between 20 and 30 as compared to 100.
Now, it has its own problem because it means that only a certain kind of or a certain class of people can come and work in the social sector, with some degree of comfort and certainty. It doesn’t make it available to a choice of hundreds of other people for whom, who have families to support and can’t really support them on 20 or 30% of their corporate salary.
India has a long way to go in bringing some amount of equality or at least less disparity between the for profit and the not for profit space. Though India is also slightly peculiar because we have the whole Ghandian philosophy, that you must do good for good’s sake, and giving up everything to do good is a good thing in itself.
Sacrifice is a good thing, which I don’t disagree with but realistically it makes it an option only for so many people, and we have so many different kinds of problems at such a large scale that we should be doing everything in our power to encourage more people into the social sector, and one way of easing the transition from the for profit to the non profit space is being able to make people at least, to give people some sort of comfort around the financial aspects.
While work is truly meaningful for myself, or for an individual, you need a base level of financial support to make it possible, because otherwise it’s just not a choice for a lot of people, and you can’t fault them for that. If they have family, they have commitments, they need to be able to honour that, and you can’t expect that degree of sacrifice for that many people, coming into this space.
So, India has a long way to go to make up that disparity, but like I said, we have these historical notions of what community service should be like, and Ghandian philosophies that make it harder, but we will get there.
HK: What’s the problem for social sectors in India at the moment?
GJ: There’s an interesting statistic that people talk about in India, where I think we have the most number of non-profits for any country in the world, but 95% of them are not really non-profits and just a way to steal money. The government and donors do fund, channel a lot of money into the non-profit sector, and sadly not all non-profits are created to meet the poor. A lot of non-profits are created either as entities to funnel money out, it could just be a front for something else, so there really is a problem of establishing the credentials for any non-profit, and by the same flip of coin, the problem is also how do you distinguish, how does anyone distinguish a good non-profit from a bad non-profit.
HK: You chose education as a solution for that. Could you tell me about details of your model? Especially how you make a sustainable and healthy nonprofit model.
GJ: The organisation I work with, called the Akshara Foundation, we work in preschools and in primary schools, only government preschools and primary schools, and we work exclusively in the state of Karnataka, but we decided not to replicate the government system of education, but we decided that when children leave school, they need to have basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, so we designed programs that targeted only these. One, to substitute for government programs, could be delivered in 45 days, had very little material that you needed and was low cost and could be delivered by the government’s teachers themselves, because then what this has done is allowed the program to scale, because we didn’t need to scale along with the program.
The program could scale on its own, because the government system already existed. All you had to do was support that, and the model is scalable because of the way it’s designed. It’s also replicable, because there’s a base level of training and teaching that’s required, and it’s sustainable because we decided that we would prove our model using our own money, but then we would transition it into government, so a lot of our programmes are now run by the government themselves.
By definition, they’re replicable, scalable and sustainable. Our sustainability is that the government will run them over time, and we provide an external monitoring function, just to make sure that it is actually going well.
HK: A final question, what is your advice to achieve success for others?
GJ: I’m sure that everyone has told you this, but follow your heart. There’s no other way to achieve success. I think following your heart sometimes is hard, especially in India because you may not have the money, you might have obstacles, but what you should know is that there are other people who have walked that path before, and you can always rely on the support and advice of friends and family, and people who’ve done that work before.
The biggest thing about following your heart is that no matter how hard it gets, you go to sleep feeling good about what you’re doing, and I think that matters more than anything else .
Gautum John is a social entrepreneur and educationalist.
Haegwan Kim: The first question is your personal definition of success.
Somika Basu: Well, I think I don’t really have one definition, and I think the concept of success is so fluid and so dynamic that it keeps changing. Like what I view success now is very different from what I thought of success maybe five years ago.
So right now, given my past life experiences, I would say that success is a combination of happiness and freedom, and maybe given my line of work, I think success is also largely defined by something that’s beyond just yourself that involves other people around you. It could be your family and your family’s happiness, your community and you’re community’s happiness. And for me right now, I think our country’s happiness or children’s happiness, given the work that I’m doing now. It’s just redefining itself constantly.
HK: That’s very interesting. I’m pretty impressed by your working at Teach for India, and because, as you said, your success is not only for yourself but for others. I am wondering what was the beginning for you to start your engagements?
SB: What happened was I did my journalism. When I graduated from my Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, I was writing for the newspaper, and I was doing lifestyle reporting, so I knew I wanted to be a journalist. And I went on to do a degree in journalism where we were taught very practical aspects of the craft, but I knew that I wanted to do some sort of development reporting, like about society, so I didn’t know that I was going to write about underprivileged communities, I just knew I wanted to do like a social commentary, because I’m fascinated by people, I’m fascinated by notions of identity. And India is a country so complex. I knew that I wanted to write about Indian people and different kinds of Indian people.
After I graduated, I went back to my newspaper. I was writing for The Hindu, and I said I want to do development reporting. My editor laughed at me and said, you’re so young, no one’s going to take you seriously. Like what have you seen of the world?You need to travel and experience rural India if you want to write about development issues.
So I did. I went to one of the poorest states in the country, Orissa, and I was living and working with people there, and I realised that no one was publishing my stories, in spite of my editor telling me to go there and work there and live there and understand the issues. No one was publishing the stories; no one was watching the documentary films I was making. It’s a tiny little clique of people in NGOs who just pat themselves and each other on the back, just encouraging one another, but you need to influence and affect a much larger group of people in order to actually make a difference.
I was 22, 23. I thought I could change the world. I thought I could change India. But then I think every day I got broken down into realising that I’m not going to change the system and I moved away from just writing about what was going on and actually starting to get my hands dirty by setting up night schools and women’s self-help groups, micro finance, literacy campaigns, aids awareness campaigns, whatever it was.
And I knew that the task ahead of me was so huge that I just wanted to chip away at stereotypes and notions, and I wanted to just open up people’s worlds, and especially young people, because they’re so much more open than older citizens that you know there are choices that lay ahead of you, and unless you’re made aware of those choices, you’re not going to exercise them. You’re going to think that you’re happy in your little fish bowl, and I think my whole purpose was to like just shock people into realising that this doesn’t have to be your life, you can choose other things. As naïve as it sounds, I still believe that.
So I hope I did that to some level. And then I went to study. I did a Masters in development studies in London, and now I’m with Teach for India because I think that I’m using my skills as a journalist and as a communicator to really spread the message of how powerful education is, and this is the only that’s going to really give Indian kids that choice, especially coming from low income communities. Nothing other than education is going to give you the confidence, is going to give you that world view of what are the options that lay ahead of you.
HK: There’s one billion people in India and thus it’s full of problems. What is the most difficult or challenging thing at the moment for you?
SB: I think, like you said, just the scale of the problem, the magnitude of the problem is daunting, which is why a lot of people just opt out, and it’s so easy to shut yourself out and say, you know what? I’m really not going to make a difference by myself so what’s the point? It’s not going to happen in this lifetime. But just, like starting with children, which is why I think to focus on education and young people and just the optimism and hope that they have is huge.
And if you can convince ten kids who can convince another ten kids through their confidence and through their articulation and just choices that they ahead of them that you’ve maybe created for them or shown them, I think all you need is hope. Like every time you look at the numbers in India, you look at the statistics and the facts and the realities, it’s so easy to get beaten down and discouraged. You need to be stupidly naïve to do anything like for the better. Or like you have to have your blinkers on and see rainbows everywhere you go. And people will call you crazy but you just have to do it.
I think starting with kids is really important because they’re so open to change. They’re not sceptics. They’re so trusting, and it’s more easy to see the change in children than to see the change in young adults or older people. I think it’s having the hope and the optimism is half the battle. You know, the sense of possibility that things are going to change and that we can all be part of it I think is really important.
HK: What was the key element for being successful for Teach for series?
SB: Right now, since Teach for India is such a young organisation, we don’t really have the statistics to back it up, but we’ve got kids who are confident, who are articulate; who are no longer afraid of going to school because their teachers don’t hit them; whose parents have been convinced about the power of education; whose communities see that, you know, girls who go to school can really turn the whole society around.
And I think it’s a question of changing mindset, and once the mindset around the importance of education changes, you will have so many more subscribers to quality education and creativity in education and just expressing oneself. Education doesn’t have to be sitting down with your books. It could be expressing oneself through art or theatre or like every child is talented in their own way, just finding that particular talent or that strength in one child, it’s really making that blossom. And it doesn’t have to be like 95% in your maths exam, it could be the confidence to get up on stage and sing in front of 500 people.
And now everything is a viable career option. There is nothing that you can’t make a living out of doing. And I think especially in the context of India, giving kids these skills that later they can capitalise upon, like whether it’s, you know, painting or theatre, or designing solar panels or photography, or maths, English, writing, whatever it is, I think there’s something for everyone, and just giving those options to kids. And also changing the mindsets of parents that this is a good career choice or this is not a good career choice is really important.
I think organisations like Teach for India that encourage creativity around education, that encourage people to keep an open mind around concepts of learning and expression is the way forward, because regardless of whatever social standing you come from, just knowing that you have options ahead of you is really important.
HK: I’m not sure you had one, but as a final question, I want to ask you to give me your advice to be successful; to achieve success.
SB: Well, I don’t even consider myself successful because I don’t have one definition of success. It’s constantly…
HK: Changing, right?
SB: Yes. I’m like redefining my profession, my attitudes; refining the way I speak, the words I choose so as not to offend people. Like just being really careful and more sensitive to people around me, I would just say that I’ve been fortunate enough to consider all my life experiences as like happy accidents. I’m not going to complain about anything that’s happened to me, and I think that’s because on some level I’m so happy with my work and I really believe in what I do. And because my work takes up most of my waking life, like I’m working like 12/14/16 hours a day sometimes, if you’re not passionate and if you’re not driven every morning when you wake up knowing that, oh my God, I have like these things to do and I’m really excited about it, I don’t think you’re going to be successful in whatever it is.
How do I describe it? I think just having that passion when you wake up in the morning in whatever it is, whether you’re a writer or a singer or a teacher or a dancer or a doctor, if you’re not excited by what you’re doing every day, then I don’t think you’re going to be successful because I think success is so closely tied to happiness and what you’re doing at every given point in time.
So for me, success is not serving; that sounds really… well, it sounds I’m full of myself by serving my country, you know? By making my life and my work, not just about me, like I said, for me right now, success is influencing and touching other people’s lives. And it could just be like being respectful and loving the people closest to you, but I as a person get happiness from extending that to people that I don’t even know and people that I meet every day. And I think my work allows me to meet new people, especially to interact with kids, and I just say seek happiness, even if it means doing something different every single day of your life. If that makes you happy, then success is not even going to figure in the equation.
Because I don’t know, it has like monetary and economic overtones, don’t you think? Like successful, like a businessman, entrepreneur or whatever. I think people should just aim to be happy, success or not. I think a happy world and a happy society is so much more… that’s what we should aim for instead of…
HK: …being successful or being millionaire?
SB: Yes. I mean, that won’t even figure in the equation if everyone’s happy.
Somika Basu is a Community and Communications Specialist.
Haegwan Kim: Let’s start from your personal definition of success.
Pooja Warier: Oh, that’s a profound question. So there are two or three things to this. Personally, I feel I wouldn’t know that I’m successful. If I die and I’m on my death bed, and I don’t have any like what-if questions in my head left, like what if I had done that, or what if I had tried this, I think I would be successful if I have followed every dream, or almost every passion that I have. So if tomorrow I want to retire and become a break dancer, I hope I have the courage to follow that dream.
So just like that at the end of my life I don’t have too many what-ifs left that I have explored. So that’s my personal thing of like success.
But on another level it doesn’t matter whether you’re selling tea on the road or whether you are running a multi millionaire empire, whatever that may be, but the thing is how do people remember you when you’re gone, right? Or how do people remember when they interacted with you. So if they can remember that interaction was an inspiration, or it happiness, or whatever it was that you wanted to bring, I think you’d become successful. Like if people can look back at that time and say that was a great time that I had with that person, I think that’s really profound.
And the third thing I guess is in what I do right now. If I have inspired other people to take action about stuff that they care about, then I think it’s success.
HK: There are people, including you, focusing on making social impact rather than monetary or financial impact. Why are you focused on social aspect?
PW: Commercial entrepreneurs as well add value to society, so I’ve got no issues against financial activities. Personally, I think I have an interest in people in social sector who commit their lives to change, so that’s why we’re working on that.
Ultimately, I think whether you’re creating a material or a financial impact, it has to come down to social. If you can’t improve the quality of life of people that you’re working with, you might give them lots of money, but honestly, at the end of the day, it doesn’t count. The person has to have a better quality of life, or a good quality of life, and that you can define as whatever you want. You know, the person has a house and three TVs, or whatever it is, but ultimately, they are just things.
It’s very hard to demarcate all these things, isn’t it? Ultimately, I feel like in the world, the world would be a much better place if everyone is happy doing what they do. I don’t think many people are happy doing what they do. That’s why you have all these frustrations and fights, and all of that. I think if every person can actually do what they really like to do, or what they enjoy, the world would be a much better place.
HK: I agree. So you help so many social entrepreneurs in many ways, and you said some are now really successful or famous, and some are still kind of under progress. What is the common elements to be successful, great social entrepreneurs?
PW: I guess the first thing to clarify is when I say some people are successful. It’s by the definition of the larger things, numbers, their skills, their impact on 100 million people, whatever. That’s when I say it’s like a usual definition of success. And other people are not able to influence 100 million, but they make one person really really happy. Personally that’s also a success.
It’s a very difficult question, what does it take to make a great social entrepreneur. I mean, I can answer that to a degree. I know all the kind of points. But I don’t think in my head it’s so straightforward. For example, if you’re very focused, if you’re very determined about what you want, if you’re able to inspire your teams and take them along with you, how do you say that? Keep your social impact above and very important, if you have a clear vision… I mean, the list goes on and on. So you can have a great social entrepreneur. Yes, brilliant. But I don’t think it’s that straightforward.
Because it’s again, like what metrics are we using? Because you influence 1 million people you are better than somebody who influences smaller people? That’s a kind of a skew.
HK: Since I came to India, I really feel like the religion brings some sort of passion for social entrepreneurs.
PW: Does it?
HK: I’m not sure, but like in the United States as well, I feel Christian and Hindi helping others. Do you think religious perspective promotes social sectors?
PW: I believe in spirituality and not religion. Well, there are all these things that you have to do this under Hinduism, under Islam, etc., etc. I think that leads to a more traditional form of change making, that you go and donate to temples, that you go and donate to whatever. You know, you be nice to your neighbour and all that. I think it would be an interesting study to do in terms of how much does spirituality affect a social entrepreneur. Of course you see a problem and you see a need, but there’s also like an interim obligation, like I would say to be of value and change the world, and I think that stems more from a spiritual source rather than a religious source. I think there’s a distinction there.
Yes, there are missionaries and there are Hindus, and they are doing great work as well. But that’s a duty to God they’re performing. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s not a duty to their human kindness. It’s a duty to God, having brownie points from God; when you die you will probably get like better heaven facilities. But you know, spirituality is different. It’s something you do for your own, it’s for a more intrinsic obligation towards the world. There’s a kind of difference.
HK: What are the biggest challenges for you at the moment?
PW: Very clearly, we need more people to join our team. It’s more than finding the right mix of people, because we work with various of people, lots of passion, you have to have strategic thinking, and so that’s a challenge to find people who have that mix. Personally, I guess the challenge for me is to figure out what social entrepreneurship is all about, in the sense that I’ve done this for now five years and it’s great. I’ve enjoyed every bit of everything that I do, but it’s again that question like how much is enough. It’s personal things; Do you go deep in your impact? Do you expand? Or do you let it go? Or what is it? So I think that’s a challenge that every person goes through.
HK: The final question is about success, what would be your advice to be successful in a general sense?
PW: Be authentic to yourself and follow your passion and your heart, but the main thing is be authentic to yourself.
Pooja Warier is a social entrepreneur and the director of UnLtd India.
Haegwan Kim asks Dadhich, “you’ve already told me that your goal is always what you can achieve, right? So then, can you tell me how you set the goal?
HM: You see, I set a very practical goal. I set a workable goal. Like in the beginning of this year, we decided as to INR100 should be our target. Alright. Now once we decide INR100, we were at INR60 a year, so we’ve got to increase INR40. Now if you have to increase INR40, you must plan in your mind to increase INR60 so that even if there is a slippage, you still achieve INR100.
Alright, so what I do is, while planning stage, I plan a little extra. While achieving stage, I don’t rush myself. I will achieve. So we divide it then, you know? We have a direct sales. We have a sale through dealers. We have sale independents.
Likewise, there are various segments. So when you divide those segments, you see an normally reinforce your success. You see, if you reinforce your failures, you are bound to land up in failures only, so you must reinforce your success. Wherever you are getting success, move slightly more, push slightly more. You’ll get more success.
Success is something which multiplies. It does not add up, it always multiplies. Success story is something which always multiplies.
HK: Can you give your definition of success?
HM: I believe success is what you want and what you get. You want something, like I want INR100, alright, now getting INR100 is success, right? Getting INR90 is not a success. Now if you are to get INR100, you have to work for INR120. Alright? So your effort should be much more effort and planning rather than an addiction. It is a plan which succeeds. It is not the effort which succeeds. It is a plan which succeeds. If you plan well, you will achieve well. But if you don’t plan well, you will not achieve.
HK: Your basic criteria to be successful was being happy, wasn’t it?
HM: Happy, yes. Happiness I will tell you, if you remain happy, if you keep your environment happy, if you keep your team happy, your efficiency is much more. Only a happy team can have a good efficiency. If you are morose, if you are depressed, if you have other worries on your mind, you can’t give the output which I really expect from you. So happiness you’ve got to keep in you, in your friends, in your environment, in your team; entire team has to be happy. And only happy people can have better efficiency.
HK: So the happiness is the matter of efficiency.
HM: Happiness is efficiency. And happiness does not come from worldly things. Happiness is a state of mind. I give you a good gift, you’ll be happy, it is not sure. Alright, but if I give you a smile, I’ll do also a smile, that is happiness. Alright? Have a look at your heart. For happiness, you’ve got to touch each other’s heart. For happiness, I have to share your mind.
HK: That’s very interesting.
HM: Happiness does not come by mere lip service, it comes from within.
HK: I was impressed by your background as first like doing an engineer, and then doing mentoring armies and then doing the business as a manager, what did you learn from your total career?
HM: With engineering, I learnt how to apply working principles in life. From mentoring, I understood what is comradeship, what is being together, what is being friend in arms. That I learnt; brotherhood; happy, good social life; bonding. And uprightness. When I came to business out here, I learnt the philosophy or turnover, philosophy of producing better and better and quality products. What sells is quality. What sells in market is quality. If you maintain quality, people are ready to pay. If you maintain your time schedule, people are ready to pay. So this is what I learned in business out here.
HK: Are they connected one another?
HM: If you are a good person, you will emit good vibes and there will be goodness around you always. Everything falls in place. My plans don’t fail. They don’t fail. I try and maintain good vibes all around. Secondly, I try and plan well ahead. When I make a plan, I plan well ahead. I plan for next five years, next ten years. Go slowly on the plans. Try and take cooperation from everyone. It’s a collective situation. So that is the way I plan.
HK: You say that you had to apply your working principles into real life as an engineer. Can you talk about your working principles?
HM: Be true to yourself. Don’t cheat yourself. You can cheat everybody in the world; you can’t cheat yourself. So when you’re planning a thing, be sure you’re not fooling yourself. Alright? So when you’re planning something, be sure what you’re doing is right. If you’re not right, take advice from people. There are consultants available. There are market leaders available. There is no harm in asking. There is no harm in seeking knowledge from anywhere. Alright? But don’t try and cheat yourself. If a process requires three days, it requires three days. Give three days to it. Don’t try and make it two and a half.
But you can optimise other things. You can optimise on resources. You can optimise on labour. You can optimise on other things. But in the entire plan that you make, don’t cheat yourself. Don’t cheat your own mind. Sometimes you will try and convince yourself, oh, I will manage it. No, it’s not like that. When you plan it, make a plan, put it on a pencil, put it on paper, go step by step whatever is aimed at, whatever is the planning phase. Do it that way.
But it’s the people which give the result, not me. In fact, I will tell you, I’m a very small element of the entire workforce. So it is the entire team.
HK: How do you make that great team?
HM: It is to obtain their wilful cooperation from everywhere, and I will tell you, if you genuinely think good of others, like if you’re in trouble, I would like to help you in whatever way I can; if you are in need, I would like to help you; but you know, once I do this, naturally, your attitude towards would be also okay.
HK: Of course.
HM: Right? So people reciprocate with you. So whatever I do to others, others do to me. If I do good to others, others will do good to me. That is the philosophy. You will get what you deserve.
HK: Interesting. As a final question, can you tell me your advice to be successful in general sense?
HM: You see, at various points of time, various things have decided the course of young, junior people. At some point of time, people thought having money is being successful. Today, it is not so. Today, even someone has got a lot of money, but it does not mean that he is successful.
In times to come, people with good virtues in life would be regarded as being successful. You take Mahatma Gandhi, he was a very simple man. He did not own lots of worldly possessions. He had in fact nothing much with him. But then he could lead India to freedom. Alright? What are the basic principles? Honestly, truthfulness, and insight. These two/three things he had, and he could lead India to freedom. India became independent. Even the British Empire, which was so powerful, with all its weapons and with all its weapons of mass destruction, it failed in front of Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi was a man half naked, with a stick in hand… have you seen his photograph?
HK: Yes, sure.
HM: He was a elderly person, barely could walk. But he could stand in front of that British Empire. Why? Because he was truthful. He was full of truthful life, and in service, not harming anybody; not killing anybody, in no sense. Tomorrow, in times to come, the same kind of principles will have values in life. Honestly will be a very big word too in life. He was very honest man; he has many achievements though.
Prime Minister Singh says, a very honest person. We may be having all other ministers cheats, but the Prime Minister is a very honest person. Likewise, these virtues will have a lot of values. Value system will also see a change in times to come. You’ll find that in times to come it will evolve and there is something in the world which keeps working and these things will get evolved. Tomorrow, a man with a lot of money will not be considered a rich man. Even money may be considered as a bad virtue. It may happen. But what will be considered good is honestly, truthfulness.