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Kora Abraham tells us about her experience at the Self Employed Women’s Association in India as part of our Global Internship programme. To find our more information about our Global Internship opportunities, visit our website.

Week 1

All my family and friends back in Newcastle keep asking me what India is like, all I can say is different but good different.

I am currently embarking on a new challenge in India. I am working with a trade union called SEWA which stands for Self Employed Women’s Association which is a labour union of women workers in the informal sector. These women earn their livelihood through their labour or small business and have no fixed employer-employee relationship. This project in particular called out to me because I agree with the way in which the trade union goes about achieving full employment for women. People in the western world are lucky enough to live where workers obtain work security, income security, food security and social security, I realise how lucky we are and I think it’s unfair that these women in India must face such hardship just purely because of the county they were born in, it could have easily been the other way around so I think it’s only right to lend a hand. SEWA follows the Gandhian thinking which lies very close to my own morals and ethics. This union is paving the way to the end of poverty and exploitation of women who work long hours with little pay. This project gives these women the chance to provide for themselves, their community and not have to be dependant on their husbands. In these recent years, women have been speaking up and change is happening and I’m so happy I get to help change happen for these poor women to.

 

My first impression of India is humid, oh so very humid! This first week has been so exciting, I have never been to India before so there has definitely been a big culture shock. On our first visit to the SEWA offices, I was surprised at how much of their culture of religion they pour into their work. Before, any work can take place they sing a beautiful prayer every morning which, of course is very different from England. It has taken a while to get use to where everything is around campus and how things work. There is defiantly a more laid-back vibe compared to the non-stop movement of London. We’ve done a bit of exploring out in town, gone to cafes, supermarkets, malls, river fronts which has been wonderful. Getting in our first taxi was a bit nerve wrecking there are no rule when driving, no lanes, everybody goes which ever way they wish which is scary at times but also quite funny.

At the end of the week, I went on a field trip to Gayathriben village to talk to the members about how the water equipment’s are working, how it has improved their livelihoods and their opinion on what could be improved further for greater efficiency. It was a very humbling experience and the women and children were so lovely and welcoming.

 

 

After university I want to go into consulting and I feel this project is like consulting. I am liaising with a client who wants to make changes to their organisation in the hopes of making it more efficient and productive. This is the same type of work I’m doing for SEWA. Working in a company requires a Iot of project work so I hope to learn how to best tackle project so I can use the knowledge in my future career. Also, I hope to better my soft skills especially communication since communication is a big part of consulting. I will be conversing with many people whose first language is not English and it will be tough but very rewarding in the end.

 

Week 2

After spending Saturday catching up on some sleep we decided Sunday would be a good opportunity to get to see some of the local Attractions. We arranged to go on a Heritage tour round Ahmnedbad. The first stop on the tour was Gandhi Ashram was one of the residences of Mahatma Gandhi who lived there for about twelve years along with his wife Kasturba Gandhi.

The tour had around 10 stops finishing at the wonderful Akshardham Temple. As they want to try and prevent it from becoming a major attraction you are not allowed to take phones into the grounds of the temple.  After walking round the grounds of the Temple the evening ended with a spectacular water show.

Starting off the next working week myself and Swapnil who is a student I’m working alongside from IIM went on our second field visit to the neighboring district of Anand.. There we had a meeting with the Savings and Credits director for SEWA and some of the group leaders. It was great to be able to speak to some of the women who have been involved with SEWA for over 30 years now.  Whilst there we saw a group of  women who where just about to open their first group savings account with SEWA.

Middle of week 2 we feel we have settled into the routine of IIM life and have managed to meet some other exchange students on campus from Italy and France. We experienced our first rain downpour this week and after hearing many stories about how flooded the campus can get we are unsure what to expect as monsoon season is fast approaching.

Overall week two has been filled with lots of new experiences as well as challenges we tried our first Zomato food order which is the UK equivalent of Deliveroo as well as getting Henna done on our hands.

Week 3

At the end of our second week we decided to treat ourselves to a little trip away. We went to Udaipur for the weekend. We were so overwhelmed with how beautiful the scenery was and how delicious the food was. On the Saturday we went camel riding which was fantastic, then we went up a cable car to get a better view of our surroundings, the view was of course breath taking.

On Sunday, we visited the City Palace which was way bigger than expected taking over two hours to see everything. The tour really gave us a feel for current and old Indian culture, what they believe and how they use to live. We then did a bit of market shopping and got ourselves some lovely Indian clothing.

On Monday, we were right back in the office finally making some significant ground on the project using all the information we got from the various meetings and field trips the first two weeks. We carefully constructed our first draft of the balance score card matrix and table making sure the four stages linked and made sense, whilst thoroughly analysing the background behind the headings in the table to make sub-headings which added detail and depth to our studies.

During the rest of the week we received critical feedback from the Chairman of the water campaign and our supervisor Chaitali on where we could use key wording and what could be improved, which was extremely helpful and welcomed. However, before we sent off our first draft we decided it would be a good idea to critic our work first to see if we could pick up on anything important we missed or could develop, which we did. I think this really helped to improve my attention to detail, problem solving and analytical skills.

Working with Revant from IIM-A has been a delight and it’s been so rewarding working with a student from one of Newcastle’s global partner institutions. Revant has 8 other classes that require his attention which leaves him very busy so I have had to step up on many occasions and work on the project alone at times. Not having someone to bounce ideas off has been challenging but has made me self-reliant and increased my confidence in the work I do. Additionally, I’ve learnt so much from working with someone who approaches a task from a different angle than I would have and seeing how culture plays a big role in an organisation.

Week 5

I began the start of week 5 with a heritage walk around the city of Ahmedabad. It was so busy with people and so hectic, it gave me a feel of what life is like for the local people. There were so many markets selling everything you can think of, with the smell of delicious food wafting in the air. However, walking around the city really makes you notice the huge contrast in how the poor and the middle class live. The next day was one of the exchange student’s birthday so we went out for brunch at the most amazing restaurant, unlimited food for a very reasonable price! Included in that was 20 different types of cakes, so it’s safe to say that was a highlight of this trip.

The working week was quite a busy one as we had our mid-project presentation in the middle of the week. We spent a lot of hours practicing what we were going to say and how best to showcase the work we have done these past few weeks. The presentation went really well and we look on board any criticisms the water campaign women had. This presentation was very beneficial for me because public speaking is a weakness of mine as I get very nervous. Being able to work on this has helped me develop more confidence in myself and has helped me learn what helps me present at my best. It was really helpful to get their input on variables we may have missed in our balanced scorecard and area’s that could be simplified to best help the campaign. This presentation also improved my ability to convince people, the women were a bit sceptical about some of our ideas deeming them too complicated but we explained to them why it must be included in out work and how vital it is. As I want to go into consulting this is a skill that is essential, you must be able to trust in yourself and the work you’ve done and convince your client whatever you propose is in their best interests.

 

For the rest of the week, Revant and I made the required adjustments to the presentation and also made it more visually engaging. Additionally, we got a lot of ground covered on our final report. In this report we talked about everything we had learnt about the campaign in depth, what works and what doesn’t. We used lots of data and information from previous reports, articles, books and the internet to incorporate into our report. We explained in detail what a balanced scorecard was since we discovered in the mid project presentation the women didn’t know much about what it is or how it is constructed. We also evaluated the difference between a balance score card for a profit maximising firm and profits for a social enterprise such as SEWA. The biggest difference being that a social enterprise values social returns over financial returns unlike a profit maximising firm.

Week 6

On Saturday at the beginning of week 6, we had a meeting with some of the leaders of different districts. The purpose of the meeting was to get the women that would using the scorecards and collecting data to put into them and setting the targets to practice using the card whilst we are present. This is so that if they had any difficulty or didn’t understand any of the components or found the calculations difficult we were there to lend a helping hand. This was to ensure that after we finish the balance scorecard that it is actually used and used correctly or the project would be unsuccessful. The meeting went very well and the women agreed that we included all the key components that are important in the campaign. The day was a success but I personally found it quite difficult because the women couldn’t speak English so it was very hard for me to communicate with them. Revant would translate whatever I said to them but it wasn’t the same and sometimes it was hard to follow what was going on. After the meeting Revant debriefed me on everything I missed. Another difficulty in the meeting was that we were told we were only going to be meeting 3 or 4 women and we got there and there were 10 district heads present. This took us by surprise as we hadn’t printed out enough copies for everyone but they women were close friends and were more than happy to share. I think this is a slight cultural difference between here and the UK on many occasions we’ve had unexpected things sprung on us and you never know what you’re going to get. There is a slight lack of organisation in the organisation but I guess that’s why we are here, to give a lending hand.

During the week, we carried on re-evaluating and improving what we had done. We produce a filled in sample balanced scorecard with equations showing how we worked the values out plus we added justification of why we chose to work it out this way in order to further make sure no problems arise when they come to fill in data themselves. We had a final meeting on Wednesday with our supervisors to make sure everything was ready for our big presentation of Thursday to the national heads of SEWA. We simplified the scorecard once again at the request of our supervisor and then we were ready. Unfortunately, we were unable to do our presentation on Thursday due to timing and scheduling issues but we Skyped them the next day with great success.

This trip has taught me how independent I am because on many occasions I only had myself working on the project and it’s taught me to trust my ideas and my myself. Three main skills that I think I have enhanced on this trip would defiantly be confidence, collaboration and logical reasoning. This whole experience has been great and it is something I will ever forget. I would definitely do it all over again.

 

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