Monday, 12 November 2018

First INK Talks in Hyderabad from Nov 30

Hyderabad: After eight successful years of organising conference, INK Talks is all set to host its first grand conference in Hyderabad from November 30 to December 2. With the theme Billionaires of Moments, the multi-disciplinary conference will be held for the first time in Hyderabad and will have 500 plus people from different genres to accelerate innovation and create impact.
Along with the talk, the conference will also have workshops, performances, culinary experience and wellbeing lounge.
“This is the first time in the last eight years, that we have added two new experiences for our attendees. Other than talks from thought leaders, the conference will have workshops and interactive sessions along with traditional performances from local artists. We are going to have 12-13 workshops on difference themes ranging from social to technological. We are also inviting 20 young INK fellows to the conference and we will have speakers not only from India but outside India as well,” Lakshmi Pratury, CEO, INK Talks told Telangana Today.
In addition, the conference will also have talks in regional languages ranging from Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali and Hindi. And this year, according to Pratury, is a pivotal year for INK Talks as it will start a year-long engagement on emerging topics and they would like to also engage with the changemakers so as to make an impact in the society.
On the theme of the conference, Pratury said, “While on the one hand India is giving birth to more and more rich people year-on-year, there are also wide gap between the rich and poor. So, we thought that rather defining success in terms of money why cannot we measure it in terms of impact created. And that is how we have curated the speakers who are successful but not only financially but are also making great impact on the society through their success. We have got a lot of support from the Telangana government and that is how we decided to host our conference here in Hyderabad this year.”
(Originally an interview with Telangana Today posted on 1st November 2018) 
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Sunday, 11 November 2018

Personal Branding and successful strategies for brand building

There are three versions of you: what you are, what you think you are and what you want others to think you are.

The personal branding of the yesteryears revolved around creating a public image that was in line with your professional purpose.  As professionals, we were told that we were what we wore, what vehicle we drove and where we lived. Inspired by this, I wanted to project the image of a no-nonsense business executive.  I loved seeing my image in print. Those press clippings would be fondly treasured in my file and forever forgotten by all once they read them.  My father would paste them all in an album display them to all the guests who visited us at home, far from the eyes of my intended reader.

A few years down the line, I stopped caring about what others thought of me.  My brand was forged by association to a larger company and a larger purpose.   Even a multi-billion dollar company like Intel could not be spared the wrath of the public when it did not act on time for solving the Pentium processor floating point problem.  Initially, Intel reacted logically by reasoning that the floating point error was so rare that it would not be a matter of concern to majority of the users.  Major customers withdrew, stocks started spiraling downwards and the consumers who bought ‘Intel Inside’ because they regarded it their most prized possession, felt let down.  Intel apologized and guaranteed that they would take back any computer, no questions asked, and replace or reimburse.  The number of computers returned were a mere fraction of those that were purchased.  In this scenario, customers just wanted an assurance that the brand they trusted was going to act responsibly in the face of a challenge.  I was proud of how we rose to the occasion in times of duress.  My brand value in the world was measured by the fact that I was a respected member of an admirable company.  We were happy to have people like Andy Grove and Gordon Moore for our brands and we revered our association with them.  In this phase, I was happy to be what I thought of myself: a member of the Intel tribe.

When I started INK, my thinking was influenced by the Intel way of thinking. I was happy to talk about INK but not too comfortable talking about my personal life or views.  I took pride in the fact that I was not much on social media.  As I spent more time with our team at INK and the INK Fellows who often are half my age, I began to understand a lot about what they were seeking.  They were tired of the rhetoric, false promises, and of being handed over a world that was polluted in every possible way.  They craved and demanded authentic voices.

I realized that social media is the perfect way to delve deep into who I REALLY am and to explore my purpose. In some ways, it is the democratization of an individual.  I have a choice about what I want to write, how I want to write and who I want to target with my writing.  For the first time, personal branding is all about authenticity.  Your mistakes live forever in the digital world and so do your strong thoughts.  Today, I own my relationship with my tribe and have to be truthful in all that I say.  The tools are available to us today to communicate directly with the world in a voice that is solely ours.

My three strategies for successful brand building are as follows:

(i)  Be authentic: One should be able to write both personal as well as professional experience in one’s own voice even while adopting different tonalities.

(ii)  Learn from others: Follow other interesting voices. It can come as a surprise that successful branding is not merely about the number of followers one has but also the number of people one chooses to follow.

(iii)  Harness the power of social media. Pick one social media channel and post your thoughts and insights frequently. It is easier to maintain quality this way.

There was a time when I would advise youngsters to refrain from posting their candid photos online as it could put their possibilities of employment at stake.  Today, I realize how a strong social media presence is crucial to personal branding. It allows me to move the needle on issues I care about apart from allowing me the opportunity to exhibit my strengths and weaknesses in public view.  There is no need to be perfect, just the need to be me.

(Originally posted by Everything Experimental on November 11th, 2018) 

Friday, 9 November 2018

50 Over 50 - Prakash Amte

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Prakash Amte: Generations of generosity

When I was a kid, my grand mother would tell me mythological stories where there would be gifted teachers in Gurukuls who taught their students how to shoot, swim, solve societal problems, dance, sing, fight and figure out their respective strengths.  These were places of thatched hut roof huts among thick forests thriving with animals of all kinds coexisted with the humans. Even the most ghastly beasts succumbed to the learned sages.  Being raised in a city where I am even afraid of a stray dog, the thought of wild animals living with humans seems like a magical kingdom only for the stories.

When I first heard of Prakash Amte and about his friendship with leopards and lions and his young grandsons’  ease of handling everything from rattle snakes to wild beasts,  it almost seemed surreal.  He is part of a multi generational gene pool that has dedicated themselves to the lives of the unforgotten.  His father Baba Amte was a pioneer in giving home to lepers, Prakash Amte in provides healthcare for the of the tribals and his niece Sheetal Amte (who is an INK Fellow) to creating a smart village for the lepers and less privileged. Here are a few things that I really admire about Prakash Amte 

1.     It’s a family calling
To date, three generations of Amtes have committed themselves to live in the most remote parts of India to serve the needs of those who the civil society has chosen to forget.  And none of them have any sense of sacrifice or social work driving them.  It is as natural as breathing.  Each of them enjoys what they do.  When you witness a group of people carrying a man whose head has been half eaten by a tiger on a loosely stitched together stretcher walking for days and you do something that makes the man walk back home, the sense of satisfaction that fills you could not possibly match owning any number of homes or cars.  Prakash Amte has such a strong air of contentment about him that it rubs off on you. 
2.     Sense of humour
He has a wicked sense of humour.  He usually wanders around his home in a pair of shorts and cotton vest.  Many a time an important visitor would go to his home to write or research about him and mistaking him for the household help, ask him to let Dr. Amte know they would like to see him.  He would simply nod, go inside, wear his shirt and come out and shake hands with them.  I can only imagine how embarrassed the guests might be and how the cheeky Prakash Amte would have a chuckle at their expense.
3.     Family time
When I asked Sheetal Amte to tell me a few things about her uncle, she has a lot of things to say and one of them was that he is extremely fond of his grand children and makes sure that he plays a lot with them. He spends a lot of time with his tribal family as well and serves as a judge for any disputes that may arise and his decisions are accepted with a lot of respect.

Now, what do others think of him?  Here is a funny story that was told to me by Kiran Khalap, who was the one who originally introduced me to Prakash Amte. He told me bout an incident that was narrated in Prakash Amte’s Marathi book “Prakashvaataa” “Paths of Light”

Suhasini Mulay (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suhasini_Mulay) was shooting a film in which Negal, Prakash Amte’s friendly leopard was acting.

So he drove Negal to the shoot sight in a Jeep attached with a trolley. As he drove back, news reached him that a difficult delivery of a baby was at hand.  He jumped out and ran into the hospital.  Suhasini Mulay’s driver was dumbstruck and said: “What an amazing driver! He can drive, manages a leopard AND helps with deliveries”.  All because of his simple dress! The driver must have been shocked to see that a driver who looks just like him could do all these things!

Prakash Amte can pass off to be a driver, cook, household help, a silly grand father, a prankster and behind the scenes be a fair judge, a surgeon and a Magsaysay award winner.  Behind the simple look lay a great mind and a generous spirit.  I loved spending time with him and his wife and hope to visit him and his wild friends at his home soon.

Friday, 2 November 2018

50 Over 50 - Gloria Steinem

When I first kissed a boy as a teenager, I was terrified of pregnancy. There was no Google to check online and there was no one to consult.  I lived in terror till I got my period and swore that I would never kiss again. Even though I acquired the basics about human reproduction soon after, it was only after I entered IIT Mumbai that I really started paying attention to women’s sexuality and its politics.  I noticed the subtle signals that surround us entrenching us in our gender roles.  At that time, there were 9 boys’ hostel H1, H2,..,H9 and then there was one LH – Ladies Hostel and there was a fight going on to rename LH as Hostel 10. And all the boys used to tease us saying that we are being over sensitive. Thanks for the resilience of our Seniors, it did change from LH to H10 and I began to understand the fight of women to be treated as equals. I also understood that language matters and every small nuance is necessary.  It was in that period, that I first read about Gloria Steinem.

Of all the feminists, she really appealed to me because I felt that she was a great combination of being feminine and being a feminist – a sophisticated beauty with a steely soul.  She came from a small town where she took care of her ailing mom for most of her growing up life. It was in her 20s that she blossomed at Smith College.  She fought a multitude of wars for over half a century for gender equality.

I was overjoyed when I met her while I was at American India Foundation and got to know her over the years.  As part of Lakshmi’s Lounge, I interviewed her in 2007. You can watch the entire interview following the article.

Let me share with you what I learnt from her:

1. The India that was and Could be

Her career began with a two year trip to India in late 50s, way before the Beatles made their way here. She met folks from MN Roy led Radical Humanists and traveled with them for over a year and was deeply influenced by them. She also realised that India placed such an importance on education that many more women were educated in India than even in US. And yet patriarchy prevailed everywhere. She said that if Indira Gandhi had a brother, the story have been different, which I thought was an introspective insight. When she came back to US, she wanted to write about her experiences much beyond the exotic thoughts of India and no one was interested. Today, things are changing but not fast enough.  It’s more important more than ever before to tell a range of stories from India beyond the exotic animals and enchanted forests.

2.  Personal and Professional – It’s all the same

Gloria got married in her 60s. When I asked her as to why she decided to do so  (after a position of being against marriage), her quick answer was – Immigration. Her partner David was a South African who was banned from his country because of his opposition to the apartheid government. She said that she married him so that he could become a citizen. She always fought against marriage because it did not give women equal rights to own property and her bank account etc., Over the years, leaders like Gloria fought to get equal right for women. She said that since all those things that she fought for were indeed accomplished, she decided to get married. That decision came in to be crucial when David got sick later on, he could use the medical insurance benefits. She said that she supported same sex marriage but she realised how important that battle was only after she understood the benefits of a marriage certificate. She was practical enough to understand the reason behind her stance and changed it when she felt that the situation changed. This taught me that it’s important to check your social stance or a business plan periodically to see if you need to pivot the position with time.

3. On Women

This story is the one where I got the most out of my interactions with Gloria. She, along with her friend Devaki Jain wanted to study Gandhian tactics for women’s movements around the world to apply those tactics to the women’s movements. In the 70s, they both went on a trip across India collecting Gandhiji’s letters and talking to his friends. They ended up at the home of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyah, a veteran freedom fighter and close aide of Gandhiji. They told her of their journey to track all that Gandhiji did and asker for her inputs. After patiently listening to them, Kamladevi said “Well my dear! We taught him everything he knew”. That statement while putting a smile on my face also gave a poignant insight that Gloria explained. The independence movement subsumed the women’s movement, which was huge and fighting against practices like Sati (a practice where if a man passed away, his wife who was alive was also sent to the funeral pyre along with his dead body) and adopted the tactics of the women’s movement. And Gloria commented on how our (women’s) history gets lost wherever we are. That ability to win a war without meaningless carnage IS the feminine power that Gandhiji used to get us freedom. Our mythologies talk about women who would stop eating and get into her “Alakagriham” (a room assigned to walk in when one is angry) when she was upset with her spouse and Gandhiji was known for his hunger strikes. He used diplomacy, cajoling and cooperation instead of a cane to bring people together. He used emotion to capture the hearts to create the non-violence movement instead of arousing their anger to go to war. And it is also true that we rarely know the women who stood steadfast to bring us freedom.

I learnt a lot from Gloria about what it takes to build institutions. She persisted for years to be taken seriously and broke all boundaries to create equal rights for women.  One of my favourite quotes by her "We've begun to raise daughters more..but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters" is apt for today where we need to sensitise our daughters AND sons to build a more equitable and just world.  At 84, she remains more active than most and earns a spot on Lakshmi's 50 Over 50.


Friday, 26 October 2018

Celebrating Dussehra 2018


Dussehra 2018 with Women of Prajwala and Sunitha Krishnan:

To celebrate Dussehra, I would like to introduce you to a group of women who were most instrumental (literally) in celebrating this festival.  

One of the key celebrations of Dussehra is the dandiya dance and the aesthetics of the dandiya sticks has evolved over the years. This episode of my writing is to pay homage to the women of Prajwala and Sunitha Krishnan, who brought this festival alive with their version of hand made dandiya sticks that they sold for Rs 75/ pair.  Encased in its own colourful case, a few pairs of dandiya sticks were delivered to me on my recent visit to their campus so that I can take them as gifts for my colleagues at INK.

When I met Sunitha a decade ago in her tiny walk up office in the narrow gullies of Hyderabad old city in 2008 or so, she spoke about the women and children she rescues from prostitution.  She took me to a work shop a few miles away where they teach women furniture making, welding, book making etc., She said that they choose vocations that require physical strength because it is most important area of confidence building for these women who have been abused physically.  The furniture and the notebooks that they make in these workshops are supplied to schools and other institutions. When I visited her in early October of 2018, the story of the women and the need to rescue has still not changed.  She spoke of the 80 women they rescued a few days earlier, with the youngest being 2.5 years old.  What has changed is that her tiny walk up office morphed into a 3-acre office complex where uniformed security personnel guard the premises while a high iron gate further guards the recently rescued.  The campus houses the office staff as well the workshop with printing and furniture making equipment.  There is a small, elegant home standing next to the office where Sunitha stays through the week and goes to her apartment to see her husband on Sundays.  There are 4 to 5 guest rooms for the well wishers or visiting volunteers to stay.  A few kilometres away a 10-acre campus has been created as a permanent home for the rescued women with crèche facilities for the children of working mothers.  An organic garden exists in each campus to feed its inhabitants. After my first visit in 2008, I worked with Sunitha to raise the money they needed to build all these facilities by bringing in not only well-meaning individuals but also organisations like google.org and other large Foundations.  I have seen Sunitha leverage every paisa that is raised by making the most of it.  Sunitha and her husband built the two campuses with a fraction of the cost of what most builders might have spent with sustainability and elegance.

Following my article, you will find links to her talks that we curated, which narrate her own journey.  What’s impressive is not only the number of women they rescued but the eco system that they built to counter human trafficking.  Be it passing laws that make men equally responsible when they are caught (instead of parading the women to prisons while letting the men go) to training police academies across India to teach them how to conduct the raids, follow the leads, develop a sensitive way of handling, or going on a road trip to districts across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to educate about trafficking – each activity is done with limited resources and large impact.  I have also seen her train the next generation of rescuers, rehabilitators, accountants and anyone else who might touch the eco system. 

Sunitha is on a journey to replace herself in the day-to-day operations so that she has more time to write and give herself the best gift possible – time to be with herself.  Let’s all wish her luck in her journey. 

What I learnt from Women of Prajwala:

Personally, they put a perspective on what I call “problems”.  I have no right to complain about my bank balance or personal comforts when I see the women who are so graceful despite us letting them down as a society.  Professionally, our ability to convert inspiration to impact for Prajwala gave us the courage to start INK in India and continue that journey.   Sunitha’s talk was so powerful that we decided to take action and help her build a permanent home for Prajwala.  Our audience, our INK tribe played a part in building these campuses and each time I visit the campus that Sunitha built, I feel that INK hit the jackpot. On those lonely nights when I question my decision as an entrepreneur, I think of the campus and feel as though I closed a fresh round of funding.

Beaten into submission
bounced from man to man
bodies may have hardened
but the spirit stays strong.
In the hands of the
Women of Prajwala
who survived the onslaught
of the ugliness of humanity,
even a piece of hard wood
takes shape of
decorative dancing aid.
And the covering
Sachets so soft
showing the world
the strength of soft smiles
enveloping
a determined mind
that not just survives
but Sustains and
celebrates

https://www.ted.com/talks/sunitha_krishnan_tedindia
http://inktalks.com/discover/185/sunitha-krishnan-a-year-after-tedindia

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Lakshmi's 50 Over 50


In today’s world, we are enamoured by the young and the rich.  We have lists for 25 under 25, 30 under 30, 40 under 40.  So, I thought that I would lay claim to 50 over 50. 

I decided to write each week about a person who not only had an idea but had the chutzpah to carry it through and had the tenacity to do it for decades.  Here are the three rules I plan to adopt:

1.     I will not write about my immediate family in India because they would definitely fill the first 50. 
2.     I will not write about people I read about or heard about
3.     I will not write about those who have deceased

I will only write about people I met who are alive.  These are the people who spent some personal time with me that gives me an insight into what makes them unique
Hope you enjoy the stories of 50 Over 50 each Friday.

 Why now?

Here are the two main reasons for coming up with this list:

Firstly - Today, more than ever, there is a need for adult supervision, coaching, nurturing for the young ideas that are springing everywhere.  The experienced have to learn from the young and become coaches who gently guide but not dictate and the young have to learn to bring in experience.  A lot of the problems with starts ups, unicorns and young media moguls is that there is no adult supervision.  There is NO ONE who is watching them to warn when they are on a slippery slope, to make the slight course correction that can be the fine line between success and sudden death.

Secondly - There is a selfish reason for doing this as well.
As I got older, my mind has not aged and even level of energy has kept up but what has changed drastically is the way the society looks at me. When my young colleagues go out to a pub, they assume that I would not want to go out with them;  If I have a little grey in my hair, I am immediately written off the list of cutting edge thinkers and in the start up world, Venture Capitalists want to see a young face at the helm.  And I feel only the youth of my mind and not the age of my body.  I see my friends in my age group who could be great coaches not be utilised to their fullest.  So, I decided that it is about time I created my own list of the COOL 50 over 50.

Why me?

I became an entrepreneur in my 40s.  In some ways, I lived my professional life in reverse.  In my 20s and 30s, I worked for a large company, traveled around the world in style, stayed at the best hotels, hung out celebrities and worked on trends and technologies that define who we are today.  From making a purchase on line to playing a game on the computers to listening to streaming music or watching video online to purchasing online – my career at Intel had a small yet strategic part to play in it.  Subsequent turns as a Venture Capitalist and Social entrepreneur had me hang out with the well to do and the well meaning.  It’s in my 40’s that I got the entrepreneurial bug because I realised that I have always been one.  Even in a large company, I ran small, strategic programs and grew them, always walking away at the verge of having to manage operations and large teams; as a VC, I tried to make investments in India way before it was time; as a social entrepreneur, I set up internet labs in under privileged schools when the conventional wisdom was arguing for taking care of basic needs like uniforms and building toilets.  I always shot way ahead of the curve, sometimes missing the mark and many more times making a difference in my own way. 

And this turn as an entrepreneur has been the most exhilarating yet exhausting journey.  From my fancy life in 20s and 30s, I moved to the financially unstable life of an entrepreneur in my 40s.  And there are three essential ingredients that helped me move myself up the learning ladder that keeps the factor of exhilaration tip slightly over the factor of exhaustion.

1.     To surround myself with the truly wealthy that are idea rich and go through life with humility
2.     To measure success in 10 year intervals and having the stomach to hit the bottom.  And be willing to give up something along the way
3.     Having someone with experience guide me, challenge me and often change my path

Over the years, I realised that there is no substitute for spending more time on this earth and experiencing the ups and downs.  There are many young people who might be more knowledgeable and even wise but there is an undeniable grace and beauty that comes when one stands the test of time.

The technologies may change, content may evolve but the basic pursuit of personal excellence, professional integrity, decency, courtesy, grit and a general respect of all things in the universe and the need to sustain life beyond our lifetime remains the same.

So, I wanted to write about 50 people over 50 who I had the privilege to meet and get to know who embody some of the traits I treasure the most.  Hope you enjoy getting to know them. 

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