Inspired by Ujjivan-by: Meredith Bury

Today, we had the opportunity to visit Ujjivan—a microfinance company that gives small loans to women in India.  I came into the experience knowing little about microfinance other than the fact that the loans usually range from $100-$1000.  I had heard this in the past and wondered what someone could possibly do with what seemed like such a small amount of money in the grand scheme of a business.  Today, I found out and was pleasantly surprised and inspired how much it can contribute.

We started out at the Ujjivan offices where some of the employees gave us a presentation and explained their loan process.  Just like everyone has been in India, they were extremely welcoming and friendly.  I could tell that they were really passionate and proud about the loans that they were able to give to the women to help the community.  After the presentation, we took rickshaws (an added bonus to the day!) to the homes of some of the women who are borrowing from Ujjivan.  They welcomed us into their living quarters and answered our questions about their professions, the loans and how they have been able to grow their businesses thanks to Ujjivan.  From seamstresses to beauticians, the women had all used the loan opportunity to become more profitable, pay for their children’s schoolbooks and live a better life.  I was really inspired by how resourceful and ambitious they were, and in only a few hours I went from not knowing anything about microfinance to wanting to work with it to help more small entrepreneurs succeed. 

Today we visited Ujjivan, a microfinance institution serving India’s urban poor population. I found it interesting that Ujjivan primarily provides loans for women. This is because they found that women are proven to spend a larger portion of their money on the welfare of their family and are less likely to default. I loved having the opportunity to visit one of the areas that Ujjivan supports. Speaking to the women gave me a better sense of how Ujjivan really helps them. Additionally, I had a great time playing with the kids in the community. What originally started as a game of playing “high-5” with two little girls, turned into a crowd of kids all playing and laughing.  They showed me their English skills and taught me some Hindi words. We also shared our favorite games and posed for many pictures. This has been among my favorite experiences in India. 
- Sahar Atassi

Today we visited Ujjivan, a microfinance institution serving India’s urban poor population. I found it interesting that Ujjivan primarily provides loans for women. This is because they found that women are proven to spend a larger portion of their money on the welfare of their family and are less likely to default. I loved having the opportunity to visit one of the areas that Ujjivan supports. Speaking to the women gave me a better sense of how Ujjivan really helps them. Additionally, I had a great time playing with the kids in the community. What originally started as a game of playing “high-5” with two little girls, turned into a crowd of kids all playing and laughing.  They showed me their English skills and taught me some Hindi words. We also shared our favorite games and posed for many pictures. This has been among my favorite experiences in India. 

- Sahar Atassi

DELHI, WE OUT

Tis our last night in Delhi and it is so bittersweet. Today we went to a micro-finance firm that provided small loans for over 1.5 million people! After a brief presentation of the distribution of the company over India, we actually had the opportunity to visit a nearby village and see how they used these loans and for what. I met a woman who actually started a dabbawalla-like service within the village and provided lunch and dinner for everyone. She said she had never missed a payment and that she never would because then her family would have to pay for her. Afterwards, while waiting for the bus, a bunch of the village kids came up to us and we started singing, dancing and playing games with them. It was really striking to see these incredibly happy kids in such an environment. 

Since then I’ve been working on our business venture project which we need to present tomorrow. We got the visuals down to a point and I think we’re going to do great! Stay tuned for how the presentation turns out! :)

- Rhea Sareen

Statistics in India

I just finished some research for my final presentation tomorrow. My most important discovery - misreporting of statistics is rampant in India.

Just for some context, our business idea for the final project is 2 wheeler EMS teams that can get to an emergency scene before an ambulance. My job for the final presentation was to determine the viability of our business in the “ambulance market”. Gauging viability is usually done with some metrics. What happens when all of these metrics I found could all be wrong?

To me this highlights the fundamental principle of doing business in India. You can’t rely on the numbers. They can always be wrong. If any member of the panel tomorrow grills me about the numbers for our business plan I’ll simply tell them: “All these numbers could be wrong. But our plan is simple, and this is why it will work - the roads are crowded, 2 wheelers move faster than ambulances, our EMS people will get there faster.” It’s that simple - thats it.

India is a land of entrepreneurs. No one in Dharavi uses Mckinsey white papers to gauge the market before they open, say, a pottery stand. They just do it with hard work, the right people, and lots of jugaad. 

- Thomas Parlmer

Spirit of India

Our last few days in Delhi have been some of the most impactful of the trip. Today we had the privilege of talking with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, General VK Singh. It was comparable to meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. How often does a person, let alone a college student, get the opportunity to do that?! I enjoyed hearing his thoughtful and honest responses. He appeared to be a very genuine and hardworking man. His top concerns for the country are global security, and improving the infrastructure and environmental security of Northeast India.  

The General enjoyed our meeting with him as much as we did. With one phone call, he arranged for us to meet with IILM International Business Program. We met a number of students pursuing their MBA, two of whom were exchange students from France. It was refreshing to talk to students close to our age, especially about their educational experiences, as many of us evaluate our lives post graduation. The staff was nice enough to arrange a delicious lunch for us in such a short amount of time. It was a great impromptu meeting! 

We then were able to tour a few historical sights in Delhi. Over the past two days, we’ve seen the Iron Pillar of Delhi, the Taj Mahal, and Agra Fort. All of which were amazingly beautiful. It astounds me to see such man-made beauty in the structure, details, and designs of these historic sites. The history behind each monument was enlightening. I don’t know much about Indian history sadly, but visiting these sites definitely peaked my curiosity and longing to learn more. 

They don’t teach these things in world history classes. 

Delhi was a great place to end this business trip. Experiential learning, such as this trip to India, has been yet another highlight in my educational experience at Michigan. I don’t think I could experience India in the same manner. I’ll always have more than just a tourist’s prospective if I ever returned. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to four cities in India, fulfill my craving of tasty Indian food, enjoy sightseeing excursions, meet some of the business and government world’s most influential people, and meet other students within the university.   

I do wish our last night in India was spent in a celebratory manner, but a quite evening to prepare for stellar presentations in the morning will have to do. 

Namaste, India. Until next time!

- Alexis Farmer

Today we went to the Taj Mahal! It was an incredible experience to see what Shah Jahan built for his wife. it was about 110 degrees Farenheit as it’s the middle of summer but it was well worth the trip! After, we saw the Agra Fort where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son. He was in a room where he could see the Taj Mahal through his window, even though he couldnt visit his wife’s tomb in person. Among the day’s other activities: a snake charmer with two cobras!
- Federica Jonas

Today we went to the Taj Mahal! It was an incredible experience to see what Shah Jahan built for his wife. it was about 110 degrees Farenheit as it’s the middle of summer but it was well worth the trip! After, we saw the Agra Fort where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son. He was in a room where he could see the Taj Mahal through his window, even though he couldnt visit his wife’s tomb in person. Among the day’s other activities: a snake charmer with two cobras!

- Federica Jonas

Akshardham

A couple days ago we spent the day at the Akshardham temple. I think one of the most striking things to me about the temple was that it was built in 2005. I wouldn’t expect that they would still build structures like Akshardham that are so authentic and intricate. If nobody would have told me it was built in 2005, I would’ve thought it was hundreds of years old like most structures that are built out of stone and marble usually are. It was truly amazing to hear about the building process of the temple. The temple was supposed to take over 20 years but they finished it in 5 years, with artisans working different shifts so that there were work teams around the clock 24/7 every day. There is no iron or steel anywhere in the structure and as a result of it being built of all stone, it is designed to be around for hundreds or even thousands of years. Clearly, a lot of time, effort, and money had been put into the place because the temple and surrounding grounds were gorgeous.

Personally, the temple seemed more like a tourist attraction than a place of worship to me, but since I am a tourist that was okay. They said the temple was intended it to be both for worship and cultural experience depending on whatever visitors wanted. They had an imax theater, laser show, and a narrated “boat” ride all of which are cool attractions but seem a little out of place at a temple. Regardless, Akshardham was a stunning place to visit and a worthwhile experience just from learning and cultural exposure.

-Skyler Rietberg

Taj Mahal and Agra Fort: Paramount Indian Cultural Sites

Our group visited the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort today, August 28. The experience was a quintessential part of my trip to India and served as a great way to begin winding down the trip. I appreciated the cultural exposure both sites afforded us as well as the journey to and from Agra – because of the glimpse into rural Indian culture we could see from the bus on our way to the site.

My first reaction to describe the Taj Mahal is “hot.” Arriving in the late morning, we faced temperatures of at least 100 degrees plus the sun roaring overhead. Our group was heckled by many peddlers as we made our way to the Taj grounds but once we were inside, the grandeur of the buildings outweighed any trouble we had getting there. Many of the buildings were preserved beautifully, despite many religiously-fueled rifts that have threatened the site in its nearly 400 year old existence.

We finished our day at the Agra Fort, which in many ways I found more beautiful than the Taj Mahal. Perhaps part of the reason is that a cold front blew through Agra during our lunch and the temperature was about 20 degrees less when we toured the fort. I also enjoyed the manicured grounds, intricate stonework and views the site had of the Taj Mahal. Compared to our visit to Akshardam a couple of days ago, I felt that we were seeing a site rife with cultural history and one paramount to understanding India as a whole.

Although not discussed much by our group, I appreciated getting a sense of rural India on our trip to and from Agra. Sadly the sites I saw confirmed what one of our group organizers told me — Uttar Pradesh is one of the poorest states in India with a caste system still largely in place. I saw many farm workers who evidently toiled their fields day in and day out for around $1 a day. Even in Agra, many children looked tired and hungry. Those sites confirmed to me that India still has many socioeconomic issues to address in its road toward development. Hopefully India will address these issues in the near future, and maybe I’ll have an opportunity to contribute somehow during my career.

It’s hard to believe that the trip is already reaching the final days. I look forward to our final company visit tomorrow and wrapping up our group presentations on Saturday morning.

- Eric Totaro

Taj Mahal

Seeing the craftsmanship up close and personal at the Taj Mahal was an experience I’ll never forget. The overwhelming beauty omitted by such a world treasure is something everyone should see at least once in their lifetime if traveling is possible. The crowd of so many strangers all their to witness this same beauty personalized the experience and connected all of us viewing together.

-Lexi Schaffer

Taj Mahal and Agra Fort

By: Siyi Chen

Today we visited two extraordinary places: the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. When we first saw the Taj Mahal in the distance, it already took our breath away. The iconic white mausoleum stood out against the rest of the background of the city. It was no wonder that it is considered one of the world’s seven wonders since it really draws your attention as soon as you see it! We learned about its history, how Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal Empire, had constructed the Taj Mahal for his third wife had died. We were able to go inside and see the intricate designs that stretched from floor to ceiling. When we exited out the back, we came to the bank of the Yamuna river. I saw a group of people in the distance surrounding faint smoke rising into the air. Curious, I asked our guide what they were doing, and learned that they were burning bodies as a funeral ritual since the site was considered holy.

After visiting the Taj Mahal, we visited the Agra Fort. It was within sight of the Taj Mahal, but its red exterior stood in contrast to Taj Mahal’s white walls. The fort was also built by the Mughals, and although it served a military purpose, the inside seemed more like a walled garden than a military fort. The interior was filled with lush green gardens, fountains and white marble everywhere. Seeing out into the distance from the edge of the fort and seeing the Taj Mahal reflect from the river was one of the best sightseeing experiences on the trip so far. This day was certainly filled with wonder!