Monday, August 17, 2009

India Adventure Completed: Meaningful Change

In May, just one week before embarking on my India adventure, I expressed in a blog post the following:

"What excites me is the chance to pursue my life passion for creating meaningful change in the lives of others through social entrepreneurship.

Mostly however, what excites me most is knowing that when I write in this blog seven days after all is said and done, I will have gone on an adventure that profoundly changed who I am."

Now August, just about two weeks after completing my India adventure, I am sitting here in the living room of my home in Honolulu, realizing these excitements fully manifested: meaningful change to others, profound change in myself.

Meaningful Change to Others

My team of "The Hubli Water and Health Project" came to India with the very broad mission of: improving the quality of drinking water and sanitation of local families through education and technology". With India representing about one-third of the 1.6 million people dying from unsafe water and poor sanitation per year (90% of which are children under 5), we were compelled to seek meaningful change.

We accomplished this through three different initiatives: 1) Water and Health Education Program, 2) Household-Level Water Filter Distribution, 3) Community-Level Water Purification Plant.

Initiative #1: Water and Health Education Program

The first initiative represented the foundation that needed to be laid for anysuccess in improving the water situation. In most development projects, it is only through education (in this case, education about the necessity of clean water and proper sanitation) that communities could truly start eliminating bad habits, embracing personal responsibility, and taking initiative towards improving their circumstances.

In a nutshell, the Education Program aimed to educate primary (elementary) school children from low-income areas about clean water and sanitation through local college volunteer teachers. By influencing the open and developing minds of younger children, we hoped the Program could generate ripples of change emerging from the up-coming generation. Furthermore, by seeking college-aged volunteers, we aimed to empower the hearts of future leaders through opportunities to serve others.

With the curriculum already developed last summer, our team mainly focused on expanding the Program for larger impact. To do this, we successfully partnered with two colleges--Women's College in Hubli and KIMS of Karnatak Univeristy in Dharwad--and connected their collective 30+ volunteers with six different primary schools. All in all, over the next 12 weeks, about 270 elementary students will learn 12 important lessons like properly washing their hands, how the water cycle works, how germs are spread, and why it is important to respect the environment.

Initiative #2: Household-Level Water Filter Distribution

The second initiative aimed at diffusing a proven yet simple water technology--an affordable household water filter--to as many families as possible. Thus, like most development projects, the biggest challenge was a marketing versus product one. The obstacle to overcome was diffusing a readily available and working technology in a way that ensured long-term and wide-spread adoption.

The highly effective water filter we sought to distribute removes sediment and kills water-borne bacteria through a gravity-fed ceramic filter infused with silver-ions. A single filter costs only USD $5-7 and can produce enough clean drinking and cooking water for a family of five for an entire year (~10,000L). After about one year, the ceramic filter can be replaced at a cost of just $1.

Initially, we thought we should establish a water filter kiosk that would be operated by a local entrepreneur. However we realized a much greater opportunity after an exploratory meeting with Chinyard, a microcredit NGO with an established network of over 3,000 self-help women groups throughout Karnataka. Chinyard was the perfect distribution solution: the organization had direct and immediate access to the right target consumers (poor families who suffer most from water contamination and women who are responsible for the house's water supply), established credibility within communities, channels to distribute (bi-weekly SHG meetings), and capacity to provide payment plans for those who needed financial assistance. Chinyard was all-aboard in taking this new initiative of water filter distribution that would both improve health of their members and bring in profits.

To launch the initiative, we needed to test the demand, so we requested Chinyard to do product demos then generate a list of people interested in purchasing the filter. One week later, Chinyard presented us a stack of papers inscribed by 270+ names of eager consumers!

With demand secured, we were ready to assist Chinyard and provided them an interest-free loan to purchase 150 of the 270 filters through our project budget. The loan terms were lenient and repayment will be extremely easy for Chinyard. The ultimate aim will be for Chinyard to successfully handle this first order then use profits to build distribution to the rest of the market of tens of thousands of needy families. This certainly has the potential to be the innovative, scalable, and sustainable solution to distributing technology to the poorest of the poor: microcredit self-help group networks!

Initiative #3: Community-Level Water Purification Plant

This third initiative was the focus of most of my other blog posts. So rather than writing more, please have a read of those.

In a nutshell, we successfully installed a 1000 liter/hour reverse-osmosis water plant aimed to bring clean drinking water to 500 needy families in Gadag district. Furthermore, the plant projects to break-even within the next year and has the potential to generate enough profit to finance a new plant every five months. The pure water should begin flowing by August 25th.

Profound Change in Myself

Yet, with all the change I helped bring to others, others helped bring even greater change to me. Namely, it was through selfless service to others that my self-understanding deepened. As the great Mahatma Ghandi, a dedicated Karma Yogi, said: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others".

I laid out some of my major life philosophies, or convictions, over a year ago when I established this blog. As convictions, based in reason but ultimately dependent on faith, both my heart and mind have only been fortified through this India adventure.

I am Lucky and with a Responsibility

Watching videos and reading articles about the needless suffering and unbelievably difficult lives of others worldwide was enough to develop this conviction. However, this summer I witnessed this suffering and difficulty first-hand in India.

From the disheveled beggar kids who tugged at my hands for rupees to the personal interactions with locals like: an overworked and underpaid bus driver getting schemed by fraudulent “business opportunities”, a high school dropout teen stuck in low-caste work of cleaning tables for 15 cents/hour at the canteen, and the heartbroken college girl forcefully separated from her true love then arranged to marry an unlikable man and denied her professional dreams.

In result, my belief that my life is abundantly blessed has only deepened, and the luminous fire that drives me to help others only burns brighter.

Furthermore, even as “my” accomplishments grow grander, my humility only grows truer. More and more, I see my truly minute existence within the expansive web of causes and effects. More and more, I recognize that there are simply too many influences that I am lucky to have--people, experiences, opportunities--to ever have room for ego.

We are Equal

As human beings, I believe we all share a fundamental equality based on our inherent human dignity. This human dignity comes from my deepening spiritual belief that every person possesses something beyond the

physical, something Infinite, something divine. As the Bhagavad Gita states, "They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them". The wise recognize the divine which pervades all people and things. The wise can see the wonderful oneness of reality and can see beyond the illusion of separateness.

Be Myself - Listen to my Heart

Yet, such metaphysical comprehensions of our interconnectedness and the existence of the divine, only compel my mind through logic to believe in equality. Ultimately, believing comes down to being myself through listening to my compassionate heart.

Working tirelessly in a foreign land for complete strangers while also immersing myself in ancient Hindu and Buddhist wisdom this summer, I witnessed and learned about the power of compassion. Compassion supports our fundamental equality and applies universally to every single being. Where there is a violation to someone's basic human rights, our heart will alert us, and compassion will seek change. My compassion sought to unlock the shackles of poverty that deny the impoverished their right to freedom. My small compassionate contribution was to help as many people in Karnataka, India by eradicating a major contributing factor to their poverty: dirty water.

My Heartfelt Thanks

I hope you made it this far, and if you did congratulations, this is a long post!

For in conclusion, I wanted to send my sincerest thanks to everyone who has followed this blog and traveled beside me on this amazing India adventure over the past three months. Your encouraging comments definitely helped fuel the fire throughout. Simply knowing I had a readership pushed me to authentically share this experience, and to make sure I actually had a good experience to share! My heartfelt gratitude goes out to each and every one of you. Namaskara and Pure Aloha.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Pictorial Update: Agreement Signed, Construction Commences

A Pictorial Update - the past two days (Sunday/Monday) in images

Reviewing and negotiating the terms of the tripartite agreement. Concluded to sell @ 15 paise/L for school-children, @ 20 paise/L for below-poverty line card holders, @ 100 paise/L for non-below-poverty line card holders. The brand name chosen as : "Shuddhodaka" ("Pure Water") sold by the "EPGL-KNS Foundation Karnataka Model" water system.

A done deal! Agreement signed between EPGL (Deepinder), KNS Foundation (Swami Ji), and Financial Funder (myself, as representative)

About 20 community leaders were invited and introduced to the project, including people who would help with implementation (construction, electricity), and individuals who could play crucial roles in future expansion throughoutGadag. Picture shows us surveying the compound for proper placement of the water plant.

Group photo - amazing momentum behind the water plant from the get-go!

After Gadag, Deepinder, Jabashetti, and I drove about 60km to Kukanoor, Koppal to explore another opportunity to plant a reverse-osmosis system in this community suffering from a flurosis problem. Interest was very high - the 2nd community-based R/O system of Karnataka may not be very far away!

Breaking ground - Day One of construction: excavating the ground to lay the foundation for the plant housing

Alex, Nina, and I were invited to lunch by a beautiful family who literally live just three minutes away from the water plant. As an above-poverty line family, their living conditions were visibly much better than their BPL neighbors throughout the community. And yes, if you did not notice, I am holding a baby squirrel in my hand.

Progress of the excavation by early afternoon. This lone construction worker blew me away with his endurance and strength, working hour after hour, while I exhausted after just 30 minutes... Every person is vital to the water plant, from planning to implementation, start to finish.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Planting a Reverse-Osmosis Water Plant: A Sustainable and Scalable Clean Water Solution

What if there is an opportunity to sell purified drinking water to an entire needy family of five for a measly $0.04 a day?

What if this opportunity would initially serve hundreds of households, generate significant profits, and thus eventually could scale to bring clean water to tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of individuals?

On practically the first day I landed in India, just eight weeks ago, I got connected to a company that takes the "what if" out of these questions. Sam Reid, a USC MBA alumnus and the Asia Portfolio Manager of the Grassroots Business Fund, sent me an e-mail after I invited him to read this CTB blog, "I just finished due diligence on a company focused on setting up franchised Reverse Osmosis water purification plants in rural India..." My curiosity picqued.

After a few introductory e-mails from Sam--as they say--the rest was history. Upon arriving in Hubli, I began furiously exchanging e-mails with Deepinder Mohan, the visionary CEO of Environmental Planning Group Limited (EPGL). EPGL currently operates over 35 community-level R/O water plants in North India (Punjab, Delhi, and Rajasthan) and is the recipient of grants from reputable funders like Acumen Fund. EPGL takes an advanced and proven water technology traditionally limited to the rich (think bottled water), and makes it financially and structurally accessible to the poor who could benefit from this technology the most.

With my team's very broad project goal of "improving needy people's health through improvements in sanitation and water quality", I was very open and extremely excited to explore any potential collaborations with EPGL. So I quickly dove in. I worked closely with Deepinder and wrote a mini business plan and created proforma statements to test financial feasibility.


Initially, the intention was to launch a R/O plant in S.M. Krishna Nagar: the target slum community in Hubli from last summer's project. However, during a meeting with Jabashetti, Director of the Water Literacy Foundation and an invaluable contributor to our project, I soon discovered that such a plant was not the appropriate water technology that could help this community; the handful of borewells--from which R/O plants got input water--were drying up and were thus necessarily tightly controlled by the Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation (government entity).

Not willing to toss the R/O plant idea in the can, I asked Jabashetti a simple question that changed everything, "Well, do you know of any nearby community that could benefit from such a system?"

Almost instantly, Jabashetti excitedly replied, "Gadag! Water quality problems are abundant in Gadag. Gadag has so many borewells available. And, I know an influential Swamiji who will listen to me. If I say to bring a R/O system, there will be a R/O system".

A few days later, I was on the bus to Gadag to meet and discuss the plant opportunity with the Swamiji, a local spiritual leader as well as environmentalist who founded the KNS Foundation responsible for recently planting over 300,000 trees! Seated next to me on the bumpy hour-long ride was my friend Dan, another Innovator from a different USC Global Impact project who kindly agreed to be the "token white guy" for the day. Although my Chinese/Filipino looks caught eyes in South India, Dan's fair skin could catch even more, and more importantly establish instant credibility in the community.


To make a long story short, after hours of ceremonies and such, we eventually sat down in a quiet room with Shivakumara Swamiji and Jabashetti and received his buy-in. He could provide his private borewell, electricity, and handle sales and operations. We jumped back on the bus to Hubli: mission accomplished.


Over the next week or so, I helped facilitate negotiations then agreement of terms between Deepinder and Shivakumara Swamiji. Originally, we aimed to create a partnership scheme whereby EPGL could front some start-up capital, share a percentage of sales, and cover certain expenses. However, eventually discussions led to following a different more simplified and traditional scheme whereby EPGL would simply serve as a plant supplier and maintenance provider, and KNS Foundation would retain complete ownership.

* * *

This takes us up to where we are today. With two key players--manufacturer and implementer--secured and aligned, there is just one last player to bring into the game: the financial funder. Currently, Jabashetti and I are seeking an organization/individual interested in helping to plant this single pilot R/O water plant that could eventually germinate dozens more throughout Gadag and bring clean water to tens, or even hundreds, or thousands of people. Gadag is home to a major fluorosis problem with debilitating dental and skeletal effects on those affected. This problem could be significantly mitigated by establishing community-level R/O plants at just a fraction of the 300-450 borewells throughout Gadag's many villages.

All we are requesting from the financial funder is to cover the start-up costs (~INR 400,000, ~$8,000) via an interest-free loan guaranteed full reimbursement within 18 months.

And thus, my last call is this: if you, someone in your network, or an organization you know may be interested in acting as a financial funder to this project, please shoot me an e-mail ( so we can connect and discuss things in greater detail.

The finish line is close, but we are not there yet. We have only two more weeks to complete this final leg of the race, but we will fight on, and we will finish.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A smile and a deep breath of satisfaction

July 11, 2009

Today is the first day that I feel truly proud of what I am doing here in Hubli.

The education program that I have been setting up for the past five weeks finally commenced today. We have 17 volunteers from The Women’s College that are split up into groups to teach at four different primary schools. This morning each of the groups went to their respective primary schools and spent an hour introducing themselves and playing games with the kids in order to get to know them before they start teaching the health and sanitation curriculum next Saturday. I went with one of the groups and sat in the back of the classroom and watched.

The children’s faces had huge smiles during the hour that the five volunteers were standing in front of the class. The volunteers asked the kids to tell jokes, what their favorite hobbies are and made sure that the kids were respectful (all in Kannada of course, but I could still understand what was going on). When it was over the volunteers told me that the kids didn’t want them to leave and that the kids said they would be waiting for them next Saturday. The volunteers were so delighted by their experience.

I took the bus back to the Women’s College with the girls and I ran into some of the other volunteers and asked them how their mornings went at the primary schools. Laxmi told me that she had a great time. Only half of her group showed up, but she was fine with that because it meant that she got to talk to the kids more. Sarala, a volunteer from another group, could not stop thanking me for setting her up with the primary school she was at. She said that the kids were so cute and she just wanted to pinch their cheeks. The head master of the school asked if she and her group would come teach a class everyday of the week for them! Sarala and her group were all smiles and could not stop raving about their morning.

Seeing all of these girls so happy to be helping kids that really need it just warmed my heart. The kids need these positive role models in their life to inspire them to go to college and to show them that learning can be fun. The lesson plans have lots of games and interactive activities so that the kids get really into it. I can’t wait to watch the volunteers begin teaching during my last few weeks here. I can tell that they are really going to make a different in these kids’ lives.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Guest Lecture

Yesterday, I gave my first ever guest lecture at the Arts and Commerce Women’s College in Hubli. In front of 70+ second-year commerce students, I passionately shared my presentation titled “Change Through Business: My Journey as a Social Entrepreneur”. Although my pulse raced as I took the stage, my words flowed calmly and my mind stayed pin-point sharp. For all the while, I recognized the great magnitude of what was happening and I needed to “bring it”; this was an amazing opportunity to inspire, if even just one person in the crowd, to see entrepreneurship as a tool for social change, but more importantly to live with Pure Aloha.


In my presentation, I gave a “Crash Course on Social Entrepreneurship” that went over the “what”, “how”, and “why” of the concept. I talked about my definition of social entrepreneurship, the “three Ps” and “triple bottom line”, and pioneering social entrepreneurs like Muhammad Yunus (Grameen Bank) and Bill Drayton (Ashoka: Innovators for the Public).

Following this crash course, to really bring the concepts home, I shared the story of Uncle Clay’s as a real-life and personal example. First however, to truly understand Uncle Clay’s I wanted and needed everyone to understand and experience Pure Aloha: the absolute core of Uncle Clay’s.

To do this, I prompted an “experiment” that aimed to connect hearts by opening them to one another via expressions of gratitude. The hope was to fill the lecture hall with Pure Aloha to provide everyone the experience of being in such a special space. I started the experiment by directing my sincere thanks to Hema, the head of the Economics Department and organizer of the event, “I appreciate you for being a great teacher that truly cares about her students and empowers so many through education”. A huge smile formed on Hema’s face.

“Now, you see how it works? Now you try. Go for it,” I announced. At first, only a few pairs of students embraced the experiment. The rest of the crowd remained unmoved. Yet, only a small part of me worried that this experiment was going to disprove the hypothesis I was “testing”: 1) that Pure Aloha goes beyond all distinctions--ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion--as it exists in the heart of every human being, and 2) spaces of Pure Aloha could be instantly created anywhere in the world--even a large and sterile college lecture hall--by the simple opening of people’s hearts and minds. I just need to try a little harder.


So, I asked one of the girls who did catch on to the experiment to share what she told her partner. She hesitantly agreed, slowly stood up, and took the microphone, “I want to say thank you to Sophie for being such a great friend who has always been there to help and support me”. The room filled with applause. The Pure Aloha energy meter spiked.

Now, with hearts a little more open and hesitations a little more subdued, exchanges of gratitude initiated here and there in pockets throughout the audience. I could feel the room filling with more and more Pure Aloha. It felt great. The experiment worked. The hypothesis was validated.

I continued the presentation explaining how Uncle Clay’s aim is to create a restaurant where Pure Aloha flows powerfully and easily. At Uncle Clay’s, ohana members (customers) can taste the flavors of the world through a multicultural menu that brings the best of the best foods from different countries across the globe. More importantly, Uncle Clay’s will bring people from all walks of life together, under a single roof where each person is recognized as a member of our one world ohana (family) in space of Pure Aloha.

To wrap everything up, I ended the presentation by introducing “The Pure Aloha Oath”. I passed out pocket-sized copies printed on yellow paper to each person in the audience. Stanza by stanza, I explained the meaning behind the Oath, as everyone followed along, some reading the words with me.


Finally, I asked each to take out a pen and draw a heart on the back of their Oath, write their name, and finally write an action of Pure Aloha inside the heart. Minds plunged deep in thought and pens scribbled away.

“Finished? Could everyone show me their hearts?” I proclaimed after waiting for about a minute. Yellow Oaths sprang to the air as I peered across the crowd smiling. My eyes met hearts of all different shapes and sizes, each filled with something personal, meaningful, and unique. At that very point, the hour was up. So I gave my sincere thanks and descended from the stage with a profound feeling and absolute knowing that, in that moment, Pure Aloha truly lived in me and every other person in the room.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Quick Update

Hi All,

Bronson reminded me today that we only have three weekends left in Hubli, which makes the rest of this whole experience sound rather short. I'm glad to report that we're advancing on all fronts, and that I hope to make a report of my "safe water storage" experiments rather soon. The potential to work with Chinyard is an exciting one, and we'll soon be receiving a report of their orders-to-date. The RO plant opportunity in Gadag is advancing well, and our volunteer teachers (college students) will be visiting their schools this Saturday to make introductions, with the first lesson being taught in two Saturdays.

Life is good in India, but I'll be brave enough to say that it will also feel good to be home soon.

Much Love,


Project Updates!

Wednesday July 1, 2009

Finally a post that I have been meaning to get at for some time now:

1. Chinyard – Chinyard is a micro-finance and livelihood NGO that we have been working with. We introduced them to the Basic Water Needs filter:

This filter is easy to use and relatively cheap (about 350 Rupies, which is a little over $7). The Basic Water Needs filter is made here in India and is targeting the top of the lower class as customers.
We showed Chinyard how easy the filter is to use and explained that it filters out both dirt and harmful bacteria, where as the most popular and more expensive filters on the market in India today only filter out dirt. Chinyard is in contact with about 3500 different self help groups in about 250 villages. Chinyard invited us to one of their staff meetings where we trained their field workers to use and demonstrate the filter:

Then, we went to two villages with a field worker and spoke to women’s self help groups about the filter (with the field worker translating):

After another meeting with Chinyard, we got wonderful news from them that there is a demand in the villages for the filter! Now we are in the midst of setting up a plan for Chinyard to buy a whole bunch of filters for themselves to sell to the villagers using “pay plans.”
Our one problem is that because the people in the slum neighborhoods cannot afford to pay the whole cost of the filter all at once, Chinyard has to buy the filters themselves and not get paid back for about six months to a year. This is a problem for Chinyard because they cannot afford to front the money either. So, right now we are looking into other funding options as well as maybe just having Chinyard start out slow for their water filter business and only buy as many as they can afford at a time.

We are very happy with this aspect of our project because if successful, it will be fully sustainable; we basically just introduced Chinyard to Basic Water Needs. We are letting Chinyard do everything themselves (ordering the filters, doing demonstrations) so that they are not reliant on us.

2. Education – I spent the past week revising and expanding the health and sanitation curriculum from last summer. The lesson plans were so successful last year, that the primary school asked if the program could run longer this year. I have added three extra lesson plans and updated some of the old ones based on feedback from one of the college volunteer teachers from last year.
We have also decided to expand the program: Last summer there were volunteers from one college, Karnatic University, going to one primary school, The Rajiv Ghandi School, to teach. This year, we will have volunteers from two different colleges splitting up and teaching in probably seven or so different primary schools.
Out of the 15 Karnatic University students who signed up last year, only 6 really stuck with the program until the end and taught the lesson plans week after week. These M.B.A. college students just finished their final exams about two weeks ago, but we caught them before they went on holiday. We are taking 20 volunteers this year: 10 to teach the curriculum and 10 to market the water filter door-to-door around the community that the curriculum is being taught in. The students who volunteered to do the marketing are excited because most of them are business/marketing students and feel that this will be good hands on experience. The students don’t resume school until mid-August, after we go back to America, which is inconvenient because we need to train the volunteers to be good teachers. Luckily, there is a woman who works at Karnatic University that has offered to be in charge of the program. We are happy about this as is ensures sustainability of the program and gives us hope that it will continue in the years to come.

The college we added this year is the Women’s Arts and Commerce college – an undergrad college for women. Their school session just started in mid June, so we have the convenience of working with the girls while we are here. We had a recruitment presentation at which we got about 20 sign ups. This week, I held training sessions for those volunteers who are still interested and by the end of a two day training, we got 17 volunteers to sign the Volunteer Agreement.

On the first day of training I went over the goals of our program and our expectations of the volunteers. I briefly spoke about what it is like to work with kids and techniques for talking in front of a group. Then I gave each volunteer a curriculum booklet and went over each lesson plan. We mock-played each of the activities and I mock-preformed the demonstrations. I asked the girls to read aloud and found that some of them had pretty good English, but a few of them had a very hard time even understanding English – they had stuck through the recruitment and training, but had to ask around to know what was going on. From this we learned that we can’t always assume that we are being understood. We found out that the girls can read and understand English if they have some time with it, so the curriculum having been printed in English wasn’t a problem.

On the second day of training we had the volunteers go in front of the class in groups and choose a lesson to teach to us:

They mostly taught in Kannada (the local language here), but it wasn’t hard for me to tell who felt comfortable and who had experience. I wrote down notes about how well I thought each girl did. Then we split the girls into teaching groups – one leader in each group and making sure to split the not-as-talented girls into different groups.

3. Reverse Osmosis – R.O. is a technique used to purify water on a community wide scale instead of in each house hold. It uses permeable and non-permeable membranes and an equilibrium gradient to filter bacteria and dirt out of water.

With help from Jabshetti, the head of the Hubli office of the Water Literacy Foundation (an NGO), we were put in contact with a community in Gadag, a village about 50 km from Hubli. It looks like the implementation of an R.O. system in Gadag is a viable way to provide the community with water. There is a Swamiji in Gadag who ownes land on which a bore well can be dug to get the water and the Swamiji offered to provide electricity to the system as well.

We haven’t worked out the details yet, such as funding and how involved we as outsiders should get, but I am excited that we made the connection between the city of Gadag and the CEO of the R.O. system company.

Even if we stopped our whole project now, it is still awesome that we are bridging gaps between people who are all here in India and can help each other. We introduced Chinyard to Basic Water Needs and the governor of Gadag to Deepinder, the CEO of Environmental Planning Group Limited, the company that sets up R.O. systems.