We have all heard that poem by John Godfrey Saxe.. that one about the six men of Indostan, wise and blind, who went to learn about an elephant. Based on the part of the elephant which they examine, their perspectives differ completely.
In this era of experts and specialization, in these times of tremendous know-how and details, any attempt to bring specialists to discuss a common problem is fraught with the possibility of “elephant like ” outcomes. Every specialist has a truth to live by and applies that truth to any issue or problem which is thrown in their direction. It takes skill, deep respect and clarity to filter out the essence from the myriad suggestions and ideas which emerge from all the experts.
It was my privilege to participate in one such brainstorming session last weekend.
“Manthan” an appropriate and apt name for a day of deliberations and discussions among a large group of finance experts, investors, social sector honchos, academicians, IAS officers, media experts and travel and tourism CEOs. All these people and others who have been associated with Azad Foundation and Sakha cabs since the idea was born in the head of Meenu Vadera, the founder of Azad Foundation and one of my dearest friends.
After an introductory drive in a woman chauffeured Sakha cab (to get a first hand impression of the life of these pioneer women), we all trooped in to find our group tables and settled down to listen to what the Azad and Sakha team had to tell us about their journey over the past 5 years.
There was deafening applause for these two women drivers who confidently presented the training and driving activities of the trainees, and the path they have traveled to become professional cab drivers in Delhi. Driving has given them self confidence, a steady voice, and a straight backed posture which many affluent women are still striving for.
And then, the individual table discussions….tables populated by investors and finance experts/social entrepreneurs and academicians/ employers of Sakha drivers/ social sciences and humanities professors. A few generic questions and then one meaty topic to discuss threadbare.
All through those 2 hours, we had a team of gifted young animators, who were constantly drawing their impressions and producing some fantastic illustrations.
Lunch was all about interesting conversations on the side ( the role of India in Ethiopia’s economy, off-beat tourism), and good, delicious food in front. I met my “Meenu introduced” friends, caught up on their lives, threw out invitations for Ranikhet and chatted with the drivers who had once trembled when I would take them for a test drive years ago, when they were fledgling drivers and there were just traces of the confidence and chutzpah which glows on their faces now.
Finally, the recommendations from each group….diverse, detailed and deeply discussed. Each table had a different take on the issues and it was interesting to see where the recommendations came from. Finance experts talked of benchmarks, performance evaluation, cutting costs. Academicians were keen on documentation, women empowerment, role of the government. Social scientists talked about alternative empowerment methods, spreading the seeds and scaling up growth.
What was the most heartwarming bit?! The Eureka moment?! the secret sauce recipe?!
- the fact that all suggestions were prefixed with “we”…it was never “you/Azad team/ the drivers”. the feeling of belonging was palpable and it cut across professions, ideas and suggestions.
- the fact that all tables were unanimous about what we should continue doing, what values should continue to drive us and what should we take forward.
- the fact that we all felt proud and honored to be part of this amazing, paradigm shifting, stereotype-breaking venture which has pulled out women from places of poverty and no-privileges and made them into visible, confident, mobile models of empowered women.
This has all happened because one women refused to give up this germ of an idea when it settled in her brain. She gave up a career, got her friends and family together, drew up a plan and a plot and carried the idea out of her mind and into the streets of Delhi.
Drive on, Meenu, dream on!