3 weeks in… and it’s getting interesting!

So I arrived in Kolkata in March, and since then have been getting very quickly acclimated to life at a social enterprise. Since I’m 3 weeks in, I’ll tell you 3 things in this post about my time in India.

  1. What exactly is Freeset?
  2. My journey to Freeset
  3. Week One mistakes

What exactly is Freeset?

Freeset is a business that’s about ending human trafficking. We’ve been in Kolkata for 15 years, operating in a red-light area of 10,000 women. A large share of these women are trafficked from rural villages, often sold by family members to make ends meet. Social stigma means they can’t get a job. They’re economically trapped in prostitution. They lack choice

Freeset’s about creating choice.

We offer women who have been trafficked, or at risk of being trafficked a stable job, counseling and the opportunity for a better life. Of late, this mission has taken Freeset to starting businesses in rural villages in West Bengal, Bangladesh and Nepal. More to come!

Had the privilege of playing with some of the team my 1st weekend on the ground in Kolkata

My Journey to Freeset

I heard the story of Freeset about 7 years ago, while I was working in DC. 2 years later, when I went to UVA for my MBA, I had a chance to talk about Freeset with my classmates ,and some volunteer work (check out my 2 min speech at UVA below!)

This happened about a month into my 1st year at UVA — Darden

In 2014, when I graduated, I joined the board of Freeset USA. I also joined McKinsey’s office in Houston, spending an incredible 2 years learning a ton about everything. I became board chairman that same year, and helped the US operations quickly scale up (I’m quite proud of that!)

Last year, I began working with our global board to help Freeset restructure. I dream of employing 1,000 women at Freeset over the next 5 years. I decided to take a year’s leave from McKinsey, and spend some time on the ground making that a reality. So… while my official title is Chief Operating Officer, my real job is “Make Freeset Big”.

Week One Mistakes

It was bound to happen!

My 1st week in, I hit the ground running, and started meeting up with all the key staff. Like any good consultant, I began establish the vision for my time on the ground. 3 day’s in, I had both directors reach out to me. Apparently my meetings had caused some of the staff to panic.

What I didn’t realize coming in, was that I represented not just myself, but all the stereotypes and anxieties of a visiting American. To the staff, I was a foreigner (videshi) coming in take over and kick people out.

Why should they trust me?

The past 3 weeks have forced me to breathe. To establish the rhythms of daily life and build the relationships that form a foundation for change. More to come on that front. However, if I can share ONE LESSON from my first week hanging out with Bengalis.

In India, people learn through stories.

So look for more stories of my time here. It’ll be a mix of good old-fashioned American brevity, with the occasional meandering Indian tale.

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