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.
- What exactly is Freeset?
- My journey to Freeset
- 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!
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!)
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.