Last Monday I boarded a plane that would take me halfway around the world to a part of the world I had never been to: India. This is a collection of the things I’ve seen:
People are happy
India is crowded. Bombay specifically is littered with people. Wherever you go in the city there are always masses of people hanging out on the streets, sleeping under bridges, standing around the outdoor markets, the city is overflowing with them. The old roads and british homes, designed for eight million people, shudder under the weight of the twenty million that currently live here. Driving down the streets of Bombay you’ll see areas of extreme poverty, families sleeping on the street, kids defecating on the sidewalks, homes held together by tarps and cardboard. I didn't expect to see this amount of poverty.
Two days into the trip I was talking about this to Badooni, our tour guide, and he said something to me that completely changed the way I looked at this city:
“Yes a lot of the people are poor, but they are happy people. They have what they need and they are happy with their lives. It’s why India is so safe, there is no need for people to steal or pickpocket.”
This past friday we took a trip to the Dharavi Slums, the second largest slum in Asia. Dharavi houses a million people that live in .67 square miles. The most fascinating thing about Dharavi is that these million people generate one billion in economic output. It’s a city with a living and breathing economy of it’s own. I was expecting to see absolute poverty resembling something like a refugee camp. Instead what I saw was completely unexpected and up-lifting. We walked through embroidery units, pottery units, temples, mini-marts, schools, hospitals. It was incredible. These people had a built an entire living city of their own. They created jobs by resizing cardboard boxes, embroidering jeans, shredding plastic waste and selling it back to the manufacturing companies. As we walked into these one room factories the people that ran them looked at us proudly. They grabbed our hands walked us around their machines, showed us how they worked. Slum is not the right word, these people were living in a neighborhood they had created, doing work they proud of.
Everyone has smartphones in India. Even in the slums of Dharavi everyone was holding an Android phone. These people don’t have access to clean water yet have computers several magnitudes more powerful then the computer on Apollo 11. That’s amazing. Think of the massive opportunity that computing can have to impact their lives. You could teach them to read and write, to fix cars, load entire college courses on their cellphones for free. You could empower them to charge credit cards, track inventories and understand the analytics around the products they sell. It’s amazing to me that more startups aren’t focusing on markets like this. The business opportunity is immense, and the value you could add to these people’s lives is even greater.
There is so much more I want to write about but for now I’ll leave it at that. With four weeks left in this fascinating country I’ll have much more to write about in the future :).
Here is the travel log that I built at the end of the trip.