Sycamores learn about social entrepreneurship by immersing themselves in India’s vibrancy and hospitality.
Trevor Bridgewater’s friends who had traveled to India tried to tell him what to expect before he ventured abroad with 15 other Sycamores on a faculty-led study abroad experience in March.
“Their explanation was like looking at a photo of the Grand Canyon. You have to be there to truly understand,” said Bridgewater, a ProMBA student from Terre Haute. “The temples were nothing but phenomenal. The spiritual feeling that engulfed me once inside was unbelievable.”
For nearly two weeks, the group of MBA students, undergraduates, faculty and staff explored the institutional, economic, political and cultural ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation in this high-potential emerging market.
The trip to southern India was designed and led by Scott College of Business Professor Aruna Chandra. India is one of the BRICS countries, an acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“When it comes to social entrepreneurialship, it flourishes in economies that have social problems. You have more than a billion people in this country and so many intractable social problems — so much poverty, 650 million people eking out a living,” Chandra said. “Naturally, India gives birth to more social entrepreneurs, more creative entrepreneurs who have to operate with so many resource deficits, so this is very good laboratory.”
Sycamores visited social entrepreneurial organizations such as Selco Solar Light Private Ltd., which has worked for more than 20 years to enhance underserved rural areas with sustainable energy technology and creating economic connections, and the world-renowned Aravind Eye Hospital, which is trying to cure the blindness there by providing high-quality care at reduced rates or for free.
MBA student Jessica Chichester of Terre Haute was interested in pursuing one of the internship opportunities from the trip with Goonj, an award-winning social enterprise that recycles discarded clothing and other materials from urban areas into a resource for rural development. The company was founded in 1998 when Anshu Gupta, a journalist at the time, learned rural residents were dying in the winter because they lacked sufficient clothing.
“The Indian culture operates on so much trust and having taken your word for what it is. They’re just genuine people,” Chichester said. “It’s really nice to see that change and it’s just a breath of fresh air.”
The students also toured cultural sites including temples and markets near Bangalore and Tamil Nadu.
“Visiting the big temple didn’t feel real,” said Alethia Marrero, a political science and legal studies major from Indianapolis. “When we went there, we had to take off our shoes, and they kind of dressed us before we went. Being in the temple and having their flowers on me and their dress on me and the people smiling at me — it was just awesome. I think they were happy that we were respecting their culture and experiencing it in the most sensitive way.”
Marrero, a Puerto Rican-American, was inspired by how Indians stay true to their heritage, no matter the setting.
“Even in the middle of the big city, they’re still wearing saris and their traditional dress. And they still hold on to their food and their culture. That was really inspiring because I think it’s easy in the United States to lose sight of your culture,” she said. “As a Puerto Rican, there’s always a dichotomy — being a Puerto Rican on the mainland or being on the island and whether we want to be a state or not or be independent — that’s always been something that has impacted my life.”
Before boarding a plane bound for India, the only thing Marrero knew about the South Asian country was what she had seen on TV and in the movies.
“When we see Indians on TV in the United States, we only see the fairer-skinned Indians,” she said. “When I came here, I called my friends back home, and I was like ‘Indians are black!’ They are definitely people of color.
“In the United States, we see race as a black-and-white thing, and here there are all different shades of color, and even though the U.S. we don’t see all those shades, it’s not even a thing for them. They think it’s all beautiful. They told us that we all have beautiful skin.”
Sharing new cultural experiences — no matter the location — created a bond among the travelers. “The time I had to make new friends was truly an amazing experience,” Bridgewater said.
Chandra is planning her next study abroad experiences to Brazil during spring break in 2018. For more information on this faculty-led trip and others, go to indstate.edu/facultyled.