The Kentucky Dhol Drum

posted by on 2012.04.13, under Humor, India, Other, Shameless Plug

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

 

At this point of the Dhol drum beat, my shoulders usually assume their role in the bhangra song.  10 seconds is all it takes.  My eyebrows probably rise in a look of confusion mixed with arrogance, to convince anyone watching that I know what I am doing.  Being an inventive, self-conscious, and mediocre dancer is torturous.

It took 24 years for me to realize that I’ve been entirely too selfish about this music.  Like many first generation Americans with immigrant parents from India, I spent a childhood embarrassed by my culture, ignoring it in attempts to fit in with my midwestern peers.  I only realized how much I needed this culture the day I left home for college.  I went from having nightmares about my school friends getting a glimpse of pictures of videos of my Diwali choreographed performances that my mother forced me to do, to shamelessly calling the same mother to walk me through making mutton biriyani over the phone so I could impress a lady friend.  My wardrobe welcomed chinese collared kurta shirts soon after the law approved of my drinking habits.  I even returned to a sidepart hairstyle, which I spent a dozen years deliberately running from in fear of looking like my ancestors.  Now I “Don Draper” it, just like my grandfather did.

But in trying to recover my roots, I might have gone too far.  I made the foolish assumption that this self-narrative was heroic – that my early epiphany of realizing and accepting my identity around this culture had never happened before for anyone else.  That I would show the world I knew how cool India was.  So I moved there, wrote this blog, bought more ethnic shirts, instruments, grew a mustache, and never failed to be the first person at any wedding or celebration to initiate locking legs and circling while fingers pointed in the air to remind the world that our shoulders were designed to move up and down faster than any other creature on land.

And how did this wisdom that I was no hero suddenly find me?  Sudhir Venkatesh’s study on why crackdealer’s live with their mothers in book Freakanomics? Aasif Mandvi’s jokes on the Daily Show? Goldstar’s rock performance at the hotel cafe? Anand Giridharadas’s book about moving back to India after growing up in Midwestern USA?  Neil Patel’s highly trafficked blog about being an entrepreneur?  Slumdog Millionaire? Bobby Jindal’s 2009 Republican response speech?  All these success stories should have gotten through to me, but despite it all I still refused to believe that I was not the voice of my generation.  I now know that my mistake was in believing that “this” was even “mine.”  And I have a performance by a New York fusion percussion n brass band called Red Baraat in Louisville, Kentucky to thank for this enlightenment from a free ticket that I nearly disregarded because the concert buddy that invited me skipped town and left me to see the show in Kentucky by my lonesome. .

First impressions are given far too much credit in our advice dialogue in this society.  And my first impression of the band was full of skepticism.  An Indian guy playing a dhol drum with a bunch of eclectic looking bandmates with a gradient of skin tones from one member to the next.  Dreadlocks! What type of hippie jam band bastardizing a drum beat that Jay-z introduced to our night clubs 10 years ago was this?  This appeared to be as bad for me as it might be for the band that looked out into a crowd filling only quarter of the available seats in the auditorium.  Sitting down to bhangra music!  Would I be the first to teach the room this lesson?  Or would I run as fast as I could to Bombay Grill, or just to the hallway and virtually recruit as many brown people in this mid-southern city from my iPhone?

I did nothing.  There was no need.  1 song in, the singer requested the houselights to be turned on so he could see “his” people.  Maybe 20 Indians total were in the room –  but they were not who he was referring to.  Calmly he advised everyone to leave the seats and proceed to the stage, where an empty dance floor awaited them.  This was the climax of the internal awkwardness I felt at the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts.  As I’ve seen countless times from the stage or the audience, this was bound to fail and the band would just follow the motions and try their best to get through the rest of the set and leave town and forget about that moment of uncertainty.

But the people tonight listened.  Slowly the dance floor filled up.  The singer gave them 4 instructions for how to dance, and they took his advice and followed each step: putting the hands in the air, turning the light, bouncing the shoulders, and swaying the hips.  The music continued, but I sat.  In shock maybe.  Could Kentucky have something to teach me about my Indian culture?

My body felt cold instantly.  Goosebumps on my neck.  My face turned from brown to red.  But it was not from embarrassment.  It was some sort of weird combination of pride, awe, and pleasure.  I looked down and saw a community who had forgotten about the world.  They shared a heart beat from the dhol drum, and breathed in unison the brass sounds.  This could very well be our future.  Young, old, black, white, yellow, brown, all shapes and sizes moved by the complex coordination of sounds.  I was amazed.  I’ve seen a dance naturally take form to live music a thousand times.  But it’s never been music from my motherland that choreographed the motion of other ethnicities.  And I certainly didn’t expect it to happen in Kentucky.

My eyes teared up as I zoomed past the 4 year old girl standing on her chair untwisting 100 invisible bulbs to a black mother and 11 year son, both very heavy but using biggest body parts to elegantly infuse the dance floor with soul.  The son mimicked the mother’s moves, trying to pick up on her occasional head turn action that tied the entire routine together.  Once he got it, he side stepped his way to the 70 year old white female employed as an usher by this venue and proved to her that she could do it too.  His glasses nearly fell off, but his smile kept them from hitting the ground.

And then the white tuba player in the band, wearing green shoes and losing his hair to its recession grabbed a microphone and started freestyle rapping.  A black college age man put on his sunglasses, walked up to the stage, gave some respect to the tuba player through his smart phone, and then switched the tone of the dance floor into hip hop party.   The music continued, mixing in Latin flavors, jazz reminders, all while grounding the rhythm in Punjab.  I even saw hipsters shaking their hips in ways they probably never did before.  Friendly tension started to build though, as the community formed into subgroups.  However these new divisions ignored our normal demographic divides of color, age, income, or sexuality.

A dance-off took place between a 15 year old athletic black break-dancer and a 75 year old bald Chinese man wearing glasses and Air Jordan’s.  Both parties won the contest in their own rights, and I could hear their laughter despite the distance or noise.  Head stands followed.  (Not by the elderly).  The group of teenage friends was an unlikely bunch.  A flamboyant white kid wearing a skin tight golf shirt who didn’t need to maintain control of his arms in order to express himself encouraged the rest to show off their best moves.  Moments before, he failed to get a cheer from the audience behind after his headstand building on the momentum from the two break-dancing moves that preceded it.  He just didn’t care.

The dance circle continued and new moves were displayed, but for some reason the oldest looking, biggest kid of the group kept crossing the circle like it was a moshpit, refusing to share his own moves, but instead trying to dominate the ring.  Surely now the harmony of the room would be broken.  But I was wrong again.  The clumsy kid, realizing he was out of line after a 9 year old kid pulled him aside to teach him about dance circles, finally found his signature and invented a move turning a bicep flex into a synchronized step for the entire group to adopt.

The break dancer who faced off against the older Chinese man picked out a lady, and brought a 1960’s feel to the show, spinning her around while still maintaining respect for the dhol.  Behind them stood a 240lb white woman wearing a shirt that reached her knees.  However, her knees were in constant motion and at that exact moment in time she needed no one to dance with.  This new form of music she had discovered was the partner she had been looking for all these years, maybe.  To her left stood the Guru – A 30 year old Indian man with long hair, a beard, and wearing traditional attire.  He began the experiment with dignity, offering the room authentic movement to the sounds, though they were subtle.  He had now become the leader of what resembled a soul train, teaching others his eastern ways.  Close behind was the affable college student who brought my father a plate of Indian food 1 year ago during the cricket World Cup.  He borrowed moves from the Guru, but incorporated a timely pause and look towards his friends who were seated, begging them to join in on the fun.  The hand wave that followed this break brought his actions back into the dance, and soon enough back into following the Guru’s lead.

A 6 year old black boy taught a smiling middle-eastern student how to move both of their feet faster, but I still don’t understand how. Far away, a group of hippies with less exaggerated upper body movements, but much heavier and repetitive stepping movement, start gesturing a motion of slicking their hair back, embracing their unkempt appearances.   And a tall preppy white high school student wearing a sweater vest and glasses coordinated a train that snaked the invisible boundaries of the party to unite them back together for balance of the show.  Feet leaped from the ground as everyone on stage and on the dance floor jumped at the same time as the show came to a close.  I looked at those who were once seated and we are all now standing.  Two plump older Italian looking women in the very back by themselves were clapping as hard as they could and hooting and hollering as the dhol beat became faster and faster.  I entered a flashback to every enjoyable dance experience I’ve ever had despite not having danced once this night.  These bloody New Yorkers managed to recreate the best parts of awesome weddings without requiring any sort of commitment through the Red Baraat disguise of a traditional Indian wedding band’s makeup.

Would this all have happened if the venue marketed the event to the vibrant Indian community that lived minutes east of us?  Could such a diverse integration of a community happen again on a dance floor in this city?  Was this dhol drum somehow articulating a Morse code-like narrative to give hope for our future by the consequences of its noise tonight?   Questions burned.  They still burn.

But a great weight was taken off my shoulder.  I no longer felt responsible for achieving fame in order to share this “thing”.  It wasn’t mine to share.  It was within everyone in that room the entire time, and is probably within the reader of this nonsensical attempt at a memory.  This really has nothing to do with culture, India, or the dhol drum.  Nothing that humans have created over the past thousands of years through our decisions on how we organize ourselves can take credit for it.

It is simply encoded in our souls, this thing, that we are designed to experience moments in life that can’t be taken away and destroyed.  Moments when we realize our power, purpose, and passion.  An instance when a temporary language is created between us that will never be spoken of again.   And though we all hear the beat, the melody, the words, the feeling that we share at the core of the music puzzles the greatest writers on our planet about how to best describe it using the  incompatible characters that we are limited to in our many languages.  Perhaps I came the closest I will ever come by simply saying:

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

 

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The New York Times hired a badass

posted by on 2010.10.01, under Academia, Entrepreneurship, India, Shameless Plug, Travel

It took an evening in Louisville, Kentucky to realize this.  After 8 hours of studying theory, statistics, and banging my head against a library wall, I threw on my finest sports coat and ventured out for my first night on the town in downtown Louisville.

This weekend is Idea Festival.  It has been one of the best surprises this town has afforded me in my first two months here.  I was looking forward to the event after the kickoff event – Thrivals 3.0 – featuring Jackie Robinson’s son (David), Janelle Monae and her “motown meets silicon valley” label Wondaland Arts Society, Howard Bloom, who spoke passionately about public relations work with Prince and Michael Jackson and several other inspirational speakers who were handpicked by U of L’s Professor Nat Irvin.

I entered the theater with very little background information of the speaker who was scheduled to talk today.  I saw something about “Gandhi” on the flyer, and made an assumption that it was an Indian, perhaps someone talking about philosophy or yoga, or something I was half interested in.  Within 5 minutes I lost any buyers remorse for purchasing tickets for this event, and realized I was meant to be in this very room, in Louisville, Kentucky, at this exact moment.

Anand Girid­haradas was able to articulate everything I experienced in my short tenure in Hyderabad, while enlightening hundreds of us on insightful observations he had made as a journalist in Mumbai (Bombay) India over 6 years.  He spoke with charisma, poise, and conviction, and intentionally paused, keeping listeners in check with the realization that we might never get this education ever again in our midwestern/southern lives, before revealing a new idea that kept us asking for more.  None of his propositions were left undefended, but there was very little that was academic about his tone.

He clearly ordered his thoughts into a presentation that alluded to things his audience could understand.   It felt like I was learning with him – which is a quality I have attributed to some of my best professors and mentors.

I understand that up until this point, I haven’t said anything about his  actual message.  I am not sure how well I can share the perspective he donated to us tonight, but I will try to summarize what stood out to me.  I urge the reader to purchase this man’s book, that will be coming out in 2011.  He too has experienced the frustration of not being really an American or an Indian.  Referencing a comment made by someone in the audience tonight, Indian’s don’t know whether to charge us 100 rupees for entrance (US prices) or 50 rupees (indian price) so they charge 75.  Before I get to his presentation, I need to preface it with a list of the similarities between us, which is absurd.

1.  We were born in Cleveland, Ohio to parents who grew up in Bombay, India and visited India every 2 years as children.

2. We attended college in Michigan.

3. Shortly after college we worked in India.

4. We are both the son of a professor

5. This year, we both started Ph.D programs.

Anand described his fears of the future in America, while optimistically proposing what we should do to avoid them.  Giving examples of TATA cars that cost under $2000, he suggested we stop limiting innovation to luxury items like ipads and smartphones.  He gave a staggering statistic about how there are more people in the world with access to mobile phones (mostly “dumb phones”) than toilets. (6 billion)  Manufacturing jobs should be focused to serve the markets that demand products based on need instead of desire.   Instead of redesigning existing products by stripping away features to lower costs, we should start from scratch, building a lower cost and useful product designed specifically for the market it is intended for.  Not everyone in the US owns an iPhone.  Damnit.

The US has always exported culture to the developing world, but Anand argues that the world no longer sees our way of life as an end-goal, but simply as a “means to an end.”  Just like our movies, basketball shoes, and Yankees hats are knocked off, so is the culture, and Americans do not see a dime in return.

The brilliance of this speaker is exposed as he concludes his talk.  By this time, I have gotten over the fact that he might be a better dresser than me, and has found a more distinguished hairstyle.  I start thanking my stars that the New York Times selected him to share these pearls of wisdom with a much larger audience than the Hyderabadass could ever hope to talk to.  He talks about community, about culture, and changes in geography that is impacting them.  He proposes that our generation is becoming more and more ‘placeless’ transplanting to new places for work and losing identities.  We have less in common with each other because technology gives more options.  Tivo restricts watercooler conversation because we no longer watch the same tv shows on the same nights.  For the first time in the history of the world more people live in urban cities than rural communities.  We are desperately longing for communities, which is why our search tools focus on this (Yelp)  but we’ve lost a connection from this old way of life, and it will be difficult to recover.

It was a great speech, and I was overall impressed that this went down in Louisville.  The timing was perfect, with the controversial premier of NBC’s Outsourced, which was discussed briefly, but also a subject of Anand’s latest piece in the times.  A badass, indeed.

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Facebook Refugee

posted by on 2010.08.27, under Shameless Plug, Technology

In August, I deactivated my facebook account, and temporarily cut myself off from almost 1400 people, becoming a facebook refugee.  I chose ” I do not understand how to use facebook” as my reason for deactivating from the choices shown above and did not explain further.  One month later, here is the explanation.

I had become fed up with the dependence on the website to keep in touch with people.  I had traveled across the country the week before, reconnected with several old friends who I haven’t seen in years, and developed a theory that facebook had cheapened conversations with my normal correspondences.  In addition, while watching the previews for INCEPTION, in Omaha, I was disturbed to see that there is a movie coming out about this thing very soon.

I think that social networking might be getting out of hand, and wanted to see what life was like without it, at least for a month, and thus deactivated my account.  The short term absence from it gave me some ideas for new academic research that I might collaborate with my mentor at U of L.   The alienation from the community is definitely impactful, especially to someone who has moved to a new place with limited contacts in the area.  I realized in my first month, facebook-less in the city of Louisville, that the people I started meeting were forming an impression of me because I wasn’t eligible to be their online friend.  Mostly, these impressions were not favorable.  And it’s this behavior that is fascinating to me.  Too often journalists warn about negative impressions employers, co-workers, friends and lovers form of us based on what we do on the book, but I have yet to see anything talking about the consequences that the offline community faces.  I estimate that less than 2% of my friends are not on facebook.  They’ve missed out on seeing thousands of pictures, getting early notices on earthquakes, invitations to exclusive parties, status updates about their friends dog, and other information that fascinates us in our online lives.

In the process of deactivating my account, I backed up my pictures, obtained email address from 25% of my friends who responded to my going away status message, and did some research on other facebook refugees.  What i found was quite interesting….

Apparently, 1 million people a year try to delete their facebook accounts, but stop when they get to the page shown in the screenshot picture in the beginning of this post.  I found that page to be quite manipulative, showing pictures of me with close friends, and telling me that we will not be able to keep in touch.  Some nerve!  The people shown in this picture include some of my best friends from California, former bandmates, family members, and a business partner.  I tested this out a few times, and somehow they managed to keep the same formula, but replaced the people with my mother, brother, former boss, and best friend from kindergarten.  The notion that I would no longer be able to keep in touch with them is outrageous, and an indication of how this website has outgrown itself.  Mark Z once made a statement about how facebook can do more social good than non profits and individual people

There was a time when if you typed the word “Delete” into Google, the automated text following would be “facebook account.”  To counter this, facebook made it very difficult to deactivate, or even delete.  Accounts are not actually deleted for 14 days, and deactivating an account is just temporary.  Deactivated users still get emails about events and activity on facebook, and in my experience, more of it.  It is nearly impossible to export your contacts (they claim there is a way to do it through Yahoo, but it did not work for me.)  Backing up my pictures took an hour or 2, because I had to save each one individually because none of the applications actually worked.  Deactivating my account also removed pictures I tagged of other people, leading to an angry phone call from my little brother who lost his profile picture of surfing a wave in the pacific.
I maintained contact with many friends during my time off, but I did notice several people missing from my life.  I missed having people share silly youtube links, new music, pictures from a houseboating trip, or others things that I admit enjoying on the facebook.  Although these things were trivial in nature, it was a gloomy stage that I will not forget from my mid twenties.   Is society allowing facebook to have a monopoly over our friendships?

Here are experiences of others turning their backs on facebook….

Web industry leaders making high profiled exits from facebook in May…..(people from Google, Engadget and Gizmodo, and other well known podcasters/bloggers)

ABC Report of deactivating

Video on facebook possible valuation of $35 billion if they go public

Yesterday, I logged back in to my account, after realizing that my family was offended that I had done this.  My grandmother’s brother had reached out to me through facebook from a remote village in the jungles of India the day I had deactivated, and I had snubbed him by not accepting.  The moment I accepted his friendship, he posted a very kind message on my wall saying: “

“Hi Jason, I hope u r keeping, where r u ? and what are you doing ?, keep me in ur prayers as I often rememember u. God bless u always love Richie [ponkey]”

Suddenly I was bombarded with chats from people in Bombay, Hyderabad, Australia, Europe, California, New York, and even Canada.  I got sucked back into the newsfeed, and realized that it was not the time for facebook and me to part.  However, I have a new perspective on this thing, and suspect that someday I will have a better opportunity to move away from this culture without being alienated from the people I care about.  When that day comes, I hope you will be with us.


-J

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Louisville State of Mind

posted by on 2010.08.23, under Academia, Shameless Plug

Last month I bid farewell to the home I created in Los Angeles, packed up the Camaro, and drove cross country with my father and brother on an epic road trip.  We left comfort out of the equation, yet had 4 solid days of bonding time while driving through deserts, mountains, and cornfields.  I spent a weekend in Chicago and a week in Kalamazoo before arriving to Louisville, and had an opportunity to spend a weekend on a houseboat on Lake Cumberland Kentucky with my Kalamazoo buddies and watch Federer and Roddick play in Cincinnati before getting settled into my new home in the South.

Over the next four years I will be enrolled in a PhD program at U of L, specialized in Entrepreneurship.  The program is designed to turn us into ‘social scientists’ that publish in top academic journals while teaching college level Entrepreneurship and Business Strategy classes.  My initial research interests are in Social Entrepreneurship, however I am keeping an open mind, and will likely be influenced by mentors and the seminars throughout the program.  The next time you see me, I will probably need to wear reading glasses, as my vision is fading with each empirical study I read.

Academic life has surrounded me since I was born. My father is a Professor of Finance and I developed close mentor/mentee relationships with professors at LMU.  I have a new perspective on the profession, especially regarding research in Entrepreneurship.  There are some interesting questions being asked by these folks.  The scientific research applied to build economic theory is starting to fascinate me, which is a bit shocking if you knew me over the past 8 years.    I have a long way to go out here, but I am confident that I am surrounded by the right people and resources to build this career… I just need to work hard at it. 

I am still getting used to life in Louisville, but have found a strong community in Butchertown where I am considering moving to next year.  Louisville is packed with interesting history, and I am just scratching the surface of it.  There is an odd obsession with the movie THE BIG LEBOWSKI, which I noticed in recommendations on my Netflix account when I moved here (It was the most popular movie rented in the city)  There is an annual festival to pay tribute to the movie in addition to numerous posters and books for sale throughout the town.

Also, I recently learned that the most popular song in the world GOOD MORNING TO ALL was written by Kindergarten teachers in Louisville.  It later became known as the HAPPY BIRTHDAY song. So it’s not just fried chicken, baseball bats, horses…there is more…much more.  The Kentucky Derby Museum is phenomenal, with a 360 degree movie theatre unlike anything I have ever seen before.  IDEA FESTIVAL is coming up in a month, and will feature 5 days of talks given my global scholars and leaders to encourage innovation and creativity to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people. 

There is vibrant entrepreneurial community that is closely tied into the university, and just like California, people ride bikes everywhere and love their dogs.  There is a style to the city that blends a small town charm with a progressive mindset of a big city.  Yet, as a custom frame store owner from New York described to me, invisible boundaries still exist here, and there are clear differences between geographical regions of the city that can be startling on first impressions.  Near my apartment, boarded up buildings resemble Detroit, and kids on campus have already reported being robbed at gunpoint 1 week into the semester.  Still,  the art culture and local music seems to be thriving, with an art gallery open 24 hours a day.  There is so more for me to see, and it will be interesting finding a balance between work and play out here.

I have an idea for a new business venture that is inspired by recent research into the field of social entrepreneurship.  I hope to launch the venture within 2 years after I raise enough capital and make the necessary strategic alliances – It is a fun idea incorporating my passion for the guitar, education, and building a community to help lower the enormous high school drop out rate in Kentucky. 

I am the new guy in town though, so it will take time to create synergies, I am still trying to learn the local language and suspect that the difficulty of my coursework will be slightly more challenging than the MBA program I just finished.  Our cohort is comprised of 5 other folks, all highly educated with global experience in venture capital, hedge fund management, and corporate marketing.  I am likely the least serious out of the group, and need to be disciplined in time management to succeed out here, the program has failed 2 students in the past 4 years. 

Recently I submitted an abstract for our research in Europe this summer to a conference hosted by NYU on Social Entrepreneurship.  If it is accepted, I will have an opportunity to present our findings in New York to the academic community this November.  I won’t start teaching classes until my third year in the program, but will be working as a research assistant to an active researcher in the business school that may give me an opportunity to get published before starting on a dissertation.  Calculus and Statistics are vital to a few of the Seminars I have this semester, so I am switching gears from what I was used to before, which is taking a toll on my social life.  However, I am very optimistic about what lies ahead, the people I am going to be working with, and becoming part of the Louisville community. 

It’s not quite a concrete jungle, but dreams have been made here…. just look at Tom Cruise, Muhammad Ali, Colonel Sanders, Diane Sawyer, Papa John Schnatter, Hunter S. Thompson, Phil Simms and Thomas Edison – He left Louisville after getting fired from spilling sulfuric acid on the office floor, only to have his invention of the light bulb demonstrated in Louisville 16 years later.

-J

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Dangerous Minds

posted by on 2010.03.06, under Academia, Shameless Plug

“I’m just an MBA living in LA” is the chorus for one of my new rap songs.  This city has given me more than it has taken in the 2 years I have lived here, and I am really fascinated with the inner-city culture that I get a glimpse of when I leave my beach neighborhood and explore.  Last week I taught my first high school class in a school in the Watts/Compton side of LA.  I was given just a day’s notice, and really didn’t have time to worry about spending a day in an area with 49% of the people under the poverty line and recognized around the world (thanks to rap music) for their gang violence.  By coincidence, I watched the movie “Dangerous Minds” the weekend before on TBS, and went into the experience with a willingness to teach a little karate or drop some Bob Dylan poetry like Ms. Pfeiffer.

As it turns out, Hollywood, the media, and Coolio had painted a picture of LA that I did not see that day.  What I did see was a brand new school, well behaved 17-18 year olds who were creative, energetic, passionate, and motivated to succeed.  They made the experience incredible for me, and really enlightened me on aspects of entrepreneurship that get missed in an MBA program.  I am excited to work with them throughout the semester to help them win a national business plan writing competition.

Today NPR featured a story that shows entrepreneurship causing controversy in this very neighborhood.  LA Gang Tours is a social enterprise that gives guided tours of the roughest parts of the city in a bus with former gang members.  They charge $65 per ticket, and tourists are taken to places that they would normally not feel safe going to alone, but like me, have had a certain picture painted in their minds through the the entertainment industry. Their tours have been sold out the last 5 months, and they make several stops, including the LA County Jail, the birthplace of the Black Panthers, and the birthplace of the Crips gang.  They stop at local businesses so that tourists can buy souvenirs, and supposedly donate a large portion of their profits back into the community to try to create new jobs, microfinancing loans, and other projects to help maintain a “cease-fire agreement” between the 3 major gangs in the area.

The founder, Alfred Lomas is a former gang member and has negotiated a deal with the gang leaders to keep gun free-zones for children to be safe in, and to keep the tourists safe on the trips.  The goal is to inform outsiders about this culture, help the economic health of South Central Los Angeles, and strive for peace.  Below is their explanation of how they keep tourists safe.

“5-10% of the gang population is responsible for 65-70% of all gang violence. LA GANG TOURS has access to the “5%,” those who have their fingers on the triggers. The participating gangs in the established gun fire free safety zones have agreed to allow LA GANG TOURS to operate in their areas, given our goals to hire their youth for employment opportunities and offer job and entrepreneurship training programs.
LA GANG TOURS has predetermined routes and times that are honored by each of the participating and opposing gangs. Every effort has been made, from the time of day to departure locations, to ensure a safe, pleasant and enjoyable tour experience.”

This story fascinates me, but I am not surprised to hear that certain community members are in complete opposition to this venture.  Some people view the tours as exploitation.  They argue that they are reinforcing negative stereotypes of the area, and taking advantage of  a group of people already going through hardships.   I admit that I thought of it almost like a jungle safari tour from the marketing.  However, after reading about the founder, I truly believe that this movement has positive intentions for the community, the tourists, and for peace in the area.  Perhaps I will take a date on the tour in the upcoming months.  Good idea?

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Social Entrepreneurship + Guiness World Record

posted by on 2010.02.10, under Academia, Entrepreneurship, Shameless Plug

 In my last semester in the LMU MBA program, I was invited to be in an unique entrepreneurship class taught by the founder of Kinko’s, (Paul Orfalea) that is a mixture of MBA students and undergrads (including ridiculously smart freshman) – all committed to becoming entrepreneurs.

3 of the undergrads in the class are stirring up some buzz for a class project in another class, where they had to create a marketable product from an ordinary object (brown paper bag)  What they’ve done is brilliant, combining social entrepreneurship, creativity, and an unusual guiness world record challenge.  Basically, they are asking people to cut a brown paper bag into a paper doll (using a template from the website) that they can decorate, and mail it in with a dollar (or more) so that 20,000 paper dolls can be held together by a group of students in France.  The dolls and the money will all be donated to Haiti for an orphanage.

“Donors are asked to create a paper doll, and then mail it along with a donation of $1 or more to the Lighthouse Charitable Foundation: 311 N. Robertson Blvd., Suite 151, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. www.linkedforhaiti.com”

Check out more info here – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Linked-For-Haiti/289098967272?ref=ts

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Entrepreneurship in Academia

posted by on 2009.11.17, under Academia, Entrepreneurship, Other, Shameless Plug

Some of the best classes I have taken in business school have been entrepreneurship classes – Dr. Grossman’s Technology Commercialization, Managing New and Growing Businesses that teach comprehensive approaches to both written and “living cases.” (living cases involve working directly with a CEO or leaders with notable organizations) Next semester I will be taking a class with the CEO and Founder for Kinkos, Paul Orfalea The course is open to a select number of students by invite only, and will be my first MBA class that is not taught by a prof with a Ph.D.  Other classes I plan on taking are Social Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Finance.


I believe that there is a cycle to entrepreneurship, and the ideal cycle in my situation seems to suggest two stages take place in Academia.   The first stage is my current graduate education.  The second is a possible future in teaching and higher educational research  .   Pre-MBA, I believed there should be a experiential stage between these two, so that the second stage serves value to others, at least in Entrepreneurship.  However lately I have found myself challenging this belief, and considering an immediate transition into Academia as a professional, and pursuing a Ph.D.  Of course, a Ph.D is not needed to educate others, (Orfalea is an example of this) however it seems very few other approaches gain the credibility needed to be successful (outside of the irregular $200 million sale of a company).  


The transition from industry to a classroom had a learning curve, and I can only assume that if I delay higher educational pursuits, I will face more of these.  However, I am still weighing the pros and cons of such a decision, more importantly trying to understand the value of entrepreneurial studies in an academic environment to society, and most importantly, whether my skills and passions align with it.


Affiliation with a research-intensive university for 4 years also provides a wealth of resources to explore ideas, and possibly even pursue entrepreneurial ventures within the confines of the curriculum.  Dr. Kiesner from LMU is considered a pioneer in building Entrepreneurship into Business School curriculum, and is known for unorthodox methods.  Further, at the Social Innovation Fast Pitch event at USC, 2 of 6 judges were professors, who have been and continue to be very involved in industry.  Microfinance as we love it today was developed by a professor (Muhammad Yunus), who won the Nobel Peace Prize.  His career is full of entrepreneurial ventures on the side, and is certainly something to be admired.  In his case, however, the majority of his contribution to the industry came after becoming a professor.  


These type of role models have caused me to ponder how long I should wait before becoming an educator.  On one hand, I might lose the entrepreneurial spirit after 4 years of intense study, and several more of research and teaching to secure tenure and never carry out any of my ideas.  On the other hand, the educational experience may be enlightening and an engine of newer, more innovative ideas that can be executed through different channels (educational grants, community involvement, published properties, or ideally for me – film).  Somewhere in the middle is the concern if I will be qualified to be an educator at such a level.  Certainly I am not right now, but I have to imagine that I need to plan ahead somewhat so that I am ready when the time comes – a Ph.D program takes 4 years.  


Perhaps the key element to all of this is timing.  Business ventures can be a careful formula of a brilliant idea and exceptional management yet still result in failure,  Every successful entrepreneur I have spoken with or studied credits timing – which involves a stroke of luck among other things.  Perhaps a person’s decision to become a successful educator in entrepreneurship depends on how they time such a venture in the larger schedule of their life experiences.  As inspirational as it is learning from a professor full amazing experiences , it is arguably more discouraging taking a  class with a professor full of experience but with exhausted insights and a jaded attitude.  Sometimes these professors can have the appeal of a former hometown hero quarterback that never moved on past highschool.   


I suspect that if timing is the critical factor for success, then it will be extremely important to surround myself with the right people and environment to be able to hear the calling and respond accordingly.  Possibly I am hearing it now, and I just need to think through some of the beliefs I have established – It may be unnecessary for me to be a successful entrepreneur to be a successful entrepreneurial academic, Maybe I need to ask the following questions –  Will I have time to both explore my ambitions and teach about the journey? Will higher educational studies be the only way for my mind to generate such ideas? Will higher educational studies prevent me from being able to execute any idea at all?  


When asked in 2003 about how he felt about a lawsuit and having ties cut with Clayton Dubilier (Kinkos buyout firm), Paul Orfalea responded – 


“It’s been agony, and I won’t miss the business or Clayton, Dubilier,” says Orfalea, who now devotes his time to building day care centers and teaching a course at the University of California, Santa Barbara, his alma mater. “I’m building day care centers. I like teaching school. I have a life. I’ve got better things to do.” 


There are other quotes that describe his pride in building the company from UCSB’s campus in an office so small “ the copy machine had to be lugged out onto the sidewalk” to nearly 1800 stores, that sold for billions to FedEx.  I am extremely excited for the class on several levels, as a student, entrepreneur, and aspiring educator.  


-J



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NOVICA

posted by on 2009.11.04, under Entrepreneurship, Shameless Plug

This company is awesome!  They took a terrible system of import/export of international art, and opened up the marketplace to give local artisans control over their business, and the result has been a successful online business that brings thousands of remarkable products from around the world to consumers.  Based out of LA, their mission reads:

“We want to give artists and artisans around the world a global platform to express their true artistic talents and to spur their creativity. And, we want to provide you with access to unique, hard-to-find items at great values that only the Internet infrastructure can allow……NOVICA. The World is Your Market.”
Check out their website, certainly a great spot for holiday shopping.
J
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Badass is back

posted by on 2009.03.27, under Other, Shameless Plug

One year vacation from posting in A Hyderabadass – complete.

It was intentional. I needed to unwind. The adventure was intense, but the intensity is long missed. Thanks for everyone who read the blog, commented or emailed and supported me through the trip. Some people might be wondering what has been going on with The Hyderabadass, TheWedLink, and Satyam. Fear not, answers are on their way.

This is the second chapter of the story

The world has changed so much since my temporary sabbatical from the blog-o-sphere. I don’t really know where to begin. TheWedLink just launched an iPhone application on iTunes. 2008 was a challenging year for us just like everyone else. I will recap our outsourcing experience and a true review about Threshold in the times to come.

As a mirror of my own life, this blog may lack focus, direction, structure, or timeliness. It is passionate however, and the writings will continue to be optimistic for the future. Success stories that I hear about during the recession will always be posted, so please email dmelloja@gmail.com every time you hear one. Lets let the failing newspapers talk about bankruptcy, foreclosures, unemployment, and heartbreak for now, and just focus on the good, badass stuff here.

Yours again
,

Hyderabadass


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Sunday at the park

posted by on 2007.11.18, under India, Shameless Plug, Travel

Nov 14th is Children’s day in India. The universal date is actually Nov 20th, but in honor of PanditJawaharial Nehru, India’s first prime minister who was very fond of children, the holiday is celebrated on his birthday.

How does a Hyderabadass celebrate this holiday? How about by spending a Sunday afternoon in a park with 30 kids playing cricket, tag, having 3 legged races, learning how to eat rice with my hands south Indian style, being drenched in water fountains by  mischievous little girls, carrying tired kids on my shoulders while letting others play with my mobile phone and finally getting genuine goodbye hugs after 5 hours of solid fun. Today I spent Children’s Day playing in a park with these young suffering victims infected by HIV and AIDS.

It is estimated that there are between 2 million to 3.6 million people infected with HIV in India, ranking it third behind Nigeria and South Africa in the list of most infected countries in the world. Less than 15% of these people receive antiretroviral drugs (AVRs), a treatment proven to significantly delay the progression from HIV to AIDS. Ironically, this treatment has been available to rich countries since 1996.

The UN has stated the following:

  • India’s adult HIV prevalence will peak at 1.9% in 2019.
  • The number of AIDS deaths in India (which was estimated at 2.7 million for the period 1980-2000) will rise to 12.3 million during 2000-15, and to 49.5 million during 2015-50.
  • Economic growth in India will slow by almost a percentage point per year as a result of AIDS by 2019.

Nonetheless this community face tremendous hardships in India. I learned from the folks doing social work with them that victims have faced violent attacks, rejection from families and communities, refusal of medical treatment, and even denial of the last rites before dying. Few are informed how they can prevent other diseases. Volunteers and non-profits are also faced with resistance with their efforts to help the victims. I was disgusted to hear that for every four people infected with HIV, at least one will be refused medical treatment in India.

The children I met today are thankfully unaware of the politics, but many of them have lost their parents because of this epidemic. A few of them were coughing throughout the day. Some cried, others consoled them, but at the end of the day they were all smiling. I have never seen such a caring group of kids get along so well, enjoying the simple games and toys we brought to the park. I can only imagine what their eyes have seen so far in life, and a day in the park spent with 4 big people with funny accents eliminated any need for misbehaving.

I couldn’t talk to most of the kids since they spoke only Telugu, yet we had no problem communicating. One of the kids, named Akhil, was one of the smartest 11 year old kids I have ever met. He spoke 4 languages including English, and offered to translate for us if our other methods of communication failed. obviously leader of the group, he was responsible for much of the success of the activities. At one point of the day he took one of the adult volunteers for a walk to the museum while sharing his passion for history. His father had taken him to that museum many times, but had recently died from AIDS.

Akhil returned from the museum with a ball for the other kids to play with, and began an unorganized game of tag/ dodgeball/ volleyball/ football/ tug-o -war/ monkey-in-the-middle/keep away. I had been nourished earlier by a generous serving of yellow rice. There was no silverware, so I was forced to eat rice for the first time with my hands, and I must declare that eating rice by hand is no easy task for someone raised in the US. The kids exploded in laughter at my pathetic attempts, but after they taught me how to hold my hands I figured out how to properly finish the meal.

During the madness of the next 5 hour recess, the kids found their way to the fountain, and started a massive water fight. 4 young girls conspiring against me tricked me into getting close enough to the oasis so that they could mercilessly drench me. One of the other volunteers had also been trapped and tried to make a run for it, but slipped and fell! Everyone erupted into laughter –  it was slapstick humor you’d find in a movie. Later in the afternoon, this same character, my buddy Sanjay, was tied up by the kids and used as a trampoline.

During this comic display of pranks, I secretly sent Satyam, my driver, to pick up a cricket set from the nearby store. When he returned with the sporting goods, the boys were absolutely thrilled, jumping around all over the place waiting to play the beloved national sport. When language does me no good here in India, cricket never has failed in helping me connect with people.

The cricket match went into intermission so that we could all jump into a large tug-o-war contest that started across the park.  This was followed by a self-organized 3 legged race. Satyam tried to manage the madness by organizing activities. He was the expert with explaining the rules to the kids and is a surprisingly resourceful, acting like eagle scouts at times. At one point he single handedly challenged a dozen kids in a tug-o-war match, but his raw strength could not prevail over the euphoric kids. I have never seen him so happy. He admitted that he wish he had brought his own son to the park that day.

We ended the day sitting in a circle sharing fruit. Akhil quickly offered his fruit to us, uncertain that there would be enough for everyone. All of the other kids followed his lead, in a very generous gesture. It turned out that there was enough to go around, but the gesture is something that I will not forget. There was something about observing Akhil that hinted that he has a greater purpose in life. He was the only kid I noticed who wasn’t smiling during the playtime.  His maturity was that of a much older philosopher and his confidence made it easy to forget that he was also an HIV AIDS patient.

This child taught me a lesson in humility today, on  Children’s Day , 2007 in Hyderabad, India. Despite only knowing us for a few hours, he and his friends wanted to share everything they possibly could with us. While saying goodbye my heart sank. Today was a highlight for us all but we will probably never see each other again. I still remember the “fun big people” I looked up to when I was a kid, but also remember the sadness I felt when they left. Today I had the same feeling as those childhood memories despite being on the other end of the goodbye. I nearly broke down when Akhil came to me to say bye and wrote my number on his hand, saying that he wanted to call me and the other volunteers to his summer camp. Unfortunately I don’t have a number to give Akhil to reach me at next summer, as I am leaving Hyderabad in 10 days. The fun I had today I now know will be impossible to ever repeat again. I guess sometimes life gifts us with these opportunities to remind ourselves what is truly important.

 

Youthfully,
-Jason

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