cycling India

The Circle of Life & Cycling

On an average there are about 25 cycling related events that take place in India every single day of the year. Cycling in India has indeed come a long way from a vehicle of commute from the 70s to where it is today. There was a time when cycles were used by the police, used as a gift for the wedding, used for commuting to work and were a sign of prestige. The traditional Indian bicycle has gone through a circle wherein even just a decade back, it was seen as a poor man’s vehicle in India. Bicycles are coming back in to fashion and now there are so many domestic and international bicycles available in the market. This is because cycling is one of the most eco-friendly means of transport whilst at the same time keeping you fit. This combined with the rising fuel prices has helped cycling grow prominence in urban India. In an era of tablets, apps and mobiles, it is also the perfect vehicle to keep the kids outdoors and fit.
While there may be well over 50 cycling clubs in urban centres across the country (some of whom have a few thousand members), the bicycle penetration could be a lot better in urban and rural India. Economic Times reported that India has one of the lowest bicycle use in the world — about 1% of all commuting. So inspite of the few thousand cycling events that take place in India every year, the country has a long way to go.
There are a few things that are helping to build the momentum. Firstly, bike rental and bike sharing programs are beginning to be piloted. Many global cities like Paris, London, and Amsterdam, provide user friendly facilities for parking and renting bicycles and we are starting to see that in cities like Mumbai and Bangalore. Three students from the social entrepreneurship batch of the b-school NMIMS, started a cycle sharing program in Mumbai two years ago called Cycle Chalao. The idea was apparently born out of the everyday frustration of dealing with autorickshaw drivers. Now, they have been invited to build and operate India’s first city-wide bike-sharing system in Pune. They are also working with India’s Ministry of Urban Development for a bike-sharing pilot across 10 cities. A similiar venture has also been started in Bangalore.
Secondly, some states have even started initiatives of bicycles lanes and bicycle racks in local buses. For instance, Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, which runs the city’s fleet of commuter buses, has now come up with a bicycle rack in the buses for cyclists to mount their bicycles on. This would shortly be implemented in inter city and interstate buses. Such infrastructure is slowly encouraging more and more young professional to cycle to work. One can find communities in Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai and Chennai of professionals who ride their cycle to work. They use protective gear, safety accessories (reflectors, lights). Some even carry a whistle to attract people’s attention when there is traffic. They do manage to get to work in less time and also complete their fitness workout enroute to work. Some restaurants have also started having cycle stands to promote cycling.
Then there are others who are taking up cycling as a sport. Such as F1 racer, Karun Chandhok who cycles 60km to 120km a day depending on the day and route. While he is not a professional cyclist, cycling is an integral part of his fitness regime. Mountain biking has also become a sought after adventure sport, again driven by young professionals. Competitions like the nine-day endurance race called MTB Himachal further help this cause. Each year there are over 120 professional and semi professional cyclists who take up this 540km endurance race.
But it’s not just a urban india phenomena. Cycle is also becoming a wheel of social change with various Indian states having welfare schemes to give out bicycles. This helps children, especially rural girls to become more independent. It is making it easier for students to travel to school to the nearest village. It is empowering the youth and allowing them to be part of the circle of change and development that India is going through.
So, if you haven’t got a cycle or haven’t ridden one in a long time then you should get one or rent one and experience the thrill all over again. I myself bought one 2 months ago. I have clocked only 20km till date but its a start – Now, its your turn
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Redefining Entrepreneurship – the jugaad way

Call it ingenuity, call it frugal engineering, call it toilet paper entrepreneur or call it Jugaad – entrepreneurship is being redefined in India. A lot of this is actually happening away from the urban areas. While innovations of large companies like Tata and Godrej’s Chotu Kool have been extensively covered by media, the less known entrepreneurs are equally interesting.

I met one such entrepreneur 10 days ago at TEDx Chennai. It so happened that he was not one of the speakers. The TEDx team had identified a few entrepreneurs who were showcasing their venture and products during the umpteen breaks. It was at one of these stalls that I saw this assuming guy sitting with his laptop. Not too many people were approaching him because he did not have an fancy product on the table – but he had an inspiring story to share. I, along with my brother and a friend were humbled by his modesty and his approach to life.

His name is Muruganantham. He is a school dropout, but has installed an innovative small-scale model to manufacture sanitary napkins that enables rural women to lead a hygienic lifestyle and has encouraged rural women to turn entrepreneurs. Till date he has installed 250 such machines installed across 18 states.  This has lead to creation of 250 women entrepreneurs and has generated employment of around 2000 people.

Muruganantham’s machine converts the elaborate process of manufacturing sanitary napkins into a Gandhian operation. The tools used in this model are as much “machines” as the charkha, the pestle or the grindstone. It operates on simple tasks that can be mastered within 1 day, and he himself trains these women entrepreneurs. Through his innovation he has been able to addresses the issue of sanitary napkins being unaffordable and/or unavailable to around 97% of Indian women.

It took him 4 years of research to create this jugaad machine at a cost of Rs.75,000 (while large machines of similar kind cost Rs.35 million), but  he did not think of creating a “for-profit” enterprise – “money is a by product” as he told us. He shared his experience of speaking at TiECon in Mumbai where he asked the elite audience – “When a school dropout from a small place in Coimbatore can think of making his innovation useful to society, why don’t you educated people think on these lines?“. Muruganantham is truly an inspiring individual.

There are many others like Muruganantham who have created innovative products or services such as:

There will be many such more examples and I would love to hear from you if you have come across any.

A lot of these innovations are also curbing the rural to urban migration which has been rapidly rising. By creating entrepreneurs, by training and by generating employment these entrepreneurs are creating a more inclusive India. Of course jugaad alone cannot be enough as some have pointed out, but this is the start of a positive change in redefining entrepreneurship in India.

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How fast can we wake up

The CWG games (or rather what is lacking in it) is the talk of the country and perhaps some parts of the globe. These are times when many optimists begin to question whether India will have a bright future? Will we ever have good governance or are we living in a country which will never be able to catch up?
Some have suggested the boycott of the games, while some suggest that the negative media coverage is not just journalistic. At the end of it all, the country has lost its credibility. At 1 AD India contributed to almost 33% of the global economy and probably did not have issues of credibility. So how fast is India going to wake up to regain our glorious past?
Take for instance skill development, an area that I am getting to understand in my current role. India, the world’s youngest economy may not be able to capitalize on its strength if not for skill development. An unprecedented 500mn would have to be employed in the organized and unorganized sector over the next 10-15 years. McKinsey discovered that about 90% of the Indian population drops out before the higher education stage.
In the absence of an all encompassing education system that changes these dynamics fundamentally, these drop outs need to be trained so that they can become employable. Unless these segments of people acquire the appropriate skills and capacities for relevant jobs, they will not be able to increase their income and they run the risk of remaining at the bottom of the pyramid. The Government may claim that are hundreds of ITIs churning out trained youth, but the industry knows the reality. India has the capacity to train only about 3.1mn youth and moreover this training capacity focuses more on the organised sector rather than the unorganised sector i.e. domestic servants, carpenters, handicraft workers etc.
Many private players, such as Bharti are trying to tackle this problem because it is a huge  business opportunity. But, can private players alone create the change? How fast can we make our politicians wake up? Some solutions are being experimented – e.g. injecting better leadership into the political system, each one of us doing our bit to fight corruption. I don’t have answers but sincerely hope that we do find them. 
Many believe that Demographic Dividend is an opportunity for India however; it could become a big risk as we have seen in the case of CWG. The numbers are staggering and a lot has to be done. The time is right and we all need to act towards achieving this goal, before it’s too late to salvage and before we can hear “Game Over”.