Vipassana

Last year I participated in a course on Vipassana meditation which was arguably one of the most profound life experiences I have had till date. And while the technique as a whole is incredible and it was great to be introduced to it, the time that I got with myself gave me the unique opportunity to uncover insights that I believe will be invaluable in life.

Basically, Vipassana meditation is a 10 day course, the first 9 days of which are spent in complete silence, termed as noble silence. What this means is that the meditators are not allowed to speak to each other either verbally or through gestures such as eye contact etc. Add to that the fact that you’re required to deposit your phones, any reading or writing material before the start of the course thereby leaving you with nothing but you and your bare thoughts. An intimidating environment for starters it eventually transformed into a space that allowed one to face oneself and think about things that are tucked away in corners that one never unearths. Also it’s perhaps the best space to observe human reactions. A few insights that I gleaned are as follows:

Perceptions: During the period of noble silence while I couldn’t interact, I observed all my co-meditators and formed an image in my mind about what each one would be like. On the 10th day when we broke noble silence, and started interacting, virtually every image I had created was shattered and i created entirely new perceptions about each. While it is but human to constantly create images, it’s perhaps important to take a holistic view when forming a perception. Also, the image needs to be fluid as the person is likely to change with time as opposed to being perfectly equanimous.

Distractions: the human mind constantly seeks distractions as by nature we are not used to stay in solitude with our thoughts. During the course I witnessed different people reacting differently to the idle space – some were arranging rocks one above the other, others trying to find their balance on the rocks, some resorting to carvings with wood etc. This to me echoed the craving of our mind to constantly be occupied – is it a fear of being with our thoughts?

Mastering the mind: before the start of the retreat, I assumed that the biggest challenges would be the fact that we couldn’t speak, not being given enough food and finally sitting on the floor for long periods. To my surprise neither of these seemed to be all that challenging; in fact the one that was most difficult was focusing the mind to meditate. The nature of the mind is such that it tends to wander and the ability for an individual to live fully in the present moment is crucial.

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Quirky remarks by MBAs in the job hunt phase

I’m currently in the UK, living through the much dreaded job hunt phase post the MBA, which is a period of extreme anxiety as landing a job that is aligned with ones interests is the key objective post an MBA. As is natural, some folks from the batch have been luckier than others and landed their dream roles pretty early in the cycle; however the ones who are yet to land one are the ones who come up with the most peculiar theories and quirky remarks about the process by large. This blog aims to capture the ones that I have come across most frequently with my interpretations/ comments:

  • The job scene is very bad at the moment (common comment by every class irrespective of the economic environment)
  • The market in the UK offers limited growth therefore it is better to look at other markets (persistent complaint yet heart of hearts most people prefer to land a job in the UK)
  • People from XXXX nationality have no dearth of jobs as their region values MBAs unlike ours (grass is greener on the other side)
  • Alums from our nationality are the least helpful (again grass is greener on the other side)
  • The US market is so much better…..even people from Tier 3 schools are landing great jobs
  • The tax in the UK is a killer therefore I am going to look elsewhere (as if it wasn’t known prior to the MBA)
  • The careers service in our school is the worst (grass………….)
  • My profile prior to the MBA was much better than what I will get in this market (what about the fancy talk about your objectives for doing an MBA at the start of the programme?)
  • I will ‘become’ an entrepreneur (and still keep applying for jobs)
  • I can never do networking, and sadly that is the only route to get a job here !
  • Perhaps my favourite: MBAs from previous classes say…the market is much better than what it was when we graduated 😉

The list is not exhaustive and I shall add the ones that I hear going forward. I guess a year down the line when all of us will be well settled in our jobs, we will be able to look back upon this time and laugh at each of these quirky remarks. I guess that will also be the best time to reflect upon the true value of an MBA as the heat of emotions stemming from failure will not cloud our opinions.

India: A systemic or societal catastrophe?

These are dark times not just for anyone hailing from Delhi but for Indians as a whole. My thoughts go back to December 2012 when a 23 year old student was raped in a bus by six men and left to die with a steel rod in her stomach. Four months down the line, a five year old girl has been raped by a 22 year old man with such brutality that is inconceivable to the human mind. In fact Delhi is increasingly being recognised as the rape capital of the world. I was shocked when a colleague in my MBA cohort from Peru pointed out that their local newspapers regularly feature incidents of rape in Delhi.

The outrage is totally justified. I for one have been tracking closely the vehement criticisms of the Government and the law enforcement body comprising both the judiciary and the Police for being too mild on people committing rape. A wonderful article in First Post actually illustrates the atrocious attitude of the authorities towards victims of rape. There is no doubt that the state hasn’t done enough to curb the incidence of these incidents considering that Delhi alone reports a new incident of rape every 18 hours on an average as per police records.

By no means do I intend to defend the authorities; however, personally feel that the fact that our society needs policing on account of a lack of morality is extremely disheartening. The sheer incidence of such heinous acts presents a larger societal problem that is far beyond the control of the system. Indian culture and values have reduced to nothing but a façade and the sooner we acknowledge it, the better.

Constrained by Cash? Tips for Non-Profit Marketing

It’s no secret that despite doing a lot of great work, non-profits are among the worst at marketing themselves. While it might be argued that professionals in the development space are quite humble and therefore shy away from highlighting the greatness of their work, in my limited experience, I have discovered that these professionals actually seek positive publicity as it in turn translates into supporters who bring in donations, helping fund the programmes they run. Having realised the need for marketing in non-profits, I identified a scarcity of cash as being the biggest impediment for non-profit organisations looking to create visibility for their programmes.

Undoubtedly, most non-profits, barring the ones that have been well established over decades, are constantly seeking cash to fund their programmes. With limited funds, the focus shifts to core activities integral to the success of programmes, leaving little or no funds for activities such as marketing that are considered a nice to have. Increasingly non-profits are understanding the value of marketing as it plays a crucial role in bringing in those much needed funds; however there is a need to adopt a strategy that provides the biggest bang for the buck. In my understanding it isn’t very hard to gain support for social initiatives as most people are willing to contribute to the greater good of society – the key is to build awareness about the cause. How would I go about doing it? Well, a number of ways:

a. Website: In an increasingly digital world, people tend to form opinions about the nature of an organisation based on the collateral it creates. The website is a crucial part of an organisation’s identity and therefore it is imperative to put in some thought while creating one. A great example of one such website is The Maids’ Company. The homepage contains an interface that is targeted at the end customers, allowing them to customise their domestic help requirements. While The Maids’ Company is typical in that it is a service model, the need for a slick website cannot be understated. A tip for people particularly in the developed world where designing a website can be quite expensive – dig into your networks and outsource website development to destinations like India where you could have a website designed for as low as $300.

b. Social Media: Perhaps the simplest and most effective tool, social media is certainly a great way to create mass awareness about the work that you do. The best thing is that it costs nothing, only requires a bit of your time. For newbies to the world of social media, I would recommend starting off with a Facebook page. The beauty of a Facebook page is that not only does it serve as an identity for the company but also the frequency of interactions is not as high as that on a real time platform like twitter. A blog is another great way to share opinions on global issues pertinent to the development space. While being overly critical about initiatives is not perceived to be in good taste, it is important to have an opinion. Unfortunately, being politically correct seldom attracts any attention on social media platforms as the crowds love people/ organisations who stand for something. Another important yet simplistic tool is You-Tube. In a world where a video as random as Gagnam Style can go on to become a rage, there is certainly an appetite for content showcasing rich initiatives that promise to make an impact on the society we thrive in. Build a You-Tube channel and populate it with videos capturing your initiatives from time to time. Cross populating content across platforms is essential as is linking each of these online properties to your website.

c. Know your media: It is very important to know about the people who write about the space you are in. Pick up all newspapers and magazines for the past three months and scan the articles, making a note of journalists relevant to your cause.

d. Build evangelists: Having identified the journalists, it is important educate them about the work that you do. Towards this, it is helpful to schedule meetings that are not targeted at articles in print but are more a means of building relationships with the relevant journalists. These meetings serve to share reports about your work and also talk about larger issues in the space that you operate in. The impact is twofold – First, the journalist gains a first hand account of the work that you do and might look to feature your story at some point. Second, you might be perceived as a thought leader who he could tap into for quotes on stories covering the sector. To me personally, these stories are extremely valuable as they are a platform for you to project your views alongside those of other prominent personalities in the sector.

e. Academia: One can never undermine the importance of engaging with academia. I recently completed my MBA at Manchester Business School and one of our consultancy projects is a not-for-profit project where the focus is on solving a particular challenge for a charity, free of cost. Towards this, the school receives projects from a number of charities and the ones that are most relevant are assigned to teams of students. The projects are supervised by academics who are experienced in building value propositions for organisations and the project invariably adds significant value to the charity. The key is to identify such opportunities and latch onto them. Freebies are always welcome, particularly in the third sector. 🙂

f. Benefiting from Corporate Social Responsibility: CSR has become the buzzword in industry and almost every organisation is engaging in one or more activities targeted at the betterment of the society it carries out its business in. These organisations typically tend to have a person assigned to managing their CSR initiatives and it is important to reach out to these people in order to garner support from the organisation for your cause. While I was working with eBay, I discovered that they maintain a list of approved charities and make grants from time to time. Not just that, they also organise opportunities for employees to volunteer their time at one or more of these charities. The benefits for the charity are clearly money and volunteers, both of which are incredibly valuable for any charity, while the cost is nothing but a series of conversations with the concerned person in the organisation. Moreover, working with reputed companies often brings with it credibility for the non-profit organisation as well as valuable PR.

To sum it up, there are ways and means of marketing your non-profit, the key is to be cognisant of your ecosystem and to tap into all the resources that are at your disposal.

Welcome Speech: Class of 2014

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

Try

intimidated by the calibre of individuals that I was introduced to. Since then, each day has proved to be a stimulating experience as I have worked closely with individuals from different walks of life and discovered aspects of my personality that I was virtually oblivious to.

The MBA will involve a significant amount of academic rigour and you will soon realise that your time is just not your own. Juggling between multiple priorities both on the work and the personal front, will allow you the unique opportunity to learn how to make optimal use of your time. Not just that, the Manchester Method, through its Learning by Doing philosophy will let you put theory into practice through the live projects that you will work on in your respective teams.

As you sow, so shall you reap! Your MBA is what you make of it. If I were to reflect upon my career track till date, I started sailing in the merchant navy soon after my A-levels and did my undergraduate degree part time. The MBA is therefore the first time that I am pursuing full time education after my A-levels and clearly my big opportunity to make a transition into mainstream industry. I can assure you that I have left no stone unturned in making the most of it.

Contesting elections for the post of President was in line with this thought process as I never wanted to be a mere recipient but also wanted to work towards making a difference. Of course it’s always about bouquets and brickbats. I do get a fair share of criticism along with some encouraging words from time to time however at the end of the day if you can look back and say that you’ve made a difference that is what is important. The MBA is a continuous improvement process and in the past months we have worked closely with the administration to bring about certain changes to the curriculum and hopefully you will reap the benefits over the coming months.

Things can never be perfect. A few months into the programme, you will find yourself cribbing, which is perfectly understandable as its basic human nature. However let me share with you an incident that happened whilst I was representing MBS at the Graduate Business Conference at Simon Graduate School of Business, Rochester. Soon after one of the best practice sessions where I outlined a few of the initiatives that we explore at Manchester, particularly with regards to enhancing the skills of MBAs, the Chief of Staff at CEIBS came up to me and said, “You have a very rich programme. It seems like we have a long way to go.” This recognition is a testimony to the robustness of the Manchester Method. During our time at MBS, many of us don’t essentially appreciate the value of what we are gaining in terms of the overall MBA experience; however whenever you see yourself complaining about minor issues I would recommend that you instead think about how you can maximise your MBA experience and leverage the resources at your disposal in order to enhance your learning curve.

Another aspect I want to touch upon is Networking – This is one word that is going to be thrown at you right from the word go. While you might feel as clueless as to how you should go about it, believe me it works!! I would break down your network into 3 constituents:

  • First, your biggest network is you guys 115 candidates, 26 nationalities – it doesn’t get more diverse than that. Some of you will go with the natural tendency of hanging out with people from your own country or region. Let me tell you, that that is the biggest disservice that you could do to yourself. You’ve come to a truly global program and therefore you must take advantage of this opportunity to learn about different cultures. Additionally you must take this opportunity to interact with members from our class as well.
  • Second, do not undermine your network in your respective countries – in today’s increasingly flat world a network transcends all borders.
  • Third, you are now in the UK – one of the most dynamic work environments in the world. During the course of the MBA you will get enough and more opportunities to interact with professionals in different industries and functions. As is true with all classes, there will be one group that will explore this opportunity to the fullest, build contacts and learn from their experiences while there will be another lot that will just huddle up together and enjoy the food and drink without benefitting at all from the event. Which group you choose to be in is completely your choice. I was fortunately part of the former and that is what got me my internship with eBay as well.

The relationships that we form during the MBA are relationships for life. If there is one thing that you take away from my talk today then that should ideally be “Building Relationships.” I wish you all the luck as you embark upon this wonderful journey and I look forward to interacting with you over the next few months.

Thank You!

Of Frenzy & Thrill

Often referred to by the clichéd phrase “Spin Doctor,” the life of a PR professional literally goes for a spin during stressful big ticket events. Unrealistic demands from clients coupled with the race to meet daunting deadlines makes it hard to distinguish days from nights – often forcing you to chant the three golden words WTF as spats of anger and disgust become a common occurrence.

While one invariably craves for the days to pass, there is a certain element of thrill associated with the frenzy – one that drives you to push limits in order to deliver your best. Irrespective of whether one believes in the product/ campaign, the efforts make us associate so deeply with it that all we can hope for is a big bang success and a reason to celebrate.

The most arduous task though is to live up to the hopes & expectations that are pinned on you. Considered as the bum chums of the media, PR professionals are expected to wave the magic wand or work their charm to ensure that media turns up for events irrespective of whether there is merit in the announcement or not. After all that’s what clients perceive they pay us for.

It’s actually sad to note that a lot of agencies in India actually believe in the approach of echoing the sentiments projected by the clients, even if it is against their better judgment. While in the short term it helps in retaining clients by merely massaging their egos, it seldom pays off in the long term as the value proposition for the client is lost in the bargain. As new age communication specialists it is imperative that we move away from being mere executioners and engage with the clients as partners – one who brings in the outsider perspective and highlights the vulnerabilities of a business in an attempt to devise smart communication strategies that present the company in good light.

One way or the other, it finally boils down to D-day and we experience huge bursts of adrenaline as we fervently hope and pray that a certain number of media personnel show up. The day starts on a highly anxious note and things begin to normalize once the first lot of high profile journalists begins to pour in. Thereinafter it’s a breeze – the event invariably wraps up well and all parties return fairly satisfied.

The frenzy continues until the following day when anxious eyes await the carbon prints on the newsreel. The outcome is generally a mixed bag – ranging from bouquets to brickbats, depending upon the merit of the announcement. Whether it is ultimate joy or profound sorrow, the emotion passes and sooner or later we find ourselves back in our relaxed mode until the next challenge comes our way.

While I detest the frenzy, I secretly crave for the thrill that it brings with it. Pushing my limits helps bring out the best in me and gives me a sense of fulfillment and in the process reinstates my frequently lost love for my job.

Corporate Social Responsibility: A mere gimmick or a benign ideology?

Contrary to our common perception of Corporate Social Responsibility being an act of giving back to society without having any vested interest whatsoever, invariably it turns out to be quite the opposite. With surmounting pressures on account of a few biggies having made a foray into CSR, most organizations today feel compelled to turn to CSR in order to be perceived as a responsible organization committed to the betterment of the society it thrives in. Adopting CSR in one form or the other is becoming more of a cult – with CSR being viewed as a commodity that adds to the credentials of the company.

Over the decades the concept of CSR has moved from pure play philanthropy to models that have a certain element of business relevance. While this can be perceived as a dramatic shift and raise questions on the ideologies of the organization following a “for – profit” approach to CSR, it is crucial to evaluate the impact before condemning the model. After all if a corporate entity creates a model that alleviates the woes of the society it exists in and in the process also churns out profits for itself –it is actually creating an extremely powerful platform that definitely contributes to the betterment of society.  It’s eventually these win – win models that will go a long way in driving the change that organizations wish to bring in.

Most CSR campaigns start off with organizations earmarking certain budgets towards illustrious campaigns that are conceived jointly by the marketing, PR and advertising teams. The end result is invariably a big splash in the media with representatives from the organization making surreal claims of bringing about a positive change in society – clearly, a great way to ensure enhanced visibility for the company.

While I do not aim to take anything away from such companies as they do put in some amount of money and effort towards making a difference. However, I feel the approach should be such that it is sustainable. Social impact is a long term phenomenon and the claims that organizations make towards bringing about a sea change instantly through campaigns that span a few months seem very unrealistic indeed. In CSR 2.0, the focus needs to be on creating properties that can eventually become self-sufficient with time versus models that continue to empty the coffers of the organization – only then can we hope to witness a measurable impact in society. In the process, it would also be great if organizations let the success of their initiatives add laurels to their name rather than adopting the rather shallow braggart approach of garnering publicity by harping endlessly about their initiative.