The Best Intentions…

Happy New Year! I rang in the New Year on a plane – the trip was about 36 hours long so I was literally traveling at midnight in every single time zone possible. But, I’ve made it back to Bangalore, I’m not too jet-lagged and today I officially ended my unemployment streak. That’s right folks, I went to work. Imagine that. Now…if only I could find an apartment…

The concept of a social enterprise is still pretty foreign to most Indians, so it was interesting to learn about about this one through an Indian’s eyes. Currently, the company offers solar lamps on a payment plan to urban slums around a few cities in India. The first thing I’ll be working on is researching and testing the viability of other potential products beside lights. As I arrived they were wrapping up the testing of tablets for which they had really hopes, but the tablets flopped after a few weeks and they didn’t know why. My first mission was to figure out the problem. I was shared on a folder of Google Docs and spreadsheets of user survey data and it didn’t take me long to solve the mystery.

Before choosing a tablet to test, they researched a handful of options – all at basically the lowest price point available. They had 3G, WiFi, cameras and lots of room for apps, movies, music and everything else. Sure, the graphics aren’t HD and the camera is probably the equivalent of what I had on my flip phone in 2005…but it’s good enough for someone that lives in a slum, right? I mean, it’s a tablet. They won’t even notice the difference, right? Wrong.

The problem was the disconnect between the organization trying to provide a “discount tablet” and the people purchasing the tablet expecting a “normal tablet.” You get what you pay for…and when you are only making $130 a month and choose to buy a $100 tablet…expectations are high. However, as you and I know, when you buy a $100 tablet what you’ll get is a $100 tablet. The guy running the test confirmed my theory. When I jokingly mentioned the camera was a little poor, he responded with Yeah but I thought, who cares? I mean, it’s a camera, I thought they’d be happy with anything. He admitted we needed a new version before moving forward.

This is such a good example of well-intentioned people doing unhelpful things. It’s like the people who give packs of Ramen noodles to the homeless man on the street – who has no way to cook it. Or giving a good tip to your taxi driver in Bangalore because you don’t realize that grossly overpaying someone is kind of rude – they just want to be paid for the service they provided…not receive a handout. The instance of the camera is exactly the same – just because they are poor doesn’t mean they’re not discerning with their purchases and like quality products.

I’m pretty excited to research new products and test out what will work and what won’t. It will be a fun few months. If you know of any cool, new inventions that could improve the lives of people living in an urban slum, let me know! Today I found a soccer ball which generates and stores energy as you kick it. 30 minutes of kicking generates 3 hours of light. SO. COOL. They also have a jump rope.





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