Immersive journeys to help leaders make more impact in the world.

Embracing the Complexities of Development

January 03rd 2013 07:01
Eunice Poon works in product research and development with Epson Canada. She is also a part-time MBA student at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, Canada, where she is majoring in non-profit management.
Entering a whole new world
Structured chaos – those were the two words that came to mind when I sat on the bus trying to sum up my experience of Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in Asia. Going into the tour, I was expecting to see a large group of people living in a state of chaos and anarchy within an unimaginably tight area. Instead, what I saw was a conglomerate of industries and a structured community hidden behind the narrow alleys and lines of sheet metal shanties. 
Seeing the unexpected
Walking down the streets of the commercial part of Dharavi, I was amazed by how many things were going on around me. On one end of the street sat a man whose job it is to crush plastic bottles into tiny pieces for recycling. A few blocks away was a pile of metal scraps waiting to be turned into auto parts. Further down the street, there was a shop with three men working on embroidery. The variety of micro industries seemed out-of-place in a slum, yet nonetheless, striking. 
Resilience vs. complacency
While at a plastic pellet manufacturing shop, we had a chance to talk to one of the workers who had migrated to Dharavi from a village ten years ago. He told us that he thought this was the best job for him considering his background. That triggered a thought in me. By building a city within a city, the residents of Dharavi have demonstrated their resilience. At the same time, it seems odd that what was supposed to be a temporary housing area has now turned into a permanent community. This experience has made me more aware of the complexity and the tension between development and re-development.
A self-sustaining model
At the end of our tour, we had the opportunity to visit Reality Gives, a non-profit run by the tour company, Reality Tours. There, we met residents of Dharavi whose lives had been touched by the Reality Group. I find it inspiring and encouraging that the founders have created a financially sustainable way to run the tours, while donating 80% of their profits to doing charitable work for the Dharavi community.
How this has changed me
I came back feeling tremendously grateful to have seen Dharavi from this lens. This experience has changed my understanding of what it is like to live in a slum and has given me a new sense of connectedness with the people of Dharavi.