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.
- Katina GraysAssociate General Counsel - Asia Pacific RegionHabitat for Humanity"This journey was stimulating, moving, inspiring, humbling and uplifting."
"There is no substitute for interacting up close with entrepreneurs in their environment and context. Loved every minute of it."