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

Journeys for Change blog

December 04th 2012 12:12

Re-Imagining Rural Life—Liz Coffey & Derek Snook on Barefoot College

Barefoot College has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable. These include solar electrification, clean water, education and livelihood development, health care, rural handicrafts, and communication.

Elizabeth Coffey, founder of Spark Leadership, is an author, consultant, and speaker focusing on leading strategic organizational change, cross-cultural diversity, and developing CEOs, Boards, and senior managers to be strong global leaders. She hails from London.

Derek Snook, from the United States, is the Executive Director of IES Labor Serivces. IES meets the demand for temporary labor while investing in its employees and the community. 


Stepping into the village

Take a bus from Jaipur to rural Rajastan, pass the villager with the orange turban and the pack of stray dogs, and it is possible to end up at Barefoot College. World-renowned by visitors of all kinds, the accommodations are adequate, if simple, and the helpfulness of the villagers creates a warm atmosphere. The landscape is soft, and the traffic – or lack thereof – is a welcome change from Delhi.

Driven by core values

Founded in 1972 by Bunker Roy, Barefoot College breathes life into Gandhi’s philosophy of developing sustainable communities by training uneducated villagers. We are awestruck by the culture that demonstrates self-sufficiency through its core values - decentralisation, equality, austerity, collective decision-making, and self-reliance. And we also wonder how this extraordinary culture can be magnified.

Solar grandmothers

In his TED lecture, Bunker Roy says ‘if you want to spread a message, tell a woman.’ He has brought this idea to life by teaching grandmothers how to install and maintain the solar panels that power the whole village – bringing light, heat and electricity to rural Rajasthan. The concept has been so successful that women from around the world attend the 6-month courses, here. Respected pillars of their communities, these grandmothers speak with pride and excitement at being able to translate sunshine into energy in their own villages, extending their communities’ abilities to work, study, and socialise.

A highly educated community

Astoundingly, Barefoot College also educates villagers in a plethora of other practical yet sophisticated skills, including water harvesting and storage, medical, dental, and acupuncture practices, and even carpentry and weaving. They have a radio station which broadcasts 4 hours a day to 25 thousand rural listeners, disseminating crucial information about a host of issues, particularly civil rights, as well as preserving local culture through broadcasting live music performances from the studio. Oh, yeah, and they run a stunning night school (yes, solar powered) for girls (aged 6-14), who otherwise would remain uneducated because they work in the fields during the day.

Questions of scale

It is humbling to witness how the singular focus on their core values enables the people in Barefoot College to improve the quality of their lives holistically. How could this phenomenal mission be extended even further to impact more villagers lives around the world? What funding model could replicate its success exponentially? Our wish is for the Barefoot College to empower even more rural villages as they walk forward one bare foot at a time.

December 03rd 2012 07:12

20% transportation. 110% inspiration—Jane Slowey on Sakha Cabs

Sakha Cabs is a social enterprise that empowers women by teaching them to work as professional chauffeurs. It also provides women and other at-risk passengers with a safe and reliable transportation option.  
Jane Slowey is Chief Executive of the Foyer Foundation, which supports young people who are struggling to make the journey to adulthood. She also chairs Skills – Third Sector, a small charity that champions skills development for paid workers, volunteers, and trustees in voluntary organisations and social enterprises. 
Surprise at the airport
As I emerged from the Arrivals Hall at Delhi airport at 4 in the morning, I was greeted with a cheery, "Oh. I was expecting an old woman!" I'm pretty sure the woman (whom I later learned was Devi) meant it as a compliment although, to be honest, after nearly 14 hours travelling I felt like a very old woman. A young woman, who I must admit I initially thought was Devi's daughter, set off at breakneck speed with my suitcase towards the car park. When we caught up with her, Devi introduced the young woman as Seema, my driver from Sakha Cabs. I sat back as Seema confidently negotiated her way through the Delhi traffic, completely unperturbed by the constant blaring of horns and lane swapping with the best of them.
Dignified livelihoods for women
Fast forward to Sunday when my fellow travellers and I got the chance to discover that Sakha Cabs is no ordinary taxi firm. The "Women on Wheels" initiative is a unique social enterprise that provides dignified livelihoods to poor women by offering safe transport options to women travellers. The 'not for profit' Azad Foundation provides the training while its 'for profit' sibling, Sakha Wings, provides employment for the women through a Women Chauffeur Placement Service, the Car Hire Service I experienced and a Women Premium Chauffeur on Call Service.
Sakha founder's mindset evolution
At the visit, founder Meenu Vedera described for us her transition from 'Development Worker' to 'Active Citizen' as she became aware of the lack of non-traditional employment options for poor women. Azad's investment in the women doesn't just train them to be Women Chauffeurs, it creates 'empowered' women chauffeurs, who act as change agents for their children, siblings, families and wider community.
Incredible impact in the womens' own words
Meena's passion was amplified by the stories of some amazing young women we met over lunch. They described the impact of the experience on their lives:
"I have learned to live life in a positive way. I know my rights. I no longer live in fear and subjugation."
"I live life on my own terms without fear. I take decisions about my own life,"
"I had a job and life before but I could not see my own life. Now, when I'm on my own in the car, I can't believe where I've come in my life."

The ripple effect of Sakha's impact
When Devi and Seema had dropped me at the hotel that first night, Devi had given me a turquoise folder with some information about Seema, describing her as "a delightful young woman who inspires many through the transformation she herself has undergone. From a quiet, shy and generally submissive person to a quiet, strong, and confident individual, she ... has been a catalyst in changing the conditions for her family ... She supports the education of her four younger siblings and is the mainstay for her family."
Be inspired. Be truly inspired.
December 03rd 2012 05:12

The Challenging Environment—Ann Alderson on Green the Gap

Green the Gap produces and retails upcycled products to help the environment and decrease citizen apathy toward environmental issues and sustainable consumption. It is part of Swechha, a leading youth and environmental organisation.
An architect who has also consulted in the areas of sustainability and accessibility, Ann Alderson is from the United Kingdom. She founded and runs a wine club, is a school governor, and serves on the local Art Fund committee.
Finding life purpose in environmental opportunities
As a ‘confused youth’ unsure of what he wanted to do in life, Vimlendu Jha took interest in the sacred but very polluted Yamuna River. Walking along it one day, he began to think of what he could do to make a difference. After a variety of conservation efforts, he decided to start up Sweccha, an NGO that promotes environmental conservation and sustainability. Later he would found Green the Gap, a commercial venture that upcycles waste into useful, high quality products. 
Challenges facing this & other social enterprises
We met Vimlendu on a December afternoon in Delhi. A charismatic, energetic, and extroverted person, he told us his story and shared the primary challenges facing him and many other environment-focused social entrepreneurs in the developing world:
  1. Customers are not ready for recycled products
  2. Focus on environmental issues in a country with so many other problems is considered a luxury
  3. Due to inconsistent product labeling, customers do not know which products to trust as environmentally friendly, organic, fair trade, etc.
A wide range of initiatives 
In addition to sharing his challenges, Vimlendu described the wide range of initiatives he and his team are undertaking to make progress. These include educating young people, political lobbying (including engaging the UN), developing the market for sustainable products (including supporting the movement for consistent product labeling), creating media buzz, and encouraging existing businesses to become sustainable.
Top tips
Vimlendu emphasized the importance of innovative solutions and contemporary means of engaging with target audiences (such as through music) across all initiatives. 
What will the future hold?
It will be interesting to see which of Vimlendu’s initiatives prove to be most successful in creating a more environmentally conscious youth and society. It will also be interesting to see how the developing world as a whole tackles the unique challenges it faces related to environmental sustainability.
December 02nd 2012 06:12

Three success principles shared by social and traditional businesses — Frederic Giuli on d.light

One of our first site visits was to d.light Design, a social business that manufacturers and distributes solar-powered lanterns to people living in rural poverty around the world. These lanterns are meant to replace the ubiquitous kerosene lantern, which is a threat to people’s safety and the environment.  d.light is often cited as one of the world’s best examples of a social enterprise. Frederic Giuli, a Senior Manager at Accenture in France, considers the factors that have made d.light a success and prescribes what he believes is d.light's path for success moving forward.
When looking at its brochure I first thought d.light was a manufacturing company for some smart product. Visiting d.light made me reflect on what a social enterprise really is. I would summarize it this way: a social enterprise is a journey on which an entrepreneur identifies a social injustice problem and pursues an ambitious outcome to address it.
In the case of d.light, founder Sam Goldman realized that 80 million households in India had no other option than to use kerosene lamps for lighting, causing severe risks of burns, fire, and disease from smoke inhalation. Sam founded d.light to address this problem.
The outcome aimed by d.light is as simple as it is ambitious: wipe out kerosene globally
To achieve this, d.light created an affordable, robust LED lamp to compete with kerosene. Their principle was simple and they had a brilliant idea, what was next?
I was interested to see that from there, the principles they were using to achieve success were similar to profit-focused companies in three ways:
1. Listen to your end-customers, learn from your mistakes, and move on.
d.light’s first attempt was a failure.
Although they distributed their product throughout India by retailers, people simply didn’t trust it. In addition, retailers had no time or motivation to convince people about d.light lamps’ benefits and reliability.
From there, d.light was smart enough to change its distribution model. They partnered with trusted local shopkeepers who had been present in communities for 20 or more years. d.light trained these shopkeepers and motivated them to sell the product. As a result, local partners became the best advocates for d.light. This is how the company’s success story started.  
2. Identify your core business, be the best at it, and get competitive suppliers for the rest
d.light focuses on 2 aspects: Design & Distribution.
  • Design—d.light really listened to their customers to get the insight necessary to design the right product. As a result of their research, d.light designed a product that is solar-powered, simple, easy to handle, efficient, and beyond all, extremely robust.
  • Distribution—d.light focuses on distribution because it has proven to be a key success factor
3. Measure your success and improve continuously
d.light currently produces 200,000 lanterns every month and distributes them worldwide.
The company makes a positive impact at least in 4 ways:
  • Education: d.light products make it possible for children to study after dark
  • Cost saving: d.light products are affordable. Whereas kerosene lanterns cost 3 USD/ month, the first LED lamp costs 8 USD—initially a higher cost—but the lamp can last for years
  • Productivity: With light in the evening, workers can labor and families can bond socially.
  • Pollution control and health: d.light products free people from dangerous kerosene.
Having proven its concept can be a success, d.light needs to keep improving its product while addressing production and distribution costs. This will secure sustainability. Through a continuous improvement mindset, d.light will achieve the goal of this brilliant initiative: to wipe out kerosene globally!
December 02nd 2012 04:12

Intelligent Giving. Dignified Recieving. — Reflections on Goonj by Graham Allcott

Goonj is a unique resource mobilisation initiative that provides clothes, sanitary napkins, and other basic amenities to millions in rural villages. With an emphasis on mindful giving and dignified receiving, Goonj also provides a constructive channel for the growing quantities of waste from urban households. Graham Allcott is the founder of training company Think Productive; an author; and a keen social entrepreneur focusing on the areas of youth engagement, literacy, homelessness, and volunteerism.


Simple sign — deep transformation

“Drama / Fake photography is not allowed. Genuine is always welcome ”

No sign, no logo, no welcome notice on the door—just these words, taped to the wall next to the door to Goonj’s main Delhi office. From this warren of chaotic office and workshop spaces, Goonj is quietly creating magic with everyone else’s waste. In the last year, they’ve recycled 1 million kilogrammes of textiles that urban Indians no longer want or need and they’ve made 2 million sanitary towel products for sale in rural areas where the lack of such products often leads to serious health problems. Goonj does it all on a shoestring—often literally!

Requiring recipients to earn donations

For most organisations this would be enough to do, but it’s just where the magic starts for Goonj. In exchange for clothes, Goonj requires its beneficiaries—rural villagers—to undertake community development projects. Thus far, thousands of people have undertaken more than 900 community projects. From building bridges to repairing roads, these hyper-efficient projects would leave governments across the world green with envy. Rather than receiving bad, ill-fitting donated clothes for nothing, rural community members receive well-suited, often-tailored, second-hand clothes and ultimately, a better community to live in as well.


Intelligent giving – dignified receiving

Goonj’s passion is to encourage more intelligent giving and more dignified receiving. In Goonj’s eyes, traditional donations of clothes and other resources do little but humiliate those on the receiving end—providing the “drama” and “fake photography” that companies crave for their CSR brochures and company websites. Goonj wants people to give mindfully, considering whether the items they’re donating are even of value to recipients.

“When people donate shoes, the least they can do is tie the two shoes together – or at the very least donate both shoes. One shoe is no good to anyone,” said our guide, Roshiki.

The anger in her voice was clear. And it’s a lesson to us all. Those grainy images we see when we’re asked to donate money to Comic Relief and other telethon appeals? The superficial nature of most CSR “corporate team-building days”? The disconnect between the sponsored student and the sponsor? These are all part of the problem.

“We focus on the receiver’s dignity, not on the donor’s pride,” says Roshiki, as she shows us through rooms piled high with torn up clothes, used A4 paper, old hifi systems, bongo drums, books, children’s toys and, well, pretty much anything else you can think of.

A holistic system

It can be great for our pride and our ego to be caught up in this “poverty drama.” But it’s worth remembering our sense of pride at having “done good” can often come at the cost of the receiving person’s dignity. Goonj shows that there are ways for that same transaction to take place while bringing humility, dignity, learning, and understanding to everyone involved.

December 01st 2012 04:12

Object Lessons — First Night Reflections from Ekaterina

On the first night of the journey, everyone shares about an object they have brought that says something about them and their intensions for the journey. Ekaterina, a young leader who is founding a Hub and supporting educational initiatives in Moscow, shares her experience selecting her object and seeing what everyone else had brought.
“Why don’t you come with me?” – I said to the little orange elk sitting on the back of my sofa in my home in Moscow as I carefully put him in my travel bag. It was one of seven little toy elks that my brother had bought me as a birthday gift. My brother inspires me as someone who has followed his heart, so I felt his little gift elk needed to experience the journey along with me.
After eight hours of flight, the little elk joined the company of various objects brought by other journey participants. We had all been instructed to bring something that represents something about us. Everyone’s stories unfolded over the course of the evening, gently and beautifully. 
A few minutes in and I was swept up in the stories. I could suddenly feel wind of a New Zealand beach shaping the little shell that Rosie brought from her. I could see Liz’s son who she said looked like the Tin Tin key chain she shared with us. I could smell the field where Hannah’s bee would take its honey making skills from one flower to another. 
The stories were flowing, like the handwriting in Richard’s diary—the object he shared. Everyone came here with a quest. What is social entrepreneurship, really? Not the definition-wise, but experience-wise? Who is choosing this path? What can my organisation back home learn from them? And what will be my role in the movement?
Following the special object exercise, a guest speaker named Lisa shared with us about how she uses children’s books to teach children about social entrepreneurship. What struck me most was that the most exciting social entrepreneurs rarely see themselves as such; they are hidden heroes doing amazing things for the world! What a wonderful heartfelt opening for the Journey! As well as any great social enterprise, our journey started with the right intention.
To complete the night we covered details about the trip: expectations, the itinerary, how to take care of ourselves in India, and other important things. By the close of the evening we clearly sensed there was so much to do, learn, and experience… How are we going to accomplish that all?...
‘We are going to do it bird by bird’ as Derek’s object reminded us.  
My little elk got back into the bag to have a good sleep before the first field visit.
November 30th 2012 02:11

Trusting — Arrival in India by Hannah Smith

The journey kicks off in Delhi with some participants opting to arrive a day early. Hannah Smith, a woman from London who has recently completed her Masters in Social Entrepreneurship and has consulted with organizations from youth development to fair trade, reflects on her first two nights in India.
As children, we're often told not to trust strangers. But trusting strangers has worked really well for me today.
I arrived in Delhi late last night—a day before the start of the journey. It was well after midnight, and over an hour later than my flight was supposed to get in. My Airbnb host had agreed to meet me, but as I headed toward our appointed airport rendezvous, it occurred to me—would she still be there? Was it foolish to have put my trust in someone I knew only from a few Internet reviews? If the tables were turned, would I wait for a stranger this late into the night? Was my first night in India about to be spent in an airport lounge?
Happily, it was not—and when Rajni arrived all smiles and helping hands, I was reminded how important it is to trust in what you don't know sometimes. On the brink of our Journeys for Change adventure, it feels like that experience was probably a timely one.

Tonight we've oh-so-briefly introduced ourselves to each other and had an early dose of inspiration from Lisa Heydlauff of Be! Fund and Going to School. We've talked about how India is the best place in the world for showing that if what you plan doesn't happen, something else will. Something good. Something valuable. As Lisa said at one point, “it's somewhere that's never not surprising.”  

So I am putting my trust in this unknown process, these unknown people and the unknown adventure ahead. I don't know what will emerge. Experiencing the toss and tumble of the Delhi traffic today brought the phrase 'the edge of chaos” to mind. Some people reckon that's where the best innovation happens. If social entrepreneurship in India is anything like the traffic flow round India Gate, we've got a roller coaster journey ahead of us...


October 03rd 2012 08:10

Seeking the World’s Top 15 MBA Students for Inaugural MBA Social Entrepreneurship Journey

We are thrilled to announce the launch of a new journey exclusively for top MBA students!

From 28 December 2012—4 January 2013, we will take 15 competitively selected MBA students from around the world to explore two hotbeds of innovation: Bangalore and Mumbai.

Through visits to some of India’s most remarkable social enterprises; discussions with leaders like the India Country Director for Ashoka; and exclusive networking opportunities, the selected cohort will gain unparalleled insights, connections, and cultural understanding. In short, delegates will differentiate their MBAs and build the foundation for careers of impact.

The impetus for the MBA Social Entrepreneurship Journey was the opportunity to inspire the next generation of global leaders, as well as MBA students’ growing desire to use their skills for social good. Sophie Haas, who went on a journey during her MBA program at INSEAD, has said: "Journeys for Change was a unique opportunity to meet with exceptional social entrepreneurs. It was particularly inspiring to meet with them and discuss their business models during my MBA program to see business concepts being applied in a social context."

Please help us to find the most promising MBA students by sharing this opportunity with your networks. Candidates can visit our website to learn more and apply. Early bird applications are due by 14 October.

You can also share this opportunity through:

Twitter: Apply for membership in the inaugural @Journeys4Change MBA cohort. Early bird deadline 10/14—Please share! #JFCMBA12

Facebook: Know a top MBA student who would benefit from meeting some of India’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs? Encourage them to apply for membership in the inaugural Journeys For Change MBA cohort. Early bird deadline is 10/14—Please share!


June 07th 2012 10:06

Passionate about developing leaders, social entrepreneurship and travel?

A message from our co-founders, Pooja and Richard:
As we reach our fifth birthday, we're delighted to announce that we have an exciting opening for an Executive Director for Journeys for Change.
The background
We're both 'start-up people'. Having launched Journeys for Change (JFC) and brought more than 200 inspirational leaders together, we're now gradually transitioning from our operational roles into advisory/Board roles. This will enable us to focus on new ventures (where we feel we play best) and to bring on someone that is as passionate about taking the organisation to the next level as we have been about starting it up.
What we're looking for -- and how you can help
We're looking for someone who's passionate about social entrepreneurship and leadership development; who's very well connected at senior levels across the business and social sectors; and who has the ambition, skills and value-set to take JFC to the next level.
As it stands today, we've brought together 200+ socially-conscious leaders from four continents to 14 different locations in India and the UK with some amazing outcomes; we have an established schedule of journeys in India; and we're in the process of scoping out new journeys in China, South Africa and beyond. But we think we've only scratched the surface of what's possible. 
We're clearly biased, but we think this is a super-exciting role.
If you're reading and this all resonates, we'd love to hear from you. We'd also really appreciate you circulating this opportunity among your networks.
The job spec

You can download the Executive Director job spec here. The application deadline is 7 July. 

Thank you for your help!


February 27th 2012 02:02

Be Inspired & Get New Insights At 'Innovative India' Events In Washington DC, New York & London

Will you be in Washington DC, New York or London next month, March 2012?

Richard, our Co-Founder, will be speaking at a short series of events entitled 'Innovative India: Remarkable Lessons From India's Social Entrepreneurs On How To Create Greater Profit & Impact In The World'.

Join him for a short, stimulating talk where you can:

  • Be inspired by the stories of some of India's leading changemakers
  • Learn how their innovative business models can help you create greater profit & impact in your work
  • Learn more about Journeys for Change
  • Mingle with other like-minded socially-conscious leaders

For further details and to reserve a place, click on the appropriate link below:

Places are limited so please register as soon as possible to ensure you can attend.