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Acara Summer Institute 2011 Day#1 Highlights

Acara Institute Co-founder Fred Rose (pic courtesy acarainstitute.org)

As I wrote in my introductory post on Acara last week, the Acara Summer Institute 2011 is in full swing this week at the Honeywell Bangalore campus. I attended 90% of the first day sessions and plan to return for days 4 and 5. I’ve tried to capture the day’s key highlights.

Classroom Sessions by Fred Rose

Fred led an interesting session on the art of storytelling in seven sentences and illustrated it with The Wizard of Oz. Sri (Fred’s colleague) Indianized the session via the Mohandas in South Africa -> Mahatma Gandhi ->India’s Freedom storyline. The last session of the day was a walkthrough and working session on discover-based planning, a methodology for the teams to bring more rigor to their venture plans.

Overview of 7 Projects

Seven teams in total (four winners and one finalist from Acara Challenge 2011) gave a brief presentation using the storytelling in seven sentences format. I’m providing just the overview I heard from the teams plus a few nuggets from the ensuing discussion. After the teams refine their plans during the 3-week immersion and make a final presentation, I’ll provide a more detailed update.

  1. The Ankur Initiative: A collaborative effort between students at Duke University and IIT-Roorkee, Ankur aims to reduce water requirements and increase crop yields by selling affordable polytunnels, which are 3-4 meter high and ½ meter wide lightweight miniature greenhouses, to subsistence farmers. Their initial target for experimentation is Chhabra, a village near Dehradun.
  2. Swach: A collaborative effort between students at Cornell University and KJ Somaiya Institute of Management in Mumbai, Swach is an attempt to significantly improve the midday meal program implementation in government schools. Many of these midday meal programs are plagued by poor food quality. Due to a woefully ineffective audit process, none of the unscrupulous contractors or their practices are detected. Swach intends to provide food quality testing kits, train the teachers on its use, and create a Mobile/SMS-based infrastructure to for the test results to directly be reported to the government authorities.
  3. Sewasan: A collaboration between students from Delhi-based TERI and University of Minnesota, Sewasan plans to create a community-directed social enterprise to create and maintain toilet facilities in urban slums – supporting both a pay-per-use and a subscription fee models. Their initial target to test their model is the DEK slum in Delhi. The team has engaged with (and hopes to collaborate with) an NGO which already has the slum community’s respect. The DEK slum has a history of caste and sectarian tensions which led to scuttling of common resources in the past so the planned collaboration with the NGO is a smart move.
  4. TextRA: Another collaboration between students from Delhi-based TERI and University of Minnesota, TextRA plans to create a text-messaging infrastructure and an associated network that will provide real-time alerts to urban slum residents about the availability of tanker-supplied water and food rations. A key value proposition for the target group is saving of time. However, one of the team members remarked over lunch that they weren’t sure how much the residents valued “time savings”.
  5. Prosperity Cart: The biggest chunk of India’s fast-food industry operates out of carts, not inside restaurants. Another collaboration between students at Cornell University and Somaiya Institute of Management came up with the concept of a “prosperity cart”. A prosperity cart incorporates a modular design with a core focus on hygiene and can be customized for different food types – vada-pao, dosa, or sandwich. Gizmos like water-filtering systems and mini-refrigeration units are also being considered. The incumbent food carts range in price from Rs. 10,000 to 15,000 and the prosperity cart is estimated to be only slightly higher ( at Rs. 20,000). The food cart vendors in Mumbai average monthly revenue of Rs. 40,000 so it’s conceivable they could make the incremental investment if they saw it as a product/experience differentiator.
  6. Community Mobilization in Villages: Shehnaz, a globetrotter whose parents hail from the small village of Bharthouli Shareef in Bihar, is not an Acara Challenge student but she’s attending the Summer Institute to develop her ideas on mobilizing village communities through inter-village competitions. She’s inspired by Navadarshanam.
  7. myRAIN: This project was started as part of Acara Challenge 2010 and remains active thanks to Sri (one of last year’s students on this project) and Acara’s support. myRAIN is a social venture with an aim to help migrate Indian farmers from current flood-irrigation methods to using drip irrigation systems. The venture plans to evangelize drip irrigation kits (designs sourced from the non-profit IDEI) to local rural entrepreneurs who would ultimately sell them to subsistence farmers with an affordable lease to own program.

War Stories from Solomon Prakash

Solomon is the country head of Ashoka in India and also an Ashoka Fellow (2006). He was the guest speaker for the afternoon and shared a ton of great insights and war stories with the students. Covered in a separate post here.