Tag Archives: India

Surat, the Silk City

Our Smarter Cities Challenge: Travel to the city of Surat, India with a small team of other IBMers, work with city leaders, and in just three weeks, develop a plan to help make the city “smarter.”

Surat (pronounced, “SUE-raht”) has mills that produce vast quantities of silk, cotton and manmade fibers. It is known as the Silk City.  It is also a huge hub for the diamond market: 90% of the world’s diamonds are cut and polished here. These industries provide so many job opportunities that people have been migrating to Surat from across the country, and the city’s population has been growing exponentially.  Surat is the world’s fourth fastest growing city.

January 26 is Republic Day in India, which observes the adoption of the Indian Constitution in 1950.  Our team celebrated the holiday by driving out of town to a salt marshy area called Dandi, by the Arabian Sea.  There, in 1930, Mahatma Gandhi staged an act of civil disobedience, to protest British rule in India.  He and an ever-increasing crowd of followers marched to Dandi to challenge a British-imposed tax on salt.  A huge statue of Gandhi holding a handful of salt stands outside, near a plaque that reads: “Here on April 6, 1930 A.D. Gandhiji broke the Salt Law, picked salt and challenged the rule of the mighty British which ultimately won for our motherland freedom on August 15, 1947.”

Gandhi statue at Dandi - Surat SCC - GHZ



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by | January 27, 2016 · 1:20 pm

What’s next – staying smarter after the SCC challenge

It has been 3 months since my Indian adventure – new year, new goals and new questions – what am I going to do in 2016 to at least match 2015? Working in Allahabad was definitely once in a lifetime opportunity  – I honestly do not anticipate going back as it is not on the typical tourist or work path for IBMers or adventurous tourists. However, the experience has encouraged me to take the passion for #experteering a bit more seriously – and not as a random thing that happens even at the most supportive companies.

I tried to express this on my LinkedIn post a few weeks ago. The idea is that we can all lend our skills anywhere, anytime. Today’s Oxfam report on the huge inequality of wealth distribution really hit it home for me. There is not that much I can do to change that – but I can do something, I control something. So my resolution is to lend my skills every year – it may not be as exotic and well organized as a typical Smarter Cities challenge or a Corporate Services Corps engagement (pretty sure it won’t!). In fact, it may be more local or less corporate and consultative – but all I can hope for is that it will be rewarding and impactful. Have you browsed through the Catchafire or Moving Worlds websites? Some amazing things out there… just takes time and a bit of a risk – and off we go… who knows, maybe I will see you working in Congo on a coffee farm….probably not with Powerpoint – but see you somewhere! Get smarter and make smarter….keep me posted.

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The glow of the Ganges (and of our team)

After a full week of touring sewage and waste management plants (and interviewing government officials, rickshaws and street sweepers), we headed out to Varanasi for a tourist-only weekend. This came with a clear direction of “no laptops” which we gladly followed. Varanasi is THE Indian town that makes every single tourist book, as well as the 500 or 1,000 places to see in your lifetime – and it lives up to it. After a rocky (literally and figuratively) 3 hour drive from Allahabad, we arrived and headed for some shopping and walk around the city. After a few of sarees, pashminas, silk scarves negotiations, we were ready to board a small wooden boat on Ganges to see the river banks from the water. I am personally not very religious or spiritual (full disclosure) but there is something about this city that throws you in a very quiet state of thinking and reminiscing (after the loud engine boats stop though). As the sun was coming down, we (and other 100 boats) stopped by the Dashashwamedh Ghat and waited for the aarti to start. What’s a ghat and aarti, you may ask….

Ghat is a series of steps leading to the river Ganges – and there are many of them across Varanasi. Aarti is a prayer ritual / ceremony which translates to a Worship of fire. The ghats fill up with people, the rivers fill up with boats – and the aarti begins. Richa was able to participate from the bank which was a very unique and rare opportunity for her – the rest of us watched from the water. Even though most of us didn’t understand what was going on, it was clearly very emotional for Hindus around us and absolutely fascinating to watch. And so was the traffic on the way back 🙂

The next morning, we experienced probably the busiest 430 am wake up call in the world, as close to everyone was heading out to the banks again for the sunrise. I was a bit skeptical – is this just a hype and a credit to the Varanasi tourism bureau or will this really be spectacular? It was fantastic – the dark walk thru the markets, the boats full again, the sun coming up and shining a beautiful light on the city. Seeing it wake up to the world, watching the families and Hindu tourists take baths in Ganges and praying, kids splashing water and playing – pictures tell a better story so look below. I think most of us were a bit conflicted though. Seeing importance and emotions the river ignites in Indian people was once in a lifetime opportunity. But seeing how polluted and possibly contaminated the water is, the trash on the river bank right next to the kids swimming, the ashes from the cremated bodies thrown in (and hearing about the dead bodies being thrown in as they can’t be cremated) – it is hard to reconcile.  Enjoy the pictures…

We finished our trip with a visit to Sarnath, the place where Buddha gave his first sermon. Despite the brutal heat and humidity (the team decided to just call it a glow b/c you turn very shiny very quickly), we really enjoyed the brief history of the jainism and buddhism – and there are hundreds of stories, names, gods and traditions – so definitely a big to-do for some of us to “get a comparative religion book in local library” – you have to – once you visit these sites with so much history, tradition and spirit.

I almost forgot to mention that we met with the #ibmcsc team India 28 which is based in Varanasi for the next month. It was great to catch up, hear about their projects and for me personally to remember my fantastic IBM CSC experience – go team (picture coming later)!

And the glow? The river glows for sure – but everyone of us had a bit of a glow too – not just from the 40C degree temperatures, high humidity and the mix of repellent/hand sanitizers – but from being in a place of such a significant history, tradition and spirit.


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IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Allahabad Team Effort Underway

2015 Smarter Cities Challenge 059

When asked why I chose to participate on the IBM Team addressing the challenges Allahabad faces as it embarks on a journey to evolve into a Smarter City, I expressed the honor I felt in being able to contribute to the city that my grandfather and father called home. I, too had spent 3 years of my childhood in Allahabad and felt a strong bond with the city. I wanted Allahabad to become smarter, yet retain its unique cultural heritage and identity as a place of pilgrimage for Hindus around the globe. These sentiments immediately resonated with the City’s Mayor who responded saying “Exactly! We want Allahabad to evolve its infrastructure and become a pleasant and inviting town with revitalized industrial growth but not lose its cultural identity as a home to the “Kumbh Mela.” Allahabad should remain as Allahabad, but just get smarter!”

City Authorities stressed the importance of solid waste management as a foundational issue in Allahabad’s Smarter City Planning Process and thanked IBM for investing in an overall assessment of the city’s challenges in this area.

Following the official kickoff, the team visited the banks of the Yamuna and Ganga rivers that are home for people coming to Allahabad during the annual Magh Mela and the famous Kumbh Mela (held every 12 years).

The IBM SCC team for Allahabad on the banks of the river Yamuna.

The IBM SCC team for Allahabad on the banks of the river Yamuna.

On Day 2, the team visited Sewage Treatment plants and learned about the current and planned initiative addressing waste water treatment.

The Sewage Treatment Plant at Naini

The Sewage Treatment Plant at Naini

IBM's Smarter City team at the Naini Sewage Treatment Plant

IBM’s Smarter City team at the Naini Sewage Treatment Plant

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Chennai, India – Day 16-21 – It’s a wrap!

The last five days of our time in Chennai was spent in the full development of our recommendation for the city.  With such diverse talent on our team we had a lot of different perspectives to weave into the recommendations that would bring richness and value to the implementation of our vision.  The recommendation came together nicely in the form of a presentation and written report. We were scheduled to present our recommendation to the Commissioner and his leadership team on Thursday (Day 20).

In preparation for our meeting with the CoC, we went through rehearsals of our presentation with each other and then by phone with our global team. It’s very helpful having some IBMers listen to our presentation who have not been as involved as we were to listen for use of acronyms, redundancy, and gaps as we were just too close to the material at that point.  Our rehearsals went well so we all felt good leaving Wednesday evening.  The morning of our presentation to the city we gathered to tighten up our report and make final preparations.  We had some fun having our pictures taken by a professional photographer.  Those of us with long hair struggled to tame the humidity frizz  but thanks to Jaya we had a flat iron and make up support.  The photographer accompanied us to the Corporation of Chennai offices to take pictures with the Commissioner and his staff.

The presentation was lively.  Magesh to the lead as the host, I followed to present the research, findings and vision and then Barbara presented recommendations surrounding policy, Mats presented process recommendations and Ravi presented systems recommendations.  The Commissioner was extremely engaged in the discussion asking for clarification on some points and validating others.  Our presentation was scheduled for one hour and we were so engaged we continued talking for another 30 minutes. Magesh wrapped up the presentation by taking the Commissioner and his team our vision for their roadmap and follow up actions. (When we receive the official photos I will post them as an update)

That evening we returned to the hotel to our ‘evening office’ to debrief and talk through what we would be doing our final day and get ready for our evening.  Magesh had invited us all to his home for dinner.  We loaded into cabs and after a two hour taxi ride to get 30 minutes away, we arrived just in time for the Germany/USA match.  We enjoyed a wonderful variety of south indian dishes prepared by Magesh wife and family.

On Friday, we spent most of the morning polishing up our report.  We decided mid-day to take a break for a nice lunch and head out for our last south indian meal together.  After lunch the team split up to take care of different actions. Barbara and I headed out to purchase a gift for our hostess, while the rest of the team headed back to the hotel.

Barbara and I headed to a state cultural crafts bizarre and were overwhelmed with the variety of local wares at the shop.  When we told one of the women what we were doing she recommended we go to the plaza next door to buy a Sari.  That shop was even more overwhelming than the first.  There was every imaginable color and print to consider.  We were given a Sari wrapping lesson – on Barbara!  After considering our options we decided we would never be able to pick something so we thanked the shop keepers and headed back in the direction of our hotel.  Yes and it was time for one last auto rickshaw ride.  Wahoo! Hold on!  We had a young driver who thought it would be fun to entertain us with his driving.  The team had earlier recommended a nice hand bag, so we headed to the leather shop and picked out a unique bag to present.

ImageThat evening we met in our ‘evening office’ to wrap up our 3 weeks and say good-bye.  It was a time of conflicting feelings – sad to be saying goodbye to the team, but thrilled to be going home to family and friends.  I personally learned a lot about the City of Chennai, South Indian Culture (mostly food), India’s government processes and tax policies, a bit about Sweden, a little about badminton and cricket, but mostly I learned to how to bend better and not just in yoga.  Thanks to the Smarter Cities Challenge team for this great opportunity to learn, to give, and to contribute what I could toward expanding on their vision to become a premier smarter city.

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Chennai, India – Day 11-15 – Where did the time go?

calendar_june_2014There’s been an obvious gap in my blogging about our project here in Chennai as we moved deep into forming our recommendations and determining how to best assemble them to address the city’s challenge to identify revenue opportunities.  In summary here is what we have been doing for the last 5 days:

Thursday – Day 11 – We started putting pen to paper to move from synthesis to developing our recommendations.  It was eerily quiet in our work room for much of the day as we drafted the recommendations.  There was the intermittent ‘aha’ or ‘uh oh’ to break the silence but really it was quite a focused day of work.  As part of the Smarter Cities Challenge each participant is offered the opportunity to mentor a local IBMer.  Barbara and I had our mentor meetings today.  I hope they enjoyed the time with us as much as we did with them.  It’s always interesting to hear about others’ accomplishments and career aspirations as they inspire us to consider the possibilities.

Thursday evening was a bit of a bummer for me.  I was running on the treadmill and took a wrong step and injured my achilles so its ‘limp along cassidy’ for a few days.

Friday – Day 12 – Mats and I started the day with yoga. I did my best to get through it we a bad achilles but it was tough and I had to do a lot of ‘cheating’ to get through class.  We worked in teams – team 1 worked on drafting our slides for the CoC presentation. and team 2 worked on refining our recommendation paper.  Mid morning, Shobha, Jaya and I returned to the CoC to meet with the Public Relations Officer to better understand the scope of the city’s communications efforts. We stopped for lunch before heading back to join the team to continue developing our recommendations.  Both Mats and Ravi had their mentoring sessions with local IBMers today as well.  As it turned out, Friday was a long day with the team here in Chennai and then followed by catching up with the team at ‘home;.  It’s funny for me to say that when the team I am on is in the US, India, Canada and the UK.  While the day was long it served to help me appreciate how many different and really interesting things we have going on around IBM and how the teams can work seemlessly around the globe.  Not many organizations can be this fluid, with this level of expertise, and focus to address our client’s and business partners’ needs.

Saturday – Day 13 – The team took the early morning ‘off’ to rest, run, shop, or other activities to help sooth the soul. I personally slept late and with a bum ankle didn’t wander away from the hotel.  We assembled late morning to checkpoint on our individual progress and then went to lunch together at local southern Indian eatery.  Ravi was feeling a bit under the weather so we decided we would go back to working individually for some time.  We later gathered to join Magesh, who had invited us to his social club for dinner.  We had rain that evening so while we couldn’t take advantage of the movie on the lawn, we did get quite a kick out of the rest of the facilities.  We enjoyed the music, football, food and drinks for some time before returning to the hotel.

Sunday – Day 14 – We decided we had made enough progress to take the full morning off.  Barbara, Mats and I decided this was likely going to be the best time for us to get some shopping done so we grabbed a car to the local mall.  Like malls in the United States on a Sunday, it was bustling with shoppers.  After contributing to the Chennai economy, we enjoyed lunch at one of the southern Indian kitchens in the food court.  Barbara and I had to make another stop after lunch, so Mats headed out ahead of us.  Barbara and I decided that we would do as the locals do and take an autorickshaw back to the hotel.  We negotiated the fare and thought we did pretty well, only to realize that we really had not and were paying double what Mats negotiated.  Mats had been out before and knew the relative distance and was very wise to negotiate after the ride versus our approach of negotiating in the beginning.  Now that we know the secret to the negotiations, we can get anywhere.  When we returned to the hotel, we gathered as a team and spent the next few hours working on our presentation.  Since we worked late we skipped going out and headed up to the lounge for drinks and snacks.  Now that we have been here 15 days, the staff knows exactly what each of us drinks, who is vegetarian and who is not, and how many drinks we will drink.  I am not sure if this is a good thing, or a bad thing.

Today – Day 15 – it’s back to the work schedule today.  Mats and I were to be joined for yoga this morning by our colleagues but something apparently happened to their wake up calls because Mats and I were there without back up at 6:30am.  Today we traveled back to the CoC headquarters to meet the commissioner and prepare for Thursday’s recommendation.  After a brief stop for lunch, we returned to the hotel. Our focus today was to refine our presentation in order to move to our report writing.  While we were finishing up, Barbara, Magesh, Shobha and Jaya returned to the CoC to review our recommendations with the Deputy Commissioner.  We will review their feedback in the morning.  It’s hard to believe we have just 5 more days in Chennai.  We have a lot more to do before the end of the week.

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Chennai, India – Day 10 – Check, then check again

ImageToday we headed back to the Corporation of Chennai headquarters for meetings with the finance team to better understand the city’s budget.  We had enough time to today to get a complete tour of the building and surrounding grounds.  It was fascinating to see all the modifications that had been made to the building since 1913 in an attempt to bring it into the current era (of whatever time period the renovation was done).  The building has clearly reached it’s limits.  We also had not previously seen that right behind the Ripon Building the city has built a modern facility in which employees will start moving into over the next few months.  As I understand it, the Ripon building will continue it’s renovations and be preserved by the heritage society.  Some interesting sights from today’s tour:

Professional Tax Processing team Image

Property Tax Poster (1 of 10 Banks processing property tax payments for the city) Image

Magesh heading into the Vault Image

The birth/death records archives ImageImage

After our meetings we headed to a traditional southern Indian lunch at a popular nearby restaurant.  Mats is starting to really enjoy the thali


We ended our day today by summarizing and categorizing our collective findings.  Tomorrow we start to assemble the recommendations.

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by | June 18, 2014 · 1:59 pm