The Drive for Education is the Real Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

November 11, 2009

in india

I’ve just recently (before eComm) returned from a month in India with the Mosoci team completing multiple projects, with people from all walks of life. One way or another I’ve completed almost 100 immersions and in-depth interviews or read the transcriptions thereof. I’ve met people from all walks of life, rural, city migrants, entrepreneurs, managers and more.

I’ve looked at everything from beauty products and health care to high and low tech products. I’m humbled by what I learned, what I still feel and awed by the energy that is creating India’s future. It’s not until you get to understand the real motivations of a society and see it in a total context that you can begin to have some affinity for it.

I have heard stories from farmers who have left their homes in their 40’s making their way to a city with a grown family. I’ve seen entrepreneurs (small one or maybe a few person businesses) coping with the poverty line. I’ve talked to students and parents whose focus on education I can really identify with although many have lost the same focus in the US.

In fact that may be the real “base” learning for me. When you have nothing, and I’m talking about families that may live on $100 – $150 per month, may well live in a joint family situation or simply have a 1bhk or one room and small kitchen and if lucky access to their own bathroom. You will hear things like… our last major purchase was a TV six years ago. These days there probably is an old TV around although it may well sit on the floor or some rickety shelf.

So if you are on the breadline what do you want? You probably want enough money to get through tomorrow, even better if you can see to next week. Money is almost everything. However your family is more and most of the poverty line breadwinners I’ve seen put them before self and often live their futures through their children’s dreams.

This is where I came away thinking about the huge divide and the motivational differences between the Indian family described above and my perceptions of the families I generally meet in my neighborhood.

Kids seem to always follow me everywhere, and always want me to take a picture of me with them. Look carefully you will see why I didn’t want to shake this lad’s hand.

In India, education for the child comes first. For years I’ve seen the pressure on learning English and getting into an English-medium school. This has not abated and in fact may well be becoming more influential (saw data in Indian papers that suggests this was true). I see parents seeing the only way they can move their family from small steps to progress to a “leap” is through their children. Equally I’ve seen kids who plan to rescue their families and help them with their security once they land the “leapfrog” job. By “leapfrog” I mean a role that is outside the educational or professional background of the family. Usually  this involves tech, computers etc. The kids will not cut free or forget their families when they succeed. The generational bond remains strong.

Add in to the mix the increasing proliferation of TV in India. You have a powerful mix. Increasingly high aspirations and knowing that education is the most likely road to success. We take this now too much for granted in the Western world. While I’m firmly in the camp of lifetime learning and creating opportunities where one can grow, many of those I met don’t have that luxury or even access. If you work 12+ hours a day at completing tasks where’s the time or the opportunity?

This group on the edge of the poverty line have a huge incentive to get ahead, to learn and adapt. And their Education represents the real fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. If not for dollars, certainly in terms of social and economic capital. The combination of mobility, broadband, internet, and social tools is still to be realized amongst this group and yet in my eyes offers a real opportunity to accelerate (network multiplier) the learning transformation already underway.

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