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  • Writer's pictureJo Langhorne

Lessons from India - Enterprise

Lessons from India – Enterprise

As a woman who has always been involved in business, I could not help be mesmerized and impressed by the sense of enterprise in India.  In a country where the rich are rich and the poor are so very poor, there is a pulsing sense of enterprise that sweeps across this country.  Business, and the ability to make yourself an income doing just about anything, seeps through this amazing place.  In a country where you could slip through the cracks very easily, I was so impressed by the tenacity, ingenuity and ability to turn anything into a business by those who are able and willing to do so.

From market sellers, rickshaw drivers, shop keepers and chai wala's, there is a market for everything and the cities are abuzz with consumers and providers.  I’m sure there are malls and supermarkets everywhere, but what I noticed in the areas I visited were small shops, all very similar, selling small amounts of produce or wares.  Everyone seemed to have an opportunity even if their neighbour was selling the same product, because given the sheer size of the place and number of people there seems to be a customer for everyone.

The willingness to say YES, struck me and is maybe because of the vast nature of supply and demand.  When the shopkeepers see an opportunity, they don’t let it go nor do they let you go.  Now this can be annoying at times but you must admire their willingness to get the sale and go after it any way they know how.  Whilst visiting a jewellery shop in Old Delhi, several of us purchased a couple of rings.  One of the ladies commented that the ring was a little small for her,

“but no problem Madam, we can resize it now.”

Not leave it with me and come back tomorrow, we will do it now!  That ability to seize opportunity and respond to it straight away is a quality I have to admire and respect.

As we shopped in Jaipur one afternoon and purchased several scarves we didn’t need from a 5ft young man, in a bright pink shirt, dripping in gold necklaces, bracelets and rings, his tenacity and enterprising spirit was never more prevalent.   Even after we bought from him, he followed us along the street asking us to come to his other stores. Every time I turned around he was there.  I mean really, how many stores did he have, or did he just have an arrangement with each business, whereby he got commission from everyone he sold to regardless of whether it was his shop or not.  Whatever the arrangement he was onto something and he wasn’t letting it go.  Usually this kind of behaviour really bothers me and I don’t like being hassled by hawkers but for some reason in India, I can’t help admire their spirit and their sales skills.

Or perhaps it is because you do see so many beggars in India that when you see someone having a go and trying to sell something to get by, you realise how hard people work to avoid that choice.  Is that the best example of the enterprising spirit or is that my western naivety that fails to recognise that some people do not have a choice?   

As we left a local tourist site in Jaipur a young man approached us.  He was disabled and pulled himself around on a large pole.  On first glance I thought he was approaching us to beg for food or money.  However, he approached our guide whom he knew.  Umesh explained to us that this man could choose to beg because of his disability but he didn’t, he chose to sell postcards of Jaipur and our guide supported him whenever he came into Jaipur by giving him the opportunity to sell to us as we got onto the bus.  This is the kind of enterprise and tenacity I will always support.

As we left another location halfway between Agra and Jaipur, a young boy of about 13, invited by our guide, came onto our bus.  Again, Umesh had got to know this boy over the years, who made his living by performing magic tricks.  For a small fee, he treated us to a magic show on the floor, at the front of our bus.  With the bus doors closed, he had the beaming attention of 10 women who thought this kid was made of tough stuff. Where was his family, did he even have a family?  As he performed his magic, which was great, again I was faced with the enterprising spirit of India.  The 13-year old’s I know may have jobs, or maybe a little too young yet, but this young man has already learnt a craft at a young age and can make some money for himself and maybe even his family for the rest of his life.  I would hope he was also in school but that is not my place to judge, but I can admire his ability to be self- sufficient.

I’m quite aware that these jobs don’t pay the big bucks.  I mean the man selling postcards probably only made enough from me to buy the tomatoes and onions for his evening meal, but with that kind of attitude, and the willingness to get in there and fight for the business I can see why India has a pulse.  Again, I know there are many systems in place which keep the poor poor and the rich rich, but I’m optimistic for those who wake up every day and can smell the sale and take the opportunity. 

It reminds me of those who move to Australia and start up local businesses that trade 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Is this a work ethic they bring from their place of origin, or something they have had to adopt to build a business in Australia?  I can think of two businesses in my local area in Melbourne that work these hours and run their businesses with tenacity, hard work and a customer focus.  Both are run by families who have migrated to Australia and they are there every day with a smile, ready and willing to open their doors to their customers.    They have that willingness to say YES, and their enterprising spirit is a lesson for all of us in a service based industry.

I'm inspired by the spirit of enterprise.



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