Immersion Programme: Catherine’s first week in Hyderabad, India

Written by arts industry fundraiser Catherine Sykes, currently on residential in Hyderabad on our Immersion Programme where she has been matched with social entrepreneur Abdul.

fullsizerender-1Hanging out in Hyderabad with her fellow Consultants

One week into the client work for _SocialStarters in Hyderabad and I am finding myself pleasantly challenged outside of my comfort zone as I advise my new friend (and client) Abdul on how to progress his company Allika through fundraising and marketing. 

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_SocialStarters’ current cohort of volunteer Social Impact Consultants during their training week

Abdul set up the company two and a half years ago, spotting a niche in the market for handicrafts woven from water hyacinth.

Water hyacinth is a devastating weed which causes a host of problems, acting as a block on the surface of the water to obstruct oxygen and sunlight.  It’s also a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other pests which can be deadly.

This craft is not practiced in southern India, so Abdul spied an opportunity to bring the skills down from the North to teach women in his grandparent’s village.  At the moment 30 women are employed, with the hope of growing the business to teach many more women the skill so that they can be empowered to earn their own money. Therefore Allika’s benefits are multi-pronged, increasing education, life skills and female empowerment as well as protecting the environment.

Abdul is proving to be a very relaxed and affable client and it is a pleasure gaining knowledge from him on how he came to create Allika.  What he needs now is funding and investors to aid the growth of the business, and I hope my background in Corporate Sponsorship will assist Abdul in moving towards this goal. It will be a new experience for me, as sponsorship in India is not as I know it back in England, but far more CSR based, as all larger companies are obliged by law to invest 2% of their earnings into good causes. India is the first country in the world to enforce this rule and I am keen to work with Abdul to discover more about how the process works over the coming weeks.

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The Charminar, an iconic monument in Hyderabad

Living in Hyderabad over the last two and a half weeks has also been rich in new experiences.  My first impression has been that it is not exactly a city set up for foreigners. The streets are chaotic, choked with traffic and exhaust fumes, dotted with potholes and lacking pavements to walk on. I’ve also had more trouble than most, experiencing a irreparably broken laptop, a 3 hour Uber journey-to-nowhere, and falling victim to the extremely thorough administration systems of the mobile network companies as I tried to obtain an Indian SIM Card.

“However I was looking for a cultural adventure and that is certainly what I am getting here!  I have been surprised to discover that Hyderabad is a Mecca for food.”

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I have tasted some of the most incredible flavours and spices- not only Indian food but Lebanese, Chinese, Italian and even the odd delicious steak! I never knew there were so many different types of bread; last night I had the pleasure to taste Afghani bread which encases tiny morsels of what I assumed was dried fruit.  It also appears that people in Hyderabad are fond of ice cream, which makes me think I am going to get along here just fine. To counter this, my visits to an Indian gym have also been enlightening- girls are asked to respectfully cover shoulders as they work out which made things blisteringly hot to say the least!

The city may not be built for tourists, but it is no less colourful, with elaborate saris worn on the roads, bright lights and decorated banners, as well as the odd Holy Cow draped with embellished fabrics.

We are entering into the nine-day Hindu Festival of Navrati dedicated to the Goddess Durga.  Already I can sense more incense in the air as people gather to worship statues of the Goddess decorated with colourful paints, garlands and glitter.

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Catherine in Hyderabad’s market square

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One of the many ways things get transported around the city…

Next stop – I hope to visit Abdul’s village located six hours outside the city so that I can see the weaving first hand.

Life in Hyderabad continues to amaze!

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