February 14, 2020

The wisdom of masala chai: Lessons from India

Ivy and her fellow students in India
Ivy Nguyen (pictured above, front right) is studying a Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Media with UNSW and recently completed CSI’s COMM3030 Social Entrepreneurship Practicum – India.

During her time in India, Ivy and her team had the opportunity to consult with Pragati Farm Store - a social enterprise providing affordable farming equipment and advisory services to more than 40,000 farmers across India.

Ivy shares her experience...

The first time I drank masala chai, I remember how strange I thought it was. Sandeep, our course facilitator, said to me: “How about you add some sugar, the tea will make sense”.

More than just making sense, I grew very fond of masala chai throughout the three weeks I was in India.

In an unwittingly similar way, India grew fonder within me the more I spent time with it. Embracing all the bittersweet experiences, I treasure my time there and the lessons I left with.

Lesson #1: The art of saying no

I often find it hard to say no as I have a strong belief in maintaining harmony. Nonetheless, the fast-paced start up environment in India made me realise that saying no doesn’t equate to being lazy or lacking - it is about prioritising what is most important.

Had we nodded along with all of Pragati’s ideas and compromised the quality of the solution, they might have been disappointed in the end result. However, by putting a completed and practical solution at the forefront of our focus, we were able to deliver a successful project that satisfied the Pragati team.

India practicum students with the team from PragatiLesson #2: Commitment

At the beginning of the trip I was sceptical of the concept of social enterprises. Nonetheless, our fieldwork experience gave me insights into the vicious cycle of poverty that Indian farmers endure. The experience enhanced my critical thinking and it encouraged me to look at the bigger picture that is the Pragati Farm Store mission.

As our mentor told us: “The moment a business chooses to commit to serving a disadvantaged group, that justifies their integrity”.

Lesson #3: Don’t judge a book by its cover

I was able to re-evaluate my character judgement and grew more open minded throughout the trip.

Within a close-knit group, I learned to appreciate people’s positive traits while also acknowledging and accepting their differences in both personal and professional settings.

Lesson #4: The way of paradoxes is the way of truth

India is a land of extremities, which has forced me to reconsider my own privilege.

In 2019 India ranked 112th in gender equality globally according to the World Economic Forum.

During the trip, I observed how this gender disparity played out in different aspects of life, and across all ages. In comparison, I found myself unwittingly sitting on the privileged side of the spectrum as a well-educated young woman, despite my upbringing in Vietnam.

Reflecting on how terrified and confronted I was at Dharavi - the third-largest slum in the world, I came to face my own paradox. The truth is not meant to be beautiful, and India allowed me to see the push and pull of power and privilege in all its forms.

India practicum students at the Taj MahalLike my first masala chai, my experience in India was initially one full of perplexity. But as with adding a sugar sachet, combining friendship, compassion and resilience into the mix made all the difference and I had an unforgettable experience.

I am forever thankful for the opportunity to discover India with an amazing group of people I am now lucky to call my friends and mentors.


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