Friday, October 21, 2011

End of Assignment

Today marks the end of my Corporate Services Corps assignment. We have left Coimbatore and arrived in Mumbai and some of the IBMers have even started their return trips back home.

Earlier this week we briefed our recommended solution to our client. Diana Price, a U.S. citizen who has spent the last 4 years volunteering as a trainer for Isha Vidhya’s teachers, expressed some concerns about the inability to interact in real-time with remote teachers via video-conferencing technology from our recommended solution.

Our team quickly incorporated Diana’s feedback and came back with a modified solution that would allow trainers and teachers to interact with each other via video-conferencing technology but in a limited fashion due to the limited bandwidth. Rather than having all schools connect with each other, our modified solution proposed having a few schools monitored by a trainer each time. This solution relied on network bandwidth advertised by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that provides service to the rural schools and nationwide.

Unfortunately, when this solution was presented to Diana this week, we learned from her that in reality the rural schools do not get the bandwidth that is advertised by the carrier. This was a disappointing finding. Nevertheless, our recommended solution was still not economical until Isha Vidhya opens 11 schools (currently they have 7). Our final recommendation was that Isha Vidhya delay the implementation of our recommended solution for 2 years until enough schools are opened, giving also time to the ISP to improve network bandwidth in the rural areas.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Middle of The Road

It’s been two and a half weeks already since we started our Corporate Services Corps assignment and there are so many fantastic experiences to bring back home, staring with last week's Inner Engineering Retreat at the Isha Yoga Center.

After concluding our time discovering the issues that Isha Vidhya faces, we realized that our client's objective of delivering training online in rural schools will not be practical. Because the schools are located in rural areas, many face challenges finding adequate network bandwidth, computer skills, and even reliable power. So last week, while most of my team attended an Inner Engineering Retreat at the Isha Yoga Center where we learned about meditation and the benefits associated with yoga practice, we realized how the methodology used to deliver yoga training could apply to the delivery of teacher training at Isha Vidhya in spite of the challenges faced.

After the retreat, we returned re-energized and arranged meetings with Quadra, a local IBM Business Partner, and Sri Krishna, a local college, to assess the cost of implementing a solution that addresses the needs of Isha Vidhya and that works within the financial and infrastructure constraints faced by the schools. With Quadra, we were able to receive estimates on using commercially available software to implement the solution. With Sri Krishna, there is tremendous enthusiasm from the principle and faculty of computer science and engineering to embark a group of their students on implementing the solution at no cost in return for making their students more employable by giving them real life practical experience. We will introduce both options to our client who will ultimately decide which option to pursue.

Finally, this week was also time for the IBMers to meet with press and share their respective assignment experiences. As the designated spokesperson for the Isha Vidhya team, I had the opportunity to meet with correspondents from The Hindu, The Times of India, Press Trust of India (PTI) and The Chronicle. For The Times of India story, please visit the following link.


Monday, October 3, 2011

A Colorful Week

We have just completed our first week at the Corporate Services Corps assignment and let me say it has been quite an experience. On Monday we met our client, Vinod Hari from Isha Vidhya and on Tuesday we visited the school where we met with the principle, vice-principle, administrative staff and teachers to learn more about their use of technology for training and teaching. Also, and more importantly, we met with the school children who are the inspiration to our assignment. The children received us with songs, acts and beautiful smiles.

The work environment in India is very different than that experienced in the more developed countries. The school for example has several power outages a day that last from 3 to 5 minutes, and their Internet connectivity is intermittent and slow. While the people are great, they have difficult time gathering and providing information when requested so it is imperative to stay on top of everything. The most challenging part though is on setting expectations. Culturally saying ‘no’ or setting the right expectations is uncommon. In fact, the standard answer to everything is "it will be ready in 5 minutes' or "it is just 1 kilometer away."

In addition to our work experience, we have also had our fair share of cultural immersion, eating not only the local food with their spices but also sitting on the floor and using our hand. In addition, we were given the chance to visit the Isha Ashram, one of the main sources of income for the Isha schools. The Isha Ashram is where people come for meditation and yoga retreats and we have been asked to be a part of that this week. On Sunday, we also visited an animal reservoir where we saw many wild elephants, buffaloes, monkeys, alligators, bears and deer. It is too unfortunate that we did not spot any big cats such as tigers, panthers or leopards.

I will summarize this week as an awesome one from a learning experience and cultural enrichment. This new week is starting at full steam, with additional work conducted at the school and also time to celebrate Pooja. Stay tuned for later details on our progress and experiences from this week.