Month: September 2005

Selflessly Yours

Selflessly Yours

Every once in a while we hear of an individual who we would all like to emulate. Meet 63-year-old Thaneite C R Upendra Rao, fondly known as "Shri Balgopal", who did the city proud when he was chosen to receive the Rajiv Gandhi Shiromani Award in New Delhi last month. The Award is conferred on select Indian citizens in recognition of their outstanding contributions and achievements in the field of industry, business, public life, administration, social, educational and cultural services. Balgopal was bestowed the award by His Excellency R L Bhatia, the governor of Kerala for his contributions in the spheres of education, social service and culture.

On his return the city, Balgopal was felicitated at a function organised by the Sri Ma Group of Institutions at its Vidyanagari premises at Patlipada, Thane in the presence of several dignitaries, including Chief Guest, V Ranganathan who is the former Chief Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra, and Guests of Honour, S K Agrawal, (Executive Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.) and Milind Ballal (Editor, Thane Vaibhav).

His Excellency R L Bhatia (Governor of Kerala) presenting the Rajiv Gandhi Shiromani Award (2005) to Sri Balgopal

In spite of donning several hats (he is an educator, writer, editor, social worker, Gandhian, speaker, scholar, and lots more), Balgopal remains humble, as was demonstrated in his thanksgiving speech at the felicitation ceremony, where he started thus, "I surrender this Rajiv Gandhi Shiromani award at the lotus feet of divine mother [Sri Tara Ma] and Swami Omkarananda. This award is not mine alone, but in fact is shared by many like Dilip Deherkar, R Nirmal Jyoti, Ramesh Joshi, Manju Tejwani and Rajan for taking the initiative in sending my profile and Sanjay Bhoir for designing it." After this, he went on to thank a lot of people for having helped him help others, including staff, students, parents and members of the various departments that he is associated with. He also expressed his gratitude, among others, to doctors for all the free medical camps, donors and volunteers involved in relief and rehabilitation work, relief commissioners, collectors of respective districts, local leaders and social activists. Later, while speaking about Balgopal, Swami Omkarananda praised his renunciation of material pleasures in favour of an altruistic life. "You have set an ideal for generations to follow," he concluded.

It was 35 years ago, at a ripe age of 27, that Balgopal renounced the material life and sought refuge under Sri Tara Ma, founder of the Sri Ma Trust, expressing his desire to serve the world selflessly. He started as a correspondent at the Sri Ma Bal Niketan High School housed in a small apartment in Thane, and worked his way through to become an integral part of the Sri Ma Trust, which owes its growth in large part to Balgopal’s contributions. During the last three-and-a-half-decades, Balgopal’s social service activities have provided a different dimension to the Trust’s service activities. In times of calamities, Balgopal’s urge to serve becomes even stronger. Whether it is the floods of Jambulpada and Nagothane, the Mumbai riots, the Orissa Super Cyclone, the Gujarat Earthquake, the Tsunami or the recent flooding in  Mumbai, he has galvanised the Trust’s resources for relief and rehabilitation work.

Balgopal’s contributions to society, his role in spreading the good work, indeed his entire life, has set a high precedent, inspiring many to recognise that true contentment lies in serving others. If even a few follow his footsteps, society will owe a lot to him.

When in Rome…

When in Rome…

When developing nations like India began to open up their economies to foreign direct investments, many economists argued that rich multinationals will swamp these markets and liberalisation will sound the death knell of local brands. More than a decade later, nothing of the sort has happened. In fact several large companies have failed to make a major dent in the Indian market, leave alone acquire leadership positions. Many who entered with a mindset of “might is right” had to alter their strategies dramatically. Clearly, even as globalisation is the favourite buzzword of economists and politicians alike, business managers and marketers around the world have discovered, often painstakingly, that the world is far from being one homogeneous market.

When in India, do as the Indians do…
Centuries ago, in 387 AD, when St Augustine arrived in Milan he observed that unlike the Church at Rome, the Milan Church did not fast on Saturday. He consulted St Ambrose, bishop of Milan, who replied: “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are.”1 Eventually this comment metamorphosed into “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. The bishop’s words have since then become an oft-quoted piece of advice. And the advice is perhaps most relevant to marketing professionals of the 21st century.

Product managers from MNCs will do well to commit this adage to memory, especially if you market your products to a heterogeneous country like India. For some time now, India’s appeal as a market has increased manifold. And why not? The Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts an average of 6.9 per cent real GDP growth for India from 2003 to 2008. Combine this with a GDP growth that is more than double that of the United States and the United Kingdom during the past decade and you know why India is one of the world’s most promising and fastest-growing economies, and why multinational companies are eagerly investing here. Yet the performance of these multinationals has been not been consistent. While some of them have managed to decode the Indian Consumer Code, many others have failed to create a dent in the market, leave alone significant market shares – and this despite the huge investments of time and capital.

Experts concur that one of the primary reasons these companies have failed to take off in India, in spite of being successful in other nations, is because they did not localise their product offering.

Merely bringing a tried and tested product from another country need not succeed in a country like India, which has its own idiosyncrasies. Any strategy must be rooted in a detailed understanding of the customer and market conditions. Companies that have resisted the lure of replicating their global product offerings, and have instead spent time and energy understanding the Indian market, are the ones that have managed to make their mark. India’s purchasing power lies in the middle and lower income groups and a company that ignores these high-volume segments may have to sacrifice significant revenues and profits. Targeting these segments requires that the company understands the buying psychology of the typical price-conscious Indian consumer.

A new country, especially a diverse one like India, should not be treated as merely a new market where you extend your existing business and marketing models. It should be taken as seriously as launching a new business, with an exhaustive business and marketing plan. The management of an MNC will do well to keep in mind the following considerations while developing their marketing mix for India:

1. Product
Just because your product offering has been successful elsewhere it does not mean that it will be lapped up by people from another country, who believe in a different set of values, hail from different cultures and have their own tastes and preferences. Real Value vacuumisers, launched in the mid-1990s, bombed despite the product being very effective in what it claimed to do. What Real Value failed to consider was that Indians like their food freshly made and will never be comfortable with the idea of storing food in containers. Yet there are companies like MTV India, Nokia and McDonald’s that understood the local preferences of their Indian consumers and modified their offerings accordingly.

The Taste of India
Local flavour Nestle, the global food major, realised that it is hard to neglect the ethnic Indian food market. According to KSA Technopak, this market is estimated to be to the tune of Rs 6,50,000 crore in India. After finding success in the packaged curd segment, Nestle India is now in the process of test marketing ‘Lassi’ in Maharashtra thereby competing with players like Amul and Britannia. The ethnic Indian food market includes dairy products, ethnic snack foods and staples. Nestle India has also joined hands with South based retail major Nilgiris to co-brand a whole range of dairy products like dahi, paneer, ghee and milk.
Source: Do Indians Make the White Elephants Dance! By AGV Narayan

2. Advertising and Promotions
According to one study, customers are four times more likely to make a purchase when they are addressed in their native language. Localising an advertising or marketing message is crucial to the success of the brand. Just like while finalising their product offering, a marketer must understand the deep-rooted values and its culture to ensure that their communication does not offend their sensibilities. Coca Cola and Pepsi realised this early and Indianised their advertising by roping in Indian cricketing and film celebrities, which the Indian audiences relate to easily. When Kellogg’s launched in India, they tried to position themselves as lighter, and therefore, better than parathas. It backfired, because parathas are a habit with Indians, a part of their lifestyle. Kellogg’s learnt the hard way that it can be an interesting addition to the breakfast options in India, but can never replace parathas and idlis.

3. Pricing Strategy
There’s no denying the fact that Indians are a price-sensitive, value-conscious lot. Brands that have failed to take this into account have faced problems. On the other hand, companies who have responded to the price-sensitivity of the Indian market have done well. (See Box Kellogg v/s Paratha and Idli).

Kellogg v/s Paratha and Idli

The case of Kellogg, the US cereal giant, demonstrates that it is not only local competitors who can sense the need for mass marketing and deliver it. Kellogg, lured by the prospect of a billion breakfast eaters, ventured into India in the mid-1990s. Like many of its counterparts, Kellogg’s market entry strategy proved unsuccessful and, after three years in the market, sales stood at an unimpressive $10 million. Indian consumers were not sold on breakfast cereals. Most consumers either prepared breakfast from scratch every morning or grabbed some biscuits with tea at a roadside tea stall. Advertising positions common in the west, such as the convenience of breakfast cereal, did not resonate with the mass market. Segments of the market that did find the convenience positioning appealing were unable to afford the international prices of Kellogg’s brands. Disappointing results led the company to reexamine its approach. Eventually, Kellogg realigned its marketing to suit local market conditions: the company introduced a range of breakfast biscuits under the Chocos brand name. Priced at Rs 5 for a 50-gram pack (and with extensive distribution coverage that includes roadside tea stalls), they are targeted at the mass market and are expected to generate large sale volumes.
Source: Strategies for Entering and Developing International Markets by David Arnold

Almost every successful MNC worth its salt has altered its pricing strategy in India. McDonald’s current campaign in India promoting their “Happy Price Menu” shows how critical pricing is to successful operations in this country. Sony Corporation, known to believe in premium pricing, has launched its low price, feature stripped variants in the highly competitive consumer electronics industry. Ford’s Ikon is positioning itself as a sedan available at the price of a small car.

4. Distribution
As stated earlier, India’s markets revolve around the middle and low-income segments. These segments reside largely in small towns and villages spread across the length and breath of our country. Geographically, India is not only diverse, but it is also the seventh largest in terms of sheer size. By 2007, middle and high-income households in rural India are expected to grow from 80 million to 111 million, while in urban India they are expected to grow from 46 million to 59 million. Therefore, the absolute size of markets in rural India is expected to be double that of urban India. Moreover, different regions in India are as good as different markets, each with its own peculiarities. MNCs often find it extremely difficult to manage this diversity.

HLL: Here, There, Everywhere

HLL’s key strength in a vast country such as ours has been its unmatched distribution reach through a stockist network of 7,000 and a retail reach of over 1mn outlets. It is the only company, which distributes its products to more than 50,000 villages. Innovative programmes like Project Bharat have been undertaken which aim to make available to every consumer in the remotest corner of the country, products that meet his day-to-day requirements. HLL’s management is known for its marketing savvy. It has over the years studied and understood the Indian markets as no other MNC player has. It has adapted its products to suit the Indian tastes. A lot of wars have been played and won on the price front, acknowledging that the Indian consumer is extremely price sensitive. The financial strength to cross subsidise new initiatives with existing profitable businesses has enabled the company to achieve its zeal of being the dominating player in all markets that it enters into.

FMCG MNCs such as Colgate-Palmolive and Hindustan Lever Ltd have always known the importance of rural and semi urban markets in India and have strong distribution networks. Their success in India can be largely attributed to their widespread distribution networks.

Conclusion: Building global brands in local markets

So how does one go about building a global brand with so many local considerations? Marieke de Mooij, president of Cross Cultural Communications Company and author of Consumer Behavior and Culture: Consequences for Global Marketing and Advertising answers, “A global brand is one which shares the same strategic principles, positioning and marketing in every market throughout the world, although the marketing mix may vary. It carries the same name and logo. Its values are identical in all countries, and it has a substantial market share in all countries and a comparable brand loyalty.” Sony stands for technological edge and quality across the globe, though in India it fixed its price to suit the Indian market. Kellogg has changed its advertising positioning in India to focus on health instead of convenience. Coke’s Thanda Matlab Coca Cola is a unique positioning only for India. MNCs have so far been humming the “Think Global, Act Local” mantra. Perhaps its time for them to memorise a new mantra, “Think Local, Act Global.”

2. The Right Passage to India by Kuldeep P. Jain, Nigel A. S. Manson, and Shirish Sankhe, The McKinsey Quarterly, Web exclusive, February 2005
3. Strategies for Entering and Developing International Markets by David Arnold, Published by Financial Times Prentice Hall

Now Showing: God and His Creation

Now Showing: God and His Creation

Pitale family from Thane is one of the few who celebrate Lord Ganesha’s birthday by spreading a socially relevant message. After winning the award for the best eco-friendly Ganpati decoration for two consecutive years, Jidnyasa’s managing trustee Surendra Dighe requested them to create a “role model” decoration this year for the rest to follow. And Pitale’s gladly obliged.  

Visit their home at Shruti Park in Kolshet, where Lord Ganesha sits in his comfortable abode – a mini-theatre, complete with sound effects, lighting and an LCD projector. As devotees enter this room, they are treated to a 10-minute show, made of stories that leave them in deep contemplation. The narration is in Marathi or English, depending on the visitors.

Lord Ganesha and His Creation

The show begins with a voiceover narrating a story that beautifully illustrates how people follow rituals blindly without understanding the basis. A Brahmin is on his way to perform his morning prayers. Because in Hinduism it is customary to bathe before a prayer, the Brahmin decides to take a dip in the river. Before the dip, he creates a shivling next to his belongings so that when he comes back, he would be able to identify his stuff from others. While he’s doing so, he is unaware that a young Brahmin is observing him. When he goes into the river, the young Brahmin concludes that creating a shivling is ritual before dipping in the river. So he too creates a shivling, keeps his stuff next to it and goes bathing. Soon the entire bank of the river is adorned with Shivlings. When the Brahmin returns he is shocked as he can’t identify his belongings anymore – all because of a blind ritual!

The next story is about a farmer in the olden days, who reaps a good harvest and is grateful to Mother Nature. To express his gratitude he takes some soil from the fertile land and makes an idol of Ganpati, who is the Lord of Prosperity, and worships it. After his veneration, he immerses the idol in the river that flows next to his farm as it is the same river that makes his land fertile. The idea is to unite the idol with the source from where it came. Looking at this farmer, other farmers follow suit and thus a ritual of worshiping the soil, the nature begins. Unfortunately, in the modern-day celebrations, we have forgotten the soil and focus on the idol instead. Instead of quiet, heartfelt expression of gratitude, we now have idols made of non-biodegradable plaster of paris and harmful chemicals, accompanied by loud cacophony music that cares little for Mother Nature.

The next story is about Lokmanya Tilak’s Sarvajanik (Public) Ganpati celebrations. During the freedom struggle, when the British banned public gatherings to prevent freedom fighters from conspiring against them, Tilak set in motion public celebrations of Ganpati to hold political meetings under the guise of religious celebrations. In the post-freedom era, the idea of celebrating Ganpati has taken on a new, competitive meaning, where pandals compete on whose idols are bigger and better.

The show is captivating and the decor is simple yet refreshing. The background is made of paper cut-outs that are used to illustrate the stories narrated in the show. All the three stories are narrated with the help of an LCD projector. The timed lighting effects add to the overall appeal of the show. The show ends with the narrator reminding us of the importance of respecting Mother Nature: “Our ancestors knew that they owe their existence to nature and endeavoured to live in harmony with the environment. But modern man assumes that he can dominate Planet Earth. Natural calamities like Tsunami, Mumbai floods caused by the heaviest downpour, and now Katrina Hurricane in the US are perhaps reminders that Nature is still beyond our control and we must learn to respect it lest we face the consequences.”

 The Pitale’s don’t just preach, they even practise. They don’t immerse their Ganpati idol – the same one is in use since three years now, but it is impossible to believe because it looks new. And in spreading the message of sparing Mother Nature, the whole family is united. Tusshar Pitale (concept and narration), his wife (artwork), his son Vaibhav (sound effects and mixing), his daughter Jaswandi (Narration in English), elder brother Mandar and his son Gaurav (electrical and light effects) have all played a part in organising this show which has already completed 48 screenings.

The Pitale show serves to remind us the best way to express gratitude to God is to respect His creation. The importance of respecting our nature, our environment cannot be overemphasised. Perhaps Frank Lloyd Wright, a famous US architect, said it the best, “I believe in God, only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E.”

Readers may contact Tusshar Pitale on 9820601444 or may visit B1/103, Shruti Park in Kolshet for a first-hand experience of being one with Nature.

Height of Teaching

Height of Teaching

Madame Montessori, whose name is synonymous with child education, was a tall woman. No, I am not referring to her height, but her social stature. Born on August 31, 1870, Montessori became Italy’s first woman doctor. Initially, she took care of children’s physical ailments and diseases. Eventually, her curiosity led her to explore the minds of children and how they learn. By the early twentieth century, Dr Maria Montessori’s mission was to propagate radically different methods of teaching young children. “Help me do it myself” was her idea of teaching. In other words, she encouraged experiential learning – where children learn by observing, interacting, and experiencing, instead of relying on memory.

She went on to write several books on the subject and set up many institutes based on her philosophy, which was catching on throughout the world, including India. Today, a hundred years later, her teaching philosophy is as relevant as it was in her times.

A lady named Tarabai Modak, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, who started a Balwadi in the Sabarmati Ashram based on Montessori’s teaching philosophy, was also a pioneer of sorts in the area of child education. On, 31 August 2005, the 135th birth anniversary of Dr Maria Montessori, city-based Saraswati Vidya Mandir Trust’s Pre-primary section celebrated a Memorial Day in honour of the two great women. The school invited parents/grandparents of their Kindergarten students to participate in a two-day programme. About 400 adults learnt about the Montessori Method of teaching. Whether it was Maths, Science, Arts, or Music, the young children learn not in classroom or from books, but by experiencing and experimenting hands on. Parents discovered how their children understood the five senses (biology), shapes of toys and objects (geometry), reflection from mirrors (physics), and many other phenomena by being involved in them rather than grasping them conceptually. Such learning is not only more fun but is also more enduring than the bookish variety. Wonder why only children are taught this way, because such a wonderful method of teaching ought to be introduced even at senior levels of education.

When Montessori met Mahatma
Montessori met Mahatma Gandhi in the beginning of October, 1931 in London. And on October 28, 1931 Gandhiji spoke at the Montessori Training College, London where Montessori was also in attendance. His speech, published in Young India dated 19 November 1931, concluded thus: “You have very truly remarked that if we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have the struggle, we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”

Moving towards God

Since 1998, city-based NGO Jidnyasa has been campaigning for eco-friendly Ganpati celebrations. Last year, even the Thane Municipal Corporation joined in by initiating moves to protect the city’s lakes. But Jidnyasa’s Youth Group is not resting. Their mission is to minimise public immersions of idols as they cause pollution. Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa, says, “There is scientific evidence that Ganpati idols, unless made of clay, are non-biodegradable. We, who are aware of the dangers of this trend, must spread the awareness before it’s too late. I think this is the proper use of science – out there in the social context and not inside laboratories.”

Moving closer to Lord Ganesha

Jidnyasa’s primary target is students, who not only influence their parents today, but are also decision-makers of tomorrow. On Sunday, about 300 students formed a human chain around the Masunda Lake with the objective of spreading the good word. And their campaign seems to be having a positive effect – already close to 1000 families from Thane have promised not to immerse idols. To encourage use of clay idols, Jidnyasa organises an annual competition for the “Most Eco-Friendly Decoration in Thane”.

It is said that Cleanliness is next to Godliness. If more and more residents vow to embrace the eco-friendly way, then Thane city is set to move several steps closer to Lord Ganesha. Because, there is no better way to please Him than to keep His creation, His environment free from toxic waste.

What’s Cooking?

What’s Cooking?

Don’t be surprised if your olfactory senses get stimulated by the sweet aroma of cakes and cookies the next time you pass by Siddhachal Complex. The source of the sweet smell might be the premises of the Jidd School for Special Children, where about 50 women are learning new cooking and baking recipes.

What's Cooking at Jidd School for Special Children

Since August last year, these women enthusiastically look forward to participating in the cooking workshop held every month. What’s unusual about this workshop is that it is that the participants comprise of parents of the school students and the school’s teachers. Jidd School is run by the Thane Municipal Corporation with the objective of providing education to disabled children from the underprivileged section of the society. Parents of these students are usually very poor and can hardly afford a square meal for the family. The workshop aims to hone their culinary skills and teach them skills such as baking, which they can then use to earn money. Besides, it also provides them with a respite from their monotonous, and often difficult, routines.

It was Sheila Sen Thomas, a social worker from Thane, who first put forth the idea of imparting baking skills to the parents. She even managed to get an Oven-Toaster-Griller (OTG) sponsored by a local NGO and thus the first baking class ensued. Soon not only parents and teachers, but even students began to take interest in the classes. “What started as a one-time session for parents soon became a regular workshop, thanks to the received a terrific response we received,” says Shyamashree Bhonsle, the principal of Jidd School. The parents enjoy the workshop and have been regularly attending throughout the year, reaching the school before time. Today they are taught not just baking, but also a variety of other food items such as dals and puddings. What’s more, everything they are taught can be cooked at home, using normal pressure cookers too. Cakes may take longer to cook at home, but it’s possible. Even so, parents have been told that they are free to use the school’s OTG whenever they wish.

Mark Twain once said, “Never let formal education get in the way of your learning.” At Jidd School, learning co-exists with formal education, not only for special students who receive vocational training along with formal education, but even parents and teachers, who are learning new things.