I recently returned from a life-changing trip to India because I designed a pair of pants.
Opportunities like this may pass some by but when a few friends and I decided to design and market a pair of Olympic themes pants as part of a Pantrepreneur, a social enterprise competition ran between Pants to Poverty, the fair trade fashion manufacturer, and Gazelle, a group of entrepreneurial colleges, we didn't think our pants would take us so far.
Winning the competition, which involved over 250 students from across the UK, was an experience in itself but nothing compared to what we discovered on our trip to India, our prize for winning.
Pants to Poverty source a large proportion of the cotton it uses to make its clothes from fair-trade farms and factories in India. As part of our trip we were able to visit the cotton-picking villages in Odisha and the cotton processing factories in Tirrupur, to experience the whole production process.
The foundation of our education at a Gazelle college and the nature of this competition are entrepreneurially based yet I was struck by how many similarities in entrepreneurial spirit I could share with the farmers and factory workers in India.
The children that we met in the village schools and their families were so diligent and determined to work hard, their spirit and drive was comparable to the determination most would associate with entrepreneurs in the West. Yet at the same time they displayed more hospitality than I had ever received. They had so little yet were eager to share it all with me. We were thrown a welcome party everywhere we went even though many has little to give, and despite the language barrier I feel that we all connected with the people we met.
When working at the factory I shared a 'house' with three of the factory workers, it wasn't really more than an 8 by 8 shack, which was their sitting room, kitchen and bedroom, but even these conditions didn't stop their positivity. The factory they worked in I believed to have been of very high standard- nicer I would say than some I have worked in in the UK. It was great to see work in action!
Entrepreneurial energy followed me to Mumbai where I ventured to the slums and met people who were running an amazing outreach programme that was aiming to connect the 'slumdogs' to the millionaires. This programme had set up libraries in the slums and offering free reading lessons to those who lived there. The libraries were so popular that people were travelling in from the suburbs to use the libraries and for the first time interacting with those who lived in the slums. The programme was creating dialogue between the two different worlds and was breaking down the barrier of the Caste system.
I was moved by this incredible programme. So much so, that I am planning on setting up a charity that will collect used books to send out to these libraries.
When I look past the train journeys, which can only be described as the most bizarre and shocking 8 hours of my life, I realize that the biggest thing I have taken away from this trip is a renewed motivation. These people who have nothing yet were prepared to give everything it makes me determined to do better in my own life when I have so much to hand and will make me appreciate everything.