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10 Mar 2011

Ministry Of Entrepreneurship Life Story No 1

Ministry of entrepreneurship is my latest social venture. The aim will be to support 1 million purposeful entrepreneurs, providing them with an digital environment to share, learn, communicate, network and be seen and heard.

As part of the journey I recently visited India (Feb 2011) and Africa (Nov 2010). Whilst I was in India I sought to 'walk my talk' by putting my money where my mouth is and to start to understand what it is that street entrepreneurs and the underprivileged need from us.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks I will share the first 6 real life stories of people whose lives I hope that I will be able to positively benefit. As you will hear their needs and circumstances are different and yet there is an undeniable truth that runs throughout. My aim through this process was to seek to deliberate aim to make a difference, learn some lessons and role model purposeful leadership.

I intend to invite a small group of people to join me again later this year to visit India to see how these stories are progressing and also to provide them with the opportunity to make a contribution to the lives of others. If you are interested please drop me an email through to

Real Life Story No 1 Raju

How we met…

So I turned up in Mumbai on a Monday morning, finally ending up in Colaba region of the city. My taxi driver wasn't able to find my hotel and so out of sheer tiredness I asked him to drop me off, informing that I would find my way. It was 4am in a place I hadn't visited before. I got out of the car coincidentally just outside McDonalds in Colaba.

As I threw myself out of the cab grabbing for my rucksacks, whilst doing my routine check for passport, wallet, phone, camera etc…..I was finally ceremoniously dumped on the kerb in a strange place. As the cab pulled away I heard a friendly call from across the road……where are you going, what do you want etc….

This was to be my first interaction with Raju, as it turns out he would help and show me kindness and I would return the favour…..neither of us was to know this at that time…..Raju would be the start of my Ministry of Entrepreneurship adventure.

To say the hotels along the main strip of Colaba are dreadful is probably a bit of an understatement…I'm too embarrassed to actually share a photo (well I will anyway). After looking at 2 dingy, dreadful options I finally realised that none of the hotels here were going to be what I was looking for and so I gave up and decided to just get my head down for a few hours before heading off the next day to find somewhere more suitable.

Raju had guided me around these various options and so I gave him the equivalent of £1.50 to say thank you for his time and that was that.

The next day……

The following day I headed out of the aptly named hotel Vulgar and found myself a much nicer and more comfortable place to sleep. The irony of this sentence is not lost of me when I consider that Raju was sleeping on the streets below me with no protection what so ever.

After I found my new bed for a few days and I went off in search of adventure on the streets of Mumbai, taking in the sights, sounds, environment and loving the people watching whilst being constantly reminded of how lucky mine, my families and much of our societies lives are. I can't put into words what it does to you to see a young mother and her 3 children lying in rags on the street, begging for some food or change, for me it's one of those life moments where with an image that is now permanently seared into my mind and will always come back to me, to act as a positive reminder of how lucky I am!!

McDonalds Colaba, Mumbai

As I was wandering past McDonalds in Colaba when I heard a familiar voice calling out, I turned around and of course it was Raju beaming at me with his bright red teeth (chewing pan or however it is spelt). He was friendly, chatty and of course remembered me from last night.

We got chatting and I knew that I wanted to interview him and so I invited him to have a chat with me in McD's……a quick aside, I ordered food and drink for Raju and as I was staring at the list of offerings I was wondering 'where are the burgers and Big Mac's…….'it took me a couple of hours of pondering to finally make the connection with the Hindu faith and the privileged place that cows hold in their society….even now my cultural blind spot makes me smile!).

Raju's Life Story……..

Raju is 30 yrs old, he has been living on the streets of Mumbai since he was 14 yrs old, he hangs out with his 'crew' of fellow street people. He is the middle child of a family of 6 boys and I don't fully understand why he left at 14but clearly something wasn't right. His family still live in Allahabad village and he hasn't seen them since he left.

So imagine this, travelling for a day or so on your own at 14 to leave your family and to end up living on the streets of Mumbai, whatever was driving him to leave his family home it couldn't have been a good thing. His aspiration as a slightly naive 14yr old boy was to come to Mumbai to 'make business' and eventually make enough money to return to his village to 'build a home'.

Those dreams still burn within his eyes, but you sense that 16yrs of living with the hardship of street dwelling have dampened his resolve, passion and ultimately belief that this dream is ever going to be a reality.

He told me about the reality of living on the streets, everyone looks down on you, no one trusts you, the police dish out regular beatings and then of course there are the street robbers who target the isolated and vulnerable, preying on their inability to defend themselves. It's no wonder that Raju and his pals all congregate outside Colaba's McDonalds, at least there its light, its central and provides the opportunity for some form of relative safety in numbers.

How he lives…..

Raju explained to me that he made a small amount of money by helping tourists, needless to say that as I got to know more about Raju and his crew I realised that not all of the help was legal, but it was never my place to judge, simply observe, question, learn and support where I was able to.

I got talking to him about the film slum dog millionaire and how I would like to go and see this region and he told me that he was able to take me and so we arranged to catch up in a few days-time, with him taking me on tour, not the expensive way but by travelling on the local buses and transportation network.

The Authentic Slumdog Millionaire Tour…….

So long story short Raju and I head of to see the slums, note that 60% of Mumbai residents still live in these communities. It was fascinating to head into this region and to see the facts from the fiction in the movie. There is no doubt that this lifestyle is not as we live in the western world with a combination of brick/cement based residencies along with the wooden/cardboard structures that are peoples' homes.

I got a real sense of community in this environment, a real hustle and bustle to the place and with 1 million residents it's not surprising. Many of the homes had water, electricity and sewage systems. Kids were doing what kids do best, playing around in the streets creating games to entertain themselves, whilst the guys sit around chatting and the women are typically looking after the small ones and looking after the home.

I really enjoyed wandering around the place, meeting people and it reinforced that a smile goes a long way, but more, this community has little in terms of material wealth but they seem to have a wonderful community spirit, fun and a sense of closeness to one another…… constantly amazes me that you can have 5 stalls or shops in the same row all selling exactly the same products and all seeming to make a living from it.

The Idea……..

Having experienced Raju's tour I came up with an idea for an authentic tour flyer for him. So once we got back from the trip I headed off to a coffee shop and wrote out the content of the flyer and then I sent it on to my brand man and close personal friend, Jake Shepherd (Sheppo to me), Director of MSDC ( I asked him to weave his creative magic and turn my one dimensional words and ideas into something that had impact and edge………4hrs later I had the flyer……1 day later Raju had 30 copies, 10 plastic versions and a copy to keep so that he could keep printing more off.

So in one day with a little creative magic and a deliberate act of kindness we have Raju all set up to start to bring in some regular income by offering the real authentic Slumdog tour to tourists who visit the streets of Colaba in Mumbai. My request is that if you know someone who is heading to Mumbai, head to Colaba McDonalds and seek out Raju, take his tour and as the flyer shows, help him to break out of the mind numbing poverty trap that he currently finds himself.


I want to say a personal thanks to Jake and the team at MSDC who 'gifted' their time and creative input, without their support the idea would not look good at all…..I may be able to visualise ideas, but I am no artist or graphic designer lol.

Lessons learnt…

Longer term Raju needs support to really get him away from the 'crew' or to re-educate the crew to find other ways to make money from tourists. Street life is tough and there is a constant air of violence around the people who live their lives that way. The night before Raju took me on a tour a street robber had bitten his hand in order to steal his money, I saw the evidence with his had swollen to double the normal size. The police did little and so Raju lost his money. I compensated him for this and paid him for taking me on the tour and gave him extra for food, clothes and to ensure that he is able to keep printing off the flyers.

Will it work out for Raju? That is down to him now, I will start a social media campaign, I will promote his life story on the ministry of entrepreneurship website and I hope that when I return to Mumbai in November 2011 I see that he has been able to build on this early support. My investment in Raju equated to some creative time, access to my network and about £30 or equivalent to 3000 rupee.


More stories of how all of us can take action to make a difference to people's lives……please share this story………BUT more, have a think about how you might like to make a deliberate choice to make a difference in someone else's life………Metta as the Buddhist say D


Tanya Avetoomyan said...

and its that sense of community i find the majority of 'us materialists' (westerners) LACK and therefore no not how to smile...innit!? Love how this experience happened for you and Raju. I have been in India since last November and hear and feel your story - it actually has echoes of Shantaram in it too.... will email you. thanks for sharing...

Isabella Betkowski said...

What a fantastic story, if only we heard more stories like this. They are the stories that really inspire you. I look forward to hearing many more from you and the Ministry of Entrepreneurship.

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