Sunday, September 14, 2008
- Find yourself an accomodation in one of the student hostels close to campus. Some of these close months in advance - so book your accomodation the very day you know you are travelling to London.
- Try to group with > 4 people and take a bigger house for let. Works out more economical and if some of these people are non-exchange students, you won't have that many issues of a short let when you leave.
- Be Ready to take up individual accomodations in a small room with or without kitchenette for an astronomical price
- Be Ready to spend through your noses for a convenient and luxurious accomodation close to school.
- Worst case options are the Short-Let studios that are available in Plenty - Like the one we booked for 3 months. Contact me for references. This guy (Sergio) sounded very accomodating and was willing to provide us a lot of freebies for our super-long (by his standards) stay.
It all began when I received a mail from MK from my school’s Career Services Department about a Community Development cum Leadership Programme *YOUNG LEADERS PROGRAMME – YLP* organised by GIFT (Global Institute for Tomorrow) – A Hong Kong based Not-For-Profit organisation headed by CN. I’d first heard about this program late last year when I took a course from CN titled “Leadership in Asia”. This was one course that truly opened by eyes and mind to a lot of new concepts and a whole new world. So I just couldn’t resist applying for this program.
It was initially supposed to cost US$ 12,500 which would be funded by your company. That surely wasn’t going to happen for me since I had no company that would sponsor me. I did my bit in trying to get people to fund me by approaching everyone I knew in the Corporate World. In between, a discount from GIFT, sponsorship from the school and some of my own funds, I finally was able to get into the program. Looking at the list of participants was really inspiring. We had Bankers from Standard Chartered India (some with about 15-20 years of work-ex) and Credit Suisse, executives from MTR Corp, Jardine One Solutions, Meinhardt-Australia, a few Entrepreneurs, a few students (including Simon and I from HKUST), some people from NGOs in Asia and Africa – A real good mix of people from all across the world – five different continents.
The YLP is about a 2 week programme where leaders from the Business World with different skillsets and levels of experience come together to create a business plan to help a business that is doing a lot of good on the Environment and the Social Front and needs some help on the Governance front. The entrepreneur in Question here was an inspiring lady (Ms. Yang Hai Lan) – who had won several awards including the Ford Motor Environmental Award and had also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Price for her contributions to society. She had quit her Accounting Job in 1997 and had almost single-handedly converted a barren desert of about 520 mu (86 acres) of land into a wonderful Vineyard and also built an Eco-Lodge around it along with producing Wine at the Ningxia University Winery.
Our mandate was to analyse her business and come up with a business plan to help her fix her business and also help her raise capital for expansion along with keeping the greater good of the community in mind.
I landed in Beijing after a short uneventful flight on Saturday, the 16th and had some interesting conversation with a fellow traveller who helped me make contact with the GIFT folks who were supposed to receive me. I also met Chethan there – A fellow Indian and an executive from Standard Chartered along with Chandran and Anita from GIFT. We had an interesting conversation about a few things including India, Cricket, Hockey, and the Olympics (which anyone and everyone in China had an opinion on). After about an hour’s drive, we landed in the Hotel which was almost like an ancient palace or temple. Right through the programme, the hotel and facilities provided were wonderful.
Over dinner, met and bonded with most of my team-mates for the next two weeks. The next day had lecture sessions begin. Lecture sessions for the first one week included talks on Globalisation, Diversity, Ethics, and CSR including talks by Nike and Boeing CSR Heads of Asia and a few other experts in the field. One lecture that stayed with me was one by Lawrence who was one of the economic policy advisors to the China Government since the 80s. His take on the future of Asia was really interesting. He felt that the rest of the world was 10 years behind what China was actually going through. He felt the China story was almost over and it was time to move onto India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and other countries in South-Asia. That’s when I thought, here I come India.
The first week also included a talk on Wine-Making and the Jinhu Enterprise by Prof. Zhang – An expert on Wine-Making and a partner of the Social-Entrepreneur – Ms. Yang in her Wine-Making Venture. This gave us a first glimpse of the exciting week ahead of us. Towards the end of the first week, we also got split into different teams – Marketing, Finance, Governance and Community. I was put into the Finance Team and was really excited about this. I was also chosen to play the anonymous role of keeping an eye on the overall progress of the project and be aware of what different teams are doing since I was going to help edit the final business plan and create the business plan presentation with my previous experience of creating business plans in mind.
On Friday, the 22nd we packed our bags (including my super-heavy bags that weighed a total of 37 kgs). Right after this program, I was going to go onto London for my exchange and that was the reason for my huge luggage. I’d to finally split my luggage among those travelling light and that way finally it made its way to Ningxia and back. We finally landed in Ningxia after a short flight. After checking into the hotel in the provincial capital of Yin Chuan, we finally made a trip to the Eco-Lodge. It was obvious that there was a lot of room for improvement in the lodge itself. Along with the lunch, we set about on our info-gathering with a lot of help from translators (both within our team and ones that GIFT had brought in).
The next two days involved a lot of interviews, wine-tasting, visits to different eco-lodges and wineries in the province. In between this, the Finance Team set about looking at the financials of the venture. We were shocked to see the unprofessional way in which this was managed. But then, this was very much a family owned enterprise and in hind-sight, the accountant who had a basic diploma in accounting and incidentally was also a waiter at the eco-lodge had done a pretty decent job at it although there definitely was a lot of room for improvement. As we set about, putting these numbers into a standard format and started trying to make sense of the numbers thrown at us, we saw a few potential opportunities which finally became the core of our recommendations for the venture.
Several discussions between groups, people trying to convince each other of their ideas and trying to build consensus followed. A Sunday Night meeting (There was a meeting chaired by one participant every night to take stock of the day’s learning and where we were headed) went all chaotic. People weren’t convinced about Ms. Yang’s noble intentions and it was expected to get really messy from what we’d heard from different group members. That’s when the GIFT CEO, Chandran took charge and gave us a piece of his mind and helped build a consensus around continuing to work towards the common goal and being open to giving people the benefit of doubt and talking about all the independent organizations that had endorsed Ms. Yang.
He also took charge that evening and set about assigning different parts of the business plan to different teams. Anyone who’s written a business plan knows that once you have the contents for each of the sections of a business plan, it will then contain all you need to start or in this case re-start/rejuvenate your business. This gave the teams a lot of focus and helped people focus on the small job at hand rather than get diverted by the big issues like Ms. Yang’s intentions. Over the next 48 hours, a lot of work got done in between several parties, karaoke nights, massages at the hotel spa and several discussions about random topics.
The last two days of the programme involved a lot of work for me – I’d to merge random slides that four different teams had put together and create a story around it. This is no easy task as anyone can imagine. I think I did a fair job at it. But looking at the questions that were asked post our presentation, there is definitely some room for improvement. I was quite pleased with the final end-product and got a lot of praise for it which was quite satisfying.
In hind-sight, I would have liked to be moved around between the different teams as they were working on their content so that I had some idea on the overall story rather than try to make sense of the random information put into the 3-4 slides I got. I also will continue to work on the long version of the presentation from which will emerge the Investment note and try and make a small contribution towards the overall success of this project – which for me will finally be judged by the success of Ms. Yang’s little company called Jinhu Entreprise.Overall, this program has helped me grow as a person, taught me a lot about the importance of focus, helped me learn a lot about China, a little about Japan from my two Japanese Team-mates, a few contacts who might help my Start-Up (Zeopane – www.zeopane.com) and to some extent improved my Mandarin