Ajay Chaturvedi: Limca Book of Records Holder, Who is Empowering Rural India
He is an entrepreneur, golfer, avid traveler, author, spiritualist. His work has been recognized and applauded worldwide. He was honoured with CNN IBN Youth Icon / Young Indian Leader of the year 2011 award and by the World Economic Forum as a ‘Young Global Leader’ in 2013. He was shortlisted as one of the 50 creative leaders across the world by The Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership. He has been honored with a wealth of national and international awards and recognitions. He spent almost a decade living in the US and across the world. He is a former Citi banker. He left his lucrative career in the US firstly in pursuit of spiritual truth and then to empower rural India. We are delving about Ajay Chaturvedi.
Ajay Chaturvedi truly believes in the power of cost effective innovation on all aspects that will lead to value creation across the world, especially in India and supports the Socio-Capitalistic business models as the drivers of inclusive growth. He also thinks that the real growth in rural areas across the world and in India is yet to come and is possible only when we get into the real fabric of the country and not just overlay thoughts and patterns from the developed nations.
He is the founder of HarVa – ‘Harnessing Value’ of rural India that focuses on skill development, BPO, community based farming and micro-insurance in villages.HarVa XPO entered the Limca Book of Records for being the first all women rural BPO in the world in 2011. “What Facebook has done to over 1 billion people, I want to do the same with rural India,” says Ajay Chaturvedi.
He is the author of the bestselling book The Lost Wisdom of the Swastika. The swastika is essentially a four dimensional cube, the fourth state of consciousness. The book is about the fact that we have completely lost what the meaning of the swastika is all about.
Ajay Chaturvedi was nominated as one of the Amazing Global Indian by Times Now News 2012-13 and Yahoo unsung Heroes 2012-13. He has also been honoured as an Iconic Youth 2014 by Rotary International, picked as 50 most creative leaders across the world to attend THNK, the Creative School of Amsterdam’s Accelerator program for Creative Leaders, and felicitated by the BITS Pilani in the golden jubilee celebrations as 50 most inspiring alumni in 50 years.
He is also an ambassador of the Power of Youth initiative of Scotland. He has been identified as one of the four most innovative game changers by the Office of Advisor to the Prime Minister on Skill Development and Employability. The list of his achievements is unending.
Here is an excerpt of an interview of Ajay Chaturvedi taken by ManoshiSinha, Editor of My India My Glory e-magazine.
Q. Please tell us more about yourself and about your academic journey.
Ajay Chaturvedi: I completed by engineering from BITS Pilani and graduated in Management of Technology from the School of Engineering and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. I also hold a Diploma in Global Leadership and Public Policy from The Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Q. What prompted you to leave your highly lucrative job to the Himalayas?
Ajay Chaturvedi: When there was a 2 week mandatory off at my workplace, I decided to pack my bags and go to The Himalayas. It was a forced vacation. What came next can be called as the ‘answer to life’ for me. And I spent over 6 months in the Himalayas.
I was not really convinced with my job. I couldn’t work for more than 2 years at my first job after passing out from BITS Pilani. It was the 1990s and the markets were booming then and I realized my capitalistic side in trading. After the crash, I went to Penn Engineering & Wharton where my real journey began. It was here that I got answers to few of the questions in my mind.
After my journey to Kedarnath in the Himalayas, I went through life changing experiences. And finally I put down my papers. It was 2010.
Q. How did the idea about empowering rural India crop up in your mind?
Ajay Chaturvedi: The government is building capacity without creating enough opportunities. Programmes like National Skill Development Corporation train candidates but due to lack of options they end up being ABCD or Aya (Nanny), Bai (Maid), Chowkidar (Guard), Driver (Chauffer) only.
Unless you don’t participate, you do not have the right to criticize. The problems in rural India need some intellectual people getting to the grassroots. We have to work towards value creation which is more sustainable.
Q. Please tell us about your venture, HarVa XPO.
Ajay Chaturvedi: HarVa stands for ‘Harnessing Value’ of rural India and works towards skill development, BPO, community based farming and micro-insurance in villages. In the past 3 years, HarVa has evolved considerably in terms of its vision and impact. They have added a not for profit arm which focuses on skill development. Though beginnings are always tough at grassroots, people are now more welcoming and supportive to participate in the developmental processes implemented by HarVa.
HarVa Suraksha was an addition to the HarVa services which was basically a quasi savings product backed by Bajaj Allianz providing micro insurance to the rural people. Currently, HarVa operates 20 HarVa Digital Huts or XPOs (BPO, KPO, LPO) of which 5 are owned by HarVa; all work on a partner model. These are spread across 14 states in India employing over 70% women and each XPO caters to 3-4 villages in the vicinity.
We have been supporting over 1000 households and the employees are making anything from INR 1500 to INR 14000 based on their contributions towards other projects like farming, student helpdesks and selling insurance.
Q. Recognitions gained by HarVa
Ajay Chaturvedi: HarVa XPO entered the Limca Book of Records for being the first all women rural BPO in the world in 2011. HarVa has won numerous awards and accolades including the Manthan Chairman Excellence Award 2011, SKOCH Financial Inclusion 2011 and TiEEntrepreneurial Excellence 2011. HarVa was also identified as the 3rd most innovative company in India (next only to Tata Motors) by the Fast Company magazine of New York in 2011. We were also honored with the Entrepreneurship, Sustainability & Empowered Woman Award by the Rockefeller Foundation / United Nations 2012.
Q. Challenges that you faced with HarVa XPO
Ajay Chaturvedi: Poor infrastructure and bad connectivity were the top two challenges that I had to face while setting up HarVa XPOs and other centers. The other major issue was to change the mindset of the people and convince them to cooperate towards inclusive growth with HarVa. But what separates HarVa XPOs from any other rural BPO is the extremely low attrition rate.
The loyalty comes from the best of the opportunities (including the white-collar jobs) HarVa is providing to the people and communities. We pay a handsome 7% premium for our micro insurance plans. Our focus remains on creating the value in the ecosystem.
We’re working on producers’ model for our economy and not a subsidized consumers’ model and hence it’s tough. We understand this space very well and convinced about the value it contains.
Q. HarVa XPO entered the Limca Book of Records for being the first all women rural BPO in the world in 2011. We wish to know more about this.
Ajay Chaturvedi: To be honest, the world record is something that just happened. The vision was always to create value. “Karmanye Vadika Raste…” as the shloka goes in Bhagwad Gita, the eye was always on the goal of value creation and tapping into the production economy. The outcome of women only BPO, etc was an outcome. A welcome and a much needed one.
Q. You are being identified as one of the four most innovative game changers by the Office of Advisor to the Prime Minister on Skill Development and Employability. We wish to know more about this.
Ajay Chaturvedi: Again, not much work went into the outcome, as above. The alignment with the thought leadership was evident and hence the recognition.
Q. Please enlighten us about your bestselling book, ‘Lost Wisdom of The Swastika’.
Ajay Chaturvedi: My book Lost Wisdom of The Swastika was published by Times Group Books of Bennett Coleman & Co.
I was going through a personal and professional life crisis around 2005 and that’s when I found myself trekking to the Hinalayas in a quest for the quintessential spiritual guidance. It wasn’t a planned trip. I even left my phone and blackberry behind. The pull was such. That one trip of two weeks was life changing and a first of many more to come.
Click here to buy Lost Wisdom of The Swastika
After launching HarVa, and the subsequent recognitions, I started getting invited to various events as a speaker. Subsequently, many speaking bureaus approached me as a celebrity speaker. This was quite enjoyable and rewarding. The one thing that stood out though was people’s/audience’s unawareness of the Indian philosophy and culture. It’s the understanding that enabled me to venture out and launch HarVa. The persistent curiosity around my quitting a career, aspired by most was the trigger for me to write something on Indian philosophy. While most of my learning of the esoteric wisdom came from practical immersion in the yogic systems, alongside my Guru in the Himalayas, the scriptural knowledge came from multitudinous sources.
I feel extremely blessed to have been born in a family that carried the tradition and could boast of owning the Vedic texts, Upanishads, Puranas and the rest.
During my own journey, most of the wisdom that seemed inherently obvious to me wasn’t mainstream at all. After delving deeper into the context, the setting of the education system, the way History is taught in schools, I decided to write a book on the Swastik.
Swastik is a symbol from Vedic mathematics and one of the pedestals and philosophical cornerstones of the Vedic system of education. The stigma attached to it has a deeper significance. And while this might be a sensitive symbol for some parts in the world, it is extremely critical for us to realize the importance of understanding this philosophy to tackle the current problems of sustainability, globally. Traditional wisdom around cyclical evolution and being in tune with nature is the very foundation of Bharat. Unless we understand the underlying philosophy, how can we expect to solve the grievous problems being faced by the country today?
This book bestowed me with ‘Making the World Happening Award 2017’ by Allevents.
Q. Your future endeavors.
Ajay Chaturvedi: This book Lost Wisdom of The Swastika is doing well and caught eye of some of the leading academics in the country. Despite having the British colonize India for over 250 years, less than 5% Indians can communicate in English. The same is true for the current education system as well. The country is being largely looked as a consumer’s market. But who is producing? The net inflow of money then is negative. How do we solve the poverty problem? Technology is one part of the solution and largely a medium.
Professor Ashutosh Khanna, an alumnus of The London School of Economics and the Head of Department, Strategy at International Management Institute recognized this and begun to engage with me. He is also the founder of Center for Disruptive Innovation and Enterprise (CDIE) at IMI. Alongside other leading professors and thinkers, we realized the need of the hour was to get the students to engage and immerse in the esoteric knowledge and economic systems. A Porter’s five forces theory is great to read and analyze a case with but rubber hits the road with a IIM-A graduate trying to sell HUL’s shampoo pouches in Satna, MP on a Tuesday. While the profitability of the FMCG giants might be something to boast of, little has been innovated on the product side. Most innovation has gone into packaging and logistics industries. The net loser is then the customer, and the country.
To prepare better informed managers, engineers and youth in general, we needed an immersion-based course to augment the existing systems. Knowledge is flat and at times we need to have the philosophical underpinnings to better grasp the nuances of the existing systems.
This collaboration led us to preparing a 3 credit course, called Kullhad Economy. Kullhad is a metaphor for sustainability. Unlike Jugaad, which is about finding quick, easy and cheap solutions to a problem, Kullhad is about finding rooted, long term, sustainable and universal economic solutions and innovations.
One of the key strategic partners alongside CDIE, IMI is also IIT Kanpur.
We are now delivering this methodology via a one-year fellowship called the Kautilya Fellowship, a one-month summer internship called the KFN internship and the courses like Kullhad Economy are being delivered across several leading institutes. The latest ones are IIT Delhi and BITS Pilani.
Q. Your message to readers.
Ajay Chaturvedi: He who wrote the first book, hadn’t read a book. It’s a chapter title from my book. The idea is to really create critical thinkers. Most critical thinking today, especially amongst our youth is happening in echo chambers with limited view of the real world. In today’s world of excessive information overload and social media, unplug for a while. Step out in the real world; travel out every now and then to a real village. You will realize the world is a lot richer and has a lot more to offer for your overall development and opportunities abound for the ones who dare to challenge the status quo.