Learning about life on the balcony

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At times life can be truly challenging – personally and professionally. Although most of the issues are usually not life threating, they can be very upsetting. Apart from talking to close friends and family, traveling in particular has always helped me to take a “balcony moment” – to look at my life and everyday challenges from a distance. Not only has discovering other cultures helped me to appreciate the luxurious life I live back home, but it has also taught me very different ways of how to go about it.

Journeys for Change team @Jaipur RugA couple of years ago I went on a trip called “Journey for Change” to India to meet Social Entrepreneurs with ten people from around the world interested in social impact. I was overwhelmed and energized by the eagerness to learn, discover and reflect of this group of socially engaged people. The learning experience was incredible and getting to know people from various countries with a common interest was a huge inspiration. After this trip I decided to dedicate one week every year for a “learning-journey” with people from around the world to take an intense “balcony moment” diving into a topic I am interested in.

Transformation Made Easy in Costa RicaMy next trip was a one-week immersion course to transformation in Costa Rica to discover new ways of how to live a happier life saying “yes” to the challenges that show up. It was hosted by the American couple, Arial & Shya Kane, who have built a large and inspiring international community of people who are interested in discovering new ways of how to approach life’s challenges in a practical, light and happy way. I got to know the Kanes through a friend from Hong Kong, who had been visiting me in Hamburg to attend their weekend seminars in Hamburg.

Yesterday I returned from my most recent trip, which was professionally oriented. I applied for the W50 Program, a scholarship of the Banco Santander and the University of Los Angeles (UCLA) for 50 women from around the globe. For one week we were provided with a tight schedule of excellent classes on strategy, leadership, corporate governance and personal development. Also this group of smart, ambitious and open-minded women from around the world has provided me with new perspectives, knowledge and solutions to professional and personal challenges.

UCLA W50W50 Scholarship UCLA








I want to encourage you to find your journey on a topic you are interested in to learn, share, reflect and purely enjoy life with an international group. These intense one-week experiences have helped me to grow personally, look at life differently, learn new things and meet incredible inspiring, knowledgeable and fun people.

I do not expect life to become less challenging, but I have discovered more efficient perspectives and ways to look at it. On top of that, with every journey I became more aware of myself – my needs, strength, fears and culture.

So go online and find YOUR one-week journey. And don’t forget to share it … I am still looking for ideas for my next “balcony moment”.

Christine with a girl she got to know at BMVSS

Doing good: Limbs for everyone in India

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When I went to see different social businesses in India, I also learned about Jaipur Foot (BMVSS). An NGO founded by Mr. Mehta to help the poorest in India by providing each and everyone coming to his place with an artificial limb for free. It is an overwhelming experience to see how he achieved to change the lives of the poorest of his country.

This is how I got in touch with Christine Booth, a lady from the UK, who was touched so deeply by what she saw, when she visited the site, that she decided to produce a documentary film. She made it her mission to tell the world about the good, which is done there and to help Jaipur Foot getting more donations to be able to produce even more prosthetics.

She now started a campaign on Kick-Starter “Stepping forward form Jaipur Foot” to collect money to cut all the film material which she has produced within the six month at the site in Jaipur. Many people who got fitted with limbs at Jaipur Foot told her their stories and allowed her to document part of their lives with her camera.

Until October 10th, she has her campaign running to collect 12.000 pounds and she already has collected over 5000 pounds. I want to encourage all of you to even give a small donation, since if many of us give little, we can achieve big things together.

Christine, I admire you for your dedication to this project and am wishing you all the best to achieve your mission!






Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal – Love poem written with marble

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Taj Mahal has always been a place I wanted to go to even without a clue about the amazing love story behind it. Taj Mahal means “crown of palaces” and was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died when she gave birth to her 14th child. Although it was an arranged marriage and the emperor lived in a harem with many wives, history tells that he truly loved his wife – his love, consultant and friend.

When she died she asked him to built a mausoleum for her, which will make her unforgettable. He truly kept his promise, by combining the most beautiful architectural parts of his ancestors’ mausoleums, building this site with 20.000 workers over 12 years. He started the constructions in 1631 in Agra, when the empire was at its greatest prosperity.

He basically became obsessed with the construction of Taj Mahal combining the finest elements from Islamic, Persian, Turkish and Indian architectural styles and Italian handcraft. The flower style decoration which seems to be painted on the marble is in fact a technique, which is called “Piedra Dura” – supposedly the most challenging handcraft. Artists carve a pattern out of the strong marble, then carve a colored stone in the exact same shape and paste it into the carved area. It is unbelievable to see once you stand in front of that building. On top of that, 22 passages and 14 chapters of the Qur’an are “written” on the marble walls – meaning, carved in the marble and filled with jasper or black marble.

Through the years of building the immense monument with deliberate passion, the empire started to be threatened by this project, as it took every resource especially financially. At the very end, the son of the emperor, pushed his father to stop him wasting more energy on the Taj Mahal and “locked” him into the Agra Fort. From there he could see the monument he had built over the years, which would not only be a memory to his wife, but also a memory to him, as the builder of the “jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”, which became UNESCO World Heritage in 1983.

National Geographic Documentary - Secrets Of The Taj Mahal

Mr. Metha talking to patient

Jaipur Foot: Walking home in dignity

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Before visiting Jaipur Foot with the Journeys for Change team, I was afraid of what I would see and how I would feel once we are there. With 1.35 Million produced artificial limbs, Jaipur Foot is the world’s largest producer of world-class artificial limbs, rehabilitation aids and other appliances to physically-challenged individuals below the poverty line. People from all over the country and even beyond go on a pilgrimage to this place to receive an artificial limb for free. We were the outsiders, walking in as visitors to see the poorest amputees sitting in front of the campus waiting to be able to walk out in a couple of days.

Jaipur Foot is a non-profit organization, providing free prosthetics to every person arriving at their campus (often with a few last coins in their pockets). Every day the Jaipur site fits 60 artificial limbs. People arriving at the campus will wait 2 days on average until their limb is fitted. On top of the actual treatment, Jaipur Foot provides food, accommodation and often money for the trip back home (which most people could not afford).

The idea to set up Jaipur Foot resulted from a traumatizing life-threatening accident, when D. R. Mehta, founder of BMVSS (Jaipur Foot) nearly lost his leg. Whilst he spent time in hospital, he thought about the fact, how his life would entirely change, if he weren’t able to pay for the treatment. Where would a poor person, losing a limb in an accident, by a land mine  or by disease go to get an artificial limb? That was, when the idea started to found a non-profit organization for the poorest amputees to support them regain mobility, dignity and thereby making them a normal, self-respecting and productive member of the society.

The impact of Jaipur Foot becomes obvious in a Time Magazine article of 2007 stating: “People who live inside the world’s many war zones from Afghanistan to Rwanda may never have heard of New York or Paris, but they are likely to know a town in Northern India called Jaipur.”

The beauty of Jaipur Foot is the lightness, innovative technique and its price. Due to its lightness people can walk, run, trek, swim, sit cross-legged, walk on uneven terrain, work in wet fields and pedal bicycles. In collaboration with Stanford University the Jaipur-Knee was developed and claimed one of the 50 Best Inventions of the world in 2009 by Time Magazine. Whilst a comparable artificial limb in the US costs 18.000 USD, a prosthetic of Jaipur Foot costs 50 USD. See the presentation of Joel Saddler, MIT and Stanford University student and Jaipur Foot engineer, at TEDx Jamaica about the Jaipur Foot technology and how it is impacting peoples lives.

BMVSS is financially supported by the Indian Government (Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment) and by private donors. Anybody who wants to donate to this project is more than welcome to do this here. Every 50 USD will provide a person in need with a limb to walk home with dignity.

Since 1975 Jaipur Foot has provided 440.690 limbs, 363.973 calipers, 418.770 crutches, 87.851 wheel chairs, 23.967 hearing aids and 7.385 surgeries. It is operating in 27 countries (e.g. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Sudan and Sri Lanka).

Take 8 minutes of your time to travel to the campus like I did, to feel the amazing life change Jaipur Foot offers, to learn about the simple as well as highly engineered technique of the limbs and to listen to the full hearted and dedicated founder Mr. Mehta.

Family weaving rug in front of their house

Jaipur Rugs: Connecting the poorest with the richest

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I have never been interested in carpets and that changed entirely, when I met Nand Kishore Chaudhary, founder of Jaipur Rugs, the leading manufacturer of hand knotted carpets in India.

In 1978 he started the business with two looms growing until today to a company headquartered in Jaipur, operating across 6 states of India through an independent weaver base of 40,000, selling into 40 countries world wide.

A case study of Jaipur Rugs in the book “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” is stating it as an example of a social business which helps to tackle world poverty, as Jaipur Rugs has always worked with the so called “untouchables” and ignored the predominant cast system in India. Mr. Chaudhary has set up a business, where families would receive a certain design to create a carpet at their loom at home and then sell it to his business. He would then do the final work on the carpets and sell them to wholesalers. He has always related to the weavers and also learned from them. Through his business the weavers get regular carpet jobs and they are paid, what they were told.

Beneath the business numbers and the success story, there is a story of ups and downs, of learning about the unknown, of courage, believe and happiness – “university of heart wrecks” as he calls it. I was impressed when I learned that he invested most of his money and a loan to enable his daughter to learn about American consumer behavior and households in the US and to study abroad, to increase sales to US customers. He had no clue about this country (as he had never been abroad), no idea of the return of this investment and no friends with a comparable experience to relate to.

When we asked him, how he managed all the challenges of his business, he explained, that he realized, he made his decisions due to fear, desire and unconsciousness. Looking behind the scenes of each of those helped him to better understand his thinking and eventually make better decisions.

When we went to the showroom, I could not believe the beauty of the carpets. Those designs where modern, colorful and simply impressive. What I saw where not just carpets, but artworks which could have been presented in an art exhibition. It was touching to have talked to the families producing it in the very remote villages.

He has created a business, which becomes a social business since he includes people in the loop of it, which are excluded from society. His happiness, generosity and love towards life and people create an incredible culture and atmosphere in the entire company. So true, when he said: “Love is the biggest thing, it opens a door and it opens potential.” Especially in business we tend to forget about that – or we might even be afraid, to open up like he does.

Listening to him made me feel like listening to my grandmother, since I did just not want him to stop talking about life, people and business in his incredibly humble, wise and joyful way.

Grandmothers from all over the world building solar cells at Barefoot College

Barefoot College: Where Kids become Prime Minister & Grannies Solar Engineers

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After graduating from an elite university in India, a man called Bunker Roy, did not start one of the many careers waiting for him, but started working with the poorest in the villages of India, to understand their needs.

In 1972, Bunker Roy started a college, called Barefoot College to educate the poor. What the poor thought was important would be reflected in the college. The college would accept cop-outs, wash-outs or dropouts willing to  work with their hands and skilled to support the community.

Bunker Roy changed the way people look at professionals. You are not necessarily a professional if you have a certificate, but when you know how to actually create something. So he started to educate illiterate people how to become an architect, a dentist or a solar engineer.

One of his projects is to teach grandmothers from all over the world how to build solar panels at a 6 month workshop at his Barefoot College. After the workshop the grannies go back to their villages, the villages get solar cells sponsored by the Indian government and the grannies will be the solar engineers capable of repairing. It’s such a disruptive experience and it’s breathtaking to see the strength of these grandmothers. They have usually never ever left their country and never met anyone outside their village. They dare to leave their village for 6 months, get on a plane to a country they might have never heard about, with a language they don’t understand to become a solar engineer. Change is about education, yet education is not only about certificates, but about the things you are capable of doing.

A different very smart project he started are the Barefoot Night Schools. Since the kids have to support their parents in the fields during day time, there is usually no way to go to school. He tackled this problem with Night Schools, where over 75,000 children were educated until today after dark – for sure with the support of solar light. At these schools kids are tought about democracy, citizenship, how to measure land, what to do if you’re arrested or what to do if your animal is sick. To help the kids understand society he started a Kids Parliament which would elect a Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is in charge of monitoring and supervising 150 schools for 7,000 children. The Prime Minister would write a postcard to Bunker Roy in case he or she could not solve a problem by himself or herself. It was one of these postcards, which resulted in a teacher’s lay off, since he did not come to school regularly.

Bunker Roy is an incredibly smart man with disruptive ideas and the passion and courage to start something different. In 2010 he was selected as one of the 100 most influential personalities by Time Magazine for his work in educating illiterate and semi literate rural Indians. I highly recommend to take 18 minutes of your time to follow his ideas and achievements in changing mindsets with Barefoot College listening to his TED talk below.

Bunker Roy at TED: Learning from a barefoot movement

Men testing a solar lamp for the first time

d.light: Enlightening people’s lives across the globe

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d.light is a for-profit social enterprise and the world leader in affordable solar light power products for the developing world. Charging d.light’s solar lights during the day (even on a cloudy day) will provide light for an entire night.

In 2004, during d.light co-founder Sam Goldman’s Peace Corps service in Benin, Africa, his neighbor’s son was badly burned by an overturned kerosene lamp. This incident, along with the knowledge that 2.3 billion people in the world still do not have access to reliable electricity, inspired Sam to participate in a class called Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability at the Stanford Design School, where he met co-founder Ned Tozun.

With Journeys for Change we visit the d.light HQ in Delhi and learned that d.light has improved the lives of over 28 M people, reached over 7 M school kids and created 9 BN “extra” hours for studying and working. Also, we went to a village and saw, how the product was introduced and sold to the poorest, who had never seen anything like that before.

d.light has set up a smart cooperation with a microfinance NGO (BASIX) who supports people financing the lamp and  also works as local sales team in the villages. The cheapest lamp at  8 USD is still unaffordable for most families.

About d.light

Myanmar youth studies with d.light

Jyothi & colleagues in front of a Sakha Cab

Sakha Cabs: Female chauffeurs changing mindsets

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Part 2: Meeting professional life changers in India with Journeys for Change

When I arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, there were hundreds of men holding either name sheets in their hands to pick up someone or taxi drivers shouting and offering rides. Amongst all of them, there was only one lady – holding a name tag with my name on it. What a strong women I thought.

Jyothi has joined Sakha Cabs as a driver a couple of years ago and told me how joining the company helped her become independent from her husband and domestic violence.

Sakha (engl. friend) Cabs is a social enterprise providing dignified livelihoods to poor women from rural areas while offering safe transport options for female travelers. In a country, where  8 million unborn females are estimated to be aborted over the past decade (The Daily Telegraph) and women getting stuck in low paid female jobs, Meenu Vadera, founder of Sakha Cabs, and her team found a way to break the circle. With Journeys for Change I  visited the HQ in Delhi, talked to the founders and the lady chauffeurs. Driving is disruptive as it gives mobility to women, who never got out of their villages. It  has an element of power and knowing, since these women don’t depend on men anymore, if they want to get around.

After their six-month training program, Jyothi and her colleagues were not only able to steer a car, but their lives. It enabled them to step out of violence, gain self-esteem and in most cases, become the principal bread owner of the family and thus gain incredible respect.

Sakha Cabs has set up a smart cooperation with Azad, an NGO, supporting Sakha with funding, recruiting and education programs for women in rural areas as well as the 6 month training program for  women to become chauffeurs.  Sakha Cabs employes 45 women, earning a salary between 6.500 – 10.000 INR (145-225 USD), which is in most cases twice the family income. Their confidence and courage makes them role models and leaders in their communities.

Separation of clothing

GOONJ: Introducing a new currency and solving intimate female health threats

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Part 1: Meeting professional life changers in India with Journeys for Change

GOONJ is a social enterprise based outside Delhi in India, using utilized clothing and other material as a tool for social change through the project CLOTH FOR WORK. As lack of clothing is still one of the biggest problems in rural areas leading to suffering, humiliation and often death, GOONJ distributes 1000 tons of material and clothing per year. They collect utilized clothes and material, separate good items from broken items and recycle those into something new.

A business thought of Anshu Gupta, founder of the company, that really impressed me, is to charge people in the currency they have. People in rural areas are able to do tremendous work with their hands and create projects, which improve their lives. Therefore GOONJ does not ask families to pay for the clothes in cash, but through working on a project, which the local community considers as most needed like bamboo bridges, schools or water tanks.

The social need, which struck me most, since I never thought about it within all my years of traveling poor areas around the globe, is the need of clean sanitary pads. I could not believe, that I as a women myself, had never considered this monthly issue. Women end up using all kinds of rags leading to infections and even death. The shame and silence associated with the issue makes it the most taboo subject even among women. GOONJ leads a project called NOT JUST A PIECE OF CLOTH where instead of introducing a new product, they create napkins out of those pieces of clothing that can’t be used and create a special type of “sanitary napkin”. GOONJ has distributed 2 million of the world’s cheapest sanitary pads in the past and continuously educates women in this subject.

Spice Market India

Journeys for Change: Professional life changers in India…

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Traveling remote areas has always been a hobby to me and business was on a different page. Many times during my travels, I felt the urge to support people I met in remote villages without access to the very basic needs like clothes, electricity or health services.

I have always admired people who had the courage to start a business from scratch, even more, if the intention was to create social impact. This is why I chose to go to India with an organization called Journeys for Change, which connects business professionals from all over the world with social entrepreneurs in India.

This blog is followed or read by people from over 100 countries, who are mostly interested in traveling and different cultures. I have the feeling many of the readers are also interested in taking some part in making this world a better place.

I will share the insights I got meeting these great entrepreneurs and learning about their business models over the next couple of Sundays to share the amazing inspiration I was privilege to receive.