[Reader-list] Stories of Entrepreneurship

prasad shetty askshetty at rediffmail.com
Tue Jun 21 02:39:07 IST 2005

Dear All,
My 5th posting.

There were some questions on the last posting on my choice and framework for cases, definition of entrepreneurs etc.

The work is not to do an exhastive listing/identification of enterprenures in the city for any statistical analysis. The 40 cases, that I would be documenting is to understand the newer changes in the economy of the city. Hence the cases would not seem to have a coherent framework for their documentation. That is not the intention. Rather each case documents different and specific characteristics relating to the entrepreneur. These may be larger macro contexts, work conditions, strategies for operation, space utilisation etc.

There are some more cases that follow:

Case: A Money Transferring Agent 

I had to urgently collect some money from Western Union transferred from Rotterdam. It was a Saturday evening and the Western Union main offices were shut on Sundays. I checked the Internet and found some 400 agents who transfered money within Mumbai. The website also gave their addresses and phone numbers. I looked up for the nearest address specifically providing the service on a Sunday. After calling up a few places, I found a place that was open on a Sunday. The next day, I visited this place in the morning. 

The place in called Adarsh Nagar close to the elite Lokhandwala complex in Andheri. . After asking a few people, I managed to locate the Western Union agency. I was surprised to find it in a slum. It was a typical slum with less than 6 feet winding streets and units on both sides. The translucent office door was closed from inside and had a large Western Union Sticker. I had to knock the door. There were people living inside this office, because when I entered, the two young men were just waking up. As soon as I entered, they switched on the air conditioner and asked me to sit. One of the men went outside and the other made some phone calls. Then even this man disappeared. The place was about 10 feet by 12 feet with a floor above. There were two computers and a fax machine. About 10 minutes later, a young woman came and confirmed that she was the one who spoke to me the previous evening. She then, hurriedly went upstairs. Meanwhile one of the men entered – now dressed in the typical peon blue shirt with a large tag called BEST on the chest pocket. I remembered the name of the agency then, which was mentioned on the web page: BEST. Other then small mentions of this name, the rest of the signage was just Western Union. While the space and the experience so far were making me nervous about my money, the large and frequent Western Union signages were the only assurances.  

The woman came down in a few minutes and gave me Western Union form to fill. While I was filling the form, she made some phone calls to confirm whether the service was open on Sunday. I gave her the form and she asked me for some identification. I gave her my passport. She sent the man to get my passport photocopied. She then faxed my form somewhere and asked me to wait for 10 minutes. I started asking her about the organisation. She told me that the whole place was the office and the boss’s cabin was upstairs. She went upstairs to switch on the air conditioner and clean up the boss’s table. She was new to the place herself and had found the job through a relative some three months ago. Further she told me that actually, the organisation dealt with providing security services and her boss was an ex army official. She gave me a printed profile of the organisation, which also mentioned that they provided courier service, job placement services along with Money Transfer and Security. She then received a phone call and the person on the other side asked her to switch on the fax machine. The confirmation of my transfer and the receipt where I had to sign was expected through the fax. She told me that my transfer was confirmed. The amount was relatively big, and I was wondering if a  place like this would keep such an amount. I was curious how they were going to get my money. Meanwhile, the person who had taken my passport to be photocopied came and returned my passport. The fax had started by then. But the print came blank. Both of them soon realised that the fax printing ink was over. She asked the man if he knew any other place where they could receive the fax. The man lazily said he didnt. She then thought for a while and made a phone call to her boss. The boss suggested her to call up the main agent of Western Union and ask for advice. Then she called the main agent. The main agent gave all the details of the transfer and asked her to take a kutcha receipt from me. When she told me this, I did not completely understand this, but agreed to this, as I needed the money soon. She then made another phone call. After the phone call she reluctantly told me that it would take around one and a half hour for her to give me the money and I could either wait or return after some time. I became very nervous, as I had already given my secret code and all other details of the transfer. I became more nervous when she told me that she may not be there later and someone else will give me the money. Without much choice, I decided to come back after some time.

I came fifteen minutes early and was happy to find that the woman had not left. The other man who had disappeared in the morning was also there. But now he was in a security- guard uniform and was standing outside. The translucent office door was now completely open. The air conditioner was shut. She told me that her boss would arrive any moment with the money. After a few minutes the boss arrived. He was a hefty man in his late forties, wearing a dark brown safari with two thick gold chains around his neck, one very thick gold bracelet and three fingers in the right hand having gold rings with various colourful stones. As soon as he came he started shouting at the peon for drinking water straight from the bottle and not using a glass. He then gave his car keys to the guard and asked him to park his car. He asked the woman to close the door and start the air conditioner. Finally after all this he sat and started talking to me. 

While I had all the questions for him, he dominated our conversation asking me rather difficult questions like what I did, where I lived, who was sending me money and things like that. I later realised that he saw me as a potential customer for all kinds of services that he provided. He started telling me about a new service he was about to start – that of local money transfer. He said with confidence that with one phone call, he would be able to manage to transfer of money from anywhere between Kashmir and Kanyakumari in hours. He told me that there were several other money-transferring agents throughout India that he had contacted and they were focusing mainly on rural areas as the demand was high there and money transfer was not easy. 

He told me that that he had started with an agency only providing security but currently there was stiff competition in this sector. Moreover, the security sector required mobilisation of a large number of people and sometimes this was difficult to manage. There have also been cases where the security guards themselves were involved in thefts and the police now insisted on strict disciplinary measures, proper training and frequent shuffling of the guards. He considers all these as problems and wants to focus only on money transfer. He has acquired the Western Union agency through the contacts of a friend and finds it easy and respectable, as he is working with a multinational. 

Finally he gave me my money and the woman gave me a hand torn half A4 size hand written receipt to sign. This was the kutcha receipt. 
Case: The Toilet Operators

We were surveying public toilets in slums under the Slum Sanitation Programme of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. The Slum Sanitation Programme is funded by the World Bank and has three important actors: the NGO, which develops and supports the CBO, the contractor who builds the toilet and the CBO which is supposed to maintain and operate the toilet. The NGO and the contractor jointly write a proposal to build a toilet and forward it to the municipality, the municipality assesses the proposal and approves it and the money for building the toilets comes from the World Bank. Some 350 toilets were built in the first pilot phase and the municipality of Mumbai wanted to extend the programme to build around 1000 more toilets in the city. This is when the World Bank wanted an evaluation of the earlier toilets and we got involved to evaluate the project and give further recommendations on how to improve the programme if there were any limitations. 

During our survey we assessed some thirty cases where these toilets were built and one of the cases was of Moti Nagar in the Eastern Suburbs. The slum was small with about 80 households adjacent to the newly built Shopper’s Stop. The land value in the area was very high as the area was fast developing with multiplexes, shopping malls and residential towers. During the survey of this case, we found a three-storied toilet, where the ground and first floors had ten toilet seats each and the second floor had a caretaker’s room. The toilet was clean and very well maintained. 

We interviewed the caretaker and found that he was from Haryana and arrived two years ago with his family, urged by a friend who put him in touch with some Rana Sahab who offered him a caretaker’s job at a toilet. In return, he would get a place to stay and also a small salary of Rupees 1500 per month. Later during the survey we found that this Rana Sahab was involved in arranging caretakers for several toilets. Though we never met Rana Sahab, we found that in some places, he had been appointed as a contractor to maintain and operate the toilets while in others, he was involved in only providing a caretaker for a commission. 

The programme had outlined that a local CBO should maintain and operate the toilet block. The money for this should be collected from the slum dwellers as monthly charges (who would be issued monthly passes) and also from other users who would pay for using the toilet per use. We found that in places where the toilets were near a road, as in the case of Moti Nagar, the pay users were more and the profits from the toilets were high. In some cases, the profits went upto Rupees 4000 – 5000 per day. In Moti Nagar, it was lesser, around Rupees 900 per day. We also found that Rana Sahab was involved in only places where toilets were close to the roads. In Moti Nagar, Rana Sahab had just provided the caretaker and the CBO was actually involved in maintaining and operating the toilet.

We asked the caretaker for the President of the CBO. To our surprise, the President and most of the members of the CBO were not residents of the slum at all. After some time the president arrived. He was a Bihari and was in his early thirties. We asked him how he managed staying outside the slum and still being the President of its CBO. He very generously stated that he wanted to start a movement with various slum communities for their welfare and heads several CBOs in the area. The NGO responsible for building the toilet had approached him with this proposal and he had accepted it because it was beneficial for the people. When we asked him about how he earns his living, he told us that he works as a social worker for the Congress Party and some three years ago, the Home Minister for the state, Kripa Shanker Singh had hand picked him for organising slum communities in that area. We found that in the slum there is a large family of Bihari Rickshaw drivers, which is extremely influential regarding all decisions of the slum. The people in the slum complained about the intimidating attitude of Bihari family and characterised them as goondas. They also confirmed that the President entered the slum through this family. The only two members in the CBO from the slum were from this family. 

One of the key problems in the Slum Sanitation Programme was organising the electric supply and the water connection. The toilet in Moti Nagar had both. When we asked the President to show us the bills for these, he told us that they do not have any. He had managed to get these services through his political connections through paying bribes to the officials. The connections were not registered with the authorities and that was the reason why there were no bills. When we told him that this was illegal, he defended saying that he was providing service to the people and the Municipality and the World Bank should be grateful for that. 

We then sat to discuss with him the finances of operating and maintaining. He told us that whatever money came from collection of monthly charges from the slum dwellers went for paying the salary of the caretaker and buying cleaning materials. Then we asked him about the accounts for the pay users. He told us that the caretaker collected it to supplement his income and the pay users being less, the accounts are not maintained. The caretaker earlier had told us that all money collected from the pay users went to the CBO. We did not contradict the opinions of the President as it would bring the caretaker into a difficult situation, but we recorded the discrepancy in the response. We also conducted a loading survey in when we estimated a figure of Rs. 900 from the pay users per day. 

In a number of cases we found that this programme of the World Bank had given birth to a breed of new entrepreneurs. There were agents like Rana Sahab, there were caretakers who themselves were contractors, and there were the entrepreneur CBOs. In some cases we found innovative methods undertaken by the CBOs to exclude people from the slum and force them as pay-users as pay-users pay four to five times more than the ‘legitimate’ slum dwellers. They would do this by classifying slum dwellers into categories of ‘owners’, ‘renters’, etc. In one instance in Colaba, we found a militant Mahila Mandal, which only allowed monthly-passes for the CBO members and the rest of the slum dwellers were pay users. 

When we left Moti Nagar, the President urged us to incorporate a recommendation for his work for the next stage and suggested that there were a lot of slums in the area where he operated that required toilets. 
Case: A Labour Contractor and the Labour  

A friend graduated with a BSc degree from the University of Mumbai in 1994 as thousands do in the city every year. With no specialisation and a huge pressure of earning, which is typical of the lower middle class families for youngsters who are ‘graduates’, this friend also started looking for jobs that had nothing to do with her qualifications. She would attend an interview for a secretary, or join some classes that guarantee an airhostesses job, or learn typing and basic computers, or even try some cooking classes. While the family’s ambitions remained restricted to get her married to some rich man, she struggled to get some job where she could get some money for the father-less family. Finally she started taking tuitions for small children in the neighbourhood. As two years passed, the family was getting desperate to get her married. Meanwhile she fell in love with a man from a different community and they got married against the wishes of her family. The following year they had a daughter and the man went to some gulf country to earn money. When he came back he was HIV positive. My friend divorced her husband and came back to her family with the daughter. She again started her tuitions. After a couple of years she realised that her tuitions would not be enough to raise her daughter. She started to look for new jobs. It was 2000, and the BPOs were settling in India, as there was a large labour surplus that could speak and write English. My friend started looking for a job with the some BPO companies, but could not get through because of her accent. 

A neighbour asked her to contact a man who was arranging jobs for a number of people. She contacted this man and he asked her to come for an interview the next week. He was a skilled labour contractor providing services to the corporate sector. By this time the contractual labour policy that allowed people to be hired on contracts was already in place. He placed her with the Airtel Company as data entry personnel. She started her job in October 2000 on a salary of Rupees 2500 per month. She found that the same contractor had supplied all the staff in her department. She also learnt that Airtel did not want any unionisation of staff and wanted freedom in hiring and firing staff as per their requirement and this contractor was performing very well. Soon there was a gossip in the department that the contractor was earning Rs 2500 on every personnel he had provided and the actual salary of every data entry person was Rs. 5000. People who tried to raise this issue were sacked from their jobs immediately. Most of the employees in the department were in a similar situation as my friend – they were in a serious need of a job to fulfil some social obligations. There was one girl who had recently lost her father; another was a young girl living in a slum whose mother was an old household maid; another had an unemployed father; another had recently come to Mumbai from a rural place in Maharashtra and was living with her relatives, etc. Most of them came in touch with the contractor through some neighbourhood or family links. Some of them had contacted the contractor directly after seeing an ad on a railway platform wall, which said: ‘URGENTLY NEED MALE AND FEMALE PERSONS FOR OFFICE WORK. ATTRACTIVE SALARY IS ASSURED. PLEASE CALL 9820912744’. Such ads could be seen everywhere in the city, on railway platforms, inside train compartments, in buses, on trees and walls on the streets etc. Sometimes these are even distributed along with newspapers. I tried calling several of them and found similar offers between Rupees. 2000 and 4000 for eight hours per day, for six days a week. Sometimes, there were contractors who were ready to give work on task basis that one could take home. The payment here was on unit of work completed. I found several kinds labour demands, from making papad and achar to entering hard data into a soft format. 

My friend worked with Airtel for six months, after the excitement of the office job had perished and she wanted more money. She again applied to a BPO: Intelenet that was close to her house. In the same month, Intelenet was taken over by the Housing Finance Institution, HDFC that wanted to diversify its activities. Incidentally, Intelenet had a large work order to become back office staff for some American Credit Card holders, and required staff that could handle such work. The accent for this job did not matter, and with six months experience at Air Tel, my friend got appointed for this job with a salary of Rupees 10100 per month. This was her highest monthly income so far. Her working hours and holidays were adapted to the other continent and she would go to work at strange hours. Though she stayed very close to her office, an office vehicle would pick her up everyday. There were also several corporate office behavioural patterns that she was new to – there were parties at five star hotels, there were special days when everyone had to do something strange like wearing a red dress, etc. Moreover, she was getting to know a lot about American Credit Card Holders and their problems: like there were people who had got cards from their spouses and were now divorced and nobody was ready to pay the bills! I think she had started enjoying her job and the office environment. There were several incidences she use to tell us: about a colleague’s suicide attempt, about a fire in the office, about some foreigners visiting her office and examining their works and then visiting fashion street to buy cheap clothes. 

Then came some cost cutting measures by the company. They changed the office timings to accommodate the possibility of workers able to get last trains and stopped door-to-door pick up and dropping service. Now the employees had to assemble at some railway station and then they would be picked up from there. This measure did not disturb my friend’s schedule as she lived very close to the company office. But it put a lot of scepticism in the minds of a lot of her colleagues who used to otherwise think that the BPOs are the best things to happen. People who had real problems of travelling during odd hours started complaining. When the complaints grew out of proportion, the company sacked a number of employees. The company could afford this with a large labour market in the city, with skilled people, just waiting for any job they could get. 

By now it has been four years since my friend joined Intelenet. She does not find the job very secure and has decided to enter into a joint venture with a friend. They have both decided to buy a TATA Sumo pick up car on a loan. Their plan is to rent this car to Intelenet on contractual basis for Rupees 45000 per month. Since they have been working within Intelenet for some time now, they have established very good relations with officers who deal with staff transportation. It is on an advice of one of the officers that they have decided to take up this venture. Their mathematics is very simple: Rupees 4000 for the driver, Rupees 10000 for the fuel, Rs. 8000 for maintainance and Rupees 4000 for the loan. They would still save some 19000 Rupees. They further plan to invest this in buying another car within a year. 

Prasad Shetty
Residence: 501, Marigold, Opposite Shakti Motors, New Link Road, Malad (W),
Mumbai 400 064 INDIA
Phone: +91-9820912744
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