Doing Business in India: Mumbai

Mumbai was the second city on our trip where we had company visits (with some amazing cultural stops in Agra & Jaipur in-between). Like Delhi, Mumbai was a great city of contrasts as well – from the glitz and glamour of Bollywood to the vibrant start-up scene to the street industries of the slums – it is a city of great energy and optimism!

Above: a “portable barber” in Dharavi

One of our first activities in the cities was an extensive tour of Dharavi, Mumbai’s biggest slum, and the 3rd largest slum in the world. It was the setting of the film “Slumdog Millionaire” and houses almost 1,000,000 inhabitants in 0.8 square miles, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. We were split up into small groups, each led by someone who lives in the slum.

Above: one stage of Dharavi’s vibrant plastic recycling industry

Our guide, Samir, took us around to see all of the lucrative industries that take place in the commercial part of the slum. We learned about the various stages of the slum’s biggest industry, plastic recycling. We also saw leather production, pottery making, and the crafting of household goods like suitcases and children’s raincoats. It was really incredible to see how high quality products were made in these cramped conditions, often in makeshift structures.

We also learned that the literacy rate within the slum is the same as the national average and that there are apartments sold there for up to $200,000. Quite a few of my classmates noted that the people there did not seem unhappy, in fact many walked around with smiles on their faces or laughing at jokes. While some people from rural communities come to Dharavi for 11 months of the year to make money to send back to their families, their sentiment towards the slum seems pretty positive. They are pleased to find the work and be part of a tight-knit community. I think all of us were surprised at how safe we felt walking though Dharavi – everyone really looks out for one other there. Our accompanying professor, Brett Martin, pointed out in his reflection to us the immense sense of hope that came out of the visit – that no matter what happens to any of us in the future, even if we lose everything, we could learn something from the people of Dharavi and their incredible drive to survive and thrive under difficult conditions.

Above: CBS students with “Slumdog Millionaire” actor Dev Patel

Upon returning to our hotel, nestled in a high end neighborhood among the homes of Bollywood stars (almost a different world!), we had an exciting surprise in the lobby. We ran into Mr. Slumdog Millionaire himself, the star of the film, Dev Patel! Needless to say, we were all pretty starstruck.

In stark contrast to the Dharavi visit, we also had the opportunity to visit the incredible offices of Dream 11, a fantasy sports start-up founded by CBS alum Harsh Jain. If you love sports, this office would be your Disneyland – everything from cricket balls hanging from the ceiling, to the astroturf floors, to the plethora of autographed memorabilia. This office was a FUN place to be! We really appreciated Harsh’s candor in speaking with us about his start-up journey and the great ups and downs of the business that he experienced before it reached the success it has had to date. It was such a privilege to hear from him and to see the energy of the vibrant office!

Seeing the diversity of bustling Mumbai was an excellent way to end our trip. We really got a sense of all walks of life in Mumbai and an idea of the Hindi concept jugaad, meaning “to make or repair things in an improvised or inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand”. We saw jugaad come in many different forms, including our trip organizers seamlessly coming up with solutions whenever any small blips in our programming or timing got in the way to make our trip totally seamless and memorable – the spirit of entrepreneurship & ingenuity is truly alive and everywhere in India!

Victoria Harman is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School.

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