This is the third and final post in a series of articles providing an overview of the Pecha Kucha night at the American Center last Thursday. One week after the event, I still feel energized by the presentations I witnessed and inspired by the work and thought that all our speakers showcased, and in so many ways writing these blogposts has been immensely helpful in keeping that feeling alive. It isn’t always that you come out of an event full of presentations feeling like you learned something and still feel energized, and for that we definitely have the excellent PKN format to thank! Here are brief descriptions of the remaining three speakers (you can read about the others in part 1 and part 2 of this series):Ratnesh Yadav, co-founder and director of Husk Power Systems, was the next speaker, talking about his journey of founding HPS, a company that focuses on providing eco-friendly power in off-grid rural areas. In this very inspiring presentation, he demonstrated how the introduction of electricity in rural areas can lead to a much more inclusive and holistic development of the community at large. Once a village has access to electricity, many more avenues of social and economic life open up, from new businesses and shops to schools and community spaces. Currently, over 125,000 villages in India are unconnected to the grid, and once the sun is down, must either be immersed in darkness or depend on highly inefficient and polluting sources of light and power, such as kerosene and wood burning stoves. Moreover, even the mainstream power grid generates power using fossil fuels. What is so incredible about the HPS power plant is that it is a completely carbon neutral process, and even the waste that it generates is used to produce incense sticks, thereby creating yet another business venture. It is hard to capture and do justice to every point that Ratnesh made during his presentation, but one last thing that really stood out was the motto of HPS: Dignity, Respect, and No Bribes, which Ratnesh tells us is the reason why many of HPSâ€™ licenses have been pending for years!
Following Ratnesh, Blessing Okorougo, a William J. Clinton Fellow currently working in New Delhi at the Centre for Social Research, spoke at a very personal level about her experiences living and working abroad, especially the time she spent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She talked about living in Kinshasa as an expat, and of being in a conflict-stricken part of the world, where as a foreigner and especially as an American citizen, you are very restrained in the kinds of experiences you have, and end up living a very protected and sheltered life, with very little access and knowledge of the local culture and people. However, when she met the Congolese contemporary artist Nshole, her experience of the city and the culture changed considerably. He welcomed her into his studio, introduced her to other people in the locality, including other artists and activists, and gave her access into a previously hidden part of the culture. All these interactions, and especially the time spent with Nshole, contributed to giving her a much richer and more meaningful understanding of what life in the DRC is really like.
The final speaker for the evening was Gautam Gandhi, who works as the Business Development Manager for Google in India. Rather than talk about his work at Google, however, Gautamâ€™s presentation focused on a kind of internal journey of planning and executing oneâ€™s life. He talked about how it is a common thing in business and work life to plan goals, set milestones and design a whole roadmap of how to achieve these, but that we very rarely make the same kind of effort in our personal lives. While all of us tend to have certain personal goals, and make all sorts of resolutions all the time, we often fail to achieve them because we donâ€™t dedicate the same amount of planning and effort to ensuring that we actually attain them, mostly because we donâ€™t really articulate them and break them down and set ourselves achievable milestones and deadlines. It was incredibly inspiring to hear Gautam tell his own stories of setting goals and making life plans and actually following through, and also made for an excellent end to the presentations, and a very positive note to begin the conversations that followed.
The reception itself was a lot of fun, with some excellent conversations and animated discussions with all the speakers over food and drinks, some of which were highly entertaining. In a lot of ways, this is the best part of the evening, because the separations between speakers, moderators and the audience melt away and there is free-flowing candid conversation (well lubricated with wine and beer) and opportunities for people to ask questions, talk about their work, network and meet other like-minded people, and just allow the talk to meander, as good conversations often do. On a more personal note, it was also an amazing send off to my birthday the next day, and I thank everyone who was there for their warm wishes.