Acara Challenge
2011

Favorite part: Collaborating with our Indian teammates and getting to hear and see our customers thousands of miles away in photos and video interviews.

Hardest part: Getting a true answer for how much users would pay for the service during surveys.

Biggest revelation: Realizing street food vendors are employing their children, as young as 5, to wash dishes behind their stall: a significant barrier to adoption of our service.

During the Creative Design for Affordability class at Cornell, I teamed up with three Cornell-based students, and five Mumbai-based students (at the Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research) to enter a proposal for the Acara Challenge. Our task was to design an entrepreneurial and sustainable product or service to address food security in India. Our team developed a dish and utensil washing service for street food vendors that used municipal water access and Tata’s Swach filters to provide clean water for a small fee. Our proposed business employs local women as part-time dishwashers, rickshaw drivers for dish transport, and provides a sanitation certification program for participating vendors.

The Process

I really enjoyed the opportunity to work within the bounds of India’s food infrastructure. The issue of improving food security was unique because there were so many ways to approach the problem. The added practical constraint of extreme affordability made reasonable solutions even harder to construct. Having identified street food as an opportunity, our Indian teammates spent the first half of the semester-long project reaching out to vendors and street food customers in India trying to understand their needs and concerns. Meanwhile, the Cornell-based teammates began outlining existing infrastructures and programs that could be pieced together for our purposes. Ultimately, we combined the cheap accessibility of rickshaw transit, the logistical expertise of dabbawalla services (hot lunch deliverymen in India), and the blossoming female workforce (using a program like Lijjat, to provide part-time work).

What it Means to Me

Working with Mumbai-based teammates was an extremely valuable lesson in communication, cooperation, and exchange of information. After some early struggles, we set up a weekly meeting time to speak over the phone, even if no major progress had been made. These regular meetings shed light on how our Indian teammates’ related to our customers, the street vendors, and I believe, the Cornell-based teammates’ desire to introduce a new model instead of trying to replicate an existing model more cheaply. This sharing and aligning of motivations was critical to our team’s success.

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