Testing our Beliefs in Mumbai

by Tathiana Reis, MBA'12 (6/28/12)
Tathiana Reis, MBA'12

Tathiana Reis, MBA '12 writes about a vist to the slums of Mumbai to study the target market for a new business aimed at pregnant women.



Last fall, I had the opportunity to work on a project with students from both Cornell and KJ Somaiya Institute for Management Research (India) on a food security project, as part of a class called Creative Design for Affordability. Our project, Ujjwal (Hindi for a bright, splendorous future), addressed malnutrition of pregnant women living in the slums of Mumbai through a “healthy baby club.”  Pregnant women could join the club and learn about nutrition through social gatherings, health camps, and distribution of sample nutrition kits. pregnanat woman

As a culmination of our classwork we presented our plan in the Acara Challenge, a business plan competition run by the University of Minnesota to identify promising social ventures, and won Silver.  The prize was initial funding to pilot our idea in India and take part in the Acara Summer Institute, a two-week intensive course in Bangalore with other promising social entrepreneurs to further develop our Ujjwal concept.

In June, prior to the summer institute, I travelled with my teammate Schuyler Blackman, MBA’12, to Mumbai to conduct additional field research and refine our business model. We visited NGOs working in women’s health, a pharmaceutical company that funds advocacy groups and NGOs, and some slums in Mumbai. While the NGOs and pharmaceutical company visits gave us great insight into the implementation of partnerships and the importance of creating a vision for the desired state for our customers and partners, the visit to slums really tested some of our assumptions.

In our first visit, as soon as we left the train at Mahim Junction and stepped into Dharavi (the largest slum in India and second largest in Asia), reality hit us. How can we propose gatherings of 50-60 pregnant women altogether, in a scenario where space is so scarce? Visiting both commercial and residential areas with 10 square-foot rooms, and walking through shoulder-wide narrow corridors at Dharavi made us wonder…Mumbai Slum

We also had the opportunity to further explore differences in what pregnant women need (food with nutrients such as Iron, Iodine, and other key vitamins) versus what they really want. Small shops at Dharavi with disposable diapers and other baby articles (such as baby carriers) led to additional questions over how pregnant women in slums spend their disposable income. Observations of pregnant women in Pratiksha Nagar wearing jewels and nail polish also indicated potential income that could be channeled towards better nutrition.

All in all, our trip was an amazing opportunity to better understand our target market and to see the reality of our secondary research. From a personal perspective, venturing out in Mumbai traffic, experiencing the food, and simply exploring Mumbai has been priceless.  I am glad I had this opportunity in my MBA program for both professional and personal growth.

Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise received a Course and Program grant from National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) in fall of 2010 to significantly enhance and institutionalize the Creative Design for Affordability class that helps students conceptualize and develop new businesses that address global societal challenges.

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