Finding Your Purpose

That's me!

That's me!

"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” ― Mark Twain

Did you ever ask yourself why you were born?

You were born for a purpose! God created each of us for a reason—and we are happiest when we are living in harmony with the purpose he has given us. But you need to know what that purpose is.

In order to find your purpose in life, you have to get out of your comfort zone and explore. Get to know new cultures, new people, new cities, new adventures, new food, new living, new insights and new experiences. 

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” – Danny Kaye

Something strange happens to you when you board a plane to a new country. It's almost as if your eyes open again for the first time. Your heart starts beating with renewed excitement and happiness. It's hard to capture with words the very moment you lay your sights on new interesting places;
or when you finally understand what someone is saying in another language;
or when you get to know an interesting thing about the country which you’ve never heard of before;
or when you live with locals and they cook their local food for you and tell you fascinating stories about themselves or even their culture.

These moments are life changing; they take us out of our element and remind us of why we are here.   

One of the keys to discovering your purpose is Self-Discovery. A big part of knowing yourself is understanding what makes you unique. Being different from everyone else is not always easy. But take it from me, to each their own. My story of discovering my uniqueness wasn’t just about travelling to another country but rather volunteering my time in another country.

This is what I’ve learnt about how volunteering changes your life:

1. It widens your mind-set

Nothing changes the way you view your own life like seeing the way other people live. Not only will you appreciate what you have, you will also have a sense of curiosity and empathy for other cultures and countries. Soak in the different lifestyles, the complex languages and people’s traditional values- and you will eventually realize just how different people are and it will make you evaluate your own values.

2. You learn to enjoy the moment

Whether you are having difficult times or good times, you will learn to enjoy the moment because you realize that each situation is a learning experience and you emerge out of each one of them a different person. You begin to accept that you are growing up and become more self-aware. These feeling makes you value experiences over things. So, for example, sitting on the beach in an island in Bali with your favourite book and drink outweighs by value any merchandise you could ever purchase.

3. You learn to be flexible and accepting of any situation

Almost everyone has experienced a hard time at some point in their lives. These experiences could range from the consequence of a delayed or cancelled flight, to traffic when you’re already late, to the culture shock of being in a new country, and sometimes direr situations. The beauty in these difficulties is that it teaches you how to keep moving forward despite the hard situation at hand.  It teaches you to be content with the things you have under these circumstances. You start to adopt a calmer approach and do not get easily frustrated.  Once you reach this stage of calmness and acceptance, you will be happy to move onto your next adventure and be open to experiencing new situations. And then, you start figuring out that you can handle most situations and that there really aren't a lot of things worth getting upset about.

4. You develop a sense of achievement

A sense of achievement is the air that makes us feel alive, the passion that makes us wake up every day feeling excited about life and ready to conquer the difficulties that we could possibly face through the day. We feel alive when we find this kind of sense of achievement which results in reducing stress, depression and remaining mentally stimulated.

These stages essentially lead to developing your sense of purpose which is like your first step to ascertaining your purpose in life.

You are now very excited, eager and curious to learn more about your actual purpose. In no particular order, you will:

  • Start setting new goals and priorities in your life as you don't want to waste precious time anymore.
  • Start getting involved in varied types of volunteer work because you want to discover your true calling and passion in life;
  • Begin to feel that you are more connected to your society and will cultivate the right kind of passion to make it a better place;
  • Be more self-confident because you know that you are doing something for the greater good of your society;
  • Gain faith in your sense of achievement when you see people actually living better lives because of the work you do.

Finding your purpose is a journey, my friend.  It may not be exactly these steps, but however you choose to follow your destiny, once you’ve discovered your purpose, your life will never be the same and that’s a good thing.  

You will begin to define your happiness on your own terms. You will wake up every day excited and ready to change people's lives. When you know your purpose, you start living and breathing fresh air.

Me and my Afro hair

Michelle Obama, photoshoped picture

Michelle Obama, photoshoped picture

In 2012 this picture of FLOTUS Michelle Obama, did rounds on Twitter and it trended for a while. Why? You ask. Well, it’s because she is seen to be wearing her natural hair. In my opinion she actually looked stylish and on trend! Don’t you agree? Okay, yes; the photo was photo shopped to my disappointment, but it sparked a hot and dicey conversation especially among the black folk living in the Diaspora.

In fact one Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (the author of Americanah which by the way, I recommend everyone reads. You will thank me later!) was once quoted saying “If Michelle Obama wore her hair natural during the campaigns, Obama would never have been president of The United States of America”.

At that time, I remember thinking to myself, but that comment is so extreme and does not make any sense at all! Was it not Obama who was running for the presidency and not his wife? Well, especially not her hair! Why then would a rational person look at hair and not at something like policies or previous track record to decide who to vote for! Well, being that I am not a US citizen, I thought to myself that maybe I should care less and just mind my own business!

Four years later, I wonder whether I have been living a lie all my life. As children from the African descent (or rather children with Afro hair), we are brought up thinking that natural hair is not appropriate. That it is not “proper”. It either has to be straightened or relaxed for it to be “proper”. In fact one cannot walk in an interview with their natural hair because they give an impression of being unprofessional, wild and radical. Maybe that is the reason Obama would not have won if Michelle had worn her natural hair; because the voters would think his wife to be wild. But hey, I am not a political analyst nor do I boast to know of any political semantics, so I will say that this is a big If!

Straightened hair

Straightened hair

Well, for me, as up to two months ago, it felt so normal to wear extensions on my hair. It was normal to put on that weave as it gave convenience. It was normal to relax or straighten hair and dash somewhere when in a rush and it was all too normal not to wear my natural hair. This was the normalcy of life in my world.

But who comes up with the rationale of normal? Even mad men think of us normal people as abnormal! So who or what defines the standards of normal? Some will argue that normal is defined by the way one is brought up, their cultures and beliefs. But just to borrow a quote from Chimamanda she says “Culture does not make people. People make culture”. I therefore do not understand where the rationale behind this philosophy of “normal” comes from.

Recently there was a protest that garnered international attention by South African girls who were protesting against their school’s policy which forced them to relax their hair and it implied that natural hair is “messy”. Previously in Kenya too, a certain lady had sued a school because her child had not been allowed to wear dreadlocks in the school terming it as “inappropriate” yet they accepted braided hair.

So, is the “normal “definition of how hair should look like and be worn slowly creeping in even to those that have afro hair themselves? Now, I don’t mean to say that weaving, relaxing or straightening hair is wrong. After all, it is from this practice that some people earn their living. But don’t you think that it is an indicator of sorts that we (people with afro hair) are slowly losing part of ourselves in the process?

For the past few months, it has been quite a struggle for me to find the quick- fix type of service that I am used to back home in Africa. This is because; looking at Indians they have very silky, flowing hair. Some straight, some curly. Similarly for our Arabian brothers and so it is with the Caucasians. So they would have no need for braiding or weaving. They go to the salons for issues like styling, treating hair fall or maybe coloring. Not for plaits! So the struggle for me has been real here in India! I did finally get a hair dresser who could handle my hair, its texture and kinkiness though at slightly higher rates than I assumed to be.

Unfortunately hair in this case is not the only issue. The underlying notion that Afro hair seems to portray someone as “the angry black woman” or unprofessional or Radical or improper or extreme or at times downright ugly is what the major issue is. For the life of me I just cannot seem to understand the definitions of “proper” and “ugly” in this case!

Have you ever wondered why everyone causes a stir when the Hollywood stars walk the red carpet having worn their hair natural? Take Lupita Nyong’o for example or the lovely Emmy winning actor Viola Davis. The conversation is always about their hair and how courageous they are for wearing it natural. So much so, you would be forgiven to think that it’s a totally abnormal thing to walk the red carpet with natural afro hair.

So in the past few months, though through forced circumstances, I have had a serious conversation with myself over a cup of coffee, listening to “I am not my hair” by India.Arie.  I have therefore decided to try as best as I can to wear my hair natural as I embrace its Uniqueness and the difference it brings! It may not form a pony tail or a bun but it gives a beautiful afro. It may not be soft and silky but with a little coconut oil and conditioner it gets better. It may not be long either but this saves me time when combing or washing it. So, it is a matter of looking at the brighter side of things and embracing it.

Surprising however is, how other folks are complimenting me on my hair because they have never seen anything like it before and the concept is fascinating to them. They keep telling me to wear it natural more often. I have therefore come to the realization that if you wear your confidence on your sleeves, everybody seems to follow you along and think that, that is what is “normal” and they stick by your definition.

It is therefore time to embrace our (your) uniqueness whether it’s the big afro hair or the language you speak or the color of your skin or your culture or your height or even the structure of your smile. Wear that confidence on your sleeves people!

 Maya Angelo (one of those that wore her natural afro hair) once said, If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be! It is time that you reveal to the world your version of your true self! It is time you define your own sorts of normal!


My two cents on living in shared spaces

My short stay in India while completing the IDEX Fellowship Program has been rather eventful to say the least. I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that my roommate and I now have a little something in common with nomadic folk. I may not be able to speak for my roommate, but in my case, as is back in my country, my community is known to be nomadic. So let’s just say that I’m quite used to this style of living.

First, a little background - An unfortunate series of events had resulted in us having to move out from our original accommodation. We were moved into a space with two other girls for a short while in a different side of town. Once the issue was sorted out, we were moved yet again to another side of town where finally, we have our own cute little space.

I think it would be fitting to assume that this experience makes me a Guru of sorts when it comes to living out of your suitcase, packing light and living in shared spaces. Whether you are living or working in a shared space (fairly common in India), I’m certain you’ll relate with a couple of things. Allow me to detail a few of these life lessons I’ve picked up along the way - the pros and the cons:


1.      The beautiful conversation

The late night talks are amazing! Ranging from world politics to pollution, the Roman Empire and its history, must visit places and Indian culture, the subjects are many. Conversation just seems to keep going, even until two in the morning sometimes. If you’re by yourself for a moment in the dining area of your shared space, chances are interesting conversation is right around the bend.


The downside:

You completely lose track of time! Before you know it, the next morning arrives and you realize you never did get around to finishing that book by Sydney Sheldon you promised yourself you’d be done with by the morning.

Also, you may as well forget the concept of personal space! Case in point - perhaps you’d like to have yourself a good cry at night over nothing in particular, but all at once you realize you may not be able to do so with everyone in such close proximity asking a million and one questions that no one really has answers to.


2.      There’s always a shoulder to lean on

This is the real deal. The friendships you make are life -long. You always have a shoulder to lean on when things are not quite dandy. When you just need to complain and grumble, there is always someone willing to hear you out. And heaven forbid, when you feel on the verge of breaking into pieces because the love of your life, or so you thought, calls to say it is over, someone is there to listen and offer a shoulder to cry on. Amazing, right?


But ever so often, all you need is that personal space to just deal! In the words of Jennifer Kass, “We all need our sacred space as women, as men, to get to know ourselves and then to create from that place of inner knowing and inner connection.” I’ll just leave it at this for now.

3.      You’ll never be lacking in solutions

The mere fact that you always have people around you at any given time will mean there is almost always a solution to your dilemma. In all likelihood, you will form unbreakable bonds with a select few, if not all, in your shared space and they’re who come to your rescue when in need. For instance, if you find yourself running low on funds, you are sure to have someone loan you the sum at negligible or no interest rates. If it is a dress you want to borrow for a particular wedding or party, then apart from size differences, you can bet there’ll be something fabulous to don. Bottom line, with bonds like these, you’ll never sleep hungry.


You know those roommates who routinely take your things without asking and simply take it for granted you will be okay with it, because you are friends? Or, those workmates who keep taking your red pen assuming that you don’t mind because you rarely use them anyway? Seems downright rude. They say familiarity breeds contempt and you’re best advised to prepare to deal with this at some point.

4.      Chores can be divided.

Nothing like it if the people in the shared space have a duties schedule down to a T. Instead of being in charge of everything all at once, splitting chores between roommates allows each one more time to carry out other duties. This simplifies a lot of the routine household work in the long run.


There will always be that one person who is forever unavailable when it comes to their turn for chores. They will either be travelling or they decide they want to sleep at a friend’s place on chores day. Better yet, they even decide they want to order in despite knowing fully well it is their turn to make dinner. And come end of the month, you realize that this specific somebody has done absolutely nothing! And that how friendships are broken over such petty issues.

5.      Diversity

The kind of exposure and learnings gained while exploring the different cultures and ways of life within India, is in itself a rich experience. Who knew my palate could ever tolerate any kind of mirchi (the hindi word for chilli), but even that challenge was met, thanks to my very good Indian friend. I highly recommend exploring a different culture as it has a way of revealing things you never knew about yourself.


Let’s face it - at some point, you’re going to miss home and all you will want is to have something authentically homey for dinner. That isn’t half as easy because everyone else prefers something different. Or in a more sensitive sense, if you or your roommate who follows a religious prayer routine beginning in the wee hours every morning, it is likely the other person is not going to be thrilled with it. A good bit of patience and compromising is needed in these situations.

6.      Splitting bills

What, in the world, is better than having a few extra bucks in your pocket? Little else. So, when there is an opportunity to save those bucks, you grab it and run with it! Sharing spaces is quite the money saver because you split on rent, utility bills, grocery bills and the like, making life easier.


As the age old adage goes, ‘Money is the root of all evil’ and in this case, it does hold true. Maybe you are the kind of person who takes saving to the next level and somehow your roommate/co-worker always wants to leave the AC on at night because they’re feeling too hot while you are left to freeze. But your bigger concern is the whopping bill coming at the end of the month. Then there’s the person who takes baths that last for hours and again, there’s that bill you’re dreading. My friends, I have come to realise that splitting bills is an art form following a very delicate process.

Shared spaces, though it is not everyone’s ideal option, has become an increasingly popular choice as property rates are skyrocketing. In my having to embrace this situation, here are my final two cents to you:

One; treat others the way you would like them to treat you.

Two; always strive to leave everything better than the way you found them.



This evening, my computer crushed; and if you know anything about this, you know that it is the worst experience and/or feeling on earth. Worse than when you knock your knuckles against the edge of the table or when you burn your tongue with hot porridge, but that is totally debatable.

So in the middle of all of that I happen to stare really hard at nothing in particular and my mind started to wander about. Mind you this was my second day in office. Do not judge me! My excuse is I was not really very busy at the time. Anyway in the middle of my hard "earned" stare and lost in thought it just hit me-I am not the smartest in the room-literally!

I was born and raisedin a pretty decent family (and I cannot complain).I was led to think and believe that I am good at everything and that no one could compare. You know those mums who encourage their kids to be athletes and tell them how great they are and that one day they could be Usain Bolt yet watching them in a race is like watching grass grow? My parents are sort of that type. They say it is a form of instilling self esteem in a child. (I don’t know how true this is for I am no expert) I love my parents for that because my self esteem is at a pretty good level But seriously folks! Why do you do this to us and then let the world "teach" us much, much later that we are not actually the best in everything. Harsh realities! Huh?

Let me give a little background of where this feeling is coming from.

So recently I happen to be posted with a top notch venture capital firm in India that focuses on social impact and I thought to myself what could really go wrong? Indeed nothing. It was the perfect fit. Kind of like finding the right shoe size! (If you experience shoe bites then you know what I mean here)

Then it just hit me! Almost everyone had done their MBA from an Ivy League school, some had done two. Maybe apart from the delivery guy, who is so smart, sometimes I think he actually pursed an MBA.

Everyone here has extremely diversified experiences, including this particular delivery guy. You could ask anyone about anything, from the food industry to money markets to the clothing industry to what is trending and they would almost always have an instant right answer Travelling around the world pursuing their passions and fighting for what they believed in, is something they do on a daily routine. To add to that, everyone spoke right! You know those people who can sustain intelligent conversations for a long time and manage to keep it interesting? These are the people I am talking about! They know what to say, when to say it and to whom to say it to.

So here I am. Almost very freshly graduated like seven or say eight months ago. I graduated from a university that does not rank among the highest 10 in the world but a good school none the less. My experience is almost negligible if you compare it to those of the people sitting in this room. And unlike them I can't boast of being well traveled. Clearly I do not fall in the same league.

 However, do not confuse this as me looking down on myself or being sympathetic about my situation. Far from it! Trust me I have lots to offer, but that is beside the point I want to make now. The way I see it, I get to hang around people who I can constantly keep learning from; whether socially or otherwise.

It is a very unfortunate scenario if you always find yourself being the smartest in the room and my advice to you would be- You need new friends!

You should be a person who is willing to learn from others and grow beyond what your mind can fathom. The growth of the mind is key and it does not come from just reading and pumping knowledge into your head but from not being the smartest and letting other people teach you.

I agree with what Albert Einstein once said; if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life forever thinking it is a fool. So never compare yourself with any other person and maintain your individuality. But the good thing about intelligent people is that they have mastered the art of knowing where, how and what button to press so that they can get the best out of you.

Lesson here is, never find yourself being the smartest in the room!

5 Ways To Discover Yourself


‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’

I always liked this quote and have made this my motto in life. Every single step I took in my life was because of this quote and it has helped me grow as a person. But this time though, I got out of my comfort zone and went really far out.

For most of my life, I wondered about my life purpose and was really eager to discover myself, to know what I really want in my life. Life lead me to India, a land where many have come to be lost, to be found, to be discovered, to be actualized. True to form, I ‘found’ myself here.

Here are 5 ways to go about your self-discovery:

 1.      Be courageous

One lesson I learned is to have the courage to seek new opportunities and experiences and to let go of the things that no longer help you grow. This is the hardest lesson but once you do it, you start learning about your own strengths and weaknesses and this makes you feel like a better and stronger person, ready to conquer life. 

2.     Never waste time

Time is the most precious thing in your life and you should learn how to use it well in achieving your future plans.

3.     Learn to be an Observer

Make life more interesting by admiring everything happening around you. Life is a lot more interesting if you learn to admire, observe and learn from everything around you. As long as you are willing to learn, you will see e an impact in your life that makes you see things differently.

4.     Be open-minded

Try to accept new situations and deal with them as challenges because amazing change happens when you decide to take control of your life.

5.     Make plans for the future and pursue them.

When you pick something you enjoy and go after it, two things happen. First, you gain a sense of confidence in yourself. Second, this confidence brings new and interesting people into your life.

Finding yourself may sound like a selfish goal, but it is actually an unselfish process that is the starting point of everything we do in life. In order to be the most valuable person to the world around us, we have to first know who we are, what we value and, in effect, what we have to offer. 

Finding yourself, my friends, will be the greatest and most important adventure of your lives :) 


The true treasure of India is definitely the people here— the fellows, the interns, the locals and the community at large. Interacting with them is like getting to know the whole world without stepping out of your door. JK Rowling once said "We touch other people’s lives simply by existing", my favourite moment in India this far is connected with, the people

It's fascinating how you change and see things differently in just two short weeks.

It is really amazing how some people can affect your life and make you a better person without even trying. I am always open to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures and always found it liberating. This exposure and experience brings new ideas and insights which make you think about your life differently.

For the first time in my life, I was deeply touched by another person. Her sense of calm and the positivity with which she deals with any situation is extremely inspiring.. She instils a sense of confidence and courage in me. It is because of this that I, today can deal with people and situations in a calm manner.

This made me realize that life is essentially, very simple and all the complications are created by us. So, why don't we just live life positively and be open to changes, accept things with a huge smile on our face. When you do this and stay calm, signals are sent to your brain to start solving the problem and you will find yourself more proactive than being stressed out and not doing anything.

Trust me I am implementing it now in my life and its working perfectly well.

Just be calm and positive and open to deal with situations proactively. Life is too short to stress out, just enjoy everything happening to you and react to it by a SMILE :)

A New Chapter in IDEX's Leadership

Today I recalled the day that Gray Matters Capital Foundation informed me that they would support the spin-off of the IDEX Fellowship program. There was a nervous yet excited energy that filled my entire body and soul. That day was almost three years ago - even though it feels like yesterday. With a scrappy and motivated staff already in place, we worked relentlessly to prove worthy of their trust and investment in our idea to increase diversity in the social sector by developing a global league of intrapreneurs to support the work of visionary entrepreneurs. After all- most people had never even heard the term intrapreneur!  

From that day forward we moved full steam ahead and never looked back; and what a rollercoaster ride it has been! In just three short years, we've managed to become a self-sustaining non-profit enterprise, attract hundreds of passionate applicants from every corner of the globe each year, train over 350 fellows, recruit an alumni advisory council and build a great network of partners, staff and advisors to support the work we do. I am so proud of what we have accomplished and fully recognize that it was not the single effort of any one person but only achieved through the collective contributions of many people who've believed in our mission.

Yet today, it's with the same excited energy that I share my transition from Executive Director at IDEX. The excitement is in the confidence of my successor Bhavna Mathur who has led IDEX as the Country Director for the past year. Bhavna has done an incredible job of deepening our impact across India and narrowing into the needs of our enterprise host partners and fellow community. We are beyond fortunate to have her guidance and leadership now and hopefully for many years to come. 

My work ahead in the impact space is also far from over. I will be returning back to Gray Matters Capital where I started my impact career over a decade ago to serve as Executive Director. GMC has been a catalytic player in the impact investing space since 2005, putting their belief in and resources towards visionary entrepreneurs who serve their communities. Needless to say I am both excited and extremely honored to re-engage with the team to continue building upon the foundation that it's Founder Bob Pattillo, the board, staff and countless partners have put in place.  In many ways I feel that my experience at IDEX has prepared me for this new charge. I know the nervous confidence that our investees must feel when they accept investment capital. I know the personal feeling of failure, the hard work, tough decisions and grit that is required to move beyond failure and the sweet taste of the little "aha moments" that lead to overall success.  

I am beyond thankful to my IDEX family, peers and network partners for their contributions to our work and the development of my own professional experience over the years. I look forward to remaning engaged with IDEX in my new role at GMC and know that many new and exciting things are on the horizon for IDEX.

Looking forward!
Erika Norwood 

On the Power of Love, Learning and Social Change

Shot at Seva Cafe, a cafe that operates on the basis of Gift culture and a pay it forward model in AhmedAbad, India

Shot at Seva Cafe, a cafe that operates on the basis of Gift culture and a pay it forward model in AhmedAbad, India

Here is a sharing of the strongest learning message that has come to me again and again during my time in India. It was emphasized, re-stressed upon and highlighted in different ways and formats that cannot be ignored.

I was sharing a tuktuk ride with this amazing woman who I spent a week with among other equally amazing people in Udaipur and a couple of questions came to my mind “How do you hold a community together? What underlies community learning, self-organization and cohesiveness?” Together, as a group of learners and education enthusiasts, we gathered for a week in Udaipur, India, we discussed and engaged with conversations and activities on learning, unlearning, hacking the education system and reclaiming our lives. The woman I shared the tuktuk ride with at the end of the week journey, Urmila was her name, holds a huge network of parents, children, educators and just people who are experimenting with alternative ways to living and learning. Urmila has been doing this for years and years now in her local community, Pune. I looked at her and just asked, “Urmila, what is your secret for holding this community together for all these years in a way that allows the community to connect and live inter-dependently? It also must be very exhausting to do so and deal with all of these people for that number of years? – so, what is your secret?” Urmila thought for a while and she had no answer except: “I think I really do love them, so I give them true love and I care about each and everyone of them”.

That other day, I finished my yoga class, it was the end of the day and the yoga studio was nearly empty. It was a very average day of my life, less maybe than average, silent and boring. I went into the dressing room to change and opened the door to go out. As I opened the door and took one step out of the dressing room into the lobby of the yoga academy, I saw one of the most powerful and inspiring moments of my life. I saw my yoga teacher, standing silently and courteously looking up, chin high, staring into an LCD screen. As I looked at the screen, I found it showed a a video of his Guru performing yoga asanas (positions) in a extremely graceful way that was almost like dancing in harmony with the universe. This is the Guru that also started the yoga academy and which his way we are following as students. My teacher stood there in all the serenity, peacefulness, and respect that I ever saw a person exhibiting. As I looked into his eyes, I found them full of tears, full of love that over-flowed in the space. The energy and the bond was so strong that it made me well up too. My teacher has spoken to me about his Guru many times, their journey together and the love they share as a learner and a teacher but this moment was much more powerful and evident than all of our conversations and all my teacher’s descriptions. A teacher who truly loves their students would want their students to be themselves rather than replicas of them as teachers.

From across the world, a previous work supervisor and a current mentor and best friend just happened to come to Bangalore, India from the US. I happened to know and be able to catch up with her after 2 years of distance. We had a fabulous conversation around many things in life but most importantly about what she sees her role in life as putting her “love into action”, her love for people, for the planet, for the world. She is the director of learning and development at Ashoka and she integrates her love into every learning experience she curates for the talent development of Ashoka people around the world. She wants to start spaces that are embedded in love and that aims at co-creation of projects.

Recently, I attended a conference on “inter-faith dialogue” with representatives from so many religious communities from different parts of the world. There were discussions on every possible aspect you can think of. Discussions were revolving around how we can create a world that is more harmonized and that embrace different faiths from angles of education, community, family, government, civil society ..etc. In the middle of all the discussions and the planning for potential projects that directly address the issue, a Buddhist monk from the Tibet talked and uncovered the point that we do not need to do anything to address embarking inter-faith relationships directly, we rather have to ask ourselves what are the underlying conditions that lead people to harm and not accept one another? And through a dialogue, the monk led us to the place where we realized that it is all about the lack of love. If you love someone, you will accept them as who they are and you will never think of harming them. Isn’t this the very deep, universal core message of all religions? Suddenly, the questions of the group became “how can we spread more love that is deep and real and create loving environments with long lasting connections?” rather than the original questions.

With Tibetan Buddhist Youth during an Inter-faith dialogue confrence

With Tibetan Buddhist Youth during an Inter-faith dialogue confrence

A few days ago, I was riding a cab with a group of 3 friends in Bangalore after attending a TEDx event. During a reflecting on the talks and the ideas discussed, I just found myself asking my friends “what is love?” People said acceptance, sacrifice, giving, and generosity. Love still remains mysterious though.

However, for now, and maybe for the purpose of coming to a closure of this piece, as a person who came to India to learn about “learning” and education innovations asking questions like: what are environments that are conducive for learning? How can we create a better future for the world and our children through education? As I went to explore answers in impact assessments of social businesses, key performance metrics, lesson plans and excel sheets with speculations of children desired learning outcomes, I just came to know that learning happens first and foremost through “love”.

On a classroom wall, in a school of Hippocampus, a company operating a network of rural learning spaces and schools and where I work in India.

On a classroom wall, in a school of Hippocampus, a company operating a network of rural learning spaces and schools and where I work in India.

Figure 3 On a classroom wall, in a school of Hippocampus, a company operating a network of rural learning spaces and schools and where I work in India.

I don’t know if we can design learning experiences where people experience love and connect more with their loving selves but I know that it is the only pre-requisite for someone, like me, seeking to create something within the field of “learning” and “education”.  Get in touch if you have ideas of learning experiences that we can design to prepare a new generation of “teachers” and “facilitators” who love their children, their students and their learners.

Shot at Abheek Academy, an alternative education school in Bangalore, India.

Shot at Abheek Academy, an alternative education school in Bangalore, India.

I have seen many, many people act towards social change in the world through my previous jobs and interactions. Their acts emanated from different places deep inside them. Some act from deep anger and vengefulness towards a society that never gave them their rights, some act from ego and a fame seeking place, some act from pity and sympathy, some act out of humility, sense of justice and a desire to give back. But far, far away from all, I’ve seen people who act towards social change from a deep place of “love” within them. They connect with this place inside them, go out to the world and the rest is magical.  It is a far, far better act than there could ever be. It is a far, far harder thing than can ever be done. It is a far, far, worthier journey to explore and a far, far more enjoyable road to go down.


Reflections on India

We are about to enter the last 2 weeks of my 6 months in India and overall it has been an unforgettable experience.

I remember when I first decided to move to Bangalore, I did think that 6 months was a really long time to be away from home. Not only that, many people at home said “India?! Really?! India!?” with a look of shock and surprise. Yes, there were times when time seemed to go slowly however there were just as many times when time just flew by. Yes, there were times when I wondered why I decided to come to India. And yes, there were times that I just wanted to go home. Coming here with 14 other fellows and sharing the common experience has certainly helped the adjustment/transition. I had an instant group of friends navigating what was initially a strange, contradictory and confusing place.  

One of the biggest things highlighted to me during my time here is that though there are so many differences to home at the base of it all, everyone is the same.  We all strive to do and be good, provide for ourselves and family and connect with each other.

Another realization I had was during my trip to Delhi with friends from home. This was about 3 months in, and they were so excited when they first spotted cows interrupting the flow of traffic. To me it was such a daily occurrence that I stopped noticing it. It made me pause and realize that I had adjusted to everyday life in India more than I realized.

I am really proud that I took the leap to come to India.  To anyone considering a move from what they know I certainly say do it.  I feel that unless and until you challenge yourself and do what you fear you don’t really give yourself a chance to learn, grow and really know who you are.  It is in those times of worries and insecurity we realize just what is most important to us.  

Furthermore I have made lifelong friends and am proud to call them my adopted family. We’ve gone through both positive and challenging times together that will forever bond us together.  I look forward to seeing where each of my talented, inspiring and generous adopted siblings will go onto.


I leave you with my top 10 tips for India

  1. Download Ola and Uber as particularly after 9pm getting home is much easier and cheaper compared to an auto.

  2. Know where you are going including major landmarks- download Maps.Me with the India maps as it works offline as well.

  3. Have patience, it may take you several calls, passing your phone to some random stranger and trying to run across a busy road to catch your Ola/Uber.

  4. Be alert even when walking on a footpath, as there may be gaping holes, rubbish, cow dung, dog poo and vehicles commonly driving the wrong way including in reverse.

  5. If you see a person (particularly a man) facing a wall look away as they are likely to be publicly urinating.

  6. Expect masala flavour in everything- this includes cola, lime soda/lemonade and even your burger at a Western establishment when it is not described as such.

  7. If you can, get an Airtel mobile connection as it is best network in India.

  8. Take water with you when you go out as the heat and the pollution makes you thirsty fairly quickly.

  9. Be assertive whilst at restaurants and in lines as you will quickly realize that there are no order or queues.

  10. Accept uncomfortable staring. It is unavoidable and there is nothing one can do about it.  Several of my non-Indian male friends have commented how they finally understand how it feels to be on the  other end.

Dancing is Wicked?

The perks of living abroad for work, study or for whatever reason brings you unforgettable moments that serve as doses of happiness whenever you think of them. Throughout this piece of writing, I tend to reflect on some of the incidents I have faced whilst living and working in India. Some funny, some hilarious and some embarrassing moments most of which will be tips that I will share to avoid being in my shoes if you ever decide to embark on a fascinating journey here in India.

As I reflect on it from my own perspective, there is nothing set in stone here; this is just a self-reflection session and some useful tips that I hope you will come to enjoy.

Let me start off with what actually highlights the embarrassing moments I have experienced here. Of course cultural differences plays a huge role in bringing up some of the misconceptions and different approaches to what is thought and seen in every cultural standpoint. On April 6, 2016, I was in the middle of a normal workday at my office in Bangalore; I was focused on my laptop while listening to some energizing music to keep me attuned to my work. When all of a sudden, I heard what sounded like a music festival coming from outside the office. When my colleague pointed her finger toward the window, over the balcony, to where I could clearly see that a music festival was going on in the street.

My reaction towards what I have demonstrated at work that day can be summarized in several steps as the following:

(I would like to be clear that there were many moments of self-talk and thoughts that wandered my mind that day).

Step 1: When I reacted to my colleague’s extended finger, looked out the window, and took off my headphones, I was hit by the loud music playing outside; a large group of people were marching, playing drums, and celebrating. Maybe? 

Step 2: I put on the biggest smile I could and burst out in excitement, this happy moment spoke for itself. I jumped out of my chair and grabbed my phone to document this wonderful ceremony. Joyfully thinking that I finally had the chance to see a wedding in India.

Step 3: I rushed to the balcony, jumping in a childlike rhythm, called upon my colleagues to come join me and see the wedding, supposedly! But their expressions in my opinion did not seem overly excited as I though at that moment that their lack of enthusiasm is due to the fact that they are locals and had seen similar events.

Step 4: I stood in the balcony absolutely mesmerized and enthusiastically watching, taking photos and bursting with excitement; I enjoyed the drums and music as I observed the marchers, who wore floral necklaces around their necks.

Step 5: During the ceremony my eyes lay upon one man who has been lying down, he too wore flowers around his neck and was being carried in a decorative bed. Again, I indulged my inner musings: saying ok maybe the groom lies down on his wedding day, but wait, where is his wife? This is when I began to question my thoughts…

I assure you that this self-reflection took less than a second. I was in denial and did not want to believe that what I am actually witnessing at the moment is a dead body, and this whole celebration was a funeral. What could I say? What could I do? I was absolutely speechless! I was in a situation not to be envied for I assure you. Imagine this foreigner being the happiest person in a funeral! My eyes were literally tearing up from shock. It was the first time I attended such an event with enjoyment, with zero intention behind my actions.

I was too embarrassed to say the least. Afterwards, I tried explaining my disposition to my colleagues. The laughs, smiles and excitement that I expressed in the time of the funeral, I simply explained that I thought it was a wedding worth all the celebration and excitement! Funerals are administered differently back where I come from in Saudi.

Tip #1: drumming may not always indicate a happy occasion, so count to ten before jumping up and bursting with happiness.

Another randomly funny moment that I experienced in India was in Pondicherry, specifically in front of the Matrimandir, which has a spiritual significance for practitioners of Integral yoga, situated at the center of Auroville. My friends and I were relaxing on a bench after a long walk, when a lovely Indian family sat next to us and started whispering; soon, their mutters and looks became very obvious, it was definitely something to do with us. All of a sudden, their child who I assume was about ten years old, approached me and asked an unusual question: “what cream do you apply on your face?” I was a bit surprised, because I did not expect this kind of question. “Hmm,” I puzzled, “do you mean the sunblock cream that I use?”

To make a long story short, this family was confident of my Indian origins, but my light skin color fascinated them. They concluded that I must have been using a fair cream to make my color significantly lighter than that of the majority of Indians. The girl wanted me to reveal my secret!

However, a few minutes after our conversation, my friend applied some sun block to her face. The same girl came rushing back and asked to look at the cream. She read the label attentively and then returned to her parents to reveal the supposed secret. Later on, I stated clearly that I am not from India, and I am an Arab. Although they all experienced a moment of shock, yet this clarification point answered their wandering questions.

On the bright side, the family generously shared their food with us, an unsurprising gesture that I have personally observed regularly amongst many Indians, where they tend to joyfully share their food with people around them.

Tip #2: I feel cheerful when people think I am Indian, I believe that when you get to live among a certain society, you obtain many of their characteristics and attributes, and you get to share the love and feel adaptation. Don’t be surprised if you begin to acquire the looks, rituals, and beauty of a country you inhabit.

Let’s sum it up with some self-boosting tips. If you want to feel that your body weight is less than a feather just come to India and take an auto rickshaw ride (known as a tuktuk, or the “national taxi”), and you will experience flying while sitting in a riding coach. Alternatively, you can even expand your experience and visit other Indian cities by taking an overnight bus; you will see miraculous things.

The road is extremely bumpy and it is definitely an uneven surface and that shows in a way that makes my body detaches from the solid material beneath it. But I do look at the situation from a bright angle and boost myself confidence with how light I must be!

Tip #3: One of the most valuable lessons India taught me is that what you choose to see in life belongs entirely to you and is your decision. As a result, I choose wisely the bright side, were you become more flexible and accept when bumpy situations pass by you. You may even start finding solutions out of any problem you face; just accept the moment and respond to it with awareness