Backwards integration (Day 6 of Brianna at OaSIS)

Sunday is the Indian weekend. No school and no work (at least for some). After my late night (10:30!) the day before, I slept until 8:30 and to be honest, felt a little groggy. Breakfast came at 10, a potato mash with a bun and mango pudding. Anu told me that normally breakfast is at 11 on Sundays. She wanted to take me to Bhopal’s largest mall, so we went.

I got to ride in my first autorickshaw (a three wheeled vehicle that is a cross between a motorbike and a car). Even at home, I am not a fan of shopping but I was curious to see how different the feel would be. As it turns out, it was not that different. Air conditioning, lots of stores with high prices but sometimes questionable quality, and lots of people walking around.

We got some food from McDonald’s and I noted that they have a Maharajah Mac instead of our Big Mac and a wide selection of vegetarian burgers and wraps. Similar, but still different.

It was funny – both Anu and I admitted that we don’t really enjoy shopping – don’t see the point in buying more than you need. But I recognize the value of the mall as a safe, clean place people can go to socialize without having to pay anything. Does it have to be such a homogenous experience, though? Should malls be the same no matter where you go? Is this the face of globalization? If it is, I don’t like it.

We decided that we will go to the zoo next Sunday and I am looking forward to that!

We had to be back at the house for 3:00 for a meeting of OASiS’s youth volunteer group. They are called SWANS (Social Welfare Association of Neo Socialites). I think the meeting was my favourite part of the day. Pradeep and Shibani were joined by ten people my age who were discussing their activities for the past month and planning more for the next one.

The conversation kept switching between English and Hindi, and while I was able to follow most of it, what interested me was the dynamics of the room. I was struck by the informality of the meeting, the amount of humour, the way that each member seemed to be invested in what they were doing, to the point of loudly arguing for what they thought was right. Pradeep and Shibani were there as equals, not as managers of the discussion. Pradeep told me that whenever the group tries to look to them for a decision or answer, he and Shibani start to take different sides and talk back and forth so that the group has to decide on their own.

There was an extended, heated discussion about the story arc for the annual function put on by the slum children. It was heated, but pleasantly so – and this is what fascinated me. I know that for good work to be done, teams must be able to disagree well. How you fight matters. At least by watching the SWANS I have gotten a sense of what this kind of disagreement feels like. I’ll have to use “backwards integration” as Pradeep calls it to figure out how to set up a similar kind of environment at McMaster. But I am seeing it modeled in front of me each day by Pradeep and Shibani, which helps.

Pradeep told me that whenever the group tries to look to them for a decision or answer, he and Shibani start to take different sides and talk back and forth so that the group has to decide on their own.  

After the meeting ended – around 6, I took some time to write and then Skyped home. It has been a week since I was in Canada.

“Only a week!” some of you say.

“An entire week!” the rest of you say.

One quarter of the time I will spend here has passed. The days are long but the week was fast. Story of our lives? Maybe!

Brianna Smrke, who has been working with the SiG@Waterloo simulation team, is visiting the OaSiS Social Innovations Laboratory in Bhopal, India. She is blogging about her experiences at downwithvowelswhich you can also follow here at


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