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Business made personal

December 18, 2019
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Project C members outside Mann NGO in Mumbai. Sivaraman pictured second to the right.

Project C members outside Mann NGO in Mumbai. Sivaraman pictured second from right.

Ananya Sivaraman applied to the Ross School of Business with the dream of starting her own consulting project. As a sophomore, she launched Project C, which focused on pro bono consulting for local businesses and microentrepreneurs in India.

She chose to give back to the community in Mumbai, India where she grew up. Sivaraman says it’s because of the increasing business costs that threatens the business models of local micro entrepreneurs.

“These entrepreneurs at the base of the pyramid were making the least amount of money. In India’s context, it’s less than $2 a day,” Sivaraman said. “My whole idea was that I wanted skills and I wanted the expertise to go back and fix this problem.”

During her freshman year, Sivaraman joined the BOND Consulting Group on campus. The group equipped her with the interpersonal skills and management consulting strategies that she could take back to her community.

With the tools from BOND Consulting and funding from the C.K. Prahalad Fellowship, Sivaraman began preparing for her three-month-long summer trip, her first as part of Project C.

“I thought that my project aligned really well with C.K. Prahalad’s philosophy and he was also a professor at Ross a decade ago,” she said. “I really looked up to him and even read his books before coming to Ross.”

Returning to her home with a new role and vision was nerve-racking for Sivaraman. Establishing credibility as an 18-year-old in smaller communities required more time spent getting to know each client.

“It had to be someone who trusted me, but it also had to be something that I could get an engagement out of and something they could get out of because creating value is a two-way street,” she said.

Over three months, Sivaraman engaged with a small vet clinic and a special-needs nonprofit. She spent a month and a half with each client, understanding their business challenges. Every recommendation and presentation was followed by a personal invitation to the client’s home for a meal.

“That was a ‘wow’ moment for me,” she said. “You’re not just a tool for value proposition for them, you’re also a person. Sometimes that gets missed in the jobs that a lot of us do but it contributes to job satisfaction.”

Sivaraman also traveled to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, and spent time collecting ethnography of several microentrepreneurs. These short interviews and documentation of everyday business for street vendors sought to understand the challenges of the thousands of microentrepreneurs. She plans to use this ethnography to create intervention points that would be addressed in the next summer.

After returning to campus, Sivaraman is motivated to continue taking classes, particularly on emerging markets. She is looking into pursuing research into microentrepreneurs this upcoming summer and working with two Ross faculty members to further Project C, and beginning a minor in South Asian studies.

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