Chief Executive Officer, The 40K Group Australia
BA, LLB(Hons) (UTS)
Clary Castrission addressed graduates from the UTS Business School in the Great Hall, University of Technology, Sydney on Monday 6 May 2013, 2.30pm.
Our speaker today is Mr Clary Castrission
Clary is the Chief Executive Officer of the 40K Group Australia. In 2005, Clary was inadvertently turned into a social entrepreneur when he was studying Law at UTS. Following a recommendation from his professor, Clary travelled to South India and came across a granite quarry community where up to 100 people live and work 6 days a week for as little as $1.50 a day.
He promised to build the community a school, proposing it was going to cost $40,000, and on this idea he came back to Sydney and established the 40K Foundation Australia. After five years, the school opened and currently has 200 children enrolled.
Since then, the 40K Foundation has expanded into the 40K PLUS pods which offers literacy and numeracy platforms to children in villages through android-based tablets. Currently, 40K has set up ten of these pods with 300 children currently enrolled and plans to open 25 more pods in 2013. It aims to extend the program to 40,000 children within five years.
Clary currently works fulltime as the foundation’s CEO and his work is improving Australian-Indian relations, and influencing other young people to make a difference in the world.
As an organisation, 40K has evolved from a pure charity to a group of companies all focused towards social impact, or what 40K calls "Good: Business."
It gives me great pleasure to invite Mr Clary Castrission to deliver the occasional address.
Chancellor Sara, Vice-Chancellor Milbourne, Faculty, Guests, Parents, and Graduates.
I’ve spent a lot of the past 6 years in India doing education work in villages. Today I want to share with you just two stories from my experience. One is about the privilege of education, and the other is about a small car.
Let me tell you a story about a village where we’ve got a 40K PLUS pod set up. I’ve been to India enough times to think that I do get emotionally challenged like I did on my first trip in 2005. Not quite true.
The village of Naganahalli Colony has just the one road running through the middle of it, and at dusk you will see a mother giving her naked child a bath, an elderly lady squatting next to a boiling pot tending to her family’s dinner, and of course, children playing cricket. As I walked down this street, three things happened.
First, I met three children, all 8 years of age, who had half their teeth missing or rotted because they been chewing a tobacco called paan. I learnt through a translator that both their parents were local labourers who were heavy drinkers, who had started giving their kids tobacco from age 6. This jolted me because usually it only the father who the alcoholic.
I strolled a little bit further up and met a man who had four kids under the age of 7, and whose wife had another one on the way. None of them were enrolled in 40K PLUS. I asked him why, and with a smile on his face, he said “God has a plan for them.” I gently asked him again in a different way. He replied, with the same grin, “They do need to be educated. God will look after them.” I wanted to punch him in the face, but instead I politely excused myself.
I distracted myself for a moment by playing a local game with some of the kids before I had a tap on the shoulder. This man did look friendly, but he just gestured for me to follow him. I thought I was in trouble. We walked down the main strip before he pointed into a dark concrete bunker he called his home. Inside I saw his wife sitting smiling on the other side of the room, which immediately disarmed me as I entered. When I saw what was next to her I couldn’t help but gasp. Their daughter was 3 months old and horribly malnourished. I just was ready for it. Her tiny hand was smaller than my finger nail, and her face the size of my palm. They had the warmest smile on their face as they gestured towards their baby. There was no health care in this village.
This village is riddled with deep and complicated problems. There are no other organisations educating its children,It only 40K. The buck stops with us.
These three families all gave me different perspectives on hope: one had seemingly lost it, one had vested it in divine intervention, and the last held onto it through education, but the horrible realities of extreme poverty were precluding them from accessing it.
That village stands in the most stark contrast to this graduation hall today. In one, there is no opportunity and saddest of all, little hope. In this room, the certificate you about to receive is like a ticket- you can use it to ride with a big corporate, you can use it to start your own business, or you can use it for nothing other than how it taught you to think on a higher level. You just earned yourself a ticket to a club that only 6% of the world’s population gets access to: university graduation. That a privilege.
The lesson I want to share with you though is one that I learnt from a small car. I’ve made my life about social impact, and when I was growing up I thought that business was the devil. I refused to study business or economics at university. I started a traditional charity when I was 22 because I thought the only way to fund education programs was through philanthropy. After the school that we built opened in 2010, I was searching for a way to make a bigger impact. I’d committed a solid chunk of my 20s to the project, and I was left surprisingly hollow when the first class started. Soon enough I realised that it was because there were 110,000,000 kids in India alone who did have the same privilege. I was lost, and it got me down to the point that I wanted to do something else with my life.
Then came the small car. Let me detract for a second. In India, it common for a whole family to ride on a motorbike. Dad’s on the front with little one A between the handlebars and the seat. Mum’s on the back, with Little one B wedged between them both. Little one C holds on behind mum, and little one D is on mum’s lap. I’ve seen different variations that sometimes sees little ones E, F and G somehow stacked into the bike like a precarious Jenga tower. As tourists, we go over to India, and think it just another crazy element of the country. We’ll take a photo of it and pop it up on Facebook. It hilarious.
If you actually think about it though, it bloody dangerous. In India, 150,000 people per year die in traffic accidents, and 3 million end up in hospital as a result of crashes.
One of the richest guys in India is a guy called Ratan Tata, and he controls a massive conglomerate which has 92 companies including Tata Motors. 10 years ago, he looked at this issue when he was driving along, and decided to do something about it. The charity approach would have been to run a road safety program, or give away helmets, or possibly even cars or transport services.
He took a business approach. He figured that even the lower-middle class Indians who were stacking families on bikes could afford to pay $2,500 for a transport solution. They were priced out of the car market though, hence why they bought bikes.
He took 10 of his finest engineers and gave them a challenge: “Design me a car that I can sell PROFITABLY brand new for $2,500. I do want a canopied motorbike. I want a car. Make it COST-EFFECTIVE, but not cheap.”
Cost-effective but not cheap. Well it took this team of engineers 5 years, but they did it. The Tata Nano was the result. This amazing vehicle looks like a little Hyundai Getz, but they had to innovate on every single part, and reinvent the whole idea of a car to get it below the price point. It on the roads today.
It made me learn a fundamental lesson: business is one of the most powerful institutions that can be used to change the world.
You can buy coke in an Indian village, but you can’t get education. Nokia has figured out how to make a phone that they can sell to an Indian farmer for less than $20. Business is driving this innovation- not government, and not charities.
With that in mind, we found our way. We learnt that even families who were living in extreme poverty can pay $1/month for their kids to be educated. We’re now building a model where we can educate 30 kids in a village at that pricepoint. We’re not there yet, and philanthropy continues to pay the difference, but we’re getting closer every day. We’ve got 300 kids enrolled over 10 villages and within the next 6 months that number will grow to 1000 kids over 30 villages.
We will solve that problem.
It took me building a charity with 25 staff to make me learn what you guys have been learning through this degree. I envy you for it.
I’ll close with this, the team of engineers that Tata put together to build that car? They were all under the age of 30. Do wait guys. Use your education and do something good with it, because business is one of the most powerful tools you have to change the world.