Value for Humans

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Shouldn’t all humans get equal value and respect? Why do we unconsciously measure the amount of value for humans by calculating their possessions and achievements. I am not trying to be an idealist, but this kind of inherent bias towards rich and powerful is present in many. This type of preferential treatment with carefully selected group of people has led to creation of hidden borders, classes, and sections within societies.

One day I went to office very early to get few things done. There was hardly anyone on the floor except the facilities staff who were cleaning desks silently. They are instructed to do their job in utmost silence, to prevent any ‘working’ associate from getting distracted. After logging in, I got engaged in writing few critical emails. While I was busy putting my thoughts to words, I noticed a woman, cleaning staff member, moving my desk items for cleaning it without making any noise. She was very mindful of not disturbing me. I quickly disengaged myself and helped her in moving desk items, so that she can clean it properly. I gave her my thanks and started talking to her about her work timings, and so on. She was happy and surprised because many people treat cleaning staff as robots doing their job and doesn’t acknowledge them. I not only expressed thanks, but also did a small talk to make her feel like any normal associate.

This small act of showing respect for a thankless job, made me feel happy. Value for humans shouldn’t change from person to person. I greet my watchman and boss with the same smile. It doesn’t occur to me to differentiate value based on people. I urge everyone reading this post to show value for humans irrespective of their ‘net worth’. The kind of impact this can have will leave you amazed.

 

Got Accepted in Oxford MBA

 

Oxford's-international-profile

I got admission in Oxford MBA program. Finally my chase for a good business school has come to an end. I’ve gone through an arduous and (sometimes) stressful journey to reach here. I now realize that everything, ranging from a small food distribution drive to a crushing rejection from ISB, contributed to this achievement. I never considered Oxford University as a place where I can dream to study. But little did I know that my work and involvement in multiple initiatives made my profile worthy enough for an interview call from Oxford.

As soon as I got a score of 700 in GMAT, I started gathering details for MBA Application. At this time, I was aiming for a seat in Indian School of Business (ISB). This school was my dream since a long time. As it was located in my city, I used to travel to this school and stare at its gates with aspiration and desire to get in one day.  This kind of crazy obsession has driven me to build my profile and seek opportunities where I can improve myself, or to create one if none existed.

My MBA Application strategy was based on either winning or losing i.e. I applied to ISB only, so that I can focus all my strengths into getting admission from ISB, knowing very well that if I fail I don’t have a back up. In hindsight, I think it’d have caused less disappointment when I got rejected from ISB had I applied to another school. But at that moment, for me it was ISB or nothing.

While I was finding answers about myself, why MBA, goals, etc, I worked with NGOs and started my own social initiative. None of this came knocking at my door. I went out of my way to get in contact with NGO (ShareKhayr) founders and convince them for enrolling  me as a volunteer.  Though I was pitching for core team member role which is responsible for promotion, event planning, fundraising, and strategy, they offered only basic volunteer role. I gladly accepted this because a) the founders were very dedicated to community development b) this provided me a platform for driving community service programs. During my time at this NGO, I proposed and lead Food Distribution drive for homeless people.

Immediately after getting relieved from GMAT prep weekends, I thought about an idea to create a social impact. I started a socio-economic study to determine the effect of undetected poor eyesight among underprivileged students. My hypothesis for this study was  that poor vision is one of the factors responsible for causing decline in academic performance or, much worse, creating disinterest towards studies among students from low income households. I wanted to neutralize this factor and compare academic performance of this set, pre and post vision correction. For doing this study, I partnered with schools and eye hospitals. Note that I wasn’t backed by any organization for this. This whole initiative was self-organized and funded, by leveraging my network and convincing hospitals and schools about my purpose.

Throughout this phase I did excessive networking with my colleagues and friends. Talking to people made me feel relaxed and reassured about what I was trying to accomplish. I’ve built strong professional relationship with people who inspired me at office. This bond was established by maintaining high standard of work and culture over a long period of time. Meeting with friends, helped me to destress and focus on the goal. It is important to have friends who will back you in times of failure. These people (my inner circle) were more confident in me than what I was in myself.

Facing rejection and getting back up was undoubtedly the toughest part. I was rejected by ISB, though I was called for an interview. This was a big setback, given the amount of effort and time I have put in for this. It was win-or-lose for me, and I lost. I felt terrible at this and thought to give up. My parents counselled me to never give up and suggested to try colleges abroad. It was then that I started to research about Business schools in Europe. After only three months from my worst rejection, I got admit from Oxford University.

It was not even a dream!

The journey continues…I will keep you posted.

Below are some of my hideouts while I was preparing for Oxford interview. Of course coffee was fueling my intellect. 😉

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How I pushed my GMAT score from 590 to 700?

After completing last question with only 20 secs remaining, I clicked next button. At this moment I knew it’s over, score is calculated, and there’s nothing I can do about it anymore. Wearing noise cancelling headphones provided at the exam center, I could hear my heartbeats playing in the background. I could see in flashback all the hard work and sleep deprived days for past few months that were at stake now. While all this was rushing through my mind, a confirmation page was shown, I clicked next again. There it is! My breathing stopped or slowed to a point I couldn’t feel it, heart started to pound, and mind started to race. I got 700! There it is! A 7 in hundred’s place. I checked again, and again, to confirm that this is final score. Still being seated in exam chair, I silently rejoiced and felt the happiness that an athlete experiences after achieving his or her target in Olympics. I raised my hand to give an indication to invigilator for my exit. When I received unofficial score report, I checked yet again to confirm that it’s not a dream.

Disclaimer

Before you read further, I’d like to offer a disclaimer. I don’t have an expertise in teaching GMAT, or mentoring students. Any tips or strategy that I mention in this post may not work for all. Given the global variety of test takers, there is no one strategy that suits everyone. It’s wise to devise localized strategy according to YOUR strengths and weaknesses, not of those from the other side of the world.Therefore, reader’s discretion is advised.

Assessment Exam

Before you decide whether you need to enroll in GMAT classes, which are offered by plethora of institutes around the world, it is recommended to take GMAT mock exam to assess your knowledge of Math and English concepts. This will help to determine areas where you are relatively strong and areas where more attention is required. If you can muster a score of above 540, you don’t need to spend hefty amount for coaching fees rather it would be wise to buy online test packages and official GMAT books (more on this later). But if you are on the other side of the spectrum, the score indicates that you need to improve basics in Quant and Verbal. It depends on your rate of learning and how weak your Math fundamentals are, but in general instructor lead coaching helps to revise and strengthen concepts of Quant and Verbal. Of course, in order to make correct judgement whether to join classes or not, write your first GMAT mock exam with due seriousness and leave the rest to test engine.

(Links for free Mock Exam )

Practice

How much practice do you need for GMAT? All standardized tests are curated to examine few dimensions of brain that evaluate the candidate’s ability depending on the objective of the test. In the case of GMAT, a candidate is essentially tested on the skills of decision-making, reasoning, critical thinking, aptitude, and numerical concepts; these skills are required for success in MBA program and beyond MBA. GMAT is NOT to test English and Math.

To excel in GMAT you need to train your brain to think like test-maker. Regular practice will help you escape common traps that are hidden in options. Consistency in practice sessions is more important than amount of practice.

In Verbal section, there are three type of questions; Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension. For Sentence Correction, it’s important to know about sentence structure, parts of speech, idioms, and basic grammar. In addition to rules of writing, often used sentence constructs or phrases, which one learns through a habit of reading, are helpful in deciding correctness of a sentence.

For Reading Comprehension, it’s recommended to follow a structured approach that reduces time taken per passage. Every passage will have a combination of following components; main point, background, support for main point, and criticism for main point. It’s important to identify each of these components while reading passage and take a mental note of its location in the overall passage. Don’t try to memorize details, you will have to skimp through again while answering questions.

In mock exams, my overall score tanked many times due to Critical Reasoning mistakes. There are high chances of falling into trap in this type of questions. I had to study each type of question under this section, more importantly assumption, strengthen, and weaken type, to have decent mastery over this area. You’d need to learn how to break an argument into blocks and analyze which option is affecting the block related to question stem.

Quantitative section consists of two types of questions; Problem Solving, Data Sufficiency. The former consists of few simple and application based questions whereas the latter consists of simple yet tricky questions. This section requires thorough knowledge of basic Math concepts such as percentages, ratio, proportion, probability, equations, geometry, and numbers.

Check point

GMAT and MBA Applications require planning well in advance to avoid last minute hassle. You should target your probable admission calendar and accordingly decide by when you need to have GMAT score. I wanted to get over with GMAT by July so that I can focus on my applications in next three months. I have placed multiple checkpoints before July to check my progress and readiness for main exam. Having checkpoints will help you to track your performance and analyze weak areas.

When to book your exam slot

When you register in mba.com, the official site of GMAT, you will be given two mock GMAT exams for free. Reserve these exams until you are in best preparation and take those by simulating actual test environment. The standard of these mock exams is very close to that of actual test. Many use this as score predictor, because the difference between the actual and this mock test score usually ranges from 10 to 20. After giving this mock exam if you get a score that is closer to what you want to achieve, book test day as soon as possible, else continue preparation.

Helpful Resources

Reading material:

  1. Manhattan GMAT books
  2. http://www.beatthegmat.com/
  3. http://www.gmathacks.com/main/category-contents.html
  4. http://magoosh.com/gmat/
  5. http://www.topmba.com/admissions/gmatgre/9-gmat-blogs

Mobile Applications:

  1. Prep4GMAT
  2. Magoosh Idioms Flashcards

Videos

  1. Veritas Prep GMAT

Practice material

  1. Official guide book
  2. Verbal Review book
  3. Quant Review book

 

Vision Correction Initiative: How it all started?


It’s an amazing feeling to start something of your own that has potential to make society a better place. Few months ago while in flight to Switzerland, I was reading Think Like a Freak, by Stephen J Dubner and Steven Levitt. Out of many interesting ideas, I was hooked on to one particular idea that later became my Social Mission. Whenever you face a big, complex, intertwined, and fuzzy problem and you have to tackle that, then it makes more sense to dissect that problem into pieces and take small steps that solve these pieces in a quantifiable way.

I could relate this with solving a jigsaw puzzle when I was a kid. Joining all the pieces to make a picture is a complicated process. I focused on small parts of picture first, trying to join pieces that resemble objects. Then by connecting these objects, puzzle starts taking shape and transforms into a complete picture.

Similarly, Education Sector is ailing with complex problems; dropouts, poor infrastructure, domestic instability, few inspiration inducing teachers, and lack of sufficient nutrition in children’s diet. It’s naive to think that these complex socio-economic issues can be solved by one strategy or solution and we can achieve perfect Education system which churns out scholars every year.

Out of many issues that hamper student’s performance, poor vision is the one that is easy to correct and doesn’t require much money, yet in underdeveloped areas this issue is widespread among students. In order to find correlation between poor eyesight and academic performance, I am doing a socio-economic research study in schools located in relatively poor localities. The objective of this study is to find students who have poor vision, correct their vision by providing spectacles, and monitor changes in their academic performance.

Hopefully, even if one student out of hundreds is able to perform better after getting his or her vision corrected, I’d consider that as biggest achievement.

Numbers don’t Lie

The author calculates the surge in credit card dues without considering total spend in each year. Contrary to what author claims, from 2011 to 2015, the outstanding credit card dues as share of total spend decreased from approx 24℅ to 15℅. This inference weakens the author’s main argument that people are bad in managing credit card debt ( personally, I feel it’s true). Anyone with different opinion?

City of Walking Fire

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A scene from Fasnacht festival in Leistal, Switzerland.

In this old town, people carry fire through the city gates to mark the beginning of Fasnacht. This is a cherished tradition that punctually starts at 7 pm every year in mid-February since one can remember.

People form all walks of life participate in this crowd funded event with inspiring zeal to uphold the local culture and tradition, and to make merry with everyone. The whole seemingly dangerous event was organized with impeccable detail – this shouldn’t be surprising in Swiss. Fire safety personnel were manning the streets with water hoses and extinguishers, ready to tackle any untoward situation. Each of those who were carrying heavy bunch of fire sticks did his or her part by wearing helmet and jacket. However, there were instances when the loosely coupled fire sticks fell on the participant’s back, or, much worse,  when the heaviness of fire was overpowering the balance and starting to fall, these were taken care by prompt fire personnel, who doused any falling fire, and the cheers of BRAVO! from all around.

The whole event lasted for around two hours. One might wonder how so many people carrying lethal amount of fire were managed, preventing havoc that could’ve occurred by running into one another .Participants were divided into groups. Some groups consisted of people carrying fire on their back while others of those who pulled a humongous fire cart. There was a near perfect timing and synchronicity among each group. With safe distance between each group tacitly maintained, the parade progressed stopping every few mins, to allow some time for fire personnel to cool down wooden constructed city gates. The sequence of events was as follows; A group came with fire, People around cheered, group stopped and waited for few mins, City gates were ready for next group, the group marched ahead, people cheered for upcoming group. This sequence was continuously repeated for two hours without even a slightest detour – expect none when you’r in Swiss. My friend was keeping count of the groups, but they were so many that he lost his count.

Why does devaluation of a currency affect other economies?

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Photo Courtesy: Philip Brewer on Flickr

 

“The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists” – Ernest Hemingway

Global economy is a complex ecosystem of multilateral trade, currency, resources, people (Human capital), and other key indicators that determine a country’s strength in the marketplace. Each of these factors are intertwined with one another in both local and global context. Although these factors are not entirely in human control, central banks and governments can – to some extent – impact changes through policy decisions. Any changes in the perceived or actual value of a factor will ripple across the ecosystem and affect the economy as a whole. Apart from the measured forces (factors) in an economy there are few unknown forces that can only be predicted, forecasted, or assumed –  for example, positive market sentiment when government is actively pushing pro-business reforms.

Devaluation of a currency, in simple terms, means that the intrinsic value of a unit of currency has decreased. For example, When INR is devalued, the amount of products/ goods/ services that 100 INR bill can purchase decreases. This leads to: inflation in home economy as purchasing power of 100 INR bill decreases, increase in petrol (and other petrochemical products) prices as imports become costlier, increase in fiscal deficit due to high import costs. The consequences are not just limited to the shores of domestic economy, they are observed in distant economies too. Why does this happen?

In these times of globalization, every country is out in the market to buy commodities, goods, services, financial instruments, etc. from a country that offers the best price; and to sell domestic goods at a competitive price to increase its global market share. In this process of buying and selling (imports and exports respectively if you like) between countries, the transaction is made by exchange of currencies. Higher the value of home currency, more products can be bought, and (more importantly) less products or services can be sold because higher value of currency makes it expensive for others to buy. Hence they will search for cheaper alternative if available.

In order to understand this better let’s examine how the Aug 2015 devaluation of Yuan ( Chinese currency, also called Renminbi ) has send shockwaves across all developed and developing nations.

Over the past three decades Chinese economy has grown more than four-and-half times that of India in the same period with exports being the main driver of growth. Due to anticipation of US interest rates rise, US dollar has appreciated pulling along Chinese Yuan as the latter loosely tracks dollar making Chinese exports dearer compared to regional competitors. Low industrial production, fall in factory gate prices, plunge in stock markets, and rising fears of slowdown in growth have made it imperative for Chinese authorities to push reforms and stimulate economy. People’s Bank of China responded to this apparent crisis by devaluing Yuan against dollar which resulted in nearly 3% depreciation and biggest one day fall in 20 years.

While China has taken these steps to trigger fresh stimulus in order to meet its goal of above 7% GDP growth, it has caused the following repercussions around the world:

  1. Markets in Shanghai closed 8.5% down – worst single day fall in 8 years.
  2. Nikkei index in Japan slipped by 4.6%
  3. European bourses were down 4-5%
  4. Dow Index was down 4 %
  5. Emerging market currencies are tumbling
  6. Index of 22 Commodities compiled by Bloomberg is at its lowest since 1999
  7. Oil price has hit a six-and-a-half-year low

(The above observations are taken from an article published in The Economist under Business and Finance section. It can be referred here for more information.)

This type of reaction is not same for every economy. It highly depends on country’s position in global trade, state of global economy, and over dependence on a particular economy. Many a times such reaction is a combination of multiple factors ranging from growth outlook to international monetary conditions.

In conclusion, any change in macroeconomic indicators of an economy will have its impact on the region, and sometimes on the whole world depending on the state of economy.

 

References:

  1. Why China has devalued renminbi and how it will affect the UK
  2. The Effects of Currency Fluctuations on The Economy
  3. Economic effect of a devaluation of the currency
  4. Why has China devalued its currency and what impact will it have
  5. The causes and consequences of China’s market crash
  6. Eight reasons why China’s currency crisis matters to us all
  7. How China’s currency devaluation could raise prices in the US

Source of image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bradipo/1435739708