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Mehmood Khan – Former Head of Innovation at Unilever

2 January 2012 One Comment

Wish you all a very happy 2012! Check out the new year message from CWS – Be a Seeker! Happy 2011!

In the new year, CWS continues the search of role models for Indian youth! Today, we have a very very special guest – Mr. Mehmood Khan, Former head of global innovation at Unilever, who recently returned back home to his native village, to turn it around. There are a lot of people and NGOs out there addressing different problems in the economy. But here is a man, who is reviving the economy of a village in Mewat. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Mehmood Khan, IIMA Alumnus with rich corporate experience who is here to share his story! The first part of the interview is here today!


Me: Sundar Rajan G S
MK: Mehmood Khan – Managing Trustee, Rasuli Kanwar Khan Trust


Me: Hello Sir, Welcome to the show on Coffee With Sundar, where the search is on for India’s next role model.. Thank you very much for you time.. Let us get started… Can you speak about yourself.. your family background.. your young days.. etc..

MK: I am born in a village, I was the youngest of 5 siblings.. So I would say I was a spoilt child. I grew up in abundance. My family was a farming family.. But my father and mother ensured that I had a plenty of everything.. Ofcourse I did walk to school to another village.. About 2 kms.. I dont think I would ever complain.. I studied in a government school, where the teachers were very sincere.. They taught us to read, write, maths etc. Then moved to middle school, high school.. the usual school life.. I got the best in the circumstances.. A rural upbringing.. but definitely an upbringing of abundance..

Me: Did you join Unilever immediately after your education at IIMA? Can you share some of your anecdotes while you were there..

MK: I worked for 2.5 years in voluntary sector.. and then 2.5 years in a corporate sector.. So I had 5 years of experience before joining Unilever.. When I joined there, Forex was very important. So, I was earning FX for them. Govt. of India had a number of restrictions.. So I worked there for 7 years to help them build their balance sheet..

Then I went to Holland.. Berlin wall had just fallen.. I was managing the pioneer market.. basically all the ex. communist countries.. I then opened unilever office in Vietnam.. then Singapore.. where I set up a full fleged operation for Unilever in east asia, which includes Vietnam, China etc.. By then I had gained cross country experience in various global roles.. Then I moved to London, where I was their Head of Innovation till 2009.

Me: You are currently the managing trustee of Rasuli Kanwar Khan Trust NaiNangla, which is transforming lives in rural Mewat. Can you talk a lot about this role..

MK: In 2003, I got engaged with India’s Pratham. Between 2003 to 2009, I was in Unilever but was guiding them part time, weekend etc.. That is how it all got started.. Pratham sent volunteer in the area I work now.. They gave reading/writing test.. That is when I realized that situation was very bad.. Then we did voluntary class.. 1 volunteer was doing classes.. The society was ready for change..

We organized a stake holder meet and prioritized what we wanted to do.. We realized that we needed a total transformation of the village.. This includes work in key areas such as
– Education
– Employment
– Water
– Hygiene
– Infrastructure

Enrolment of children in our volunteer programs gave us the confidence that the society was ready for the change. The government and system was not ready or prepared sufficiently, but society was waiting and supporting any new initiatives. A series of volunteer classes were organized.

We also tried to stir the economic activity of the region. We negotiated with the Dairy which procures directly from the villagers. This helps the villagers to get better prices. We also worked with the companies to recruit youth from the region. We continue to improve the lives of the people at different levels.

Now we have 95% of the children in schools now. We are always looking to improve the quality of education. We tied up with NIIT to install computers in the school.

Me: What are the challenges you face?

MK: Well, these initiatives are never easy. We have to work continuously. We are continuously engaging at different levels. You must understand that if a region is backward, there is a reason for its backwardness. So it is a continuous battle to turn the tide. So it Work in Progress. We get bright students. For e.g., parents have told us that they have learnt more in 6 months than in the last 2 years.

We have 650k villages in our country. Job is never enough done. You know the real problem I face is not these difficulties. But the difficult of retaining the talent. People and talent go to urban localities. Very few people stay back and turn around the villages. The real challenge is to turn these from negative to positive force.

Me: What kind of feedback do you get from firms such as ICICI and GenPact etc, where you place people..

MK: They are quite happy with our youth whenever they carry out their expansion plans. But companies are themselves facing a lot of ups and downs.. For the last 2 years, they have been in consolidation model, except say mobile operators and FMCG. So they are not really recruiting from the villages now. All the firms have their own priorities. So, last 2 years rural participation has reduced. But we carry on with our work. It is currently not a part of their core strategy. Mewat is a small village, so it is not a part of their core, which understandable. Marginalized region wont fit a part of their plans. But our activities and effort continues.

There are new initiatives. Vijay Mahajan has started an initiative to bring the unbanked to the banks. There is a Govt and RBI stipulation on the banks to bring in more people in through their virtual branches. This new initiative is helping our youth.

Another initiative is the First Village Factory concept. A garment factory has been set up. It is a challenge for us to make it a viable and we have added it to the portfolio of initiatives.


Readers, hope you enjoyed this edition of Coffee With Experts.

Previous interview – Anil Gupta – Founder of Honey Bee Network
New Year Message – Be a Seeker! Happy 2012
Latest Art work – Losing myself to you!

Stay tuned for more!

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