Saturday, November 26, 2011

The inspiring story of how a single mother made it to Harvard

Lalita Booth (right) with her son
This student bagged half a million US dollars in scholarships and educated herself after being left on the road with a baby to look after. Read on to find out how she did it. For the United States, Lalita Booth is the 'homeless to Harvard' wonder. The face of hope, a much refined version of the staid rags-to-riches story -- only this time the riches is not in dollars but in educational degrees.
For us here, she makes sense because till a few years ago, she was a teenage-mother, living off scraps and out of a car. Today, she is pursuing a degree in Business Administration and Public Policy at the Harvard University. Besides, she is also the author of the book Financial Education for Lower-Income Audiences: A guide to Programme Design, Implementation and Evaluation which is found in the libraries of various US colleges and b-schools.
Her story is stirring not because she is just a cliche -- having fought all odds and emerged supreme -- but because she decided to take the more thorny route to recovery -- education.
At 17 and barely school-educated, with a baby in hand, no place to call home and no family to use as crutch, Lalita decided that the best way to beat life's miseries was to educate herself.
"I wanted my son to be proud of me and I thought no better way than to study and get myself some real degrees. Harvard was just an illusion when I stayed on the streets and went to sleep hungry. Today, I am right there," said Lalita Booth while speaking from the US.
Lalita's story makes good sense because she is also probably one of the few who has been awarded some 20 scholarships in the last five years -- worth a whopping half a million US dollars.

Her only possession was her wailing child

That her life was a mess, Lalita realised when young in Ashville N.C, her hometown.
The only child of her parents, the memories most vivid in her mind are of her parents fighting and being thrown out of homes.
With no inspiration to look up to, Lalita went the 'wild way.' 
On turning 16, she legally separated from her parents. "I did that because I thought that would be the end of all my problems. I wanted to live my life my way --there was nothing much with my parents anyway," she said.
But actually, life  turned only shoddier. At 17, she got married and at 18, became a mother. And her husband divorced her soon after and left to join the army.
Lalita had just nowhere to go -- her only possession was her wailing child. For a while, she just managed to live -- on scraps and whatever else she could manage. Some months later, Lalita fell in love with another man, and the three moved to Colorado. But life was still exacting and the three  had to live on government assistance.
"Both of us did some low-wage jobs to keep it going but it was really tough," recalls Lalita.

'I was scared of touching his diaper'

And it was an episode one evening, during that phase of her life, that changed everything for Lalita.
"My son was two and I was scared of touching his diaper fearing it would be wet since I had no money for diapers. Then he asked for food and there was nothing at home. I made him sleep hungry. While he slept, I remained wide awake. I felt horrible that I brought into this world a son who I could not even feed. I had to get my life back for my son."
That evening changed Lalita's standpoint forever. Instead of simply crying over how 'cruel life was' Lalita decided to do something about it.
"I sent my son to live with my boyfriend's parents in North Carolina and within minutes of dropping him there I picked up the phone book and searched for financial planners," said Lalita.
"Whoever I called, I told them that I had no money and I needed free advice on how to earn some money to be able to get my son back and get-off government assistance. One financial planner actually helped me out. Since we were still under government assistance, I managed to keep some money aside and enrolled in a course to become a tax agent. The entrance exam is supposed to be real tough but I got through," Lalita informed.

'I took a job in the grocery store in the day and went to college later'

First job Within months, she got herself a job which gave her $32,000 per annum with the US Treasury Department. Lalita got her son back but around the same time she and her boyfriend also separated. She was back to being alone with her son, only this time, she had a little bit of money and a longing to 'educate' herself.
"I moved to Florida and enrolled in Trinity Community College since it was the cheapest college. I took a job in the grocery store in the day and went to college later. My son's education was also an emerging need then and since he is autistic I knew I had to work double hard," says Lalita.
Studying through the nights, Lalita managed a straight A grade in all the subjects and bagged the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship worth $30,000. This money helped Lalita enrol at the University of Central Florida (UCF).
There too, Lalita performed extraordinarily during the four-years. Finally she graduated in 2009 and was the College of Business Administration's Top Honour Graduate with dual degrees in Finance and Accounting.
There, she was also awarded the Order of Pegasus (highest honour at UCF) and the UCF's Alumni Association's Distinguished Student Award and became UCF's first Truman Scholar.

'If poor people knew how to handle their money, they'd be better off than where they are'

Days had begun to look brighter for Lalita. She had reached her mid-20s -- and what the waves of education could do to a person, was staring back at her.
"My interest was in managing finances, having learnt the hard way and I always felt that if poor people knew how to handle their money, they would be better off than where they are," Lalita told..
During college, Lalita started a non-profit organisation called Lighthouse for Dreams. The organisation which is growing in numbers even today teaches financial literacy to high schools students. Lalita says it is important that students know the clout that money holds in the world.
Life had begun to settle for Lalita who by then had an irrepressible desire to keep studying. There was no way she was going to stop -- Harvard seemed like a logical next step but an almost impossible one.
She pursued and before she knew it, was strolling along the hallowed corridors of the graduate school in Harvard, pursuing a dual degree in Public Policy and Master of Business Administration.

'I can still remember lectures from a year ago as if they happened yesterday'

Harvard University
The Harvard experience "The best ever. I can't tell you how good the case study method is. I can still remember lectures from a year ago as if they happened yesterday. Lecture-based teaching can be awfully boring. Case-studies bring life to everything. I look forward to lectures only because of case-studies," answers Lalita.
About extra-curricular activities, Lalita says: "Oh, there are plenty here but I don't take part in many. I have a son to go to at the end of the day. My class mates go abroad for internships but I don't because of my son."
Lalita is 30 today while her classmates are about 25-28. No one makes her feel old and they better not because what she has gained in the last decade by way of education and scholarships, none of her classmates have come anywhere close.
She enjoys every bit of classroom life, a privilege she missed while growing up.
Today, she has almost achieved what she set as a goal 12 years ago. Her son who is 12 happily announces to everyone that his mother is at Harvard. "He is truly proud of me and I feel fulfilled today,"Lalita said.

'How to spend and use money is very important'

Her son, Kieren, is also heard discussing his mother's accolades in school. Be it her Harry Truman Foundation Fellowship or the Dean's Gold Medallion for Civil Service or better still the College of Business Founder's Day Award. Forward, Lalita wants to write some more books for the helpless and poor besides continuing work with her NGO. She has become a bit of a celebrity already with newspapers and television channels keeping an account of her every new degree.
So what is the job that Lalita is looking forward to after graduation?
"I hope the Department of Treasury's Office of Financial Education create a special post for me. I would like to work there. Just earning money is not the end of everything, how to spend and use it is very important," the 30 year-old warns.
Till then Lalita, who is proud to have an Indian name (given by an Indian friend of her parents) will just continue to mount up her degrees. When asked about her success, Lalita always says: "In this world, you either have an excuse or a story. I preferred to have a story."


Medicine king of Jiangnan

Rising from rags to riches, Hangzhou merchant Hu Xueyan built a pharmaceutical business that continues to flourish today. 

THERE is a late Qing dynasty residence in Hangzhou that is remarkable not only for its sheer size and its fine restoration but even more so for the fact that it is hardly, if ever, featured in the famous city’s tour itineraries.
As with all things important in Hangzhou, the mansion (or properly, manor) is situated not far from the iconic West Lake around which everything in the city seems to revolve.
The property’s original owner was a merchant named Hu Xueyan (1823-1885) who, in the late 1800s, was one of the richest men in China.
Sign of wealth: Calligraphy panels extolling the virtues of kindness and charity adorn the imposing main gate of Hu Xueyan’s manor.
Born into poverty in neighbouring Anhui province, Hu started as an apprentice in a Hangzhou bank and subsequently built up a thriving banking business. He later expanded into trading silk, tea and armaments, and finally into Chinese traditional medicine, all the while cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with high-ranking officials.
It is said that in his heyday, Hu possessed more silver than the moribund Qing dynasty, and he helped the official Zuo Zongtang pay soldiers’ salaries as well as procured provisions and ammunitions for his campaigns against the rebellions that wracked China in the late 19th century. He also generously donated money, clothing, seed stocks, rice and medicine to victims of natural disasters in various provinces.
Hu’s star rose even higher when Zuo recommended him to the Qing court and he was made an official of the second grade, just one level beneath the highest rank in the imperial bureaucracy.
Concealed behind rather plain enclosure walls several metres high, the residence that Hu built in 1872 sprawls over an astonishing 5,815sqm and comprises 13 buildings set amongst gardens, ponds and rockeries. The occupant’s wealth and status is immediately evident from the size, height and width of the manor’s soaring front porch which is designed to accommodate a sedan chair so big it had to be carried by eight men, a privilege which Hu, a grade 2 official was entitled to enjoy.
The luxurious manor was constructed using at least six types of rare and expensive wood, including cedar and sandalwood, as well as materials ranging from stone to brick to clay, much of which, like the stone lintel above a pair of doors just beyond the main gate, is intricately carved.
Huqingyutang medical hall’s plain entrance gives little hint of its grand interior.
Hu’s primary wife and mother lived in the central hall as befitting their status while the 12 secondary wives and 19 children were consigned to the wings. There is a terrace for opera performances in one of the gardens as well as a raised gazebo from which the master, his family and friends could enjoy the entertainment.
Hu was reputedly worth 20 million taels of silver at his peak, a fortune which he presumably stored in his “vault”, an underground cellar beneath one of the halls.
There is an abundance of blue glass windows throughout the mansion, an expensive foreign luxury in Hu’s day, plus an extravagant use of copper, some 20 tons of it according to our guide, for fixtures and fittings. Besides window hinges, latches, and huge water storage jars, even gutters and drain pipes were made of copper, though all but one has disappeared.
Further, in a house full of women, a copper “telephone” conduit leading directly to the wives’ quarters enabled the master of the house to speak privately with each of them.
In a side street off Hangzhou’s Hefangjie is the medicinal herb shop Hu Xueyan established in 1874, now designated a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Museum. Called Huqingyutang, one would never have guessed its importance from the simple stone entrance gate just across from a well-known scissors shop. Covered corridors lead to the beautifully maintained retail hall, a stunning double storey atrium ornately decorated in Qing dynasty style with a multitude of lanterns, carved wooden beams and calligraphy panels.
The pharmacy built its reputation on its founder’s three-pronged motto of “benevolence, avoiding deception, and fixed price”. Backed by the time-honoured values of honesty and fairness, prices were non-negotiable as they were commensurate with the high quality of the establishment’s products. Hu’s business principles proved highly successful, so much so that he is sometimes dubbed “Medicine king of Jiangnan (south of the Yangtze River)”.
Huqingyutang is a living museum, bustling with pharmacists in white coats and caps busy preparing and portioning dried herbs from the well-stocked counters and drawers, much as they would have done over a century ago. Medicinal herbs like ginseng and other traditional preparations are available for sale. In addition the company now has a modern factory producing Chinese medicine for all sorts of ailments and even an online shop and consultation service.
Hu Xueyan and Huqingyutang are evidently not unknown in China, especially since a television drama was made about his life a few years ago. This makes it all the more surprising that we were able to enjoy his lavish estate and impressive pharmacy without the usual crowds that throng famous sites in the country.


6 Rags-to-Riches Millionaires

From Oprah Winfrey to Steve Jobs to J.K. Rowling, entrepreneurial success stories are the stuff from which American dreams are made. Much like these famous names, the six self-made millionaires we're profiling have one thing in common: Thanks to hard work, determination and sound advice from mentors, friends and family, they've been able to build thriving businesses from the ground up.
The rise to the top can be bumpy. In fact, some of the entrepreneurs we talked to were homeless during the early years of their companies. That's why they all agree that it's important to help others in need. All, including Radio One's Catherine L. Hughes and Life is good co-founder Bert Jacobs, give back to the community by volunteering time, donating to charitable organizations or running their own charities.
Learn how these six diverse entrepreneurs -- from a t-shirt designer to a media mogul -- turned meager beginnings into multimillion-dollar success and what advice they offer to budding business tycoons who hope to follow in their footsteps.
Catherine L. Hughes
Courtesy of Radio One
Courtesy of Radio One
Age: 64
Occupation: Founder and chairperson, Radio One
Advice to young entrepreneurs: "Sometimes the ones who love you the most will give you the worst business advice."
By conventional standards, Hughes wasn't destined to build a successful multimillion-dollar media company. She was a teen mom by 16 and a high-school dropout. However, she later completed high school, followed by brief stints at area universities in her hometown of Omaha, Neb.
Despite her limited formal education, Hughes, who credits publishing legend John H. Johnson as one of her mentors, worked her way up at Omaha's KOWH radio starting in 1969 before heading to the nation's capital to become a lecturer at Howard University. In 1975, she became general manager for the university's radio station, WHUR-FM. By 1979, she bought her first radio station, WOL-AM in D.C., with her then-husband and founded Radio One a year later.
Those early years were rough. Hughes, who was divorced by then, slept with her son on the floor of her radio station because she couldn't afford to live anywhere else. "My mother tried her best to talk me out of the radio business because of that," Hughes recalls. It's for this reason that she advises young entrepreneurs to be wary about who they divulge their challenges to -- even family. "If I had listened [to my mother], I would be a government employee right now and there would be no Radio One."
Thirty-two years later, in addition to the radio company, Hughes' empire includes her television network TV One and several interactive ventures, including and Her charitable efforts include serving as a board member and the main benefactor for the Piney Woods School, a boarding school located in Piney Woods, Miss., that serves students from financially strapped families.
Bert Jacobs

Courtesy of Life is good
Courtesy of Life Is Good
Age: 46
Occupation: Co-Founder and CEO, Life is good
Advice to young entrepreneurs: "Try to shoot for a timeless business."
You've probably seen the beret-wearing, smiling face of "Jake," the Life is good logo, on the company's tee shirts and products. Co-founders Bert Jacobs and his brother, John Jacobs, 43, started peddling their tee shirts on the streets of Boston -- going door-to-door at college dorms and sleeping in their van to save money -- in 1989. It would take nearly six years, however, before their shirts finally caught on with consumers, thanks to "Jake."
The logo, which is infused with optimism, was created after a conversation about how the world was slammed with constant negativity. It became an instant hit. Now, the New England-based company has revenues in excess of $100 million, and each year more of it goes toward their charity, Life is good Kids Foundation, which helps children overcome life-threatening challenges.
"In the beginning, we made every business mistake in the book," says Bert. The brothers didn't have a business plan or growth strategy -- a formula for disaster, if you go by what's taught in business school. Bert credits part of their success to listening to their friends and customers as informal focus groups, rather than "experts." He advises budding entrepreneurs to: "Try to shoot for a timeless business that will work through good times and bad."
Ali Brown

Courtesy of Ali Brown
Courtesy of Ali Brown
Age: 40
Occupation: Entrepreneur, business consultant and publisher,
Advice to young entrepreneurs: "It's important you seek out other business owners for information, advice, support and resources."
Fed up with her dead-end job at a New York City ad agency, Brown decided to quit in 1998. Armed with her brother's hand-me-down computer, she launched her first marketing agency, AKB Communications, from her kitchen table.
While having her own business was exciting, the uncertainty of self-employment had its challenges. Brown remembers all too well maxing out credit cards and draining her bank account to stay afloat in the early days. One night in particular, she tried to withdraw $20 from an ATM but was denied because her balance was only $18.56. Thirteen years later, thanks to her hard work and perseverance, Brown has achieved many successes: She earned her first million before the age of 35 and has appeared on ABC's reality show "Secret Millionaire," where she donated money to several organizations. She still actively supports three of them.
When it comes down to deciding if entrepreneurship is the right move for you, Brown says, "Entrepreneurship isn't for everyone. Every definition of entrepreneur I've found includes the word 'risk'." For those who are willing to take the leap of faith, she advises: "It's important that you seek out other business owners for information, advice, support and resources. Today, would-be entrepreneurs have the Internet and social media, and it's a great place to get started learning more about how to grow a business."
Jill Blashack Strahan

Courtesy of Jill Blashack Strahan
Courtesy of Jill Blashack Strahan
Age: 52
Occupation: Founder and CEO, Tastefully Simple
Advice to young entrepreneurs: "Having goals is absolutely critical."
For Strahan, starting her multimillion-dollar company, Tastefully Simple, a direct sales retailer of specialty food products, began with "a dream and a shoestring." She grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota and later started selling gourmet food baskets, which inspired her business.
In the beginning, the entrepreneur fed her fledgling company with $6,000 of her own savings and some loans from a friend and the Small Business Administration. Strahan's first headquarters was a 1,200-square-foot space with a concrete floor and no running water. Early orders were packed on a pool table. Today, the Tastefully Simple offices take up nearly 200,000 square feet on a 79-acre lot.
In addition to running a company that's valued at more than $100 million, Strahan finds time to give back to the community. Tastefully Simple has donated more than $5 million to local causes, and in 2009 teamed up with Share Our Strength, a group that seeks to end childhood hunger in America. If you're an entrepreneur with a good idea, she says to remember that there isn't an easy road to building a profitable business: "The secret to success doesn't involve pixie dust or a magic bullet. Having goals is absolutely critical."
Farrah Gray

Courtesy of Farrah Gray Publishing
Courtesy of Farrah Gray Publishing
Age: 27
Occupation: Founder and CEO, Farrah Gray Publishing
Advice to young entrepreneurs: "Keep your business small . . . niche yourself."
When most 6-year-olds were worried about what time their favorite cartoon came on TV, Gray was already an entrepreneur. He was going door-to-door in his inner-city Chicago neighborhood selling hand-painted rocks as bookends to help his ailing mother make ends meet. "I can remember being very young and my mom having a heart attack. I wondered how we were going to pay the bills and thought to myself, 'I don't want to be poor like this anymore,'" he recalls.
Trying to figure out a way to improve his family's home life sparked something big: By the time he was 17, Gray had founded and operated several businesses, including Kidztel, a prepaid phone card company, and Farr-Out Foods, a food company targeting young adults, which grossed $1.5 million in sales before he sold it. At 20, his first book, "Reallionaire: Nine Steps to Becoming Rich Inside and Out," was published.
Now, Gray's focused on his latest venture, Farrah Gray Publishing, a boutique celebrity book publishing house he started in 2009, which includes titles such as "Transparent" by CNN's Don Lemon. Gray also spends his time contributing to charitable organizations, such as the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Marrow Donor Program. For anyone considering starting a new business, he suggests keeping things small: "A lot of times we get caught up in trying to be the next Facebook or Apple. That isn't necessary -- niche yourself."
Jesse Conners

Courtesy of FirednFabulous/YouTube
Courtesy of FirednFabulous/YouTube
Age: 28
Occupation: CEO and founder,
Advice to young entrepreneurs: "There is constantly some fire that you have to put out . . . Don't let it discourage you."
Conners had an unusual childhood: When she was 9, her parents joined a cult and -- believing that the world was about to end -- sold all of their worldly possessions. From then until she was 18, Conners traveled across the U.S. and to Mexico with her family, following the cult's message and searching for work along the way. As unconventional as it was, she says her upbringing spurred the independence she needed to succeed in business.
While in high school, she started doing the marketing for her father's chiropractor practice, which eventually led to a job in real estate. At 21, she auditioned for and was cast in the first season of NBC's "The Apprentice." Although Conners didn't win, her stint on national television landed her a job on the real estate speaking circuit. In 2008, she began building, a membership-based fashion and luxury brand online retailer. The Web site has been up and running for a little over a year and has a ten-person staff.
Earlier this year, Conners's "outside the box" approach to business helped her to surpass a $1 million net worth. In addition to running her company, she has offered charitable support to Elephant Human Relations Aid and provides resources to women who are victims of domestic abuse, according to her Web site. Conners advises budding entrepreneurs to be aware that daily obstacles are the norm, not the exception. "There is constantly some fire that you have to put out. That's what running a business is all about," Conners says. "Don't let it discourage you. Try again, start again."


Allo fiber leads woman from rags to riches

Around 18 years ago, when Chitra Kali Budha Magar had to fold her retail store in Domti, Pyuthan district, she had a feeling she didn´t have the ´it´ factor to become a successful businesswoman.

The experience was pretty depressing for her at that time, as the shop was her first business venture in life and its fall had also crumbled her hopes of reaching new heights in life.

Yet she tried to console herself saying the opportunity to run a store was a windfall, which was blown away by another blast of wind.

Magar, who´s now 44, had entered into business not out of keen interest, but out of serendipity.

It took place around 19 years ago, when one of her husband´s best friends gave her rice worth Rs 50,000 for free. At that time she and her husband had just migrated to Domti from their native Seuli Bang village in Pyuthan district. Since both of them were jobless, she decided to sell the rice by opening a shop.

The shop was doing fine in the beginning. Then gradually many of her customers started purchasing goods in credit. "Later, these very people started defaulting on the payment," Magar said, explaining how the fall of her store began. "And I lost almost Rs 17,000."

After the store folded up, the Magar duo migrated to Bahane Bazar, where they rented a room and started doing odd jobs like selling paddy and wheat.
This went on for around four years and in 2000 due to peer pressure she decided to join a micro-enterprise group, run by UNDP´s Microenterprise Development Program.

"Under the program, I was given a collateral-free loan of Rs 10,000 via Agricultural Development Bank Limited for which I had to pay an interest of 8 percent per annum," Magar, a high school dropout, said.

She used the money to put up a roof of corrugated sheets on four anas of land, which was given to her by a local teacher, and started running a small restaurant.
This time, her business did exceptionally well and she started making around Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 every three-day by selling delicacies made of water buffalo.

"Although most of the money I used to earn used to go on household expenses and tuition fees of my two children, I managed to save Rs 10,000 in a year after clearing the debt," Magar said.

Then she took another collateral-free loan of Rs 10,000 under the same program. This time she decided to venture into another business: selling yarn made of allo (Himalayan Nettle).

Allo yarn was gradually gaining popularity at that time as it was one of the crucial raw materials used in the making of hand-knotted woolen carpets and allo textile.
To collect the yarn, Magar took help of her friends and fellow villagers of Magar community, who used to hold inventories of the material to manufacture traditional costume known as ´gara´.

"Initially, I started on a small scale, selling around 10 kg of yarn per year," she said. Each kilogram of allo yarn used to cost her Rs 300, which she used to sell for Rs 400.

Gradually she started widening her customer base and the following year her sales surged to one quintal.

"Business was getting better and I had started saving around Rs 35,000 per year," she said. "But the business environment was not that great because of insurgency."

According to her, she had to pay "a tax of Rs 5 on each kg of yarn to Maoists" in those days. "The process of transporting the goods was even more cumbersome, as I used to get harassed by security personnel who used to make a mess out of our cargo in the name of security check," Magar said.

Things went on like this and the security checks and Maoists taxations started becoming regular affair for her.

Then in 2005, she took a big leap and bought a machine for Rs 70,000 to manufacture allo textiles.

Although she had bought the unit after undergoing allo textile manufacturing training for a year, she wasn´t able to reap much benefit from it as "most of the textile that I was manufacturing didn´t meet the market standard".

"Initially, I thought I was duped into buying a low-grade machine, until one of the instructors - under whom I had undergone textile manufacturing training - visited me and said I had installed it the wrong way," she said. "By that time I had already suffered a loss of Rs 100,000."

But since that time her business has been growing. Now, she sells almost 3-5 quintals of allo yarn per month for Rs 800 per kg and produces six meters of allo textile per day which she sells for Rs 850 per meter. She has also started making caps, bags, mobile pouches, table mats and ladies belts.

Over the years, she has also built a house worth around Rs 4 million on the same 4 anas of land which was given to her by the local teacher. "The price of land was around Rs 40,000 at that time which I have already returned," Magar said.

Now, two of her sons have also grown up and are studying in Kathmandu. She spends almost Rs 30,000 per month on them. "And after deducting all the expenses, I can save around Rs 100,000 per year," Magar, who was recently elected as the president of National Allo Entrepreneurs Association, said.

For her, life has been good so far but she fears a weed known as ´banmara jhar´, which is growing in the forest, may destroy allo plants in the forest in her hometown. "If the plants are destroyed, it will have direct impact on our business as well as livelihood," she said.