Tag Archives: #ritumarwah

Small Businesses Must Apply For PPP Grants Say EMS Panel

Ben Chilli Bowl, an  iconic Washington D.C. diner, was going to close its doors. It did not receive a loan under Payment Protection Plan (PPP), the government scheme to help small businesses.

In a tweet, then Sen. Kamala Harris, (D-CA) noted, “@benschilibowl is a DC icon I used to eat at during my @HowardU days. It’s outrageous small businesses like Ben’s Chili Bowl aren’t getting the kind of relief the president’s friends are getting. Congress must prioritize helping minority-owned businesses.”

Virginia Ali, the 86-year old matriarch and co-founder of Chilli Bowl shared her difficult experience at a panel discussion on how small businesses could emerge from this crisis, during an Ethnic Media Services briefing on May 28.

After being shut out of the initial round of forgivable federal loans, the Ali family, owners of Ben’s Chili Bowl, applied again. They finally did get Paycheck Protection Program assistance. 

Speakers at an Ethnic Media panel on May 28, 2021

 

“Most small businesses do look at federal programs, similar to SBA, but what they should be aware of is that each state has programs as well, such as the State Small Businesses Credit Initiative which has 600 percent more funds in it than it had the last time. The program has been tweaked to ensure small businesses even those with weaker credit profiles will now get help, he said.

The American Rescue Bill had roughly 350 billion dollars that went out to individuals in states and counties and cities with 200,000+ in population sizes. That money, in this moment, while we are reopening, represents capital that can be catalytic. 

“It is extremely important that the small business owner, one, looks at advocacy work to see where the money is going and who it is going out to; two, talks to their economic development in the cities to find their programs; and three, most importantly APPLY!,”  said Sands.

“What we have learnt from the pandemic is that most opportunities come a second time. If you look at PPP it has come up a third time. We are into the third iteration of the program to ensure that some of the smaller small businesses now have access to capital,” said Sands. It is therefore important that businesses apply.

Congressman Ro Khanna, D-California. Rep. Khanna, a member of the Congressional Small Business Caucus, reiterated the importance of making sure that the money is distributed to small businesses and not default to big bank customers. 

“Establishments with under 25 employees like local restaurants, dry cleaners and nail salons are small businesses,” said Khanna. “Secondly, the distribution of monies should keep racial and gender diversity in mind,”  he said.

PPP  helped small businesses stay afloat with low-interest loans. A $2.2-trillion economic relief measure, it was signed into law in March 2020, during the first pandemic surge. It was conceived as a loan program that could be forgiven entirely if borrowers met certain conditions involving retaining employees.

In 2020 and 2021, Lendistry provided Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to small businesses in all 50 states and was selected by the State of California to administer the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, which distributed grants to small businesses that lost significant revenues during the pandemic. 

Mom-and-pop Main Street America can emerge from this crisis and admired the resilience of the small business owner, agreed panellists. The key characteristic of a small business owner is that they never give up. They urged small business owners to apply for government help.

“For amounts less than $150,000, most of the red tape or the bureaucratic process of a loan has been cleared away,” Sands explained. “They must apply for help even if they don’t know the information, even if they get it wrong.”


Ritu Marwah is an award winning author whose story Jinnah’s Daughter, featured in the New York Times’s Express Tribune blog, exemplifies her deep interest and understanding of history and the place of people in it.


 

Connecting to Nature is Good for Public Health

The Bay Area is a great place to live in. It is blessed with progressive land planning that has set aside vast open space areas for recreation. Measures, like Measure Q and now T, to be voted in by the people, ensure that open spaces in Santa Clara Valley stay protected and accessible.

During the lock-down, families truly appreciate the value of access to public parks and open spaces. 

Atulya Sarin, Professor of Santa Clara University lost his beloved 12 year old dog Bufar Bryant Sarin last year. During the pandemic Sarin yearned to be outdoors . “I truly understand how my dog Bufar felt,” says Atulya Sarin with a smile, “I can’t wait for 5pm when I can go for my walk.” 

What helped families like Professor Sarin’s to escape to the outdoors was Measure Q, a $24 parcel-tax that was approved in 2014 by voters. It generated approximately $7.9 million per year, thereby enabling the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to nearly double protected space in the county to more than 26,000 acres.

 It also preserved about 1,000 acres in North Coyote Valley, so Santa Clara Valley’s residents had open spaces and lands to escape to during lockdown.

Measure T, on the November 2020 ballot, renews Measure Q – keeping the parcel tax at $24 – but with the clause that it will renew automatically each year unless ended by voters. 

All funds are spent in the cities of San Jose, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Campbell, Morgan Hill, and in the unincorporated portions of Santa Clara County.

“We are in a great place and the reason we are in a great place is because measure Q gave us resources to buy up land,” said state Assemblymember Ash Kalra at a virtual meeting organized by Ethnic Media Services on October 1. At the end of the day, said Kalra, the land cannot be protected unless it is bought. Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority purchased land to protect it permanently. 

“We can zone land any which way, but a different council can change that. It is critical therefore that in addition to legislation to create a conservation program we must have the Open Space Authority have resources to purchase and protect the land permanently,” he said. 

Coyote Valley

A case in point is Coyote Valley – 7,400 acres of land between the Santa Cruz mountains and the Diablo range. The land is key for flood protection and safeguarding the valley’s ecological livelihood. 

In the 1980s, Apple eyed Coyote Valley as a place to build its world headquarters. In the 1990s, Cisco Systems tried to build a massive campus there. Environmental groups, who said the area — currently used by farmers and wildlife — should be left in its natural state, fought both proposals.

“We all know a little bit of development causes a domino effect and next thing you know it really becomes a totally different type of landscape. 

Measured Response

The pandemic and wildfires have choked California this year.   

“Scientists are telling us that we need to protect 30 percent of the land to keep global warming at bay,” said Kalra. “The more land we can protect the more we can combat global warming. We are seeing how human behavior is connected to all these tragedies,” he said.

South Bay leaders at the press briefing urged a vote for Measure T, which would preserve a tax used for parks and open areas.

“We need to protect this open space for the preservation of a sustainable future for California,” said state Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a long-time environmental advocate. 

Expanding public access to nature improves public health  “Spending as little as two hours a week in nature, 15-20 minutes a day, can improve self-reported health and well-being,” says Sadiya Muqueeth, director community health at the Trust for Public Land.

“We can fix it! We created it and we can fix it,” said Kalra 


Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

 

When You Can’t Send Money Home

Parents of migrants live alone denied the presence of their children in times of need.

Their children, immigrants in another country, send money home to ensure their parents are not wanting for food and help. Often migrants leave their own children behind with grandparents or family members as they seek a living in a foreign land, promising to return with treasures for both parents and children.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one out of five workers are unemployed and many have their wages reduced, threatening to cut that lifeline of support between child and parent.

The inability to remit money home because of job loss or a decline in wages endangers the reliability of that support. A drop in remittance means that a migrant’s family back in their home country won’t be able to afford food, healthcare, and basic needs. As the money dries up, the pandemic will unleash unrelenting poverty and an unexpected pandemic of hunger for some families.

The number of people dying every day due to starvation will overtake the number of dead as a result of COVID-19 and the “hunger pandemic” will bring “the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, warned UN World Food Programme (WFP).130 million people could be on the brink of starvation by the end of 2020 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and its economic ramifications.

At a webinar on May 8th organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation, to examine Covid-19’s Impact on the Developing World, experts reviewed trends as the pandemic spreads. Demetrios Papademetriou, of the non-partisan, Washington-based think tank The Migration Policy Institute, stated that the true effects of this pandemic would be visible in the next 3 months. Unparalleled economic devastation, the kind we have never ever experienced, not even during World War II, will reveal its true form.

Dulce Gamboa, a Policy Specialist at Bread for the World, discussed the impact of Covid-19 on malnutrition and famine in the developing world and the need for a global response to a new pandemic of hunger. COVID-19 could cause extreme hunger to double, she said. Malnutrition weakens peoples’ immune systems and children who are malnourished face long-term health and cognitive consequences. Bread for the World is urging Congress to expand health and humanitarian programs, strengthen the global food supply chain and social protection programs, and allow U.S. funded school feeding programs around the world to serve children while schools are closed.

The United Nations food agency reports that at least 300,000 people will die every day over a three-month period as a result of the outbreak and its economic ramifications as the catastrophic coronavirus chokes off cash lifelines for hard-pressed households in poorer countries.

Globally in 2017, an estimated $625 billion (USD) was sent by migrants to individuals in their home countries, according to economists at the World Bank. These remittances are important economic resources in developing countries. According to a 2016 World Bank report, remittance flows into these nations are more than three times that of official development aid. For instance, Nepal received an estimated $6.6 billion in remittances, equivalent to 31.3% of its GDP, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of World Bank data for 2016. In Sri Lanka, where seven percent of the households have a migrant abroad, remittances form 8% of the GDP.

Remittances, once considered more stable than other kinds of external capital flows, are now in danger of drying up as all countries have been hit at the same time with the same pandemic.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 will be catastrophic for families and nations. COVID-19 has shown us how globalization spreads contagion of all kinds.

We have little visibility into how bad, bad is going to be, but for now, the song that once played at the Sri Lankan airport is silent.

“After much hardship, such difficult times
How lucky I am to work in a foreign land.
I promise to return home with treasures for everyone”

Ritu Marwah wrote this article as a fellow of Ethnic Media Services.

 

Robots Making Rotis

Pranoti Nagarkar looks across the kitchen counter at her partner Rishi Israni. Gosh they had come a long way. 2008 was a distant memory when they had fought about who was going to make the hot roti flatbread for dinner. Pranoti, who had rolled rotis since the age of 8 under her mother’s eagle eye in Pune, seemed to have perfected the dance of adding water to the flour, pinching the dough to check for the right consistency, adding just a drop more to ensure the dough was soft and yet not too soft, and then letting it rest for ten minutes for the gluten to set in before balling it into just the right size balls to be dusted with flour and rolled into perfect sized discs, not too big and not too small.

It was always a combination of science and art that ensured that the discs when they had been heated on side and then flipped over would release the steam and fill the roti into little balloons. The little balloon would float from the black iron skillet onto the plate of the diners. It was not always that the discs popped up and fluffed with pride. They were coaxed along with a dab of cloth here and little nudge there to ensure that the steam filled every corner of the roti.

Pranoti calculated she was spinning out at least 3000 rotis a year making two rotis per family member once a day . Dishes may change but the roti was a constant companion to all dishes. The tedious repetitiveness of the task done every single day in the household got to her.

If the clothes have their washing machine why don’t we have a robot to make the rotis for us she thought. Being an engineer and a problem solver with a desire to be an inventor she set about solving this problem. As a mechanical engineer she had worked as a designer and had taken an idea from a sketch on a paper napkin to production. She decided to give this a go. It was not going to be easy. Pranoti knew and understood the pain and skill of making the rotis and getting them to puff up. It would be a tough problem to solve.

Pranoti looked objectively at the problem. Rotimatic was not just a collection of moving pieces, she needed Artificial Intelligence (AI) software that would prod the dough and check its smoothness just as Pranoti did in the kitchen. In order to marry hardware with the perfect software she turned to her software engineer husband Rishi Israni.

The Rotimatic was now ready and working in her kitchen.

What she did not bargain for was the challenges of entrepreneurship. Once she had designed the product she had to sell her vision to investors most of whom were male and did not have first hand experience of dealing with the pain of feeding rotis to a family. She soon realized the challenge of fundraising and marketing. Different users and their varied expectations took her by surprise.

Investors needed to be convinced that not only did the product solve a problem but also that there was a market for it. In 2013 they floated a video showcasing the product on to the Internet where it was picked up like hot cakes or shall we say hot rotis. 3 million views in the first month and 200,000 signups up for the product led Pranoti and Rishi to offer the device on a pre-order of $59 initially only to the people from the United States. $5 million worth of Rotimatics were sold within 7 days.The overwhelming response forced them to stop taking any more pre orders.

This was an important metric for the Silicon Valley venture capitalist investors who gave them $12 million to meet this order. Manufacturing started and in 2 years the order was delivered. A long email list had grown in the meantime. In 2018 another $22 million was raised.

So far 70,000 machines have been sold and 78 million rotis have been made. Silicon Valley has 45,000 Rotimatic users. It is available for purchase only online on their website and now Amazon, mainly in the US, Canada, Australia, Middle East and United Kingdom. It is not sold in India and yet 2000 Rotimatics have made their way to India via Singapore.

Masala Egg Rolls by indiansimmer.com

“Customer loyalty is very high. Once a Rotimatic user, always a Rotimatic user,” says Pranoti. “It is not an impulse purchase that is transitioned to a shelf in the garage. People who have it use it frequently.”

The Facebook group, Rotimaticowners, has 20,000 members who share recipes. Recommended lists of attas have been given but users add protein, masala, spinach etc and Rotimatic adjusts the dough as they go along. Artificial Intelligence steps in with tactile sensing to tweak the dough. It adds flour or water in real time to make the right consistency of dough.

Not just wheat rotis but pooris, bajra rotis, gluten free rotis etc can now be made. New recipes are seamlessly downloaded onto the machine via wifi. Servicing the machine is easy as it is done through the cloud. Wifi connectivity helps 24×7 customer support. Additionally the app tells the user how many rotis have been made, calories consumed and time saved.

The job of an entrepreneur is never done. Besides working on new recipes offerings co-CEOs and founders Pranoti Nagarkar and Rishi Israni are now working on the evolution of their business model.

Ritu Marwah is a senior writer whose articles and awarding winning stories are awaited with great anticipation by her readers. 

The Visual Artists in the #SALA 2019 Festival

Lucky S.F. Bay area denizens of the high-brow variety, you have yet another event to look forward to that is sure to amplify your festive Dussera season this year. If you are scurrying off to the many poojas, family gatherings and Golus (display of dolls), be sure to add this event to your calendar!  

Starting Sunday, October 6th from 12pm – 5pm, the beautiful environs of Villa Montalvo is home to the South Asian Literature & Arts Festival – SALA 2019. This event, the first of its kind in the US, runs from October 6th – 13th, showcasing a grand variety of visual arts, performing arts, poetry, book readings and panel discussions. 

Visual Arts @ SALA 2019:

Rekha Roddwittiya

Visual arts enthusiasts have special treats that thrill and educate. This event presents a great opportunity to meet with award-winning luminaries like India’s leading contemporary artist Rekha Rodwittiya whose work with distinctly feminist narratives has received critical acclaim. In a discussion titled Rekha @ 60: Transient Worlds of Belonging, Dr. Prajit Dutta of Aicon Gallery, NY will be speaking with Ms. Rodwittiya. 

Priyanka Mathew, Principal Partner of Sunderlande New York – an art advisory with a focus on South Asian art, presents an exemplary exhibition titled ‘Revelations: The Evolution of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art’. The show highlights works by Jamini Roy, Sanjay Bhattacharya, Krishen Khanna, Anjolie Ela Menon, Shobha Broota and G.R Iranna to name a few.

Also featured is a conversation with Dipti Mathur, a local bay area philanthropist and well known collector of modern and contemporary South Asian art. She has served on the board of trustees of several museums and is a founding member of the Asian Contemporary Art Consortium, SF.  

Deepti Naval

One of the highlights of the program is well known actor, painter and poet, Deepti Naval. U.C Berkeley professor Harsha Ram, will moderate a program titled “An Elaborate Encounter with Deepti Naval”, as part of the Confluences – Cinema, Poetry and Art segment. 

Cinema @ SALA 2019: 

Vikram Chandra

Indian cinema has a great representation at SALA 2019! The festival offers up a chance to interact with the men behind the popular Netflix original series ‘Sacred Games’, in two separate programs.

The trio of Varun Grover, Vikramaditya Motwane and Vikram Chandra will be interviewed by Tipu Purkayastha on Oct 6th as part of the opening day of the festival in a program titled ‘From the Sacred to the Profane’

A special event on Friday, Oct 18th tilted ‘From Text to Screen’ will feature Tipu Purkayastha . In conversation with him is noted director, writer, and producer, Anurag Kashyap. This program offers us an interesting perspective into their creative minds!

Literature @ SALA 2019: 

The literary world boasts of several names from the South Asian diaspora who decorate the local, national and international stage. SALA 2019 proudly presents writers and poets like Vikram Chandra, Minal Hajratwala, Shanthi Sekaran, Nayomi Munaweera, Raghu Karnad, Athena Kashya and Tanuja Wakefield to name a few, who will share their work in readings and discussions. 

Also being represented at the festival is the emerging Children and Young Adult genre of writers. Curated by Kitaab World, Mitali Perkins and Naheed Senzai in a program titled The Subcontinent’s Children. 

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Montalvo Arts Center and Art Forum SF, in collaboration with UC Berkeley Institute of South Asian Studies are jointly bringing to us one of the largest collections of contemporary South Asian writers, artists, poets, and personalities from theater and cinema. 

The opening day features various programs like art exhibits, panel discussions with internationally renowned writers and filmmakers, hands-on art activities, henna artists and dance performances. There are food stations offering up the many flavors of South Asia. This family-friendly event includes book readings, storytelling and hands on crafts for children. Visitors can also avail themselves of an art and literature marketplace displaying Bay Area artists and Books Inc. book sellers.  

The festival, the largest of its kind in the US is brought to us by Art Forum SF, a non profit that strives to promote emerging  visual, literary and performing art forms from South Asia.

Montalvo Art Center is well known for its mission in advancing cultural and cross-cultural perspectives, nurturing artists by helping them explore their artistic pursuits on their historic premises.

Free shuttle buses are available from West Valley College to aid festival goers.

Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

India Currents is a media partner for SALA 2019.