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Making The Switch To Dharavi: When Adding Value Is Not Just About Profit

Our new CEO, Paul Whittle, discusses what prompted him to leave his comfy job at a major tour operator in London to join us in Dharavi.


“You’re doing WHAT?!”

This sentiment, be it a sense of enduring fascination from friends or a cry of anguish from a long suffering family, has pervaded most of my adult life. Six months after leaving a well paid and highly respectable job in London to go on a bicycle ride from the UK to Turkey this last summer, the exact same reaction was again ringing in my ears. This time two wheels had been exchanged for three as I found myself in a tuk tuk whizzing through the streets of Mumbai to my new home. The daily commute now being to the slightly less luxurious surroundings here in Dharavi, one of Mumbai’s and indeed Asia’s largest slum communities.

My new “office” is within the slum itself, on the upper tier of a two-story hutment accessed by an initially unnerving climb up some steep outside metal steps. Now achieved with increasing confidence but still not without the occasional stumble. Having negotiated the crowded charms of Mumbai’s local trains the walk in often consists of dodging small barefoot children playing in the alleys or local workers carrying everything from pottery to bullock hides atop their heads, in a ridiculous show of cranial equilibrium. An ever changing menagerie of chickens, lambs and goats pervade the scene regularly and poke their head in through the open sliding door.

view from dharavi office
The view from our Dharavi office

Corrugated metal sheets comprise the walls and ceiling. Smoke and dust often filtering in through the gaps as onions are fried, cooking fires are lit or ground dust is raised. The external heat and humidity permeates inside, requiring fans permanently switched on to avoid a change of shirt colour during the day. Wedding processions and other day to day festivities often reduce audibility levels to those of your average dance club in the early hours. The battle to block them out and focus on the tasks at hand is often a real challenge.

So….why and how am I here?

Fifteen years ago I travelled to Australia after university. What initially I figured would be no more than a typical gap year, in reality started a love affair with travel to this day. A passion that has ultimately allowed me to make a living out of travel with various small group adventure tour operators. Starting as a tour leader I gradually moved up through various operations positions in well-respected brands within the sector, working in places as diverse as Guatemala, Thailand, Cuba, Kenya and Peru. I was one of THOSE people you hear about, living the dream, working a lot harder than many assume