Everybody who has read Keith Potts’ post about throwing best practise out of the window knows that at the beginning of March we were at the DMGT Chairman’s conference in Bangalore, India. It was my first time in India and I found it both incredible and amazing. It blew my mind to the point that I’m still processing it all.
Here are some initial thoughts about what I learned in India both in our lectures and through meeting local people, companies and NGOs.
A Linux religion
One indigenous tour guide gave us a short introduction into Hinduism. He compared Christianity and Islam to closed systems, in that they have one man at the top, one book, and places to congregate and worship en masse. In contract, Hinduism is an open system, a Linux religion, as each believer decides how it manifests itself and when it manifests itself. As it is open source it manages to adapt and has survived under the rule of other faiths. Narayan Ramachandran, former country head of Morgan Stanley and one of the speakers, remarked on a similar topic that India was plural from a religious base and deeply tolerant in character, which in itself can be complex as it enables but also dampens conservatism.
Social enterprise = good business
In the western world we talk a lot of social businesses and it is often interpreted to mean no or low profits, same salaries for everybody and self-sacrifice for the greater good. The businesses my colleagues and I visited in India all had a social component. They need to as the state cannot provide the same cover it does in most of the Western world. However, it was also made very clear that social elements are incorporated with great business acumen and only as they also benefit the business. High margin and different salary levels for different people were a given. It reminded me of the saying that you first have to look after yourself (and especially in India as the state won’t look out for you) and then you look after others. Social enterprise in essence is operating a good business, as good businesses provide work and take the community into consideration. After all, the healthier the business, the healthier its contribution is to wider society.
Small scale globalisation
India is obviously a country of contrasts. We heard of the young Indians that prefer now to stay in India, instead of going to Silicon Valley. We were told that it is more difficult to get into some universities in India than it is to get to Harvard. At the same time less than 10% of Indians speak English, and in rural areas you have 10 hours of power cuts a day. India is tolerant in character and yet its politicians continue to reinforce the caste system that gives them a powerbase. At the same time, increasing urbanisation weakens this very system.
And then there’s its sheer scale. India is a vast country: The Indian labour force grows by 9m a year, with 2.5m people taking Engineering exams per year. As a result, jobs need to be created at a breath-taking pace. Even though 35% of all code is written in India, India itself is mainly a service society. Narayan Ramachandran describes the conundrum eloquently: “Think of India as at least 3 countries: middle Europe, the aspiring group and – as the largest group – the desperately poor. Because of its size and diversity, standardization of anything is difficult, if not impossible, in India.” But still India is one state, with underdeveloped infrastructure and therefore difficulty to enforcing the monopoly of power, but lots of nations with many individuals that make sense of the seemingly chaotic and take their lives into their own hands. The local becomes more pronounced into a more and more globalised world.
When I look at India, I see a snapshot of the challenges and opportunities created by ever increasing globalisation. I see the difficulty global governments have in reaching those who need them most, and as a result, the increased importance of local communities and individual participations. I see the speed and fundamental nature of change occurring, and the danger of leaving entire parts of the population behind. I see the passion of people to make sure that that doesn’t happen and their passion to change their current situation and overcome quite significant challenges. I see the energy of humanity to be harnessed in a country with a population of 1.2bn.
Let’s learn from India as an example, let’s embrace the spirit of the people and let’s recognise the seemingly chaotic as a fountain for inspiration and creativity.