The British Government’s commitment to engaging with India can only be described as deep and meaningful. Whether we’re discussing the thorny issue of immigration, collaboration between educational institutions, strategy on counter-terrorism, right through to to the relationship with the Indian diaspora in Britain.
However, its the cool commercialism that hits the headlines on an increasingly frequent basis. With the acquisition of major brands by India’s firms, its no surprise that the day after the government reshuffle, the Department for Business fielded a senior Minister to meet with leading Indian investors in Britain.
At the dinner, Pat McFadden’s grasp of the detail was impressive. He spoke openly and was genuinely interested in learning the challenges that these businesses have in the UK. He seemed committed to providing a fair and transparent environment for businesses to flourish.
Given that our economy is under severe pressure and one in which even the PM suggested was headed for recession, I’m surprised that in the US they’re making a bad situation even worse by rejecting the benefits of globalisation. Don’t get me wrong, I like Obama and want to see him in the Oval Office, but on this issue, I’m with McCain.
For me, I struggle to understand how the American’s have succeeded for so long, when at every big moment they start making statements like: ‘American jobs for American people’. It seems that interdependence is simply not in the cultural DNA of the US and is a clear example of how the cultural makeup of a country is directly linked to its success or failure.
I’m currently in the US and although some things should not come as a surprise, they still do! To my misfortune, I never get the opportunity to travel beyond the major cities and it may be for this reason that when I do travel away from the major centres that I’m taken aback by simple things that contradict established views about the only superpower in the world!
So, what do we expect from a superpower in today’s age? Well, it would be fair to expect a heightened awareness of global affairs; of the presidential slinging contest currently being played out on TV; recognition that America is one country in a world of many etc etc. I could go on and on.
The truth is so so so way off the scale that I needed to pinch myself to remind me that I wasn’t having a nightmare. I used to think that India was a land of contradictions – ultra wealth VS massive poverty, 650,000 graduates each year VS being the most illiterate country on earth etc. that I’ve now decided to award the mantle of ‘the land of contradictions’ to the US.
This is a complicated place. Can you imagine the cultural challenges of the two trying to work with each other?
Watching yesterday’s coverage of Glastonbury, the organisers must feel totally vindicated in their decision to book Jay-Z as their headline act. The guy rocked the place. I can’t believe the opposition he faced. Sure, he’s not an “indy” act but his rap act brought something to the table. A new musical culture was introduced to what can only be described as the biggest music festival in Britain.
By kicking off his set with an Oasis anthem, Jay-Z showed the world that he’s got a bigger heart than typical Glasto names like Noel Gallagher.
After Wonderwall, he had the 150,000 odd audience eating out of the palm of his hand. It was great fun to watch him play with the audience.
We know that music can transcend cultural barriers, the risk that Michael Eavis, festival organiser, took was well worth it. We owe him for sticking his neck out.
PS – for anyone who watched Amy Winehouse, what was she on? I can’t believe she was put on the famous pyramid stage.
With India being all the rage in London at the moment, it was probably quite apt that the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Business Leaders Summit concluded with ICICI Bank hosting an entertainment extravaganza in their honour with Shah Rukh Khan – bollywood superhero.
Vijay Mallya, Naresh Goyal, Deepak Puri, Suhel Seth et al rubbed shoulders with their contemporaries in London to the tune of some of Bollywood’s best loved songs (as performed by SRK).
In a Q&A response, Shah Rukh reiterated that whilst Hollywood is perceived as the epicentre of films, the Indian film industry isn’t far behind and he didn’t aspire to act in Hollywood.
When delivering intercultural training programmes for Western corporates (through our India Briefing Centre), we ensure that the participants watch a 15 min slice of a Hindi film. Just by watching these clips, your senses become accustomed to the huge gulf in western and eastern cultures. Apart from the singing, dancing and overdramatized action scenes, Bollywood flicks play a central role in shaping the identities of global Indians.
Amongst the vast number of claims that India and Indians make, the one that stands out for me is that India is truly the land of entrepreneurship. There are several examples of individuals who have gone from rags to riches in one generation.
For this reason, I was delighted to have attended the Ernst & Young Entrepreneuship Awards in London last week and found that in their main category of Master Entrepreneur, two out of five finalists were Indian. One of them, Dr Lalvani, of Wellman fame, went on to be specially recognised for his successes.
Both Indian finalists – Dr Lalvani and Rami Ranger place a huge emphasis on family support. It’s not unusual for winners to namecheck their family in their speeches, but Dr Lalvani’s was exceptional as he, in his very humble manner, made a simple point – he thanked his wife and family for allowing him to work every hour that he could.
I’m not claiming that Indian’s have a monopoly on family support – but as part of our cultural upbringing, families play a huge role in defining identities.
I think it’s great that Obama has landed the Democratic Presidential nomination (even though the Clintons haven’t pulled out yet!). While many paint a picture of America as a land in which minority communities are treated as second class citizens, Obama’s success clearly demonstrates the meritocratic nature of its society and of its people.
Who would have imagined that a guy with a name that sounds like Osama, who has family residing in Kenya and has himself lived in Indonesia would one day succeed in being nominated for President. This stuff is of dreams.
Even if he doesn’t win the election (which I think he will), the simple fact that this guy has broken through sends a sharp message, firstly – to Americans, and secondly, to the world, that America has an improved understanding and appreciation of cultural issues than we’ve given it credit for in the past.
The knock on effect for America’s disasterous foreign policy is huge.
Senator McCain also understands this. Last weekend, he invited three contenders for the VP’s job to meet with him. Among the three was a relatively new and young Indian Senator called Bobby Jindal. Simply by asking to meet him, McCain and the GOP have also acknowledged the need to embrace diversity and multi-culturalism.
In Britain, we (including me) tom tom the egalitarian nature of our society, but we are so so far back when it comes to politics that I don’t see us electing a Prime Minister from the ethnic minorities for another decade or more – despite having a fantastic crop of minority MPs who are hugely talented in the House of Commons. I’m not for positive discrimination but I can’t see one of these breaking through in the same way as Obama.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fascinated by the way different systems and cultures deal with disasters and crisis situations. Take the Chinese earthquake as an example. Their departure from their “normal” mode of behaviour i.e. closing down any access to politicians, access to western media, providing statistics on the death toll etc has to be welcomed.
I think Premier Wen Jiabao has shown that the Chinese, too, are normal human beings and not the robots who work 24/7 without any signs of emotion to provide us our DVD players and Gap jeans.
Everyone goes on and on about China, but, I for one, have simply not caught the bug to visit the country. I suppose my reasoning is that it simply doesn’t feel like a fun place to go to.
Sure, it may have history, sure indigenous culture is important to note, but the overarching rules that dictate daily life that are laid out by the Communist Party of China (as portrayed in our media) seem a little too strait-jacketed for me and for this reason any effort made by Premier Wen to bring in more openness in China has to be welcomed.
Last week, my firm (www.saffronchase.com) launched the India Briefing Centre – a service that can help British firms crack India. The first being bespoke sectoral briefings and training programmes that can provide executives looking to engage with India, the vital information they require to make decisions. Whilst the focus is on briefings, our mainstay is delivering intercultural training for teams from leading companies visiting India, which we’ve been doing over the past decade in various other guises.
From the moment you land to the moment you return back to your home country, you’ll find India to be a land of contradictions. Because of her shared history with Britain and her contribution to the Commonwealth, it’s easy to make the mistake that the same rules apply in India as they do, for example, in the UK. Whether it’s in the workplace, in emails, on phone conferences, or after hours when you’re socialising with colleagues – if you don’t wise up and realise that the rules are different, you’re guaranteed failure and risk alienating yourself.
Our experience tells us that those contemplating working in India are better off having some form of orientation before they leave. Learn the rules behind creating positive relations with Indians and you’ll be far more successful.
From past experience, the segment that everyone really enjoys in our intercultural training programme, is the 15 minute excerpt of a Bollywood film.
Forget what I said earlier about learning the rules – just watch the latest Bollywood flick and you’ll be fine 🙂
I was invited to a glitzy bash (www.awaawards.com) last week by the Asian Foundation for Philanthropy (www.affp.org.uk) at the Park Lane Hilton where women of Asian origin were recognised across a range of categories for their achievements. Among all the stars were prominent people like Sarah Brown, Cherie Blair, and LIZ HURLEY. However, the biggest star in the room – and I don’t think there’ll be any disagreement from any quarter – was Pinky Lilani OBE, whose brainchild this celebration was.
Sitting there at the event, surrounded by women who’d made such a difference, what struck me was that the portrayal of women of Indian origin in the media is dismal but their contribution is absolutely massive.
Just in India, the number of women who are leading politicians, business leaders, social entrepreneurs, engineers, IT graduates outranks the numbers you will find in other countries in the subcontinent. As students of society, this poses an interesting question to which the answer, I feel, lies in the culture of India and Indian people.
Going back to the event, the funny thing was that Liz Hurley – despite being such a uber model type of person was upstaged by her Indian husband – Arun Nayyar! The number of women around that man that evening was unbelievable! On my way out, I bumped into her and asked her if she wanted a lift home 🙂
It astounds me as to the number of people of Indian origin who work in the financial districts of London & New York. We all know of people like Anshu Jain of Deutsche Bank who have done fantastically well to take the best of their Indian heritage and mix it up with the hard headedness found in ample supply in the “West”.
I mention this because the City Hindus Network have asked me and bunch of other people to become mentors to younger professionals across various firms in the square mile. As part of this workshop, I learnt something that should have been so obvious – that cultural values are weaved into our genes.
I was reminded by the City Hindus Network that public service and encouraging a spirit of providing assistance are key elements of our DNA. Something that many cultural overviews provided to executives travelling to India should highlight.
Understanding Indian business culture will take you so far, understanding what makes Indian people tick will take you much further.