Pratham – 33 million kids taught to read!

What a great gala dinner! Unsurpassed this year, Reita Gadkari, Priyanka Gill and their team pulled out all the stops, despite wariness amongst their core base of donors from the hedge fund / private equity world in London, they probably raised about £500K to expand Pratham’s reach in India.

Like with most such events, its difficult to gauge what the audience reaction to speeches will be, and this was no different. Yes, they were dry and long but importantly, the line-up showed the importance given to Pratham’s agenda to teach kids how to read and write in India’s back & beyond.

Of course, its common for events of this kind to have a sprinkling of star power, but Pratham – obviously not content with a few – wheeled out the biggies from the London scene, some of whom have avoided such events for quite some time.

The basic point being made, even by Suhel Seth, who’s wit struggled slightly on stage (unlike his Twitter feed), was that despite her upward trajectory, India should remain focused on delivering inclusive growth – one which takes almost 40% of its population, considered illiterate, to enjoy the fruits of India’s economic dividends in the same manner as those sitting in their ivory towers in Delhi and Mumbai.

All in all, a great effort, and an enjoyable evening.

Nee hau

After several years of academic debate and being asked to comment on the India Vs China question, I’m finally going to China.

The actual occasion is the World Economic Forum’s Summer Davos event for global growth companies in Tianjin, and having looked at the participant list, we’re looking at an impressive set of people who are making strides in becoming market leaders in whatever they do.

Truth be told, I’m a little nervous about going to China – for a variety of reasons ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime – but nevertheless am looking forward to seeing what everyone’s been going on about for the best part of the last decade.
Shall blog more from there. Let’s hope twitter / fb etc all work.

Indian GDP figures

Indian GDP figures are out next week, and experts are expecting them to be of a bumper variety. In fact, what’s being said is that the last quarters shown the strongest growth since 2007 and India may hit 8.5%.

Compare that with the 1.2% we’re delighted with or the 1.6% the US is relieved about!

I’m often asked about the comparison with China, but I ask all to remember that India’s built on different lines to the Chinese dragon, the fact that she’s (1) a multi-party democracy, albeit an imperfect one, (2) the growing middle class consumer base, and (3) her demographic profile stands her in good stead for international investors, in the longer term.

More next week on GDP growth and inflation in India.

Britain must adjust to being the junior partner with India, also

The following is an article that’s been carried by Reuters, written by me (http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate-uk/2010/07/26/britain-must-adjust-to-new-relationship-with-india/)

Last week, on his first Prime Ministerial visit to the United States, David Cameron conceded that Britain was the “junior partner” in the special relationship. Next week, I fear that at the end of the much anticipated visit to India, he may yet again, have to concede that Britain is the junior partner in this ever increasing important relationship.

I attended an event some years ago in which the then Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) — Digby Jones — evangelised the need for UK Plc to embrace India, not for nostalgic or historic reasons, but to secure their survival. He explained “in the fullness of time, the past 250 years will be seen as a mere blip, an anomaly, in which India was subjugated. The future belongs to a resurgent India”.

It’s difficult to argue otherwise, just take a look at some of the statistics that stand out:

• Almost 25 percent of the world workforce will reside in India within the next 15 years. The average age of its citizens will be a youthful 29 in 2020, whereas in Western Europe the average stands at 45. India’s demographic profile provides a huge opportunity for her in the next century.

• India has a middle class larger than the entire population of the US — some 300 million residents, armed with a disposable income and looking for new avenues to spend their cash. The spectacular thing is that India’s middle class isn’t confined to its big cities or metros as they refer to them, but to far flung corners of the country in what are second and third tier cities, representing new markets — the Holy Grail as far as some of the world’s biggest fast moving consumer goods companies are concerned.

• Just today, I read a tweet from someone I follow on Twitter about how the Indian Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council has forecast GDP growth at 8.5 percent this year and nine percent next year. Now, compare that with all the talk of Britain having avoided a double dip recession as a result of the growth in our economy at a measly 1.1 percent.

That David Cameron understands the need to forge a stronger relationship with India is not in question. He’s made all the right noises, starting with a pro–India election manifesto culminating in the Queen highlighting her government’s desire to cosy up to the sub-continent in her first speech in the coalition era. He’s packed this visit with an unprecedented number of Cabinet Ministers signalling his intent on developing a wide-ranging cross departmental affair with India.

But the true question on the minds of crystal ball watchers, like me, is to work out whether this visit will fundamentally change the way we work with India or whether it’s just about style, something Cameron’s been accused of frequently.

In either case, in true Indian fashion, Cameron will be welcomed with open arms; and his eagerness to strengthen the bilateral relationship will be warmly reciprocated. Howeve securing the future prosperity of British jobs and industry will be on India’s terms, as the senior partner, unlike those set by the East India company some 250 years ago.

Af-Pak: this is the ONLY game changer in the UK – India relationship

ADVICE TO DAVID CAMERON FOR HIS FORTHCOMING PRIME MINISTERIAL VISIT TO INDIA

Accompanied with the increasing level of media interest in the Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to India, it’s heartening that my recent posts on the bilateral relationship have also stirred some interest.

Regardless of the substantive points that result from this visit, it’s obvious that this opportunity will be used to affirm the new Government’s desire to bring a step change to the relationship.

There’s been speculation as to the shape and size of the accompanying delegation, and the only difference from the past, as far as I’m concerned is that David Cameron’s taking almost a third of his Cabinet with him, I assume, to underscore the emphasis on building a wide ranging, cross departmental, relationship. So, I’m lead to believe Messrs Hague, Willets, Cable, Osborne, are definitely on, as are blue chip CEOs like Stuart Rose of M&S.

Such a symbolic act serves to assure Indian counterparts of Team GBs’ seriousness, which I’m sure will be warmly received and all goodwill credited & reciprocated over the term of this parliament.

Apart from the presentational aspects of the visit, which I accept are fairly important, my thinking on the substantive points that may emerge and set the path for an enhanced relationship have also been in development.

In previous posts, I realise that there’s been a far too great an emphasis on the trade & investment relationship. Actually, when I sat down to think about the real game-changers in the relationship during the Blair era, the vast majority came as a result of a change in thinking in our Foreign Office.

So, it’s no surprise that William Hague, during his years in wilderness, has cultivated a fairly strong understanding on India, and that he should realise that the following two aspects are critical to the step-change that the coalition govt aspires to:

DECOUPLE INDIA-PAKISTAN

Not that I see this as too much of a problem, but there is a tendency to link the two neighbours. This hyphenation creates unnecessary tension, as the past ten years clearly demonstrate, India’s charted a very different path to Pakistan, there’s definitely a sense that the world needs to treat both countries on their own merits and not as a hyphenated couple.

The most obvious example of such a change in thinking i.e. one based on merit, is that of the US – India Civil Nuclear Agreement, which broke the mould and provided a much needed step change to the US – India relationship. Despite both India & Pakistan being nuclear armed nations, it was made clear that no such deal could be done with India’s neighbour as a result of her poor proliferation record.

We really don’t need to balance what we do with India in Pakistan. Both countries are separate entities, with their own prospects and challenges. So let’s treat them as such.

The added advantage the Tories have is that they don’t need to be worried about the Pakistani vote bank in constituencies across Britain, which to a degree resulted in Labour’s need to perform a finely balanced act in the way it treated India & Pakistan. It was felt that the impact in Labour seats of any divergence in treatment could have a material impact in local & general elections.

AFGHANISTAN

That India wants what we and the Americans do is not in doubt. A stable Afghanistan is the aim that the international community rightly aspires to. However, the big difference is in approach.

Also, there’s a school of thinking that promotes that India has a limited role and view to offer, which couldn’t be further from the truth. India has a vested interest in the region, and used to share a border with Afghanistan pre 1947, so to argue otherwise shows a shallow understanding of the region.

The difference in approach I refer to is that of engaging the enemy, which in this case is the Taliban… which we seem to favour. For India, this is a total show-stopper. Given that the last time the Taliban got involved in running Afghanistan, India suffered badly.

We’d do well in remembering the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 184 in 1999 where the Taliban regime provided safe passage to the Pakistani hijackers who took control of the plane, which was forced to land in Kandahar. On the airstrip, the Taliban even moved its well armed fighters near the aircraft in an attempt to prevent Indian Special Forces from storming the aircraft! This flash-point was a massively significant event for India, which played out on national TV for days and is etched permanently in their national psyche. So to ask them to cast it aside as an extreme, sole example shows our total insensitivity.

Furthermore, it transpired in later investigations that one of the Pakistani militants who was released by the Indian authorities in the barter deal for the return of hostages, went onto form a terrorist group called Jaish-e-Muhammed, which received extensive aid from the Taliban and pro – Taliban groups in Pakistan for attacks in India.

To say that the approach to bringing an enduring stability to Afghanistan matters is important, would be a major understatement and show a major disregard to a country that Cameron is trying to forge a “strategic partnership” with.

A “strategic partnership” necessitates the convergence of views on domestic, regional, and global issues, where you try and understand each other’s sensitivities in order to work more effectively to achieve mutual goals. In 2004, Blair ensured there was a convergence of views on foreign policy – by stating our support for India’s seat on the UN Security Council; by calling a spade a spade when it came to condemning Pakistan for supporting cross border terrorism in Kashmir; and finally by ensuring India was invited to G8 meetings, albeit as an observer.

We may have our political pressures in wanting to bring our troops back home, but if this means that we’d have to engage the Taliban in discussions, India’s track record with them and their obvious discomfort need to be taken into consideration, as once we’ve left we’re going to have to rely on regional partners (read: India) in ensuring Afghanistan’s stability.

Prime Minister Cameron needs to work towards assuring India that our approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan would have their interest at heart. Without this, I fear the “strategic partnership” that we’re all looking for remains an aspiration.

If there’s a game-changer, then this is it.

Guest post by Mark Kobayashi Hillary on globalisation & India

Yesterday I wrote a story for Reuters that talked about the challenges ahead for new British Prime Minister David Cameron. Not the public sector cuts he is going to have to make, but some of the changes British people can expect in future in the world around them.

[http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate-uk/2010/05/12/cameron-tasked-with-changing-brits-expectations/]

Living within our means is going to be a massive challenge. Middle-class Britain has spent decades analysing their house price increases and judging their personal wealth using this yardstick, it’s hard to imagine people here thinking of a house as just a place to live.

And a bigger challenge will be integrating into the world around. The globalisation focus at this election was actually on immigration and how the general public fears it. Yet ninety per cent of British immigration involves the citizens of other EU states – not countries like India at all. Fringe parties, such as the BNP and UKIP, claimed they could ban even this intra-EU labour movement without considering that most of our exports go into the EU. Stepping away from the community and believing in self-sufficiency is cloud-cuckoo policy making – and the electorate kicked them into touch.

I heard the economist Philippe Legrain speaking at the launch of his new book ‘Aftershock’ on Monday reminding the audience that there are more British people living overseas than foreign-born people living in Britain. I wonder what would happen to their resident visas if the fringe parties had been able to boot out the foreigners?

And yet why am I asking these questions on a blog primarily focused on India? Well, one of the big adjustments we need to make in the UK is to stop considering fast-developing nations such as India, China, and Brazil as threats. Our media is consumed with the fear of jobs vanishing to India and China, yet the British jobs of the future are selling to India and China. That needs investment in deep relationships now to ensure we are locked together for mutual future success.

My one fear is that some in India have not even appreciated their own good fortune. I was at the Nasscom (India’s hi-tech trade association) annual conference in Mumbai last February and I overheard delegates from the Brazilian government inviting senior Nasscom officials to Brazil – asking the Indians to come and see what’s going on in South America so they can work closer together in future.

What was the Indian response? It’s a long way to go. Things are growing again here now so we don’t need to really be exploring these ideas halfway across the world…

Hi-tech services, clean technology, and innovation are all areas where India has a remarkable head start on the rest of the world through the evolution of offshore outsourcing in the technology sector, but will it be Indian hubris that causes this opportunity to be lost?

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is the author of ‘Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field’ and ‘Who Moved My Job’ and is a regular blogger focused on globalisation. He is a visiting lecturer at London South Bank University.
www.markhillary.com

My naked p(P)olitical ambitions

For the past ten years or so – since I’ve been on the fringe of British politics, there hasn’t been one week where I haven’t been asked about my political ambitions. At times, I’ve been asked this question on a daily basis – usually coinciding with local and national elections.

The starting point behind every response in the last decade has been to thank the person who’s raised the question. It’s always flattering to hear that someone somewhere believes that you may be good at something. But, at a very early stage I point out that public service is in my community’s DNA, and that Westminster politics is merely one channel to serve.

I speak about my association with local causes, charities, temples etc who day in day out provide phenomenal service to the community – all of whom are working for the wider good of our society. I’ve been part of the founding team of an initiative called ‘National Sewa Day’ which seeks to mobilise thousands of people to do good deeds on 21st November. We hope to have nearly 5,000 people sign-up in the first year, which will grow in leaps and bounds in future years.

Despite my best effort at concluding this discussion, I often get told “there’s so many ethnic minority people in x,y,z constituency, who’d welcome you as a candidate” – in fact, I received an email yesterday from someone who I don’t know asking me to consider standing for the Crawley seat which Laura Moffatt is retiring from, along these lines.

Let me be crystal clear about my position on this. I think it’s a retrograde step to think on these lines and puts back all the progress made, by a couple of decades. We have plenty of examples of fantastic MPs who represent their diverse communities effectively – the likes of Steve Pound, Barry Gardiner, Gareth Thomas, Dawn Butler all come to mind – especially as I live in their neck of the woods. They’ve grasped the issues that my community faces and made effective representations on our behalf. All of them are decent people, who probably understand more about my cultural heritage than I do, and use it to speak on my behalf in the House of Commons.

Let’s also not forget that we also had Ashok Kumar, who represented a largely white constituency in Teeside, Parmjit Dhanda who serves the people of Gloucester, and Shailesh Vara who represents a rural farming seat in Cambridgeshire.

Surely this speaks volumes about our confidence and demonstrates the progress we’ve made.

On the issue of making Parliament more representative, how can any sane person argue against such an ideal in today’s age. I, too, believe that we need more Hindu / Indian / Asian MPs, but I’d want them selected for seats not just because of the “colour of their skin, but because the content of their character”. Let’s put our effort in achieving a more representative parliament by funding and cultivating candidates who are best placed to serve the people of our country, the United Kingdom.

I’m also asked to participate in various discussions regarding representation of ethnic minorities in the boardrooms of our largest private sector companies, which again is an ideal to aim towards, but a friend of mine – who’s a very senior banker in a large investment bank – rounded off his comments on this issue by saying “I actually don’t know whether there is a glass ceiling, as I’ve not been looking up, but rather, have been looking forward.. in achieving my goals.” In the same vein, rather than whinge about the so called glass ceiling in politics, we owe it to future generations to promote participation in the structures that exist – at every level.

As for me, I do believe that Parliament matters greatly. It offers the greatest opportunity to affect change. At this point of my life, I can neither afford – financially – to pursue a political life, nor have the traits required to excel in this sphere. This may change over time, but for now, there may be others who are much better suited.

In the upcoming election, I’m going to actively work to increase civic participation, encourage politicians to fully represent and listen to all their constituents and more importantly to get the communities to vote – because this is the biggest and singularly the most important issue that needs to be addressed in politics today. At such a crucial and close election, the electorate have to exercise their right to vote, a right that many people fought for.

I read on Iain Dale’s blog that in the next Parliament, nearly 50% of Labour MPs will be first-timers and that given the public mood, the Conservatives will also have a huge intake of their own – which presents a huge opportunity to civic groups to inform new MPs, who’ll hopefully be less prejudiced than the current lot to new perspectives on debates and legislation.

A role that I believe to be as important as anything else in modern politics.

For the time-being, thanks for your support and I’ll willingly take your goodwill and money to help fund National Sewa Day.

Ashok Kumar MP Mattered…

Ashok Kumar mattered. I first came across him in 2001, when I was appointed to look after a parliamentary group seeking to build bridges between the UK & India. That first meeting left a deep impression on me. In an age where we’re generally fed up with all politicians, its important to remember that people like Ashok spoke and fought for the common man. That’s why he mattered.

Ashok never made it to Ministerial ranks, but unlike many of his peers he never made that into an issue. He simply got on with representing his constituents to the best of his abilities.

The things that I particularly liked about Ashok all stemmed from his inability to plot effectively – which you wouldn’t necessarily think was a good thing in politics – but it was exactly this feature that endeared him to many. You knew that he spoke it how it was, he wore his heart on his sleeve, and had your best interest in mind.

As a person of Indian origin, Ashok mattered even more. He recounted the tales of how after losing his seat in 1992, his popularity within the local party had plummeted to the extent that when he wanted to pick the pieces back up, all he requested was one additional helper to accompany him on his rounds on the streets of Middlesborough. When I asked why just one person, his response left a mark on me. He said “I need a witness if someone physically attacks me on the doorstep”! As a ethnic minority, to win a seat like his – with little diversity – makes his achievement even more worthy of recognition.

His fearlessness inspired us.

He recounted stories of legendary people like V. K. Krishna Menon, who joined the Labour Party in the 1930s – in the context of the sacrifices and contributions made by people of Indian origin in British politics.

I hadn’t kept in regular contact with Ashok, but knew that if I ever needed any advice, he’d give me as much time as required.

In a world bereft of good role models, Ashok stood out, especially amongst his Asian peers in the Commons, as a caring man, who genuinely wanted you to do well.

This is why Ashok Kumar mattered.

The iPhone is for posers!

There’s no denying that Apple are good at what they do. They’re creative; understand the market need; and leverage their brand effectively – all of which has resulted in many of my friends ditching their regular handsets for an iPhone.

Well, given the praise by some, I decided to take a look at the iPhone as a replacement to my Blackberry. I thought that the worst case would be that I’d use it for a year and then jump back at the time of contract renewal.

At first, I was really impressed with the phone. I enjoyed the apps, and, in general, the novelty of the touch screen was great, but I simply couldn’t stand the fact that the battery life of the device was so poor. To counter this, my peers suggested that I needed to buy an additional battery sleeve type of thing, and encouraged me to keep the phone connected to my PC at work so that it remains charged – all of which, at least in my view, are totally unacceptable given the progress of technology.

Then, I went to Asia on my book tour and was constantly out & about. I had been pre-warned about data roaming charges, so made sure I’d turned these features off. But, when I turned data roaming on, the device took forever to get my emails and am sure have resulted in a very large phone bill at the end of this month.

My primary use for the device is as a phone and sadly, the iPhone is simply not up to it. What’s the point of taking a charger with you to meetings? I also found myself calling people accidentally as the touch screen was so sensitive – which is a disaster in my line of work! Who knows how many calls were made that I’m not aware of!!!

In the end, I’ve lost faith in the device and am relieved that I have the option to go back to a Blackberry, which by comparison is a mega reliable workhorse.

The BB isn’t as attractive, but it works exceedingly well – especially in the work context – leaving me to summise that the iPhone is for posers!

Thank you

As long as I remember, I’ve always been a fan of books. Over time, the range of books that I’ve bought has expanded to include all types of subjects and genres, resulting in an eclectic mix being crammed on my book-shelf at home. I’ve impulsively bought books in markets; in airports on my business travels; and on the net when I’ve managed to write a list of things to order on-line.

So, when I turned 30, I wrote a list of things that I wanted to achieve, but, as with new year’s resolutions, never imagined that I would actually make any headway on any of these.

My list included jumping out of a plane (a skydive), earning my first million, solving third world debt, flying to the moon, and writing a book. So, achieving two of the above with five years to go before I make another list – on my 40th, is – at least in my view, not bad going.

The launch event, last Thursday, was a major milestone in my life. On a personal level, it feels great to have my name on a book, and look forward to seeing it in places that I normally shop. It kinda felt strange to be at the launch event – professionally my firm organises these for others, so it was weird to be the centre of attention at my own! On a professional basis, it’s gratifying to be able to contribute to such an important subject and feel that the book will lead to bigger and better things for me and my firm.

At the event, it seemed that everyone kept on asking me the same two questions – ‘what gave you the idea?’ and ‘what does it feel like?’, and my wife laughingly told me that lots of people kept on approaching her to ask whether ‘she was proud of me’.
My reason for writing the book was quite simply that I believed that with all the talk of India’s emergence on the world stage, a wider audience needed to become familiar with the trailblazers that were making it happen. Yes, it would’ve been great to have the obvious names like Ratan Tata and the Ambani brothers, but it would be doing the subject a disservice to ride on their shoulders as many others have.

From the outset, I was quite clear that mine wasn’t going to be an investigative book, it was meant to be an introduction to a set of role models emanating out of India that will one day, be referred to – along with, some of the biggest entrepreneurial icons that the West seems to love. I’ve always been puzzled as to how a guy like Narayana Murthy, who founded Infosys by borrowing Rs 10,000 from his wife, has gone on to build a firm that employs people all around the globe and earns over 50% of its revenues from the US, but is still largely unknown.

Or a Baba Kalyani, whose firm manufactures components for every single vehicle in the US & Europe. Or take Subhash Chandra, who apart from Zee TV, owns a firm called Essel who manufactures over 30% of the world’s toothpaste tubes! Despite their global reach and success, how comes no one, apart from hard-nosed business journalists & professional India watchers, know anything about them?

With formalities being conducted by Stephen Pound MP, who as everyone expected, was on absolute form that evening, delivered his trademark, side-splitting, remarks, to the annoyance of the next speaker, who would inevitably find it hard to follow such a performance.

So, for this reason, I was totally taken aback with the expert commentary provided by Dixit Joshi, MD of Asian & European Equities at Barclays Capital, who explained that the world needs to understand the thinking taking place in India’s boardrooms in order to address some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Having taken the temperature of the room, I decided to put the speech that I’d crafted to one side and speak ex-tempore on my reasons for undertaking the mammoth task of writing a business book, in an age when the rules were being re-written as a result of the global recession and credit crisis. Importantly, I remembered to thank a few people who’d made the event happen. I took the opportunity to thank my wife, as without her support and love, I wouldn’t have been able to see this project to completion.

I had a great night. I felt humbled by the massive turnout. I was touched with the words that were spoken about me, the book, my firm, and my family.

At the end of the night, I struggled to articulate my emotions, and hence have take a few days to write this post, but the over-arching message remains the same – ‘thanks’.

You can read a write-up of the event, take a look at the pics, and watch footage of the speeches here:
http://www.redhotcurry.com/entertainment/books/launches/india-inc.htm

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary’s also uploaded some photos and videos, which can be accessed here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/markhillary/sets/72157623260177684/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBZpdlIyjiM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qt2LqWb1scA