I am in a situation where I cannot but compare India and the US to bring perspective on how the information economy driven by information communication technology and digital tools will be led by India to make the world a better place. And the onus will be on India and Indians across the globe, and not the obviously assumed America.
I am on a three-week trip in the US as an invitee of the US state department to what they call the International Visitors Leadership Program. We are a group of 18 entrepreneurs from as many countries. All of us are from underdeveloped or developing countries.
As soon I landed in the US, I felt that the flavour of the talk was India. I landed on 11 September and reached a hotel in Washington and a person at the front desk said, “India is a great country. You guys make great engineers and hi-tech professionals. I wish to visit India some day.” On the first day of my meeting with experts on governance in the US and its policies, lunch was served from an Indian restaurant. I met a bunch of young American Muslims and all of them want to either work or intern in India.
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In San Francisco, Monica from Peru, a sales girl in a shop, asked me how much it will cost to go on a trip to India. She had a story to share: “There was something wrong in my Dell computer; so I called the toll-free number for redressal and the person who picked from the other side was an Indian. I asked him where in US you are taking the calls from. He said he was taking the entire service-related calls sitting in India.”
I went to meet an old acquaintance in Berkeley, the so-called university town. Here I met a person called Nipun Mehta, who has created more than five ventures without any capital. All of them are run by unpaid volunteers and all the initiatives use extensive use of digital tools. One of his social ventures is called Karma Kitchen, which is run by volunteers and the customer does not have to pay for her food. However, if you wish, you are encouraged to pay for the next person who comes to the restaurant. Incidentally, everyone pays and, that too, for the other person, and the chain reaction goes on. You may like to know more about Mehta and his ventures at http://charityfocus.org. In fact, the story is clear. Indians are everywhere, not by invasion or aggression or compulsion but by sheer indulgence of their presence, which is complemented with skills, attitude and grace. Because of the global presence of the Indians, they have created an image of great values at best and at worst a sense of empathy. The latter is because of the fact that everyone knows India has one of the highest number of poor people.
Yet the world’s recall value for India is: great engineers, yoga, Taj Mahal, and democracy. So why do I want to compare India with the US? Because while the US is a symbol of globalization benefiting only its own companies and people, India is an example of glocalisation that has contributed its local skills to global benefit.
While India is a democracy that has never invaded anybody or any territory, the US is a democracy criticised for its aggression, invasion and interfering into everybody’s business. While India as a country has existed and flourished over centuries, the US was built by invasion and over centuries through civil wars.
Some experts say the US is built on two principles: Individual freedom at any cost and in pursuit of happiness. While India’s entrepreneurship is by necessity, America’s is by desire, opportunity and hunger for wealth. This became clear when we had a meeting in a US government department and some officials, too, agreed that the US’ image worldwide had gone down and the country needed to correct that. They said that was the reason the US has started special efforts to build relationships with several countries, especially Muslim-dominating countries, and that too in the broader framework of entrepreneurship.
My reason for sharing these observations is to highlight the importance of the Manthan award and its principles, which clearly highlight the basic value-based development using ICT tools and digital tools, leading even the remotest innovations and societal development to reach the national and international stage and benefit the larger audience. I am delighted to share that the huge database of more than 2,000 projects under the Manthan award has become the target for many international researchers and innovators to reach out to us—many as interns who want to work with us and our winning projects, and many like to simply do in-depth research on how various Manthan awardees and their projects are contributing to poverty alleviation.
This is the 8th year of the Manthan award and I request you all to be a part of it either to benefit the movement of get benefited by the movement. One thing I have learnt from the US is that even with a 300 million population, America has more than 30 million small enterprises, whereas India with a 1.2 billion population has merely 26 million micro and small enterprises. Clearly, entrepreneurship penetration needs to be much higher among the youth of India.
In the meanwhile, here in the US, I am trying to sew partnerships with universities, the private sector and the government to influence upon them that the right model of development is that technology should work for the cause rather the technology itself becoming the cause.
Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of the Manthan award. He is also a member of the Working Group for Internet Governance Forum at the ministry of communications and information technology. Tweet him @osamamanzar
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