In the recent months, I happened to visit a number of management schools in Europe. These institutions attract young MBA aspirants who have some work experience behind them and in each of these places, I saw amazing diversity. What struck me most in each institution I visited was the fact that half of the students there were Indians. Their international exposure is not just through the faculty, but the locale itself and the interaction with fellow students from all over the world. Arti Buxi is one such. She worked for Bennet Coleman for a few years in Mumbai and is now studying at the ESMT, Berlin; she mingles with students from Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany and a host of other countries. When she is spending time with her friends, she is off to the graffiti-clad side of the erstwhile East Berlin where she can sample Vietnamese food as easily as a gumbo. As a result, she is developing a perspective that will truly make her a global citizen. And it is not as if countries like Germany are attracting people like Arti to sell them education; they want her to work there because they know the power of such individuals to innovate and build economies of the future. This is nothing new; national economies have been created on the power of immigration. The United States is a great example. So are Singapore and Australia.
In contrast, India does not have the diversity required to become a truly global nation. When you visit any international city, you see tremendous diversity, it jumps out everywhere. You see people of many different nationalities in every other workplace. It is the result of a conscious immigration policy at work. In contrast, our immigration policy is archaic and utterly unfriendly to the world. Getting a work permit here is a nightmare. The other day, CISCO announced that it would like to position a significant number of its global leadership team in India because of India’s emergence as an economic force. However, when I met a senior human resource executive from the same organization, he was narrating horrendous tales of difficulty in securing work permits for expatriates. If people from all over the world do not work out of here, how can they become our ambassadors? Why should they bat for us when competing nations vie with each other to get investments?
History tells us, cities that encouraged foreigners to come and settle down by making them feel especially welcome, rose to great eminence. That is how Paris became the world’s capital of fashion, art and culture. New York became the world’s financial capital where every time you look around in a subway, you see people of at least six different national origins. In every block of downtown Manhattan, you find food from an equal number of regions of the world. London is another great example where people from all over the world come to work and live. Now the British are looking much further ahead.
A couple of years back, the British Council ran a special program for young Indian entrepreneurs, all in their early twenties, at the IIM Bangalore on building entrepreneurial skills. All the participants had preliminary business ideas in areas like Information, Communication and Entertainment (ICE). At the end of the program, they were all taken to the UK where they were exposed to the local business, industry, academia and the British venture capital world. Their vision? The British want these young people to create their companies with a strong foothold in the UK. Even if a few of them succeed, they know, these people can make a big difference to the economy there.
I believe India cannot succeed unless we take our neighbors along with us. Despite political rhetoric, there are countless illegal immigrants working in India. We need to recognize them as a great opportunity to emerge as a regional hub of talent. At the same time, we need to open ourselves to the world so that the best minds look at India as well. For this, our policy makers must take a long view of time. It requires a very different mindset; but imagine the best books being written on the Indian soil, or the best movies made from here, the industrial designs created in India and the best drugs manufactured out of here, all this because the world wants to work from India! The veritable first step for this is in taking a relook at our archaic immigration policy bureaucratic practices.
Subroto Bagchi is a co-founder of MindTree where he currently works as Gardener
Financial Chronicle, 13th June 2008