September - 2007 issue > Cover Feature
A world of opportunities for global Indians
Rajat Gupta
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The transformation of the global economy in the 60 years since India achieved its Independence – indeed, just in the last decade, amid the acceleration of the information technology revolution – has given Indians the prospect of a wealthier, more fulfilling life than the nation’s founders could ever have imagined. Better still, we can look ahead toward opportunities that will help all Indians, both within India and overseas, take part in a more widely shared global prosperity. Indians’ recent progress is a testament to our people’s willingness to embrace profound and positive change: some by seeking global opportunities in other nations, and some by supporting sweeping economic reforms at home.

India’s surging growth rate, with its GDP currently expanding by almost 10 percent annually, is stunning for those of us who remember a time when India seemed destined to remain mired in poverty as an agriculture-based society – even as we watched other nations become industrial powers and post-industrial “knowledge economies.” Sixteen years ago, a dramatic period of change was triggered by India’s embrace of economic reform and liberalization. Now that India has made a commitment to become fully integrated in the global market economy – and now that it has begun to enjoy the benefits of that reform, continued liberalization will help position the nation to pursue new opportunities, develop new industries, and create an even more productive economy.

The prospects for India’s prosperity certainly seem vastly different than they did when I was a young student preparing to leave home. Only a few of us, at that time, had the chance to sharpen our skills at our nation’s premier technology and management institutions – the Indian Institutes of Technology – and to prepare for careers in global enterprise. Looking back on my IIT years, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of attending such an institution. By promoting the most advanced research and attracting the nation’s top faculty members, the IIT movement helped energize a once-sluggish Indian economy.

We, brand-new graduates of our universities and our IITs, could scarcely imagine the intellectual riches and professional challenges that awaited us when our career paths led us to pursue opportunities in nations all over the world. Like many IITians, I pursued advanced management studies in the United States, and the intellectual rigor of my IIT experience provided a strong preparation for the discipline required by Harvard Business School. We knew that India’s economy, and the global economy, would need the very sharpest thinking of “the best and the brightest,” and we used those years of graduate study to hone the skills that would later serve us well in engineering, high technology, finance, and management.

As we have advanced along our professional paths, Indians who live abroad today – led by many of my fellow IIT alumni – remain committed to using our professional skills to strengthen India and help all Indians become the very best they can possibly be. The network of graduates of top Indian universities and professional schools, with their willingness to contribute to India’s success, is a powerful resource for building a stronger nation for the future.

Ironically perhaps, today it is India that is growing much faster than fully mature economies like the United States. The prospects for realizing India’s dream – achieving full economic development and prosperity for all – have never been brighter. As we celebrate the economic growth of recent years, we recognize that more and bolder changes are needed, if we are to succeed in delivering good jobs and good incomes to a population that will soon be the world’s largest.

India’s global citizens, who are equipped with the advanced education and higher-level skills that have brought them success in the global economy, have an especially pivotal role to play. Global Indians face a dual responsibility. They must, first, ensure that they contribute to the success of their enterprises, while they help build a strong sense of family and community in the countries where they have chosen to live and work. They must, in addition, remain conscious of devoting at least some of their energies to the continuing task of nation-building, recognizing that India will require the best thinking and strongest efforts of Indians worldwide.

The need for that kind of commitment is dramatic, as we consider the array of challenges that India must confront. One-third of India’s citizens still live in abject poverty, on less than a dollar a day. The rural poor – still numbering in the hundreds of millions – live in conditions that every American, and most Indian city-dwellers, would find intolerable. And even in the fast-modernizing cities, urban squalor afflicts millions more, who are subjected to the chaos and chronic confusion of haphazard urbanization.

The only realistic response to such chronic poverty and civic disorganization is to pursue policies that help create jobs and generate wealth, and to devise ways to promote the even wider distribution of that wealth throughout Indian society. Indians’ overarching economic and social priority thus must be to intensify the reform efforts that have propelled the nation’s growth during the liberalization era. With pragmatic steps to deregulate the private sector and streamline the government bureaucracy – and with sensible public and private investment in such social goods as education and health care – the drive for reform can help liberate the latent creativity of the Indian people.

Meeting the challenges of globalization will not be easy for India, or for any other nation, whether rich or poor. It will require a well-planned set of strategies that focus on innovation, flexibility, infrastructure, workforce development, education, and health care. By steeling itself for competition in a globalized economy, however, India can position itself to reap the benefits from this new era of wealth creation.

India today is developing an impressive array of new industries, creating a rising middle class, and amassing capital for global investment. Moreover, Indians living overseas are helping to create stronger companies and institutions that can do business with India-based partners and consumers. Indians are thus taking part, at home and abroad, in a hopeful and healthy phase of globalization – a process that can enrich both developing nations and the already-wealthy nations of the West and North.

Both global Indians and home-based Indians, as they enjoy success in the global economy, will soon be positioned to reap the full measure of benefits from their talent, creativity, and enterprise. With their new-found prosperity will come new responsibilities, and the obligation to help build a stronger India that enjoys both a fast-growing economy and a unified society. By committing themselves to that goal Indians everywhere will contribute to lifting India into the leadership ranks among prosperous nations.
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