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September - 2007 - issue > Cover Feature
Indias future knows no borders
Manu Mehta
Saturday, June 28, 2008
How big is India? That was an easy question to answer when I was growing up in Punjab - “India stretched from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.”

While India’s geographic boundaries may remain unchanged, my answer to this question is a much different one today. India still stretches from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. But now India also stretches to London, to Tokyo, to New York, to Silicon Valley and beyond.

India is everywhere today. And understanding India’s rapid transformation from a regional to global player is a key element in understanding India’s future.

Let’s use the year 2000 as a reference point in this transformation. Much of India’s exports that year – U.S. $36.3 billion – were related to commodities such as textiles, chemicals, and durable goods. In 2006, India’s exports had more than tripled to U.S. $122 billion of which a large chunk was from the IT industry.

What got the ball rolling for such an impressive growth in just six years? This latest boom started in large part within India’s service sector, fueled by technology companies located outside of India’s boundaries that used the country as a low-cost offshore entity to farm out back-office jobs.

However India’s offshore efforts soon set up a chain of events not anticipated by even these foreign companies. It required the creation of an infrastructure within India that could facilitate the exchange of information on a global scale. The timing was ideal. The Internet was setting in, enabling cultural integration on a global scale and a grass-root level participation in global economy.

Many U.S. companies took a closer look. Faced with continuing restrictions for qualified H-1B visa workers to fill high tech jobs in the U.S., many of these companies, who in previous years had used India for back-office jobs, now found an Indian workforce highly energized, educated, and ready to compete with any onshore company.

Soon, many leading companies flocked to India to open dedicated branch offices and subsidiaries, and the number of foreign companies heading there continues to grow.

For India, the convergence of these events has been nothing short of an economic and technological windfall. It has transformed the country from a regional to a global society, and from a back-office job factory to a technology-driven juggernaut.

India’s remarkable progress is really a testament to the spirit and drive of Indians themselves. It’s no secret that we come from a very competitive society - from childhood the seed is planted to compete for the finest schools, sports teams, and later jobs. Competitiveness is a healthy part of any culture. By virtue of the limited resources relative to the population size, Indians grow up well poised and resourceful in meeting this ongoing challenge to compete on the world stage.

Cultural integration with the outside world is shaping India’s new identity more and more, particularly among the youth. This was evident with a group of young students I met during a recent visit to my company’s Bangalore offices. They spoke enthusiastically of videos they had seen on YouTube, the latest updates to their MySpace web sites, and even their favorite episodes from The Simpsons.

With on-line connectivity to the outside world becoming more accessible to more Indians, the population is coming to realize that the sharing of ideas, innovation, and culture knows no national boundaries. The result is more creativity inside India, more user-generated content from India hitting the Internet, even more worldwide fans of Bollywood entertainment, and research and development of new products and services.

Technology and an educated workforce got the ball rolling, but now innovation is making the ball unstoppable. This momentum will continue to propel India’s economy and global presence.

If I were to make one suggestion that would help sustain this momentum for years to come, it would be to introduce more of a free-form structure in education beginning at the elementary level. Take away some of the formality and encourage creativity. For example, give children crayons and blank sheets of paper and let them express themselves freely, instead of showing them how to draw a tree. Creativity spawns innovation – just sit back and let it happen.
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