Archive for June 16th, 2008

6 Things that have changed India – By Nandan Nilekani

June 16, 2008

Infosys Co-ChairmanNandan Nilekani, co-founder and co-chairman of IT major Infosys Technologies, offered a peek into his forthcoming book, Imagining India, which he said attempts to address a gap in understanding India, while delivering the kick-off Global Leader Lecture at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC.

Nilekani, who is quoted extensively in New York Times‘ Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas L Friedman’s best-selling book The World is Flat, said that people were often perplexed by India because “of its contradictions — a country which has stark differences, stark disparities. I decided to look at it from a point of view of ideas,” in explaining India’s explosive growth.

He said that six things had “changed in the mindset of India, which is really responsible for the growth that you see today in India — the dynamism, the vitality, the energy.”

1. Gigantic human capital

Nilekani, who became one of the youngest entrepreneurs to join 20 global leaders on the prestigious World Economic Forum Foundation board and was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2006, said that the number one change in the mindset of India was with regard to population.”

“Earlier, population was looked at as a burden and a lot of things that happened in the 1960s and 1970s — like family planning and sterilization and the Emergency and so forth — were all related to the belief that population was getting out of control and that it was actually a problem to have a large population.”

“Today, the language has changed dramatically, and we no longer talk about population as a burden. We think of it as human capital. And, this has become even more critical because India is going to be the only young country in an aging world and that really makes a huge difference,” he said.

He recalled that China’s adoption of the ‘one child policy’ in the 1970s, which was very successfully implemented, has had consequences and led to rapid aging “and therefore China in fact will be aging more rapidly and really hitting its peak numbers in the next 5 to 10 years.”

Nilekani said India, on the other hand, in the next 20 to 30 years would “have the largest pool of young people in the world even as the rest of the world is aging.”

He described this as “a demographic dividend” that could contribute immensely to the economy “not only because they can contribute internally to the domestic economy, but they can also contribute to the global economy as when they go and work outside or they can contribute through outsourcing as is being done in our industry.”

“Thus, human capital has become the core and the essence of what is happening in India and is at the root of India’s resurgence today,” he said.

2. Entrepreneurship gains acceptance

Nilekani said another significant change in mindset was regarding entrepreneurs who are no longer viewed with suspicion but as icons of economic growth.

He noted that since 1991, “when there has been a huge expansion of enterprise, there is a far bigger role for the private sector and for industry, and today, India has the largest pool of entrepreneurial talent outside the United States.”

“Entrepreneurship in India is blossoming and Indian entrepreneurs are not afraid of liberalization anymore. They are very confident and globally competitive and they are not only investing abroad, they are buying companies abroad.”

3. The power of English

Nilekani said “English is also no longer viewed as an imperial language that has to be jettisoned but as a language of aspiration that has to be really cultivated.”

He argued that “all the political angst about English” in the past has disappeared largely “because of the growth in the economy, because of the growth in outsourcing, because of the growth in jobs, and today English is seen as a language of aspirations.”

“More and more people, whether they are in villages or small towns, are realizing that if they really want to participate in the global economy, and they really want to bring more income to their lives, they have to learn English,” he said. “And, the political system has accepted this because more and more states — which had stopped teaching English — are now going back to teaching English from class one.”

4. Change in democracy

Nilekani also argued that the notion of democracy had also undergone a major transformation from the time of India’s independence. “In the 1950s and 1960s, it was really a top-down idea. It was an idea of the leaders who had a certain vision of the kind of country they wanted to create, and it was given or gifted to all the people who may not have necessarily understood the value and import of what was happening.”

Today, he said, “it has gone to become a bottom-up democracy where everybody understands their democratic rights — not just in the sense of parliamentary democracy or contesting elections. You see people taking charge and doing things in India without waiting for the state to do the job. For example, NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Today, India, is the most thriving place in the world for NGOs.”

“Another example,” he pointed out, “is the empowerment at the village level — the village panchayats — more then a million women who are there in these panchayats.”

5. The technology revolution

Talking of technology, another development that had catapulted India and helped it leap-frog several decades, Nilekani said, “What people don’t realize is it has played as much a role in India’s internal development as it has in terms of the $50 billion in IT (information technology exports).”

“For example, India’s entire national election was held on electoral voting machines. You are talking about a million voting machines all over the country and the entire national elections of 2004 across the length and breadth of the country were done digitally using electronic voting machines — there was no paper.”

Nilekani said “this is a classic case of how you use technology to leap-frog and go from a very antiquated system to a very modern system.”

He also cited the example of the stock-market and said that in the 1990s, “India had among the most antiquated stock-markets in the world. It took months to settle transactions, there was a lot of fraud, lots of duplicate work, a lot of embezzlement and so forth. Today, thanks to technology, India has the most modern stock markets in the world and they are completely electronic.”

Nilekani said a veritable no-brainer vis-�-vis the technology revolution that had propelled India was the mobile phone. “It has become accessible to everybody. It is touching and feeling every individual and we are seeing more and more applications, which have a huge impact and the good thing about these applications is that they cause a quantum leap in productivity — it goes up by a huge amount and much of this is what has fuelled the economic growth.”

6. Globalization embraced

Finally, he said India had adopted a progressive view of globalization although acknowledging that “even though there is still a lot of criticism of and opposition to globalization, fundamentally the confidence that India has gained has made our world view on globalization far more positive.”

“Our companies have become globally competitive and are willing to go out and global factors are really playing in India’s favour today. More and more people are beginning to become far more comfortable with globalization and they are realizing the benefits of an open economy, they are realizing the benefits of having their workers and their people all over the world, and they are realizing the benefits of Indian companies exporting capital abroad.”

During the interaction that followed, Nilekani was challenged on several fronts, including on his demographic dividend argument, with one questioner asking: What is the assurance that the youth will receive good education that would prevent them from becoming “unemployed troublemakers in the next 10 to 15 years.”

Nilekani acknowledged that “while you have all these advantages of a demographic dividend, unless you do the right thing, a demographic dividend can become a demographic disaster… if you don’t have education and jobs for all these young people, you are actually creating a very combustible social environment.”

He reiterated that “just having these advantages is not enough. There is a lot of work ahead in really reforming and improving the quality of education — both primary and secondary.”

Nilekani said that having just a few Indian Institutes of Technology or Indian Institutes of Management is no panacea. “You need to have hundreds of them, like they have in China. You need to create an environment where more jobs get created. So all that work is still yet to be done. So, by no means am I saying that you can declare victory at this point.”

 

Remembering JRD Tata – by Sudha Murthy

June 16, 2008

JRD TataIt was probably the April of 1974. Bangalore was getting warm and Gulmohars were blooming at the IISc campus. I was the only girl in my postgraduate department and was staying at the ladies’ hostel. Other girls were pursuing research in different departments of Science.

I was looking forward to going abroad to complete a doctorate in Computer science. I had been offered scholarships from Universities in the US . I had not thought of taking up a job in India .

One day, while on the way to my hostel from our lecture-hall complex, I Saw an advertisement on the notice board. It was a standard job-requirement notice from the famous automobile company Telco (now Tata Motors). It stated that the company required young, bright engineers, hardworking and with an excellent academic background, etc.

At the bottom was a small line: “Lady candidates need not apply.”

I read it and was very upset. For the first time in my life I was up against gender discrimination.

Though I was not keen on taking up the job, I saw it as a challenge. I Had done extremely well in academics, better than most of my male peers. Little did I know then that in real life academic excellence is not enough to be successful.

After reading the notice I went fuming to my room. I decided to inform The topmost person in Telco’s management about the injustice the company was perpetrating. I got a postcard and started to write, but there was a problem: I did not know who headed Telco.

I thought it must be one of the Tatas. I knew JRD Tata was the head of The Tata Group; I had seen his pictures in newspapers actually, Sumant Moolgaokar was the company’s chairman then). I took the card, addressed It to JRD and started writing. To this day I remember clearly what I wrote.

“The great Tatas have always been pioneers. They are the people who Started the basic infrastructure industries in India , such as iron and steel, chemicals, textiles and locomotives. They have cared for higher Education in India since 1900 and they were responsible for the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science. Fortunately, I study there. But I am surprised how a company such as Telco is discriminating on the basis of gender.”

I posted the letter and forgot about it. Less than 10 days later, I received a telegram stating that I had to appear for an interview at Telco’s Pune facility at the company’s expense. I was taken aback by the telegram. My hostel mate told me I should use the opportunity to go to Pune free of cost and buy them the famous Pune saris for cheap! I collected Rs 30 each from everyone who wanted a sari. When I look back, I feel like laughing at the reasons for my going, but back then they seemed good enough to make the trip.

It was my first visit to Pune and I immediately fell in love with the city.

To this day it remains dear to me. I feel as much at home in Pune as I do in Hubli, my hometown. The place changed my life in so many ways. As directed, I went to Telco’s Pimpri office for the interview.

There were six people on the panel and I realised then that this was serious business.

“This is the girl who wrote to JRD,” I heard somebody whisper as soon as I entered the room. By then I knew for sure that I would not get the job.

The realisation abolished all fear from my mind, so I was rather cool while The interview was being conducted.

Even before the interview started, I reckoned the panel was biased, so I told them, rather impolitely, “I hope this is only a technical interview.”

They were taken aback by my rudeness, and even today I am ashamed about My attitude. The panel asked me technical questions and I answered all of them.

Then an elderly gentleman with an affectionate voice told me, “Do you Know why we said lady candidates need not apply? The reason is that we have never employed any ladies on the shop floor. This is not a co-ed college; this is a factory. When it comes to academics, you are a first ranker throughout. We appreciate that, but people like you should work in research laboratories. “

I was a young girl from small-town Hubli. My world had been a limited place. I did not know the ways of large corporate houses and their difficulties, so I answered, “But you must start somewhere, otherwise no woman will ever be able to work in your factories.”

Finally, after a long interview, I was told I had been successful. So This was what the future had in store for me. Never had I thought I would Take up a job in Pune. I met a shy young man from Karnataka there, we became good friends and we got married. It was only after joining Telco that I realized who JRD was: the Uncrowned king of Indian industry. Now I was scared, but I did not get to meet him till I was transferred to Bombay . One day I had to show some reports to Mr Moolgaokar, our chairman, who we all knew as SM. I was in his office on The first floor of Bombay House (the Tata headquarters) when, suddenly JRD walked in. That was the first time I saw “appro JRD”. Appro means “our” in Gujarati. This was the affectionate term by which people at Bombay House called him.

I was feeling very nervous, remembering my postcard episode. SM Introduced me nicely, “Jeh (that’s what his close associates called him), this Young woman is an engineer and that too a postgraduate.
She is the first woman to work on the Telco shop floor.” JRD looked at me . I was praying he would not ask me any questions about my interview (or the postcard that preceded it).

Thankfully, he didn’t. Instead, he remarked. “It is nice that girls are getting into engineering in our country. By the way, what is your name?”

“When I joined Telco I was Sudha Kulkarni, Sir,” I replied. “Now I am Sudha Murthy.” He smiled and kindly smile and started a discussion with SM. As for me, I almost ran out of the room.

After that I used to see JRD on and off. He was the Tata Group chairman And I was merely an engineer. There was nothing that we had in common. I was In awe of him.

One day I was waiting for Murthy, my husband, to pick me up after office hours. To my surprise I saw JRD standing next to me. I did not know how to react. Yet again I started worrying about that postcard. Looking back, I realise JRD had forgotten about it. It must have been a small incident for him, but not so for me.

“Young lady, why are you here?” he asked. “Office time is over.” I said, “Sir, I’m waiting for my husband to come and pick me up.” JRD said, “It Is getting dark and there’s no one in the corridor.

I’ll wait with you till your husband comes.”

I was quite used to waiting for Murthy, but having JRD waiting alongside made me extremely uncomfortable.

I was nervous. Out of the corner of my eye I looked at him. He wore a simple white pant and shirt. He was old, yet his face was glowing. There wasn’t any air of superiority about him. I was thinking, “Look at this person. He is a chairman, a well-respected man in our country and he is waiting for the sake of an ordinary employee.”

Then I saw Murthy and I rushed out. JRD called and said, “Young lady, Tell your husband never to make his wife wait again.” In 1982 I had to resign from my job at Telco. I was reluctant to go, but I really did not have a choice. I was coming down the steps of Bombay House after wrapping up my final settlement when I saw JRD coming up. He was absorbed in thought. I wanted to say goodbye to him, so I stopped. He saw me and paused.

Gently, he said, “So what are you doing, Mrs Kulkarni?” (That was the Way he always addressed me.) “Sir, I am leaving Telco.” “Where are you going?” he asked. “Pune, Sir. My husband is starting a company called Infosys and I’m shifting to Pune.”

“Oh! And what will you do when you are successful.”

“Sir, I don’t know whether we will be successful.” “Never start with diffidence,” he advised me. “Always start with confidence. When you are successful you must give back to society. Society gives us so much; we must reciprocate. I wish you all the best.”

Then JRD continued walking up the stairs. I stood there for what seemed like a millennium. That was the last time I saw him alive. Many years later I met Ratan Tata in the same Bombay House, occupying the chair JRD once did. I told him of my many sweet memories of working with Telco. Later, he wrote to me, “It was nice hearing about Jeh from you. The sad part is that he’s not alive to see you today.”

I consider JRD a great man because, despite being an extremely busy person, he valued one postcard written by a young girl seeking justice. He must have received thousands of letters everyday. He could have thrown mine away, but he didn’t do that. He respected the intentions of that unknown girl, who had neither influence nor money, and gave her an opportunity in his company. He did not merely give her a job; he changed her life and mindset forever.

Close to 50 per cent of the students in today’s engineering colleges are girls. And there are women on the shop floor in many industry segments. I see these changes and I think of JRD. If at all time stops and asks me What I want from life, I would say I wish JRD were alive today to see how the company we started has grown. He would have enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

My love and respect for the House of Tata remains undiminished by the passage of time. I always looked up to JRD. I saw him as a role model for his simplicity, his generosity, his kindness and the care he took of his employees. Those blue eyes always reminded me of the sky; they had the same vastness and magnificence.

(Sudha Murthy is a widely published writer and chairperson of the Infosys Foundation involved in a number of social development initiatives. Infosys chairman Narayana Murthy is her husband.)

 

 

 

 

Tidbit :- On his death on Nov 29, 1993, the parliament, in an unusual gesture for a private citizen, was adjourned in his memory and Maharashtra declared three days of mourning.

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