Indians have made their mark globally—from professors to engineers to doctors to corporate executives. The appointment of Vikram Pandit as the CEO of Citigroup is like a jewel in this crown.
The success of these Indian professionals is attributed to a number of factors, including a sound and competitive system of education, the Indian way of life where work is worship, a disciplined lifestyle and strong family values, which help us handle the stress and strain of corporate life.
However, most of the Indian success stories we hear about are from the Anglo-Saxon world: North America, England and Australia. Even in West Asia, where Indians are a dominant expat community, professional success is relatively limited due to the nature of the corporate hierarchy there. This is despite the fact that Indians play a very important role in local companies and are dominant in the business world.
The power equation will change in the next few decades as the US loses its prime position in the world economy and Europe becomes a strong alternative. However, barring the UK, European countries do not speak English.
As India emerges as a dominant economic power, it will also have to build strategic relationships in Africa, West Asia and even Latin America, some parts of which do not speak English. And, of course, in China.
Indian companies have already been involved in acquisitions in countries such as the UK, Holland and South Korea.
Indian professionals will have to build a global mindset. It is in this context that we have to look closely at our educational system. While the colonial legacy has built a relatively strong base in English, very few Indians speak the other globally important languages such as Chinese, French, Arabic or Spanish. It is important that at least one foreign language other than English should be made compulsory in our curriculum, to bring in a sufficient level of proficiency. While this may lead to debates about the load on students who will have to learn at least three or four languages (the mother tongue, Hindi, English and a foreign language), this burden can be handled easily by young students. If we look at countries such as Lebanon and Syria, the education system there makes students proficient in English, French and Arabic. Most Europeans are multilingual and handle English and the local language with equal proficiency. Multilingual efficiency will open up doors for back office service opportunities for the non-English speaking European world as also for the Arab world.
We also have to strengthen our curriculum for a better understanding of other religions and cultures. This will provide a base for a tolerant country and will make the country truly secular. The political class can bring in this reform rather than only using the rhetoric of secularism for divisive electoral politics. This change will also provide young Indians with a good understanding of cultures and a better acceptance of, and integration with, other counties and cultures.
I have found that people from small countries have far better understanding of cross-cultural issues, since often they have to study and/or work in other countries, compared to persons from larger countries such as the US, China, India or Russia.
In the global world, we have to overcome this disadvantage.Published in Mint: Wall Street Journal on Jan 25, 2008