Here is my third and final blog about my trip to Mumbai where I was invited to attend the Commonwealth Asia Alliance for Young Entrepreneurs (CAAYE) Summit on behalf of Young Britsand the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance. My first blog was on the amazing Dabbawalas of Mumbai who have an error rate of 1 in 16 million, it can be found here. My second was on some of micro and social enterprises that are creating real impact in the Dharavi slum and this can be found here.
I wasn’t quite sure how to follow these up, so thought I would take a wider view and share with you an area that came up numerous times during my visit and I felt was relevant for local entrepreneurs as well as entrepreneurs from the UK and from across the world. The area in question is that of barriers, be they political, cultural or historical and the impact they have can have on enterprise and new business.
To start with I want to share a quote with you from a close friend of mine and the Founder President of the CAAYE, Dr Rahul Mirchandani:
“CAAYE was born out of a realisation that though we believe the dawn of the Asian century is upon us, trade within Asian economies is very insignificant. Barriers to trade and political compulsions leave our economies cordoned off from our neighbours while we increase our dependence on the rest of the world. As young entrepreneurs, we have realised this lost opportunity in our own backyard and we hope that CAAYE and its projects, ongoing activities, bilateral events and capstone Summits will create platforms where networks are built and people-to-people contact sustained over time for the benefit of the young businesses and young in business in Asia.”
Rahul’s quote mentions barriers in the second line and it was an area that delegates mentioned to me, it came up the Q&As and was a topic of conversation during breaks and over dinners.
So I thought I would start with the big one first! Political barriers, these can arguably have more impact than any of the others, if our governments get then on trade can be easier, if they don’t then it can be anything but. However what I did see during the summit what that where there is a will there is a way. For example, Pakistan had the largest non Indian delegation there and I heard stories of it taking months for some of the delegates to get their visas. But the kept at it and here they were. The political difference between the two countries is an area I am not qualified to comment on, but the Indian and Pakistani delegations got on extremely well, conversations about challenges faced, ambitions and their dreams for their businesses were all similar. It was striking how they just saw each other as entrepreneurs and the respect was mutual.
As if to underline this the summit ended with the President of the Pakistani delegation giving a powerful speech praising the work of the Indian team and talking about the CAAYE being a great example of how countries that do have significant political barriers can actually come together through enterprise and entrepreneurship.
Now I will move on to historical barriers and a question. Why up until fairly recently has the UK been doing comparatively little trade with India? Is it historical? Are we embarrassed about our colonial past? If this was the reason then all I can say is I am glad that we are now putting significant resources into helping UK companies, large and small, get into these exciting and dynamic economies. My recent experience with UK Trade and Invest and the UK India Business Council has been excellent, the proactivity of the staff before and during my visit was top class – the UK’s Deputy High Commissioner to India,Peter Beckingham, even cut short his holiday to attend the opening ceremony of the CAAYE Summit with less than a week’s notice.
Also during my time in Mumbai speaking to delegates and visiting different businesses I didn’t once meet someone who was negative towards the UK from India or any of the other Commonwealth Asian countries present for that matter. Actually it what quite the opposite, all the entrepreneurs and business people I met wanted to know why more UK businesses weren’t in their respective countries – there really was a desire to work and trade with British entrepreneurs. So if our trade barrier with some of these nations has been historical then we need to move on. We must trade globally regardless of company size or sector, the business opportunities and partnerships are there waiting for us to arrive.
Thirdly, I wanted to briefly cover cultural barriers. I am very lucky to have gone to some very different countries across the globe on behalf of Young Brits and the G20 YEA and I always come away realising that we are not that different. Our colour and creed might differ, but on the whole we all just want a strong, stable and safe future for our families and each other. I personally believe cultural differences are key to having a strong vibrant society, however sadly far too often we have a tendency to be afraid of the unknown and a different culture from one we are used to can scare us. Rather than seeing the similarities we are conditioned to seeing the differences, this breeds mistrust and can end up leading to lasting long-term damage.
As we all travel more and technology increasingly means we are all becoming more connected, these culture barriers are being broken down. But we must always make an effort to understand someone’s culture and beliefs, because if we don’t understand someone’s background how can we ever expect to create a lasting friendship, be this business or personal, in the future.
As I sat on the plane back to the UK I remember thinking how Mumbai was truly a city where enterprise is everywhere. Be itmicro enterprises in the Dharavi Slum, the street food sellers, the multitude of market stalls everywhere you go, theDabbawalas, the multinationals, the community industries, or the balloon sellers on the street (don’t ask!). Everyone is selling everything to everyone and it creates a buzz like no other.
India as a nation will have to face significant challenges as she develops and grows going forwad, but the people I met all wanted the same thing: a better future for themselves, their families and their wider communities. The overriding feeling was that this common positive future can only ever be delivered by the creation of jobs, wealth and skills through education, enterprise and hard work.
If the government of India listens to it talented young entrepreneurs and helps them create a equal, fair and just society where a person’s background, sex or caste doesn’t stand against them and corruption can be removed from the norm, then quite simply nothing will hold her back.
I have made some lasting friendships in India and with the delegates from the other Commonwealth Asian countries; I know it isn’t a case of if I go back to the region, but when and how soon.
I will leave you with the thoughts of my G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance colleague from Italy, Luca Donelli, who is the Sherpa for Italy to the G20 YEA and attended the CAAYE Summit with me. I felt his comments summed up the important role that these types of international networks can play in all our future:
“As a member of Confindustria Y.E., I am involved in various international projects similar to CAAYE such as G20 YEA – G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance. These are based on the need to create platforms enhancing cooperation amongst Associations of Young Entrepreneurs. These efforts are fundamental towards building up global awareness about young entrepreneurship and a tremendous growth opportunity for the participants and their Associations.”
You can follow Alex on twitter here.