India’s Innovation Front Lines, Part 8 (Final Installment): A Return Home and a Reflection

1/21/09Follow @vinit44

Boston, Tuesday, January 20–I have been back from India for about two weeks and have had time to reflect on my trip and to view my hometown of Boston with a fresh pair of eyes. The front page news in India was about Satyam Computer Services’ $1 billion fraud and India’s impotence in stopping Pakistani-supported terrorism. Back in Boston the headlines have been been about Madoff’s $50 billion fraud and Israel’s Gaza war. The flat world indeed!

Satyam’s fraud is being compared to Enron, though it is likely that Satyam, with hundreds of Global 1000 customers, will survive. Ramalinga Raju, the former chairman of Satyam, and his brother are being held in jail; Madoff remains in his $7M apartment on bail. As I think about these two events, I am struck by one commonality: the ability of smart people to fleece others in their close communities.

In the case of Madoff, the global Jewish community is shocked at how he defrauded several Jewish philanthropies and individuals of billions of dollars. Raju comes from a tight community of Rajputs (the warrior class who are predominantly in northern India) who came to Hyderabad to serve the Nizam, or King, in pre-colonial times. Raju comes from a landowning farming family with strong connections to the state of Andhara Pradesh (AP), whose capital is Hyderabad. He has a web of connections to the business and political elite in AP, who will find it difficult to distance themselves. Likewise, I imagine the Jewish community is concerned about the negative image of the community as a result of Madoff’s misdeeds.

As is evident from all the strife around the world, humans are still drawn to their communities. The U.S. is increasingly settling into like-minded communities who overwhelmingly vote Democrat or Republican. Having just watched President Obama’s inauguration speech along with a couple of hundred people in the cradle of American democracy, the town library in Lexington, I am hopeful that the divide-and-conquer colonial era is drawing to a close. We have the first brown-skinned leader of a predominantly white-skinned country, son of a citizen of Kenya, a former British colony. In his inaugural speech Obama said “our patchwork heritage is strength not weakness,” and I truly believe that both the U.S. and India share this patchwork heritage. The Indian peninsula has seen inward migration from the first humans to leave Africa 60,000 years ago to Aryans from Central Asia, Muslims from Turkey, Jews from Spain, Zorastrians from Persia, and Christians from Europe. In spite of these migrations, or perhaps because of the relatively peaceful integration of these immigrants, for hundreds of years India was the richest region on the planet. The U.S. is now the richest country in the world, and the citizens of the U.S., in choosing Obama as President, have astonished people around the world, many of whom live in former European colonies.

Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to lead the U.S. and the world into a new transnational era, jumpstart a post-carbon economy, bring about free trade in goods, and solve major post-colonial border disputes (Kashmir, Palestine, several in Africa) that will go a long way to weakening the foundation of Muslim terrorists. Just as he energized a new U.S. generation by using the new person-to-person medium of the Internet to transmit his message, perhaps he will directly communicate to hundreds of millions opted-in cell phone users across the globe with a new message: “Let us build, not destroy.”

Boston and Massachusetts are at the center of this new transnational era. Many of Obama’s close advisors hail from universities and public institutions in the Boston area. The children of the political and business elite from many countries around the world come here to study, and whether they stay or return form bonds with native-born Americans that last a lifetime. A formal social network of Boston-area alumni would certainly span the world and keep Boston relevant in the 21st century…calling all entrepreneurs!

Vinit Nijhawan, an entrepreneur, angel investor, and former venture capitalist, is Lecturer and Executive-in-Residence in the Boston University School of Management. Follow @vinit44

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  • http://www.dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

    Vinit–I loved this post from you, the comparison to India, and the insight you have about Obama energizing and leveraging a person-to-person medium (the internet) into the Oval Office, but more importantly, as a force of change and, dare I say, good?

  • N.R.JOTHINARAYANAN,PALAKKAD.678001,INDIA

    Dear Vinit,
    A thought provoking comparative study of today’s Barack Obama’s modus operandi with
    India. I agree with you that the era of
    ‘divide and rule’ is over. In addition to your analysis, I want to emphasize that influencing any country by supplying the military hardware is nearing its end. We could see that the USA is put itself in a big threat by blind -supply of its arms to
    countries whose dubious role has become a constant worry to the USA.
    There is much to learn for India and the United States mutually from their mistakes in the past to refine their future.