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CII HOPES TO CREATE THE SWADES EFFECT: CII-Indian American Council will assist NRIs wanting to help their home towns -- By Amberish Kathewad Diwanji in New Delhi


Swades, released December 17, is about a successful Indian American who goes back to India and is so appalled by the conditions in a village that he stays back to make a difference. It is a sentiment that hundreds and thousands of Indian Americans, successful beyond their wildest dreams, would fully identify with.

No matter how successful, no matter how many millions of dollars are parked in bank accounts, deep down there is this feeling of non-fulfillment only because somewhere, some place remains untouched by their success.

Now the Confederation of Indian Industry, one of India's key chambers of commerce, has decided to step in to help those Indian Americans who dream of returning to India to help their villages, by setting up the CII-Indian American Council.
"This initiative is not just about investments, it is about emotion," declared Sam Pitroda, who will chair the CII-Indian American Council.

McKinsey and Company Director Anil Kumar is the co-chair. Both Pitroda and Kumar are based in the United States.  Pitroda said the main purpose of the CII-Indian American Council would be to draw upon the expertise of the many Indian Americans who want to do something for India. CII hopes to provide institutional support to help such persons. He said people returning are often very keen to help but don't know how to go about it.

"Very often they don't even know that in India, our bureaucracy has ranks such as joint secretaries who play an important role in implementing projects. This platform will seek to help out such Indian Americans," he said.
Pitroda and CII President Sunil Kant Munjal were categorical in stating that the Council was not seeking to supplement the government or other initiatives that already exist; rather it was only seeking to complement such work by building and providing an institutional bridge between Indian Americans and India.

Arun Kumar said the Council would connect people to opportunities and change the current level of involvement from the Indian Diaspora, which at present was low and sporadic. "No formal mechanism exists today for Indian Americans to identify meaningful opportunities and we seek to fill that gap," he said.

Pitroda, who now heads WorldTel and his own initiative, C-Sam, insisted what they are trying out was not the answer to every question. "This is just the beginning" he said, "and we hope to do more".


'We want NRIs to help in villages'

Hailed as the father of India's telecom revolution, Sam Pitroda is widely credited with ensuring through his efforts in the 1980s, that virtually every village in India bosts a telephone booth with national and international connectivity. He spoke to Amberish Kathewad Diwanji on the sidelines of of the CII-Indian American Council meeting. 

You remain actively involved with India?
Some years ago I told my wife, when I was 20 I fell in love with you; when I was 45, I fell in love with India! Now I am living out this love.

How do you see this CII initiative doing?
Most Indians remain connected to India, though of course the degree of sentiment would vary from person to person. Some want to provide financial help, some want to do something. We want to tap this sentiment.

Indians abroad, particularly in the US, seem divided into a plethora of organizations such as Marathi Mandal, Gujarati Samaj, Bengali Association.
There is nothing wrong with that. I would say let such organizations flourish. It allows me to be a Bengali or a Gujarati for a day and enjoy typical cuisine and wear traditional dress.  It is our diversity and I believe our diversity is our strength. Uniformity brings stagnation; diversity brings growth.

What is the main idea behind this council?
See, the Indians who went to the U.S. in the 1960's are now in their 60's. When they first went there, they were focused on survival, on saving up for their children's college, paying off the mortgage. Over the decades they have done well, some exceedingly so, and now, they are well settled, their kids are earning and probably married off.

Having worked in the U.S., they are experts in their fields, whether business or medicine or academics. This is the pool of talent that we want to tap in India where it is needed.

Any reason why such activity was missing earlier?
One, of course, was that many Indians had just migrated and were still settling down. But more important, then India was not ready for receiving help from the Diaspara.

Today, India is globalized, the economy is deregulated, the policies are liberalized, and there is the huge success of IT that is both global and Indian. Above all, India -- and Indians -- is now much more self-confident about itself. It doesn't view help from abroad with suspicion.

In the 1980's non-resident Indians were seen with suspicion but now they are welcome. What was missing earlier?
I think it was fear. Indians then didn't know about the NRI and he was viewed with suspicion.

What has also made a huge change is the fact that earlier, traveling to India was very expensive. Now it is so cheap that my son called to say that he was joining me for four days during his Christmas week leave. The increased travel from the U.S. to India has helped Indians view the NRI favorably.

And while earlier the NRI was sought after for the things he could bring from abroad, now all those things are available here. Now we want his talent and expertise.

If you are tapping experts from the U.S., isn't it likely that they will prefer to park their talent in the cities rather than the villages where most help is needed?
Look, if someone wants to set up a specialist hospital in a city, I say let him. We need that. But we also need much more in the villages.

We need education facilities, health facilities, drinking water, and so on. And I'm sure that along with the experts who prefer the cities there will be thousands of Indian Americans willing to work in the villages where so much more remains to be done.

Forwarded by visitor Ram Narayanan <ramn_wins @> [Published originally in INDIA ABROAD (PRINT EDITION), DECEMBER 24, 2004 (PAGES A26 &30)]






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