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Showing posts from February, 2013

The Mystery of Inner Cities And Why Foreign Companies Struggle in India

India seems indecipherable. It is an exciting market, just that it never materialises. I have used one expression - borrowed somewhat from James Kynge's book on China - that while India looks like a huge multiplier effect for businesses from outside, the moment you set foot in the country, the endless game of divisions begins. Also, India is like El Dorado - everyone wants to go there, but no one knows how. After repeated failed efforts, excitements in the world markets, the sentiments are now cooling: The India play is treated with caution, often avoided in favour of more exciting regions, like Brazil, or Indonesia, and now even Burma or Mongolia.
However, it is hard to ignore India. Apart from the fact that it has so many of the new consumers, it is a potential breeding ground for competition in other markets. Leave India to local companies for far too long and a competitor will certainly emerge, who will better the game in prized markets that you wanted to keep your eggs in. I…

The Fight for Bangladesh & Everyone's Future

The frontiers of civilization keeps shifting: Now it is in Dhaka. Unlike the American formulation, however, this is not about one kind of civilization up against another. It is a different, but known, variety of struggle - of a modern nation of aspirations against the old structures of repression and fear. The Islamists in Bangladesh, powerful as they always were, have finally come out of woodwork and trying to claim the country: In a rematch of the country's liberation war fought forty years ago, they are, in fact, more ideologically formidable, and may be more numerous. However, they are up against a modern young aspirational nation, no less determined than their forefathers a few generation ago, no less able than the military commanders of the earlier generation.
This time, the battle is fought in proxies. Most powers will sit out on the fence; they ought to: This is a dangerous battle, mostly fought in ideas. While battling against the government, the reactionary forces may u…

Reflections and Interests (Day 1 of 100)

First weekend back home, so far, is just as I wanted, organized, unhurried, free. I spent the day reading The Economist, something I wish I could do every weekend, and catching up on myriad other tasks I enjoy doing. This invariably means postponing some of the things that I must do, such as preparing for my Monday classes and preparing the expense statements and suchlike, but I still wanted a quiet day after all the excitement of travel.
Such days allow reflection, which is very helpful. I could pause and think of what I am doing now. We are six weeks from launch of our services in the new business, which is simultaneously exciting and nerve-wrecking. I am slowly getting in sync with my new life - no compromises, just focus - and finding it the greatest education I could have ever had. Living through, things that looked important before, such as getting the Private Equity backing, is fading away into the horizon: I am discovering the very real purpose of life, creation of a great &#…

Education and Employability: Who's afraid of Knowledge?

Employability is the mantra of the day, because we sure have a jobs problem. Governments are making universities, in fact education system as a whole, the scapegoat for millions of unemployed that they have to deal with. The conclusion is straightforward: There must be an education problem if so many people can't find jobs even after getting educated. And, hence, increasingly, public policy is making employability the centre-piece of the higher education agenda.
I shall argue that this oversimplifies the problem and diverts our attention. I am not suggesting that the education model does not need looking at: Indeed, we need to revisit what the universities do in the context of the modern world. But, employability is not a problem created by the universities and colleges, it is a structural issue and everyone knows this. To start with, there are not enough jobs available. It is very good to say that there are vacancies for Rocket Scientists and Brain Surgeons while there is unempl…

Designing Teaching For Global Collaboration

I am working with a number of senior tutors with long experiences of teaching face to face in developing the courses which we shall deliver using technology. Indeed, our model is globally collaborative learning, which is as much as about distance delivery as about distribution of various learning activities. The learners are locally supported, their learning is designed collaboratively between the tutor, who is remote, and mentors, who are local, and they work with local peer groups as well as global ones. The technology we employ is easy, based on Open Source platforms and something that can run on a washing line, as they say: The trick of the trade for us is to design this complex learning structure effectively.
So, this is a business about effective instructional design more than anything else. And, being in Higher Education space in Britain, where instructional design is usually seen as the prerogative of the trainers (and not of educators) and essentially American, it is an inte…

Developing Training for Global Employability

Employability programmes are hugely interesting, particularly because they are so popular but still means nothing in particular. While employability schools, courses, self-help materials and even, almost absurdly, certifications are cropping up everywhere, inherent in those programmes is an admission of failure of the education process itself. It is like getting another medicine when medicines have failed, which indicates how students approach education - not with the usual, healthy scepticism of a standard consumer, but with faith befitting a true believer, which bestow more than usual responsibility on an educator, though, at the same time, it makes life easy for a snake-oil salesman.
However, despite my usual aversion for 'employability' programmes, here I am - designing a programme for global employability! I am not hypocritical: I didn't start this, but this is what the customers want. A number of business schools I have been speaking to want a finishing school progr…

India: The Quest for A Professional Society

India is exciting. Despite all the gloom and doom, mainly because of the stalled economy and the broken expectations, that pervade the media in London and New York, life is getting better in India. Yes, despite the corruption, the still creaking infrastructure, the never fully completed projects: The life has got better for most people, in absolute terms, and it is getting better. This is one thing I noticed, traveling around Indian cities, after a gap of more than a year. Indeed, one could argue that the life has NOT got better as much as it COULD HAVE BEEN, but the explosion of opportunities is real, the better roads are better than yesterday's, the cinema halls are more glitzy, films are slicker, there is a greater choice of newspapers and TV channels, there are more seats to study engineering and management, and more jobs, than there has ever been.
This is no attempt to hide the failure. We can indeed endlessly talk about wasted opportunities, and indeed there were plenty of …

Into India: Constructing A New India

I am writing this from Bhopal: First time in Bhopal, I am stunned by its beauty and serenity. I somehow imagined it to be a provincial town and somewhat of an industrial wasteland, my perspective informed, perhaps, by my adolescent memories of Union Carbide gas leak. Instead, I see a city wrapped around a lovely lake, pleasant weather and mountainous roads. Such 'discoveries', however naive, make up for all the troubles of travel, spending nights at nameless hotels, and irregular patterns of life this entails.
But apart from the beauty of this city, I see ambition: The giant malls straddling the city centre not just changing the consumption patterns of the city, but also its social life. The private universities, only a few years old in the province, churning out a new generation of graduates, and international schools forming a new ambitious pattern of parenting. My initial assumption that the new India is being shaped in smaller towns is proving to be accurate, at least at…

'Returning to India': Conversing with a Book

This does not happen often, so this is special. I read a book from cover to cover in a flight. The flight was late, by an hour, as the SpiceJet workmen hovered around looking lost for a long time before my flight to Bangalore departed from Kolkata. But that's not the reason I could read: It was one of those books which I could have a conversation with, that kept me awake and busy, despite an early start in the morning.
This is a book about coming back to India. Written by Shobha Narayan, whose writing I have not read before, but could easily connect with her crisp, well-honed, journalistic style. Indeed, I should have been disappointed: This was an impulse purchase for reading during the flight, but I expected a story of what happened when one returned to India. Instead, this is an immigrant's chronicle of deciding to move back, the doubts, the debates and the challenges. In a way, this was better, closer to my lived experience, and not just an empirical list of disappointmen…

Into India: The Skills Opportunity

I am exactly at the midpoint of my visit to India: I set off for Bangalore tomorrow and through the week, will visit Mumbai and Bhopal, before coming back to Kolkata for a final couple of days. I am indeed very happy with the progress I have made - I now have several partnership conversations with really committed education institutions - and will go back to London with an eagerness to enhance our offering. One key business assumption I always had turning out to be accurate: In the business of education, there is no demand problem, only delivery challenges. I have spent time talking not just with the owners and managers of private education institutions, but also students in several schools: I now have experienced first hand that the students are eager for an opportunity that would open up the world to them, a global education, which is exactly what we are about. However, I am fully cognisant that opening up the opportunity will need several innovations in delivery, complete integrit…

Into India: The Search for Change

I am in India after a gap of 15 months, and now writing this post sitting in a hotel in Delhi. My visit is going well: I kept my expectations low, and therefore slightly overwhelmed by both the affection of long-lost friends and the enthusiasm of the education entrepreneurs about our proposition. Everywhere I go, I am filled with stories of change, a new thing in India. The stories filtering out of India may be gloomy, but it seems that India is moving on, unleashing an avalanche of change below the analysts' radar: Despite the pessimism of the media, the never-say-die reflections in popular culture (The White Tiger to English Vinglish) may be more true than their fictional nature suggests.
Indeed, my enthusiasm about change is tempered by the fact that I stopped by in Dubai before I came to Kolkata. In 2008, I called Dubai the Disneyland of Capitalism and thought the party is over: Returning after a gap of 3 years, I could see the Disneyland spirit is alive and kicking. The chan…

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