Conversation 20: My Own Asia Pivot

Time to make up my mind! By 2015, I wish to complete a very personal 'pivot' to Asia. 

I am one to dream but not set up goals. I like serendipities, chance connections, even drift. And, life has so far been exciting, full of unexpected twists and gifts, full of meeting great people at unexpected places. I have done crazy things and got away, more than once! I have moved from one continent to another, gone back to school and started businesses. I have lived knife's edge as well as creatively and contently, at the same time.

And, now, it is time for me to conjure up my next big thing. 

I went to England exactly 10 years ago because I wanted to have experience. This I certainly have had. Many things changed - I have got wiser by making many mistakes - and I feel prepared now to graduate out of this 'prep' phase and do something significant.

Which, in a way, means doing less things than more. I have lived a life of drift for a while, primarily because the business I started lacked scale and I was trying to do too many things to keep myself afloat. Eventually, I took on a job, somewhat disillusioned, somewhat confused, closest to a mid-life crisis I have ever been (and will hopefully ever be). However, few months into it, and indeed, as I complete all the legacy work (the marking that comes with teaching and some of the commitments I have already made), I feel confident and connected again. This allows me to think beyond the present and to look into the future - and to imagine what I may really want. And, that is clearly to get back to Asia.

It may be a cliched expression, but I feel ready to move to Asia. My sense of preparation comes from my many experiments. I see Asia as a place of excitement and energy, as distinct from the increasingly inward looking societies in the West. My own interests matter too: I want to work in Education and Education Technology, and I can't possibly find a better place than Asia to do this. And, besides, I want to be hands on and build something ground up - Asia is the perfect setting to do this.

My one big issue with this plan is whether to get back to India. The energy in India attracts me. But, in education, India is indeed the world's most difficult place to innovate. The demand is astounding in India, but this is also one of the most conservative in the world: The education sector is plain criminalised, and political interference is rife. While I want to stay engaged in India and work with people who are trying to do good things, I am unsure whether India is the best place to come back to.

Instead, I may look to live in Singapore, or perhaps, Philippines. I see this City-state as the meeting place of all of Asia, particularly India and China. Being there may give me easy access to both, as well as the West which I want to remain connected to, and South-East Asia, the region I feel most affinity with. In that sense, Singapore is at the center of the world as I perceive it. My current work and future aspirations both play out fairly well from Singapore. 

I am older and wiser though, than I was in 2004. I am not packing my bags and leaving like I did then. My approach this time is to consider all the options, and most importantly, decide beforehand what I am going to do.

My current work may indeed be good if I move to India - I spend most time in the country in any case - and I can perhaps do it better if I am based in Singapore. However, I am yet to figure out whether this is for me long term: It is indeed interesting and engaging but my role so far has been pretty transactional and limited in scope. While I would most certainly remain engaged in Education and Education Technology, I am yet to figure out what I shall be doing long term. My interests indeed are in building a 'disruptive' education proposition, in line with my belief that the Facebook of Education industry will perhaps come from India. However, at the same time, education in India is a perfect 'market for lemons', where unscrupulous operators do fairly well, and it is perhaps very difficult to create something which is globally competitive while having the scale.

This is perhaps where South-East Asia holds the key. The education and skills training environment in the region is more mature and Singapore is taking the lead in technological innovation in Education anyway. A model that combines a SE Asia based operating structure with the Indian market may eventually be the disruptive proposition I am after. However, so far, most interventions from Singapore or Malaysia, there were a few, has failed, because they were unable to manage the complexity of the Indian market.

This is exactly the big thing I am after. I wish to break away from mere tinkering that I continue to do. That is the rationale behind my pivot to Asia. 


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