Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Day 3: Thinking about immigration

I had a relatively productive Monday, which is always good for a crucial week. I have noticed that I work in bursts and a good start helps - as I would have covered a lot of ground by that. I had a long awaited meeting yesterday and if I can follow-up on the ideas and execute things, this meeting will help me a lot to restructure our operations in India. Critically, I have realized that we have to reposition our English offering in India, and offer this more as a skill to complement other objectives - jobs, immigration, professional studies - rather than by itself. We are working to create an international employability course, which covers the critical employment skills, but then we need to do more. I have in mind the international accounting qualifications, which is quite popular among Indian graduates, but given that the accounting training is always tricky, one has to steer clear of regulatory roadblocks to offer such training. Yesterday's meeting will help me to create an interesting International Accounting Qualification offering through our centres, and dovetail this with an assisted learning English Language course. I do think this is a much better strategy than trying to push a premium English course in the Indian market.

While I am saying this, I am getting convinced that the general impression that everything to be offered in India has to be cut price is misplaced. India has two markets - one urban and for the upwardly mobile, and the offerings here better be aspirational, and the other mass market, and here the value pricing come into effect. The aspirational pricing in India, as i notice, is not very different from what it will be in developed market - a Chloe handbag sells in India at £300 upward - but the concept of value pricing, I agree, operates at a very different level. That's understandable, as the huge multiplier effect comes in when one looks at the value market. My one strategic mistake in planning for our project was that we wanted to be mass market and operate at the value price level, despite our obvious limitations, high input costs and high overheads, to achieve this. To be fair, my assumption was that we shall invest a significant amount and create a disruptive offering - a premium quality course at a reasonable price - which did not happen due to recession and other reasons. And, when it did become clear to me that we are unlikely to get more money and we have to correct the positioning ourselves, I had this fright of change, I did not know how to do it for a good many months. It is only now that I have realized that we need to completely reinvent ourselves - reformulate our offering as a Global Skills training organization rather than an English Language training organization - and get started afresh.

Hindsight, indeed, is an exact science, though it is not useful. However, I do think these reflections are helpful in doing my job well and I am feeling happy that I could work on these ideas over last few weeks and progress a bit. I am just hoping that I shall be able to continue to work on my three goals with focus and effectively. What I dread now is travel - it is one thing that disrupts me enormously. And, of all my travel obligations, I dread the travel to Northern Ireland most, days that I spend almost without any productive work and end up disrupting my whole schedule. This also tells me one thing that I was told a long time back - I do work better alone, with minimal supervision, than anyone standing over my shoulder. This I have seen when working in Bangladesh, away from the HQ, and in the contrast of my experiences when I was expected to work out of Kolkata, sitting with my senior colleagues, on the same territory. This makes me increasingly uncomfortable with my professed goal of a corporate job, and by implication, makes me question the wisdom of investing in an MBA.

I have also started reading an interesting book - Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them - by Phillippe Legrain. The central argument of the book I already know, but it was interesting polemic against the immigraphobes in the Western countries. The other concept I have started developing is that all this talk about globalization eradicating poverty is essentially a rich country, patronizing way of looking at the poor people: We are saying that with globalization [read the unrestricted movement of capital] that poor farmer's son in Somalia will make more money than his father and will live a happier, healthier life. But the true promise of globalization is unlocking the global talent - why can't the son of the Somali farmer be the biggest newspaper magnet in New York - and this can only be unlocked if the global movement of capital is matched by loosening restrictions on the global movement of labour. This obviously has strong opposition - not just the privileged who wants to protect themselves and create an one-dimensional globalization; but also the racist who sees the world in white, black and brown [and possibly Yellow] and the leftists, sadly, who oppose globalization in general and often forgets that this is pronounced inevitable by their own prophet. I have come to believe that the human civilization is indeed guided by an invisible hand, a natural equilibrium beyond the control of any conscious policy, and the coming crisis of the partial globalization will push us towards a more open world. Yes, not before that current parochial nation states reach their existential crisis - but it will happen.

One can figure, from the way I write, that I sincerely believe that this will happen. I do. Despite my very provincial background, I had this great opportunity to have a first hand view of globalization and its attendant social mores. I studied economics and history at the University, and then went on to learn Computers and work in an Email services company in early 90's, the forebearer of ISPs. I saw Internet breaking in like an avalanche and threatening to put me out job. Then, I worked in computer training, unknowingly playing my part in the greatest skills revolution in the world, when millions of small city graduates equipped themselves with a computer diploma joined the global workforce and powered globalization with their skills and talents. Thereon, I immigrated myself, going through the chores of shifting materials in a shop and staying in a poor-house, and then started working with middle aged, privileged public sector executives in Britain to change the way they learn and disseminate knowledge, through e-learning and knowledge management system. And, finally, I see myself setting up this business, with presence in South and South East Asia, Middle East and Eastern Europe, and travelling 20 days a month, all to create a global level playing field for skills, bridging culture gaps, teaching English language and recruiting staff from all around the world for our clients. If I don't believe in complete globalization, I can not do my job and can not be myself.

I know that I have to come to this: What I do next. I do think an opportunity will emerge for me to keep doing a similar thing, working on the fault lines of globalization and facilitating the global movement of talents and skills. I must say that I am not planning to be a human trafficker and people smuggler; anything which is legal and above board will do for me. I am already working on building a boutique cross-culture training offering for Asian clients and seeking partnerships with people and companies in that area. I shall do this even if I go to university - I see such tremendous possibility in this. This is another dimension of my journey, though this may pick up only a little while later, which I shall keep reporting in this blog.

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