This week marked the coming together of US and India to co-host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
With the theme, ‘Women first, prosperity to all’, the summit is meant to focus on businesswomen and an increased collaboration between the two countries. Almost 1500 young entrepreneurs, mostly women, attended the summit and based on reports I have from people who were there, the panel discussions were outstanding. The first summit was held in Washington and subsequently there have been summits in Turkey, UAE, Malaysia, Morocco and Kenya. This is the first time it is being held in India. The summit is significant judging by the fact in previous years, Barack Obama and John Kerry have attended it.
This year’s summit has been in the news for more than just women empowerment. On his visit to the US earlier this year, PM Modi invited Ivanka Trump to attend since she is her father’s chief advisor. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has made it clear he is not pleased with the turn of events and refused to send a high level State Department delegation, instead sending a junior level deputy assistant secretary to lead the delegation. Tillerson does not want to be seen as complicit in bolstering the role of someone on the world stage whose only claim to the position is lineage. Modi’s faux pas was in not going about the proper diplomatic channels. While Tillerson’s ire can be understood, he has failed to take into consideration the immense economic benefit that could be gained by cementing ties with India.
Having said that, Ivanka Trump is hardly an ideal role model, with her credentials coming under scrutiny. She does run a business employing many women but her business practices have often been questioned. Most of the work for her fashion brand is done outside of the US, using low wage labourers, in direct collision with her father’s policy of bringing employment back to the US. Media focus in India has also deviated from the main issues, focussing on the fact beggars were cleared from roads in Hyderabad and on Ivanka’s attire, glamour and accoutrements. Modi’s gift of a carved wooden box, the menu for the meal at Falaknama Palace and other details got as much media space as the topics under discussion.
The US and India can learn much from each other and it is hoped the summit will overcome the ugliness on the sidelines and actually work together towards women’s empowerment. Both the countries have much to learn from each other. India is one of the first countries to have a woman as head of the country, something the US has still not managed to do. There are many women heading top banks in India as well as women helming tech start-ups. In the same token, the US has some great next practices that could be emulated in India to promote issues concerning women empowerment.
While I am a staunch supporter of empowerment and women in the workforce, other realities of India pervade my space too. Living in the US makes us self-sufficient. We do not shun house-work and sweeping, swabbing, grocery shopping and cooking is par for the course. On the one hand, it’s great to be pampered by house help when we visit India, but on the other hand, it is stressful dealing with the daily issues that crop up. This may sound like the life of the entitled, but it is the reality of India. While I lived in India, I did not think twice but after having lived on my own in the west, my attitude has changed. The constant friction, the erratic attendance patterns and the fear of theft is frustrating.
Since my parents are old, we have security cameras installed for their protection and to alleviate our concerns. In the last six months, they have had a series of big and small thefts but no clear indication of the perpetrator. A couple of days ago, a bottle of single malt went missing. Checking the cameras, we clearly saw the maid swipe the bottle off the bar and stuff it into her bag. It was disheartening to say the least. Whether Jura or Teachers makes no difference to them but the fact she stole from under our nose made me sad. She needs the job. As a widow, she works to support her family. Why did she feel the need to steal and lose her livelihood? Pilfering is the norm here. I remember sugar, grain and other kitchen items taken as a birthright. There’s a thin line when it comes to honor code unlike the US, which is high on the moral factor. Trust is inherent. I remember giving open book exams while at university. The doorman keeps our apartment keys and house closets do not even have locks.
Empowerment of women sounds amazing but as a woman, I feel torn about this. The fact we still need to address the issue makes me angry. But on the flip side, I am glad it is being addressed. And India can show the way; as women storm the work force, as women jostle for power, as women climb the corporate ladder. But at the same time women need to make sure they maintain the ethics of good work practice such as honesty, responsibility, commitment. It needs to cut across all lines and not just remain in the corporate sector. It needs to become the culture, filtering down from the top. Women can be the best role models. I believe in women leaders. Their combination of nurturing and efficiency is what’s needed to power the world ahead.
The conference in Hyderabad is a great boost and the participation of women is heartening. It reminds me of a quote I read, Truer words could not be spoken.