India “Open for Business” but Differences Challenge Global Companies

India “Open for Business” but Differences Challenge Global Companies

Indian leaders are travelling the globe to spread the message that the country is open for business. Legislative changes are creating an economy that is open to international investment and leading to a quickened pace of international development, they say. “Today our biggest concern is infrastructure, with particular emphasis on power, telecommunications and highways. Thirty years ago, it was food. Progress in the past five years has been most notable. Now, our government changes, but our economic direct Opportunity is clearly knocking for Canadian business, but it comes with a learning curve. Traditional Indian culture and modern business practices contrast and co-mingle in ways that are often bewildering to Western eyes. To do business, a resident Indian partner fluent in Hindi, and the local language (there are 18 officially recognized across the country) will be indispensable in helping you navigate the country.

Caste system persists

Canadian organizations operating in India will have to adjust to the reality that caste membership, as well as gender and age, are significant factors in access to employment. Efforts have begun , however, to promote job opportunities for lower caste members. Jobs posted a renowned university, for instance, included requirements such as: 1. “Age not exceeding 40 years,” or “Should not exceed 30 years of age.” 2. “…Six Junior Technical Assistants (unreserved, 3; reserved for scheduled tribe candidates, 1; backward classes, 2)” and, 3. Bio-dates (resumes) father’s/husband’s name”.

Such equity-type policies do not exist for women, however, who face fewer job opportunities and low pay for most openings that exist. Compensation for the university jobs listed above, for instance, ranged from Rs. 1400 to Rs. 5000 per week ($56 to $200 Canadian). That rate compares to Rs. 150 per week (or less) received by women and children working in silk and pottery factories.

On the upside, such limited opportunity has led to recent exponential growth in the number of female entrepreneurs, a trend boosted by organizations such as the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka, founded 14 years ago by Makhura Chatrapathy, now executive director of the Asian Centre for Entrepreneurial Initiatives (email:

Tackling child labour

The government is starting to move on the intractable issue of child labour, an issue that has become prominent in Canada recently due largely to the efforts of child activist Craig Kielburger. Many of the solutions suggested by Kielburger and others, however, may be simplistic. Proposals to ban products from Canada made in Indian factories that employ children, or that encourage the Indian government to crack down on such companies, may be unrealistic because many children are their families’ main wage-ea To deny them employment risks leading many of them to begging and prostitution rather than to school. New initiatives encourage factories to schedule children to work half days, freeing them to go to school the other half. Some schools also award children a 2kg. sack of flour for each full week of school completed. Perhaps these are ideas for high-dropout Canadian schools!

Spirituality integrated

Emphasis on spiritual and personal development abounds, balancing the drive to develop the economy. For example, centuries of yoga practice are now applied to stress reduction, the development of memory, IQ, creativity, health and more. A business convention that attracted more than 1,500 participants had a keynote speaker whose topic was love. Religious shrines are common in workplaces, and employees will pause for a quick prayer, even in the middle of a conversation, before the sites of worship.

Corruption remains and acknowledged and ongoing problem. One man we met said he had been driving without a license for several years because he refused to pay bribes on top of the license fee. While there is regular reporting in the daily news about corrupt politicians being brought to justice, these efforts are just the beginning.

Like the rest of the world, India is changing quickly. And, as noted by John Naisbitt in Megatrends Asia, “The modernization of Asia – economically, politically and culturally – is by far the most important event taking place in the world today.”

The recent Team Canada visit demonstrates Canada’s eagerness to participate in this new economy. With our sizable Indian-Canadian community and wealth of human diversity, we are well-positioned to be part of India’s development. India is open for business, but we still have much to learn from each other.

Credit: Workplace Diversity Update ~ May, 1997 ~ pg. 5

Author: Maureen Geddes

Originally Published: May, 1997