27 May, 2009

What China can learn from India - 2. Go Global

Chinese are reluctantly going global. Indians are enthusiastically going around the world. And therein lies a lesson China can learn from India.

This is another counter intuitive lesson than I am proposing. After all Chinese have gone everywhere in the world. There’s a Chinatown in virtually every city. And yet, I say Chinese are reluctant globetrotters. In the past, Chinese migrated and travelled enthusiastically. I think they lost that globalizing spirit during the Cultural Revolution and haven’t still regained it. Today, they’d rather stay at home.

Indians on the other hand are going everywhere. Even the junior most Indian employee will jump at the chance if he is sent to any country in the world to work. Walk into any company anywhere and you are likely to see at least a few Indian nationals working there. This is a huge advantage for India. Many Indian professionals today have some experience of working in a different country. They have learnt what it takes to work globally. They assimilate, more easily, global working practices. They learn how to win globally.

In a class of MBA students, here in China, I asked, how many would like to go for a job or for higher studies in the US. Not a hand went up. If I asked the same question in an Indian business school, not a hand would stay down. There are many more Indians living and working in China than Chinese in India. In the companies that I have worked for, there have been 50 times more Indian expats working in various countries in the world than Chinese expats. In my own company now there are quite a few Indians, like myself, working in China. There’s not a single Chinese working in India.

Why is this so ? Command over English is only a minor reason – today’s Chinese professionals have a comfortable working knowledge of English. There is a deeper reason. Chinese professionals are less comfortable to go and work in a different culture. They are more comfortable working back home, and this is accentuated by a high demand for qualified people in China. The willingness to take a dare and experiment working in a completely different place is simply not as high. Hence my assertion – Chinese are reluctant globetrotters.

In the long run, this will prove to be a competitive disadvantage for China. You cannot lead the world economically, staying at home. The world will come to you, only up to a point. While the world wants to learn from China, Chinese have more to learn from the world.

China – the world is yours to conquer. But you have to go there first.

11 comments:

Ajay said...

Very true what you said about Indians wanting to work abroad. Although the underlying reason for B-school students to want to do that might not be as glorious as success for India (that is the indirect outcome though). I think it's the promise of better pay, standard of living, civic amenities, social security, etc.

Ramesh said...

Thanks for dropping by Ajay. Yes, self interest muight be the primary motive, but as you say, there is an indirect benefit for the country and some do come back. The mindset has gone amazingly global in the last 10 years.

A journey called Life said...

In India, going abroad (on a short stint, to study or to work) is nothing short of a status symbol. The respect a person garners if he belongs to any one of the above categories is top notch.. this is one of the motivating factors for indians to gladly test global waters, add to the fact that Ajay has mentioned..
this piece contained a lot of things I did not know about the Cbinese mindset.. thanks was very informative..

Kiwibloke said...

Being contrarian again! Going overseas translates to going to North America or West Europe. I have been dealing with a large bunch (for 3+ years now) who travel as a matter or routine to over 40 countries, with the Ugandas, Mozambiques and Vietnams thrown into the bunch. There is a subtle stratification among these locations. And this is not even based on logical considerations as personal safety, political stability etc. It is based on what family, friends and relatives would think. After all a "US returned" has a better perceived value (and dowry in some cases) than "Uganda returned". No offense meant to Uganda, one of the nicest places in the world and despite being on the equator, Kampala has the best weather any where in the world (barring good ol' NZ of course!). So, is the Indian truly global?

Kiwibloke said...

Being contrarian again! Going overseas translates to going to North America or West Europe. I have been dealing with a large bunch (for 3+ years now) who travel as a matter or routine to over 40 countries, with the Ugandas, Mozambiques and Vietnams thrown into the bunch. There is a subtle stratification among these locations. And this is not even based on logical considerations as personal safety, political stability etc. It is based on what family, friends and relatives would think. After all a "US returned" has a better perceived value (and dowry in some cases) than "Uganda returned". No offense meant to Uganda, one of the nicest places in the world and despite being on the equator, Kampala has the best weather any where in the world (barring good ol' NZ of course!). So, is the Indian truly global?

Adesh Sidhu said...

Success achieved by Punjabi, Gujrati and other communities abroad has also fueled new generation's ambition to go abroad and do well.

rads said...

Hmm Indians have become Chameleons, in the long run I dunno if this will be advantageous for India or not but the people benefit from being elsewhere and that's the reason they go abroad. But I do see a lot of Chinese working in the US too, and why will they go to India n work for lesser pay when they are better off in China.

Ramesh said...

@Aparna - Yes, respect amongst others is also a reason for going, but go they do !

@kiwi - your team is a perfect example of my point. They are all better professionals for going than if they had never ventured out. Sure there are "good" and "bad" places and all sorts of motives, but the overseas stints help make them better at what they do.

@adesh - yes some communities are particularly good at that and they become the examples for others to follow.

@rads - Oh yes - there are lots of Chinese who work in the US and other places. Australia is very favoured destination here. But amongst the professionals , there is not the same global drive as I see in Indians.

Hang said...

Good post. I think you've mentioned most of the reasons why Chinese professionals are not so keen on working abroad. Apart from other reasons (e.g. Chinese social connections, cultural adaptation), I think the major pulling force is that China is developing at a pace we've never seen before. It's more likely to develop a career in China than abroad. You may have a better paid job in UK or US, but you are always tempted by a possible career in China.

thethoughtfultrain said...

"the world is yours to conquer. But you have to go there first." Taking it totally out of context, but this line sounds so awfully profound !!

Ramesh said...

Thanks thoughtful train, I'm blushing .... :)