Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What TED didn’t get about India

TED, the highly vaunted, undisputed king of thought leader conferences globally, held its first gathering in India last week, but not every attendee felt the conference lived up to its hype—nor felt it fairly portrayed the potential of India’s dynamic social entrepreneurial landscape. Writer Manjeet Kripalani, a former BusinessWeek colleague and now the executive director of Gateway House, the Indian council on global relations, was among the most outspoken. She wrote in a controversial post Wednesday in The Financial Express that for starters, the 1,000 global VIPS who attended TEDIndia were mostly westerners and non-resident Indians. Secondly, she said, the conference focused on people who had “created charter schools in India, those who sheltered and rehabilitated the wretched and trafficked in society, and those who recently discovered that cheap cell phones married to corporate social responsibility was the new cool.” Kripalani said that this “is noble but it is not TED. For those fed on TEDs past, it was a let-down.”

With a couple of exceptions, she said, TEDIndia – which she expected would showcase India and what the world might learn from it —instead passed over the nation’s mobile Internet entrepreneurs. “None of them were on display,” she said. Instead, conferees missed the real story of India’s social enterprise, she said. “It was clear what people had learned [instead],” she wrote – that “India is still a poor country and that their [western] charity was welcome. Funds were raised for education and for helping to rehabilitate girls who are trafficked and abused in India.”

But Kripalani said that was hardly enough – and missed the point. “After 15 years of software revolution, of being at the frontier of globalization through outsourcing, of making the most of virtual infrastructure, of cellphone egalitarianism, inventing the Nano and fighting for overseas market share with one hand tied behind our backs, is this, then, still the image of India that the West—and NRIs—continue to cherish and feel comfortable with?” she asked her readers.

But Kripalani’s no-holds-barred review of the conference wasn’t all critical. She lauded a session run by Reuben Abraham, an associate professor of the Indian School of Business, which focused on the commercial potential of opportunities just above the so-called “bottom-of-the-pyramid.” “The new discovery,” Kripalani wrote, “was that those who are still technically poor have stepped beyond the bottom of the pyramid into its center. There’s new market being created here in India for high-quality, low-cost products and public services.”

For more on TEDIndia, click here

and here

For the complete text of Kripalani’s comments, click here:

What do you think? Is Kripalani’s report fair? If not, why not? If so, what points can you add to the conversation?

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