As we sat in the function room at the Ista Hotel in Pune and heard Rasika and her peers talk about the hopes and aspirations of their organisation Young Indians and the social development activities they have been involved in during the past year, my mind went back to other function rooms in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, hearing young Pakistani professionals and social activists echo similar sentiments. They too wanted "to be the change they wanted to see'.
Many were actively and passionately engaged in spreading literacy, providing healthcare to those who could not afford it, entrepreneurship development in under-developed areas, disaster relief efforts and so much more. These young people are the hope for both our nations and the world.
India and Pakistan are fortunate to have large numbers of young people looking for new means to enact change. As the Aman ki Asha initiative brings us closer together on different fronts, we need to think of ways to connect the youth of both countries, enabling them to travel on this journey together.
We had discussed this issue at the Aman ki Asha IT Committee meeting last December in Karachi. At the Pune meeting, we went a step further by inviting Rasika to join us on behalf of the Young Indians. Through the AKA IT Committee, YI will now be connected with a couple of youth groups from Pakistan. Together they will define the road ahead starting with sharing of ideas and thoughts across borders via video-conference connecting young entrepreneurs and professionals on both sides. This interaction will be telecast in both countries.
Our trip to India got off to a fabulous start, as we re-connected with our Indian colleagues. From the warm smiling 'Rahul Mohod welcome' at Mumbai airport, to the reunion with Ganesh Natarajan and Uma, and the magical evening of food and music organised by Pradeepand Shashi Udhasat The Club, it was a memorable first day. Old friends from Nasscom showed up. Pradeep was in his element as he and his orchestra serenaded us with songs that had us all enthralled. The next day, we travelled by road to Pune where the Young Indians conference was held, followed by networking over dinner.
We met many young people at this event with whom the AKA message resonated. Thrilled with the open discourse and the sharing of ideas, they saw a number of possibilities for engagement. They also felt that they had gone through a perception change about Pakistanis after meeting and talking with us. How, they asked, could this experience be extended to much larger groups of people?
"It is strange," said one of the young men "that we live next door to each other and yet we know so little about each other. This has to change. It is only then that understanding will develop."
As we discussed hosting the next meeting in Pakistan, a couple of young women insisted that they would come only if they got to meet with Imran Khan. One of them is so completely taken with him that she celebrates his birthday every year by cutting a cake.
The next day was totally focused on business. As the Aman ki Asha IT Committees of both countries talked, it was clear that now that most of the members knew each other better, we all felt an urgency to move forward with specific business initiatives. Some members have in fact already gone past the initial talks and due diligence stage and have signed agreements to work with each other via a third country. This will eventually lead to integrating Pakistani products into services already offered in various countries by Indian companies, using consultants/engineers from both countries.
Specific training areas were identified as business opportunities for members in both countries including Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) certification being made available through India rather than through the US thus bringing down the cost substantially. It was good to see that we were moving from emotional bonding and generalisations to specific ideas and timelines.
Some participants were of the opinion that politicians on both sides would jump onto the bandwagon and assist if they saw an opportunity to connect with initiatives that were likely to be successful. It is therefore important for participants as well as those viewing this initiative with scepticism to see some real progress.
Most committee members also felt a need to expand the group, bring other people and other companies into particular initiatives.
One of the newer members from Pakistan shared his company's experience in working with Indian partners on projects in the Middle East. Another senior member talked about a joint venture he had set up with an Indian partner in Singapore. We agreed that these case studies needed to be shared with a larger group. We plan to launch an Aman ki Asha IT Committee website where successful case studies can be shared and where companies from both countries could post their interest in working with each other. This could be the initial meeting place for companies to connect virtually, a launching pad for conversations leading to collaborations.
The conference that afternoon entitled "Scaling an IT startup to US$100 million" was one of the key highlights of the visit. It was organised by Europe Asia Business School in collaboration with TiE (The Ind-US Entrepreneurs), SEAP (Software Exporters Association of Pune) and IAN (Indian Angel Network) to look at opportunities in the IT industry, ways of getting growth financing and scaling tips from successful entrepreneurs.
Participants certainly got a great picture of the IT landscape in both countries, with presentations by speakers of the calibre of Raman Roy of Quattro, Partha Iyengar of Gartner, Sanjeev Agarwal of Helion Advisors and Harsh Manglik Chairman of Nasscom in addition to Ganesh Natarajan of Zensar and Pradeep Udhaas of KPMG on the panel from India and Naseer Akhtar of Infotech, Salim Ghauri of NetSol, Salman Akhtar of Techlogix, Nadeem Elahi of TRG and Amin Hashwani and myself on the panel from Pakistan. These heavyweights have been very much a part of IT development in both countries. Their stories were very different and yet in many ways very similar - stories of commitment, passion, lessons learnt along the way, diligence, burning the midnight oil and recognising and taking on the talent that is needed to form high calibre teams.
In post-conference discussions, there was renewed interest on the part of some Indian participants to join the next delegation to Pakistan, to meet with more of the innovative companies in the IT space and to look at ways to invest in new ideas and collaborate in the creation of wealth and opportunity for the people of both countries.
As always the trip was too short but the overall feeling was that it was well worth it and that we had made real progress. By the time we meet again, hopefully in Pakistan later this year, there should be much to report and take forward.
The writer is President,
Pakistan Software Houses
Association (P@SHA), and the Chair of the Aman ki Asha IT Committee from Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
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