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Why A Thousand Parag Agrawals Should Bloom In India, For India

We need more Sundar Pichais, Satya Nadellas and Parag Agrawals, yes. But, more importantly, we need a thousand Parag Agrawals in India, for India.

Photo Credit : Reuters


The elevation of Parag Agrawal as CEO of Twitter has been greeted with cheer and a sense of pride in India. The growing tribe of India-born, India-educated leaders presiding over global corporations, has often been credited to India, Indian values, its exceptional IITs, and its robust schooling system, in the West.

Be it Sundar Pichai of Alphabet or Satya Nadella of Microsoft, among others, they have roots in India. According to a recent BBC report, “Indian-origin people account for just about 1 percent of the US population, and 6 percent of Silicon Valley’s workforce, ‘yet they are disproportionately represented in the top brass’.”

Many of these leaders are IIT alumni. But there is a fair share of representation from other universities as well. Nadella, for instance, is a Manipal Institute of Technology alumnus. According to media reports, graduates of Delhi University, Bombay University, Osmania University, too, are increasingly starting tech companies in the US.

Yet, few would differ with the widely-held, globally-acknowledged view that Brand IIT (and, likewise, Brand IIM too) is India’s pride. In an address at IIT-Bombay last year, Blackstone Chairman Stephen A Schwarzman said that “of the 72 Indian-origin engineers who have founded unicorns across the world, fifty per cent were IIT alumni’.

It’s interesting to note how the IIT ecosystem has further got strengthened -- and democratized -- even as a new culture of Startups (with many of them turning Unicorns regularly), entrepreneurship and Innovation has taken roots in India, in the last few years.

On an average, a new IIT has been opened up every year since 2014. After the introduction of National Education Policy 2020, and its thrust on learning and education in mother tongue, and the move to introduce technical education in regional languages, and the move to hold entrance examinations in multiple regional languages, it’s expected that India’s talent pool will grow enormously, and the system will further get democratized.

However, as United Colours of India bind Brand IIT, even the ones opting for regional languages as medium of instruction would do well to learn English, even if as an acquired language, for it has its own relevance and value on the global stage.

In New India, when there is a welcome conversation on making Caste irrelevant, there is a need to tap the IIT Alumni Networks, and IIM Alumni Networks further, to encourage them further in nation-building. These associations wield enormous clout and power. These associations show India’s enviable soft power.

So, even if, for argument’s sake, a Sundar Pichai or a Parag Agrawal don’t exactly further India’s national interest, for they are governed and remain answerable to their respective global corporations and the countries they adopt, they remain, in a way, India’s Brand Ambassadors – championing values which are quintessentially Indian, like a “vasudhaiv kutumbkam” philosophy, or a thrust on family values.

As India works on a long-term vision for India@20147, there is a need to further involve these powerful IIT / IIM Alumni associations and groups in New India’s journey. Addressing a pan-IIT global summit on December 4, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said something that needs to be debated in these Alumni networks and associations.

PM Modi had said: “In 2022, India marks 75 years since Independence. I urge PanIIT movement to set an even higher benchmark on ‘Giving back to India’. Your efforts for your alma mater are well known and inspiring. I know that many of you mentor your juniors in choosing the right career paths – whether in academia or industry. Today, many of them want to start up their own ventures. They are bright and confident youngsters trying to make a mark through their hard work and innovation. Now, I invite you to mentor them in these efforts too. I urge you to share more of your ideas and inputs on how we can mark 75 years of our freedom”.

Indeed, “Giving back” must become part of our national culture. Whether one is a worker or a teacher or a soldier or an executive, or a CEO, giving back to the alma mater – be it a village school or a university or an IIT, can start a revolution. Expecting the government alone to contribute, all the time, is an outdated idea. When citizens are conscious of their duties and responsibilities, India’s empowerment and forward march get a massive boost.

There is another reason why powerful groups like IITians and IIM alumni will find New India a land of opportunities. Consider for instance the Startup revolution in the past few years. Forty-one Startups have already turned Unicorns in 11 months of this year.

We need more Sundar Pichais, Satya Nadellas and Parag Agrawals, yes. But, more importantly, we need a thousand Parag Agrawals in India, for India.

(The author, a JNU alumnus, is a political analyst. Views are personal)

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