Rice Indo-American Business Club Inaugural Event

RICE 1in

Executive members of the Rice Indo-American Business Club (RIABC) with IACCGH Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia (center), keynote speakers serial entrepreneur Ashok Rao (in red jacket), Consul General P. Harish and Rice University Professor Prashant Kale.
Photo: Bijay Dixit.

By Pramod Kulkarni

HOUSTON: Business does not take in isolation. Ideally, it occurs at the intersection of educational institutions, business organizations and new-generation thinkers.

The formation of the Rice Indo-American Business Club (RIABC) is the result of one such interaction in Houston. The inaugural event of the club took place Wednesday, September 2 at Rice University’s Jones School of Business’ Shell auditorium. More than 250 guests, representing 85+ businesses and organizations, registered to attend the event.

After a networking session, the inaugural event encompassed a welcome by Club President Himanshu Upadhyaya, remarks of appreciation from Rice University President David Lebron and India’s Consul General P. Harish, and keynote speeches by serial entrepreneur Ashok Rao on “The Indian diaspora—past, present and future” and Rice Profesor Prashant Kale on “What can we learn from emerging markets like India”.

Joining Upadhyaya in the club’s executive team are Vice President Nishanth Babu, Treasurer Shashank Tomar, Student Outreach Indraneel Shikhare,  Alumni Outreach Ankit Jhamb,  and Incoming Officers Laxmi Bhamidipati and Nivitri Choudhry. The faculty adviser is Professor K. Ramesh.

“Our mission is to become a resourceful and trustworthy partner to Houston’s Indo-American business community,” explained Upadhyaya in his welcome speech. “We also intend to assist the Jones Graduate School of Business in enhancing its brand recognition among the Indo-American business community locally and globally, and to connect Rice MBA students to the entrepreneurial and leadership journeys of successful Indo-Americans.”

In addition to Rice University faculty support, RIABC receives backing from the IIT Alumni Group of Houston (IITAGH) and the Indo-American Chamber of Greater Houston (IACCGH).

Dr. Lebron congratulated the RIABC for bringing together  three elements that are important for Rice University, “Reaching out to the local community, enhancing diversity for the entire studentbody, and building international relationships.

“It is a matter of great happiness and satisfaction that the most prestigious business school has decided to engage with India and the Indian diaspora,” said CG Harish, citing the importance of Indians and NRIs in the United States. “There are 5 million Indians in the U.S., of whom 150,000 are students. These students contribute as much as $5 billion to the U.S. economy in student fees alone.”

The first keynote speaker was serial entrepreneur and angel investor Ashok Rao, who began his extemporaneous presentation on the Indian diaspora by citing how far diversity had come to Rice University.

“Fifty years ago, it was impossible for an Indian to get an admission to Rice University because it was restricted to only white students of Houston and the state of Texas,” Rao explained. “And here we are today, at the inauguration of the Rice University Indo-American business club.” Desegregation of the university took place in 1966 and now Rice has one of the most diverse student bodies in the United States. Rao traced the Greek origin of the word diaspora as “to scatter or disperse.”

According to Rao, diaspora refers to the scattering of a people in search of a better life, who bring their collective memory and culture to their new home, but hold on to the “myth of return”. This is similar to the scattering of the Jews, who lived in different parts of the world and yearned to return to their promise land, but distinct from migrations, i.e., the colonizations of North America and Australia by the English.

“The Indian diaspora began its scattering two thousand years ago with people from Rajasthan, who are now identified as gypsies in Europe,” explained Rao. “Then the migrations took place to Southeast Asia. The first relatively recent Indian diaspora occurred in the 19th century as indentured laborers were shipped to work in the plantations in countries such as Mauritius, Guyana and South Africa, after slavery was abolished.

The modern Indian diaspora developed after World War II. Britain needed laborers, so the immigration law was changed to allow the entry of people from the Commonwealth countries. This change allowed unskilled laborers from mostly Punjab to migrate. The law was tightened in 1962. There was a second wave of Indian immigrants in the mid-1960s from Uganda after being ousted by Idi Amin.

“The reason why we’re all here today is because President Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Act in 1965, abolishing the racist national origins quota and putting in place a quota based on skills and family relationships,” Rao explained. “Canada created an immigration system based on points, which also allowed Indians to enter Canada in large numbers.”

Since 1990, many professionals, particularly software engineers,  have gained entry through the H1B program.

By 2010, the Indian diaspora consisted of 3 million in the U.S., 4.5 million in UK and 1 million in Canada. Additionally there are 400,000 Indian-origin people in Australia. Finally, we have the Gulf diaspora of about 5 million, created since the 1970s for laborers to work in the oil and construction industries.

“What’s the future,” Rao asked. “The answer depends—assimilation in the host countries, political repurcussions, socio-economic conditions, discrimination, etc. This Western diaspora has helped rebrand India from what was once the land of snake charmers, elephants and poor people.”

“We can become victims of our own success,” Rao cautioned. “However, we can take pride in success of the new diaspora. We’ve succeeded through hard work, perseverance and withdrawal into our own culture.”

“I look back to our diasporas with pride and look forward to the future aspirations of our diaspora in 125 countries,” Rap said. “I am reminded of Omar Khayyam’s famous lines, ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on; nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, Nor all your tears blot out a word of it.”

The second keynote speaker was Prashant Kale, Associate Professor of Strategic Management at the Jesse H. Jones School of Business, and also the head of the school’s healthcare initiative.

Professor Kale discussed India as an emerging market and whether the developing country could be a source of innovation, reversing the current flow of innovation from the developed countries to developing countries.

“If you think of the last 200 years, innovators in the United States have contributed a lot for innovation around the world. Ancient India played a similar role in mathematics, medicine, surgery, textiles and metallurgy,” Dr. Kale explained. “India of today is poised once again as an innovator.”

Dr. Rao discussed the concept of “disruptive innovation” coined by a Harvard professor to develop products and services that are cheaper by an order of magnitude to allow nonconsumers in impoverished countries to become consumers. He gave the example of Aravind Eyecare, a network of hospitals in India, that has streamlined the process of cataract surgery. The end service is of high quality, but extremely low cost (between $50 to $200, compared to U.S. cost of more than $2,000), achieved primarily by improving surgeon productivity.

The evening’s program concluded with another networking session.

For more information on the RIABC, please visit their website: http://jones.campusgroups.com/riabc.