An Independence Day Post - Soul Searching for MSMEs
Happy Independence Day, everyone in India. Without a doubt today is the most important day in our history. Yes, I know it’s thousands of years of history, but even then I believe 15th August 1947 marked an epochal change for India. Except for short periods in history India was largely a group of princely states with very different rulers and laws. We spoke different languages, and despite significant cultural similarities moving to another state was considered a move abroad. I think this is one reason why Indians are so comfortable with the idea of immigrating :) A hundreds years back I would have been considered a foreigner where I live (since I do not live in Bengal any more). 1947 changed that. Or more accurately, should have changed that. Because even now when I see or hear about narrow regionalism in so many places in this country, I feel like telling these folks that hey, for the first time in thousands of years we are really united…please don’t screw this up. I am all for free speech but maybe we should call for a ban on the whole ‘Bengal for Bengalis’, ‘Mumbai for Marathis’ etc. spiel. We have been divided and ruled for a very very long time. Let us smarten up, please.
What does this history lesson have to do with small businesses? Why is it so important for me, a small business owner, that we unite, smarten up, etc? Simple. Businesses (except if you are an arms dealer) like peace, free movement of labor and capital, good infrastructure and a generally accepting environment. When a dear friend wanted to move to India for a job (from the US) I could not wholeheartedly encourage him, because he was African-American and I have seen unbelievable instances of racism against Black people in India. Don’t please say that oh there is a lot of racism in the US too…sure there is, and while that is upsetting, I am sure the Americans will figure out their problems. I want to talk about out ours. Similarly the regional divisions in India becomes blatant when we see people from a particular region primarily hiring people from that region - it is often a matter of great pride too! “He/she only hires Bengalis/Tamils/Malayalis etc…see he/she cares about the community”. This is simply bad for business. We want the best people to work in a firm not the best Kannada/Assamese/Gujarati people. I couldn’t care less, as a business owner, what language you speak at home or if you prefer to eat beef biryani or khakra and thhepla.
Someone I know runs a recruitment firm. She was talking to a client at a very large Indian conglomerate. After a long discussion the client said, but please do not send us people from the X community- we do not hire them!!! Yes, happened. My friend nearly choked on her coffee but I do not think she protested. Is this how we intend to run our businesses?
India has among the lowest women’s workforce participation rates in the world. 76 years of Independence and we have done little all to increase that rate. Other than outright sexism (“I don’t think a woman can take such tough decisions “), we don’t hire women of a certain age because they might get married and move with their husband or stop working, they might decide to have kids, they might have to look after their -fill in the blank- etc. I mean, not only are we accepting traditional gender roles, we are supporting that by making sure we do not hire women of certain age groups. And of course, once they leave the workforce and have a gap in their resume - a hundred dips in the Ganges or a trip to Mecca/Vatican wherever cannot absolve them from that sin.
Micro, Medium and Small Enterprises provide more than 30% of Indian GDP and employ 110 million plus people. Given that nearly 50% of the Indian workforce is involved in the agrarian economy, the 110 million number would be close to 50% of the non-farm workforce. If MSMEs do not look beyond narrow casteism, sexism, regionalism and communalism how will the economy grow at the rates we are hoping for? How will we involve more and more people in the formal economy? How will we move from a developing to a developed economy?
For our demographic dividend to pay off (and not turn into a demographic disaster) our local governments and businesses need to integrate the idea of ‘India’ in their DNA. Business first, sure, but not just for the next decade. I think of dōnō consulting’s future for the next hundred years…I think about it after I am dead and gone. We have colleagues working from many different states, with complete flexibility of time and location, as much support as possible especially for our women colleagues who are often taking the lead at the home front, our gender, regional, communal, etc diversity metrics are better than nearly any firm that I know off…simply because we do not discriminate, we will never be biased and we will support our team members when they need it. I am not sure if our model is the right model - but at dōnō consulting we feel strongly about it and we believe this is the way to go for MSMEs in their support for our amazing and enormous but quirky country! It is quite quirky, if you think about it :)
Happy Independence Day and I hope we try to keep making this land better everyday.