Returning to the Roots-Indian Way

Returning to the Roots-Indian Way

Reading Time: 7 minutes

 My first assignment as oven-fresh engineer straight out of IIT convocation hall was in place almost like a coastal desert normally seen in the Middle East. It is known for water famine, scanty rains, and salty infertile soil.

The raw material for electricity and heat needed for the manufacture of chemicals where I worked came across the Indian continent from the mines 2500 kms away. For me, the desolate place was however inspiring with all its odds looming large because the creator and the man behind the manufacturing facility there was iconic trailblazer and determined technocrat from University of Cincinnati who had returned to India leaving a cozy job in USA. He was charged with ‘Swadeshi’ sparks, and was committed to ‘Make In India’ thoughts. That was the time when India had just begun its own journey towards ‘tryst with destiny’. Fresh from IIT, I was pulled towards his magnetic story and catching personality.

That young engineer, very early member of independent Indian diaspora, encouraged by full support from JRD Tata, went on to implement the chemical project with world-class technology to produce soda ash from seawater. The schemes of water conservation, resource efficiencies schemes that he followed made he limping chemical factory into world-class entity. The name of that brave engineer who fought all the odds at that harsh place was Darbari Seth, a chemistry graduate from Punjab and later a Chemical Engineer from USA who later went on to become a business leader mentored by Tata culture, which I found later, is nothing but a ethical grammar of Business Management. And the name of the place was Mithapur on the Western coast of Gujarat.

Today, Tata Chemicals is world’s largest manufacture of soda ash from its multiple manufacturing sites. The sheer rocky determination of Darbari Seth driven by the spirit that we now call ‘Make In India’-with world class quality product and viable capacity of production. He is resounding example for Indian diaspora. Later in 1974, recognizing the extreme difficulty of energy source i.e. coal that need to be hauled over thousands of kms and need for desalinated fresh water, and energy conservation, he conceptualized and established TERI (Tata Energy Research Institute that later became The Energy and Resource Institute) to nurture the renewable and clean energy and created it by assigning corpus funds. No story can be more vibrant than the story of Tata Chemicals at Mithapur, transpired on the very ground of vibrant Gujarat and no paradigm can be more motivating to the Indian diaspora than this tale of TERI- a symbol of pursuit of sustainable development.

In my missions to more than 60 countries across the world over last three decades I have come across number of other inspiring and mind-boggling real stories that demonstrates the potential of ‘ Making in India’ with environment friendly technologies and with renewed spirit of respecting ecosystems.

Making in India by planting students.

Mohnish Pabrai, California based Indian American investor, IT expert and managing partner of Pabrai Investment Funds, along with his wife Harina Kapoor, has set up a Dakshina Foundation that focuses on providing resources and support for poor students in rural and semi-urban government school to help them crack the IIT Joint Entrance Examination. While he is engaged in business abroad, he is making the future businessmen in India. He is doing it through the special coaching set up by piggy backing on the Government’s own schemes of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (JNV) system. Dakshana has helped over 630 students get into IITs since 2007 with 60% success rate, when the overall entrance rate in IITs is just under 2 %. Talapatra Ashok, who got an All India Rank (AIR) of 33 among 800,000 students in 2010 and benefitted from Dakshina , is a son of poor tailor in a village. He went on to study B.Tech in Computer Science and Technology in IIT Bombay and got placed in Google, Mountain View, California in 2014.

I always had this feeling that IIT graduates from villages are more liked to the nature, than there urban counterpart. They are more likely to be using their expertise to move towards the sustainable practices that respect the ecosystems. The objective of Monish Pabrai was to assist poor students from villages to crack the IIT entrance exam, but indirectly he is succeeding to crack the issue of sustainability of ecosystem.

Making in India without risking of natural resources

Upendra Bhatt is originally from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir that was devastated by unprecedented floods few months back, mainly due to degraded ecosystems and unchecked urbanization. He has worked across various regions in India as also Europe and Japan prior to relocating to the US in 2000, where he set up a venture i.e. cKinetics, specialized Sustainability Advisory firm that provides end-to-end solutions for investors and businesses, with Headquarters located in Palo Alto, California and New Delhi.

In 2008, he and his partner, Pawan Mehra, were contemplating on essence of ‘impact’, particularly in context of environment in which business operates. It dawned on them that:  Since our planet is the environment we all operate in, to bring out one’s best, preservation of the operating environment is a pre-requisite. This is particularly true for emerging economies like India which are now seeking to grow and expand to help their citizens emerge out of poverty.


His DNA being closely linked to the rich ecosystems of Kashmir valley and snow cladded Himalaya, the concepts of Green Economy got firmly rooted in his mind. Sustainability of the ecosystem can only be achieved when we shape and leverage a new business system approach that transforms ‘notional pricing’ currently associated with natural resource access into real value of the ecosystems.


Upendra and Pawan were quick to promote Sustainability Outlook as a market development forum to catalyze collaborative action on sustainable growth strategies. It propagates and develops market driven solutions for rapid adoption of sustainable growth strategies in industries and communities within emerging economies. Over the course of last 5 years, they have engaged over 600 organizations on their resource sustainability concerns and helped identify and/or facilitate pathways to address many of the concerns related to water-energy –chemical –waste value chains.


Making in India through collaborative approaches


Rabiz Foda, Indian-Canadian is a consultant for energy infrastructure development programs that include generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. He is a IIT Alumnus and pioneering member of the PAN IIT community for more than 25 years. Rabiz believes that harnessing the power of technology needs institutional collaboration. He is closely engaged in the forging the collaborations between Indian and Canadian as welll as American academic, industry and R&D institutions . Sseveral universities in Canada, USA and several Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) are actively pursuing the collaborative research in India as a result of Rabiz’s efforts.


Most recently, in 2013, Rabiz as the Strategy Advisor to the City of Markham in Canada for India Initiatives, visited several cities in India and IITs to enhance science and technology education and enterprise between Canada and India and was part of Vibrant Gujarat.


The initiatives like “Building Bridges: The Role of Indian Diaspora in Canada” of Queens University, Kingston, Canada are actively supported by Rabiz. Now He wants to step up the institutional collaboration in the area of renewable energy, micro-hydro and micro girds. He is in fact bringing Canada to ‘ Make in India’.


Making in India by risking and venturing


One of the pioneers in Financial Engineering for the sustainable development is Vinod Khosla an Indian-American businessman listed by Forbes magazine as a billionaire.

Mr. Khosla, an IIT and Stanford University graduate is in the business of promoting business for sustainable energy. He is a venture capitalist and micro-financing wizard. He is actively sponsoring environment-friendly technologies by making high-risk investments, for example in ethanol as a substitute for gasoline in vehicles. If India adopts the use of ethanol to about 30 % in the gasoline in car, partnering with diaspora experts from USA, Japan and Europe it is evident that India’s dependence on the fossil fuel, current account deficit, air pollution, Green House Gas emissions, impacts due to climate change will all be reduced to significant percent.

Making in Digital India

Indian diaspora has distinct mix of expertise-from hard working labor doing traditional and physically challenging jobs to highly educated CEO’s of the cutting edge technology firms. Many of the 25 million-diaspora spread in 180 countries have potential to contribute to the sustainable development of India and participate directly or indirectly in ‘ make in India’ campaign.

According to several Stanford University studies, Indians have been founders of 13.4% of Silicon Valley start-ups and 6.5% of technology start-ups in the USA in the last ten years. Although they represent only 1% of the USA’s population, they have founded one in three of the technology start-ups created by immigrants. Now is the need for start-ups in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and waste-management and organic agriculture.


In wake of the environmental challenges like climate change, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, Vinod Dham, father of the Pentium chip; Kanwal Rekhi and Vinod Khosla, founders of several; Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of Hotmail and Vikram Pandit, former CEO of Citigroup will have to now think how their start-up potential, cloud computing expertise and data centers .


Making in India with endless potential


Related entrepreneurship can be leveraged for India’s ambitious youth and aspiring middle class. Environmental degradation is threatening the very existence of the humanity. Climate Change-the defining challenge of this century -needs venture-capitalist spirit to face it. They have to venture into start-up for the sustainable development and well being of the people.

The greatest Pravasi of diaspora, who ventured into the sustained struggle and returned to India from South Africa, was Mahatma Gandhi. He led India’s freedom struggle and changed the lives of Indians forever. In today’s modern world, diaspora can change the life of Indians without physically returning to India but by repaying their alma mater by way of facilitating and catalyzing the actions to restore and reverse the environmental degradation.

India is embarking on unbeaten path with new Government. This is the time to give new turn to diaspora movement. The last great diaspora revolution was seen when European diaspora in America helped Europe to rise from ashes after World War II. India has chance to be the first in using diaspora’s potential to fight global war against ecosystem degradation and climate change in Indian sub-continent. END

Rajendra Shende

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