The Cinderella hour in Kolkata

Hi everyone

Today I came across an article about what was named as “the Cinderella hour” in Kolkata in Aftenposten, the leading Norwegian newspaper.

The article is written by the journalist @Helene Skjeggestad so all credit goes to her. Translation is done by me, so all translation mistakes is mine. Here it goes:

India with is growing middle class is described as the country of the future. With more than 700 million people below the age of 30 this is where we will find the consumers of the future. The economy indicators are still pointing upwards (even if the rupee is currently in recession, my comment). Foreign companies, including Norwegians are still rushing to the country.

It is the strong contrast between this glamorous picture of India that makes the gang rape from December last year so difficult to understand. A 23 year old student went into a bus with her boyfriend. Here they got attacked by six people. He got tortured. She got tortured and raped. Then they get thrown of the bus and she later dies because of her injuries. Last week four of the culprits was sentenced to death last week (one of them have already committed suicide and one of them is a juvenile, my comment). Is this possible to understand?

India is a vast country with a huge population and has always been a society with a lot of differences. The country has always been divided in many ways, like caste, religion and not least gender. While the government and rest of society have done a lot to eliminate the differences between the different castes and religions over the last 20 years or so, little have been done to eliminate the differences between genders. But after the rape in December and its fatal consequences there have been a lot of protests both in Delhi and in other cities in India. Official statistics that has previously hidden are now available. This shows that the number of rape cases has doubled from 1990 to 2008. The next question is then; what can be done with this?

The discussion has many similarities with comparative discussions in Norway. Do women have a responsibility in order to not put them self into dangerous situations? A new report from the organization Invisible Women mentioned in

The Guardian
this week says that the responsibility is at the government. The infrastructure in the cities must be improved with safer public transportation and street lights. Others have pointed to the dangers that the many public toilets represents. In the report it is stated that “public toilets for women are dark and unfriendly”. This is applicable to both the cities and the countryside. In May most of the rapes that was reported in the state of Bihar happened in public female toilets. In Mumbai they have trains that are only for women (I think this is a slight mistake in the article. There are separate compartments for women, not separate trains. My comment). In Kolkata they issued a curfew after a rape case last year and recommended women not to walk alone late in the evenings. The curfew, which has got the nickname “the Cinderella hour” by the locals, is still being debated.

Neither separate trains nor self-imposed curfews solve the real problem between genders in India. It can also be argued that these precautions increase the differences and increase the problem. We can hope that one of the authors of the report from Invisible Women, @Nilanjana Roy is right when she says: “The rapes might not stop, but this conversation isn’t stopping either”.

Talk to you soon

Karsten

My learnings from seminar about opportunities in India for Norwegian companies

Hi everyone

It has been a while since I wrote about the seminar regarding opportunities in India for Norwegian companies. You will find my report here and a summary of the panel discussion here.

After the seminar I have spent quite some time reflecting about it. What did I actually learn there? Is India a success story for Norwegian companies? If not, what can be done different?

Like most other things in India, I don’t think it is any very simple conclusion to any of those questions. If we ask whether or not Norwegian companies presence in India is a failure or not, I’m quite sure that the answer will be fixed. It is no doubt that some Norwegian companies, like the Kongsberg Group, who spoke at the event, have been in the country for quite some time and also do quite well there now. Telenor is about to do well there now. They recently won a license in Myanmar. I can only guess, but it is probably not a wrong guess that their experience from India have helped them in getting this license and that it will also help them to operate well in that country. But I still feel that the presence of Norwegian companies in India in not at all that huge. If I remember, right, I was told that in Mumbai only, there are about 5000 French people! Haven’t counted the number of Norwegians, but I would guess hardly more than 20-30. And when I read Norwegian newspapers and listen to Norwegian business people, India is not really the country I notice the most.

Why is it like that? One reason I think, is that India has been named as a “difficult” country to do business in. It feels much easier for Norwegians to do business in markets that are closer to our home soil. The difficulties in India are probably, at least to some extent, true. But instead of saying it is difficult I would maybe say that it is different. Most of the speakers at the seminar mentioned the diversity of India, and that companies have to plan for long term in order to have success in India. This is something I really have to agree to. But I think it is more to it than that; in order to succeed in India you have really be prepared for the unexpected and to be able to take quick decisions. And I really wonder if that fits with the usual Norwegian model of management. If you look at the most successful Indian companies, or rather corporations, most of them are family owned.  The patriarch of the family is also the CEO of the company. And he (mostly a he) is the one who will make the final decision. I’m just not sure if Norwegian companies, where consensus management is quite important, manage to make decisions quick enough when some big shifts happen.

For many years I have been very interested in sailing and have followed a number of the around the world races. I read a book about the Norwegian challenge “Innovation Kværner”. The title of the book, written by the captain of the boat, was “Responsible for the irresponsible”. He wrote that when you sail a race around the world you just can’t prepare for everything that can happen. But what you can do is to prepare for how to handle unexpected situations. This is exactly the same as what I think is important if you want to do business in India.

Two other things I took back from the seminar is the Norwegian naivety and the importance of understanding the market or rather the culture you will be working in.

If we take the naivety first, I absolutely agree with those that say that Norwegians are naïve. We like to think that things are exactly the way they look. But this is very rarely the case. And maybe even more so in India than in many other places. It is absolutely possible to live in India and think that it is a heaven, with a driver, a maid, a couple of people cleaning your home, air-conditioned car and office and so on. But that is just the surface. As Dr. Amit Kapoor so brilliantly said it, India is much more than that.  And in order to succeed in India you really have to dive below that surface and to understand the country and the people there!

Any thought or suggestions?

Talk to you soon

Corporate Responsibility in India

Hi everyone

Last week I wrote about a seminar regarding opportunities in India for Norwegian companies. This week it was another seminar… This time the host was NICCI and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO). The agenda for this seminar was corporate responsibility and how to work in a responsible way in a country like India.

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The tone was set by Mr. Erik Lundeby from NHO. He looked back in history and talked about how corporate responsibility has evolved in Norway. Some 150 years ago companies were very much involved in building societies in Norway. As Norway today is very much a developed country this is not that important anymore. But one important question for Norwegian companies is what to do when they want to establish themselves in countries where the society is not that well established? In some countries corruption is a big issue. And in some countries it is expected that companies take a huge responsibility in helping the society. If you look at a company like Tata, they have for a long time been famous not just for their earning but also from what they give back to the society. Check out the book Tata – The evolution of a Corporate Brand to read more about this. NHO have made a guideline that can be used for Norwegian companies. I would highly recommend that everyone read this guideline before entering a foreign market.

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After Mr. Lundeby Ms. Gunelie Winum from Ethical trading initiative Norway spoke. She has firsthand experience in working with Norwegian companies that are cooperating with countries like India and showed a very interesting case study from India. The actual company, Beer Sten, traded with stone from India and was accused for using a subcontractor that were using child labor, didn’t have the right security and infrastructure for their employers and so on. By help of IEH the Norwegian company turned this situation around completely! It was very interesting to hear about the learning from that case. She stressed that long term partnership is important if you want to improve working conditions for your sub-contractors. This echoes much of what was said in the panel debate last week. A social audit is not really what you’re looking for. What you really need doing she said is to integrate this into the corporate culture for both the companies. She also suggested calling it ethical assessment not an ethical audit.

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The last speaker was Dr. Bimal Arora, Chief Executive Officer in Center for Responsible Business (CBR). Being and Indian and working from India, he has some extremely good insight into the diversity of the Indian business. There were a number of really good points to take from his lecture. One of them is that India is one of the countries in the world with the maximum number of laws. This makes it difficult to set up a business there. This applies both to multinational companies and to small Indian companies. If you plan to ever set up a business in India you have to be aware of this fact. Representing an international company you of course have to work according to all the laws in the country. But you also have to be aware that if your partner in India is a very small company you can’t really expect them to know all the different details about every single law. And this applies even more for subcontractors to your Indian partner. These small companies will not have any CSR strategy or anything like that. It will be your responsibility to implement this in a proper way.

After having been involved with the a number of NGO’s in India and different CSR initiatives in Capgemini it was very interesting to hear how these experts talked about the topic. My support for the Nani Kalis will surely continue, but I will also continue to ask myself if there is something more I as an individual can do…

Talk to you soon

Karsten

 

 

 

Panel discussion at Indian Seminar

Hi everyone

Yesterday I wrote about the first part of a seminar regarding opportunities in India for Norwegian companies. That blog post triggered a number of comments, which I’m surely very happy about. Part of the fun in writing a blog is to get people to comment on what you write and to be part of a good discussion. Hopefully there will be even more comments on this post.

The panel discussion started off with an introduction to the business that Telenor and Kongsberg Group do in India. Both of these companies are quite large companies (at least large in a Norwegain scale) and they have both been in India for some time.

Hilde M. Tønne, EVP in Telenor Group gave us some very interesting insight into their operation in India. Even after having been there for a number of years she said that they are still in the middle of building up their business there. Right now Telenor are doing very good in India. They are in six telecom circles, which she described as being in the “growth region of the growth region”. However, Telenor had to learn about India the hard way. They anticipated that India would be very much like the rest of Asia, which was totally wrong! In order to get success in India they had to have a very clear message, which in case of Uninor, Telenors brand in India, is to be there for the masses. Telenor had to work extremely innovative to balance their cost structure with the aim to deliver to Indian working classes. When they started up in India, they considered India as one country and didn’t realize how diverse it actually is.

Pål Helsing from Kongsberg Group said that they had a quite different approach when they entered India. But they have been there for a much longer period than Telenor (more than 30 years). Kongsberg Group already had their IT-infrastructure in place when they entered India, so they didn’t had to do the same investments as Telenor had to do. The biggest challenge for them initially was communication he said. In order to cope with that they had Indian colleagues working in Norway for quite some time. This helped very much in filling the communication gap. One challenge in doing this is that these people became very attractive when they went back to India and that a high degree of turnover had to be expected. This fits very well with my experience from the IT-business. You have to have a plan to overcome the communication challenge and you also have to have a plan for how to cope with retention.

Both the companies stressed the importance of having local management in India. Being global, acting local is a statement that Kongsberg Group uses. They also both said that their companies are so large that they can cope with the situation of high turnover. This will not be the case for smaller Norwegian companies. Here it would have been very interesting to hear what smaller companies like Devant have done to succeed in India. These companies will probably have to have a quite different strategy than the large companies have.

The panel discussion was rounded off by Torgeir Reve asking all the participants about what are the biggest pitfalls for Norwegian companies in India. Harald Nævdal was quick to state that the Norwegian culture is naïve and that this will easily be a huge threat. It is important to have some basic understanding of the culture you are working in. The representatives from both Telenor and Kongsberg Group stressed that it is important to be patient and professional when you work in a company like India. Anthony D’Costa mentioned the fact that Norway is not part of EU as an issue. Norway is being considered as a small country and will not be the one that is most interesting for India to deal with. Amit Kapoor also mentioned that companies have to be there for a long term and also to understand the diversity of the country. Where in India you decide to establish actually depends on what kind of business you are in and your strategy for the country.

I had planned to finish this blog post with some concluding words. But it has already been quite long, so I will create a different post with my reactions from this seminar.

Talk to you soon

Karsten

Innovation Norway India event

Hi everyone

Just a very quick one today.

event hosts

This Thursday Innovation Norway will host an event about opportunities for Norwegian companies in India. The event is hosted by Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry, Innovation Norway and the Norwegian Business School.

Speakers at the event will be a mix of people from the academia, the event organizers and also from executives from Norwegian companies operating in India. After having worked for more than two years in India myself I do think that events like this is extremely important. India is still a quite unknown country for many Norwegian companies and the opportunities are many. But in order to succeed here you need to know a lot about the country and the culture there. An event like this is a perfect opportunity to learn from others who are in the same situation.

You can find the full program here.

I will try to conduct some kind of a live blog from the event and hopefully also to get some good pictures.

Talk to you soon

Karsten

How to overcome communication challenges in outsourcing

Hi Everyone

In a number of previous blog posts I have written about misunderstandings and miscommunication.  Currently I’m doing some studies at the University of Oslo. As part of this study I have read a number of research articles regarding outsourcing and challenges that exists there. Quite a number of the articles points to communication as one of the main challenges.

In this blog post I will try to sum of some of my experience in the area and to give some experience on what can be done. As this is a blog post and not a research article, I have omitted quotes from articles and such. That will eventually come in some later more in-depth posts.

First of all I will point to the fact that it is important to know each other if you’re going to work together. Even more so when you work across different cultures. When you know each other quite well it is much easier to collaborate. Some cultures are much more sensitive to this than what the Norwegian culture is. When you work with people from this culture it is even more important to know each other.

Adjust the way you speak and confirm that the other person have understood you. This is probably one of the most important things I learned in India. There is no doubt that the English I speak today is different than the English I spoke two years back. I do probably speak slower now than what I did before. One trick I have found quite useful is to explain my message in different ways. Instead of just repeating myself and ask if the other part have understood me (in which the answer will most probably be “yes”), I do say the same thing two times but with different words. If the other person seems to be confused I know I have to rephrase myself again. If at the other hand, this leads to a fruitful discussion, I will know that the other person most probably have understood me.

Another tip is to create a communication plan. This is something I have missed in a number of projects (maybe due to the informal way Norwegians usually like to communicate?). To me a communication plan is basic tool for the project management. In addition to decide schedule for project meetings and such it should be clearly stated in this plan at what level the different decisions should be made. This is particularly important if you work with people from cultures where there is a very steep hierarchy in the organizations. Having a communication plan in place it will make it very clear for everyone who they have to talk to in order to get decisions to happen. Too often this has been unclear and too much time has been wasted because people have communicated at the wrong level. In Norway where we don’t care too much about hierarchies it is absolutely that a consultant speaks to, and even corrects a vice president. The same would not be accepted in a country like India. Here the communication has to follow the hierarchy and this must be precisely defined in the communication plan!

Do you have any other hints or suggestions? I would very much like to hear from you!

Talk to you soon

Karsten

Casa Devant – a Norwegian paradise in Goa

Hi Everyone

Last week (or was it the week before?) I wrote about my latest visit to Goa, including an “encounter” with the drug mafia there.

But Goa is so extremely much than just beaches and drug. On our way to Mysore (another pending story) we visited Casa Devant in Panjim. Casa Devant is basically the Goan headquarter of the successful Norwegian IT-company Devant. For more than a decade they have successfully combined Scandinavian design and Indian technology.

Casa Devant is a Goan house (or should we say palace?). It is situated at a hilltop with a fantastic view of the Arabic sea. At the top floor balcony you can actually see both the sea and the fantastic swimming pool downstairs! Unfortunately we only had a few hours to spend there so there was not much time for the pool. The best thing with the place is that it has a room that they give for rent! If you don’t want to stay at some of the hotels in Goa, this is a very good option! The place has their own driver, some staff that keeps the place nice and clean and best of all, they have their own chef who make wonderful local dishes! We had our lunch there and it was absolutely fantastic. Casa Devant has a Facebook group.

It is said that pictures say more than 1000 words, so here you have some from our visit.

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Talk to you soon

Karsten