When PM Modi visits Silicon Valley, he will meet an expatriate community different from anywhere else in the world. He will meet many Indians who have left their regional, religious, and socio-economic differences behind, and who work together to achieve success and uplift their communities. Most Indians in Silicon Valley consider themselves to be loyal American citizens, yet they take extraordinary pride in their heritage. They are a model for what Indian professionals in India should be.
America may seem to be, but is not, a social utopia where meritocracy rules and everyone is welcomed with open arms. It has many problems. If Modi has the misfortune of meeting Donald Trump, he will be reminded of the politicians back home who gain popularity by fomenting racism and religious intolerance, for example. There is ignorance, discrimination and bias in America. Yet it has a redeeming ideal called the American Dream . an ethos of freedom that provides anyone who achieves success through hard work with the opportunity for prosperity and equality. Everyone here has the opportunity to achieve success. This is why you find people such as Sundar Pichai leading Google and Satya Nadella leading Microsoft.
Here are the lessons that I hope Modi takes away from his visit. These are reasons why Silicon Valley is the most innovative place on this planet.
- Innovation thrives in diversity and citizens and immigrants have equal opportunity. Nearly half of Silicon Valleys technology companies are founded by immigrants and Indians dominate this group, starting 16% of its companies.
- Networking and mentoring are the keys to building successful entrepreneurial communities. Indians formed networking groups such as TiE and social facilities such as the India Community Center.
- Silicon Valley has no quotas or affirmative action programmes. Competition and competence are everything.
- Risk-taking and failure are encouraged and entrepreneurs are the heroes. It is not that failure is good, but it a necessary stepping stone to success. So there is no social stigma with failure. On the contrary it is considered a badge of honour because it shows that you have learned important lessons.
- Governments cant make innovation happen, but they can facilitate it by removing unnecessary regulations and barriers. The US government plays practically no role in the functioning of Silicon Valley. It funds basic research and provides education and infrastructure. And it works hard to stay out of the way of entrepreneurs.
The most important thing I hope Modi learns is that the Silicon Valley believes that technology can solve grand problems. Entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk are reinventing entire industries. Yes, the technology industry sometimes goes too far in its blind optimism about what it can do and it ignores the problems that it is creating.
But this can-do attitude is what India needs more of. If the entrepreneurial talent of Indians in India can be unleashed the same way, India will lead the world in innovation, solving not only its own problems, but those of the world. That is what Modi needs to facilitate.
Vivek Wadhwa is Vice President of Innovation and Research at Singularity University; Fellow, Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, Stanford University; Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University; and distinguished visiting scholar, Halle Institute of Global Learning, Emory University. He is author of ”The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent”–which was named by The Economist as a Book of the Year of 2012.
Wadhwa oversees the academic programs at Singularity University, which educates a select group of leaders about the exponentially growing technologies that are soon going to change our world. These advances—in fields such as robotics, A.I., computing, synthetic biology, 3D printing, medicine, and nanomaterials—are making it possible for small teams to do what was once possible only for governments and large corporations to do: solve the grand challenges in education, water, food, shelter, health, and security.
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