Sunday, June 22, 2008

Asian Imagination

A few days ago, I was listening to an NPR story on recent books on India and China including Tarun Khanna's Billions of Entrepreneurs. Vishakha Desai talked about how it is important to take the cultural, political and economic in concert to be able to appreciate the challenges and opportunities India and China present to themselves and to the world. Desai lays particular emphasis on culture because both countries have cultures many thousands of years old even if they may be in their political and economic adolescence (perhaps youth).

The roots of big tent entrepreneurship that one finds in Asian countries may be cultural too. We as a people have learned to seek and find opportunity in the most unpromising even hopeless places. To that end, we make a bunch of illiterate village women solar power engineers, and lure birds to nest in cities to harvest them for birds nest soup by playing the sound of chirping females on hi-fidelity music systems. Elsewhere we make a hole in the wall and set up a computer behind it so poor kids can become computer literate on their own.

In his book Entrepreneurship in China, Keming Yang writes :

In the context of China, a popular but transient behavior of entrepreneurship is the practice of taking advantage of gaps in both markets and institutional structures. Seen in this light, entrepreneurship is everywhere in China's economic life.

..entrepreneurship in China come from all walks of life; he or she could be a powerful politician, a garbage collector, an individual household business starter, a village party secretary or even a military officer.To many people in China, being entrepreneurial is a way of life.

While there is a lot of buzz around start up and venture capital activity in India, yet another Facebook or Skype or Hulu clone that a lot of these tend to be, are not a true reflection of India's entrepreneurial capacity. They would most likely go through the boom and bust cycle of Silicon Valley with only the most differentiated and compelling ideas managing to survive. However, innovations like the e-Choupal where web technologies are brought to bear upon ancient traditions, would be far more organic and transformative - form the backbone of the so-called Asian Hemisphere.

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