Sunday, January 31, 2010

Observations on Globalization in India: 2010

On a recent flight from Delhi to New York, I was reading up on the World 2010 supplement in Financial Times, highlighting some areas of focus from the Davos World Economic Forum. The article ‘Consumer Spending starts slow shift East’ caught my attention for a couple of reasons:
• It had a picture of a typical new Mall in Anytown India
• Highlighted the gradual move of consumerism to Asia, specifically highlighting China

Reading the article, I began reflecting on the few weeks I spent in Delhi and Bangalore during this trip that included a bit of travel around Tamil Nadu. My two cents on Globalization in India, from the ground up:
• Youth, especially non-tech graduates are torn between opportunities in globalization (read jobs in BPOs and Call Centers) vs. steady 9-to-5 jobs with regular paychecks. A nephew of mine, a recent graduate in mass communications was sitting on the fence when it came to tech-writing and opportunities at call centers. His reason for rejecting offers from call-centers? He would have to work irregular hours, impacting his social life and work-life-balance. Talk of assertive youth!
• Domestic IT opportunities are burgeoning. Many of the large software service players including TCS, Infosys (my employer), Wipro, IBM, Accenture and others are bidding for large computerization, digitization and automation projects in India, especially eying the large government bids that are in the pipeline. Bottomline for IT professionals: reverse-brain-drain of right talent from the west. The ‘Return to India’ move is no longer just a fad. Many friends and colleagues who have put in time in the west and have got US, British or other western Naturalization/Citizenship along with some $$ savings are moving ‘back home.’ They are doing this without much hoopla. Many are able to effortlessly blend into the local workforce and take the ‘traffic, pollution, overpopulation’ cribs with a smile.
• Globalization has not really hit the ‘Aam Admi’ (common man) in any significant way. Small towns in India still depend on the traditional brick-and-mortar economy with a sprinkling of cyber-cafes
• Retail chains are may be the ‘face’ of emerging Indian consumerism, but they haven’t pushed the small retailers out by any measure (at least not yet in 2010). The Big Bazaars, Spencer's, Reliance Fresh et al have built outlets all over metros. Some of the middle-class/tech-class folks do prefer shopping there for convenience. However, here is the reality: if Reliance Fresh sells apples at Rupees 90/kilo, right outside the retail outlet, one can probably find vendors in pushcarts selling apples at Rs 40-50/kilo. One can argue that the ‘grade’ of apple sold at Reliance or Spencer's is probably higher than that of the thelawala, but my mother and cousin care more about the 40-50 rupees saved!
• Malls and multiplexes are mushrooming in metros. Ture. A visit to any large mall in any metro in India will evoke the same experience as a mall in London, New Jersey or Ohio. And yes, the global chains - Nike, Rebok, Samsonite etc – jostle for eyeballs and foot-traffic with a few local retailers who have a presence in the malls. Now, about making money? Well, the average mall-consumer in the US or UK is probably the Gen-X or Gen-Y twenty-something who goes to the malls to spend money, if not doing so online. The average Desi consumer, on the other hand goes to malls with his girlfriend or her fiancĂ©e to window-shop, experience a ‘western’ atmosphere in the mall. S/he ends up spending a few rupees at the food-court and after a busy weekend window-shopping, watches 3 Idiots at the mall multiplex. As far as the 1-lakh-rupee Mont Blanc at the mall goes: the window-shoppers gawk and use cellphone cameras to take snaps as a keepsake.

All brings to mind a few questions:
• What does globalization mean to the Aam Admi in India? Is the digital-divide creating a wider gap between have’s and have-not’s?
• What does the media mean by Indian Consumerism coming of age?
• Are Malls, Multiplexes and Indian retail chains making big bucks, just on eyeballs, window shoppers and foot traffic . . . or is it a replay of the dot-com-burst?
• Closer to my area of expertise: is the brain-drain of tech workers going to get arrested thanks to domestic demand in India?

Links of interest:
Review of Malls in Bangalore
Dear Mumbai Malls
The Fall of the Indian Retail Mall
Powercut in Chennai Malls
Expensive malls, cheap products?