No country for old ideas, this
So, I've been in New Delhi this week as a keynote speaker at the EdgeX conference. It was great to catch up with George, Dave, Stephen and Grainne, and to meet Jay Cross, Clark Quinn and LesFoltos. Viplav Baxi and the team were the most amazing, hospitable hosts, and it's been a real pleasure to be here. I thought I'd share a few of my own perceptions from the visit, although one has to accept they are based on a very limited scope of India, but for what it's worth.
Start-up fever – It feels like a very exciting place to be at the moment. The opening speaker said he felt blessed to be living here to witness change and a form of social democratisation experiment in such a vast scale. And the oft-repeated mantra was that education was key to this. Social entrepreneurship is seen as the means to achieve this. Just about everyone I spoke to had a start-up company. If you hadn't initiated one start-up before breakfast it was a slow day. And while this is undoubtedly driven by the desire to make money, it was also seen as the way to get things done, and the social good element seemed to be a strong driver also.
Scale, scale, scale – It is the numbers in India that make drive a lot of this. We were variously given figures of 150 million to 500 million people who needed to be educated over the next couple of decades. Those kinds of numbers are probably not going to be satisfied by a single solution. And so all manner of educational businesses and inititiatives become viable, because a small slice of that is still a big number.
Beware the undead – there are a lot of US and UK universities hovering around India, trying to sell their model as a solution. With higher education on its knees in the west, this big market attracts the half-dead universities to suck on its new blood. Ok, I'm overplaying it. I think there are undoubtedly mutually beneficial collaborations that are being established, but as George exhorted, "stay Indian". There are aspects of the Indian context that are unique and simply importing a model wholesale won't work.
Beware the bubble – while it did feel like a very exciting time, the reality of India is never far away and it may be that the task is just too great to be sustained. The last time I felt in the midst of such collective fervour was when I was at a tech conference in the US at the start of the web 2.0 explosion. I remember having breakfast and on a table of 8, being the only person without two start-ups on the go. This kind of enthusiasm is liberating, and can produce great things, but it tends to run out of steam, so I would just caution against a potential bubble here. Having said that, if I was a) younger and b) more business minded, I'd be in India now.
I met some great people, and learnt a lot, so I'll be fascinated to see how it develops. At the moment, I'd sum it up by saying it's a place where a youngish man can tell you he has 800 acres of a new city to develop a university of his own design and you don't dismiss him as delusional.