Tuesday, June 14, 2016

India, a country of contradictions

My former teacher, Mr. Van den Broek, requested me whether I could write an article for his website on how I ended up in India. That is a very easy and short story. Once upon a time I came across this course called Trade Management aimed at Asia, which is a BBA course combined with Asian language and culture, at the Rotterdam Business School. That really appealed to me. Part of this course is going to Asia for one year for a student exchange and internship. So the real question here is not, how did I end up in India, as all of his students at one point go to Asia. The real question is: why did I stay?

Before coming to India, the question I heard most often was: why India? You, of course,  have the Indian growing economy, the rising middle-class, the neglecting of seeing the opportunities in India as most people doing business in Asia focus on China, the highly educated youth, the technological developments etc.. My decision was not based on facts like these, but on a gut feeling that I had to opt for India. Every day I am still happy I did not listen to the people telling me to go to China and listened to my gut feeling.

Now that I have decided to stay in India, the questions I hear more often are: do you have a boyfriend in Delhi (no) and did a Dutch company send you to Delhi (no). The idea that I am in Delhi because I choose to be in Delhi is difficult to comprehend for many Dutch as well as Indian people. I have fallen in love with this crazy, beautiful, hectic city and I can’t imagine another place where I want to live, at least not for the coming few years. 

My school did its best to try to prepare us for Asia. During two days of self-reflection in the middle of nowhere they taught us all about the curve you go through when you move abroad. You start with the honeymoon phase, where everything in the new country is amazing. The creators of this theory have obviously not been to India. India is right in your face. It is impossible to have a honeymoon phase in India. The first few days you see the beggars, the poverty, the crowds and you just think by yourself: how am I ever going to feel at home here. I was lucky that I had a relatively easy start in India, as I arrived in Mumbai. Mumbai is, compared to Delhi, a less aggressive city.  Especially when you are staying with a friend, who still lives at home. Her mom was very sweet and protective, resulting in me rarely stepping outside alone. So my real introduction of having to deal with India came after two weeks, when I travelled alone through Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for three weeks. 

My first introduction to travelling alone was a mixed one. When I think back about my first solo trip, I usually at first only think about the positive things. The Dutch heritage at Kochi, boating in the backwaters of Kerala, trying to swim in the ferocious waves in Gokarna, biking around in the breathtaking landscape of Hampi, doing absolutely nothing in Bangalore, exploring the mix between India and France in Pondicherry, merging with pilgrims in Rameshwaram, enjoying the nature in Kodaikanal and seeing three oceans merge in Kanyakumari. When I dig deeper into my memory I remember the negative things. The sometimes innocent, sometimes not so innocent eve-teasing, difficulties with finding the right tickets and accommodation, vicious food poisoning while being in a sleepers bus, people trying to scam you and being an attraction for Indian tourists. While complaining about the negative sides of travelling to friends they all told me the same: wait till you get to Delhi. South India is nothing compared to Delhi.

Luckily, they were wrong. I arrived in Delhi on the 1st of July in 2014. I came to Delhi with the intention of only studying there and trying to find an internship in Mumbai. Within one month I changed my mind and decided that I wanted to do my internship in Delhi as well. Within a few months, I decided that being in India for one year was too short and I would try to write my thesis there as well. 

 After arrival in Delhi, I had a few weeks till my school started. One of my teachers in the Netherlands had put me in touch with a friend of hers in Delhi and he asked whether I could help out at his company for a few days. His company, Siddhartha Das Studio, is a design studio aimed at the cultural field. They work on projects like museums, art installations, heritage spaces. I went to helping out for a few days, to working part-time during my student exchange, to doing my internship there, to writing my thesis for his company, to working there fulltime. 

 I am balancing in between of two worlds. I will never fit in within the Indian culture, but I also don't feel comfortable with some aspects of the Dutch culture anymore. I truly understood how much India had affected me when I went back to the Netherlands for three weeks after having been away for almost a year. I felt like a stranger in my own country. The Netherlands seemed like such a cold, empty and colorless place. I was missing the hectic, colors and smells of Delhi. I often tell Indians who don't understand why I choose to live in Delhi: "this city has more residents than my country, which means that there is always so much to do, to see, to explore."

 During my two years in India, I have experienced so much. It has been a very intense time. I studied, I travelled a lot, I worked. It feels that the longer I am in India and the more I see of it, the farther away I get from understanding this society and the more peace I have with that fact. I am convinced that every closed question about India can be answered with both a yes and a no, depending on where and with who you are. India is a country of contradictions. From the world's most expensive residential home to the largest slum, from Hindu to Muslim, from traditional tribes to trendy yuppies, from tinder to arranged marriage, from history in every little part in South Delhi to Gurgaon with its skyscrapers. India is a mystery I will be never able to understand, but of which I am very eager to learn more. 

About the author: Anouk van de Kar is a BBA graduate from Trade Management Asia, Rotterdam Business School

This article appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Women of Myanmar initiative

Women of Myanmar (WoM) is an initiative founded by an energetic multicultural group of experts, on the job wherever people and organizations are in need of creativity, innovation and change. Working on the edge of intellect and intuition, WoM takes on serious challenges and answers with results.

WoM's founders are experienced professionals with different backgrounds; garment industry, business development, international cooperation, education and human development field. A perfect combination to offer great new programs on business/human development, creative leadership and empowerment.

WoM's concept and way of working has a proven track record not only in developing countries like Myanmar but also the countries within the European Union.

WoM strongly believes that women have a major role in an emerging market. Education/vocational training is an important ingredient for development. Entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship* are ways to enable Myanmar women to profit from the upcoming success of a developing country.

In the power of the collective, WoM wants to work conform the principle "pass it on". "Knowlegde is only interesting if you are able to share it". Part of WoM's offer is based on this principle. It develops a program in which it trains a group of potential leaders that will pass on the learned knowlegde to 10 people within the organization. By pushing people to look outside their comfort zone, WoM changes followers into leaders.

WoM develops applied training programs. In order to learn new skills, perspectives and behavior, WoM believes it is necessary to work with the actual, relevant and emerging business and personal situation. It links theory and skills to the actual practice in order to to realize immediate change. The training sessions are highly practical and result-oriented, every new concept introduced will be explored through practical exercise.

See clip on the WoM program https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzEsR2yrfo4&feature=youtu.be

* Intrapreneurship is the concept that focuses on employees of a company that have many of the attributes of an entrpreneurs and are taking risks in a effort to solve a given problem

This aricle appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Catching up with Timothy Kong

It was the second time I met with Timothy Kong. This time in Amsterdam where we shared ideas about The Netherlands, Malaysia and Southeast Asia. Timothy Kong was born in Amsterdam, 29 years ago, and completed his education at Hogeschool Inholland. During his student years, he founded 
Stage in AziĆ«, which is Dutch for "internship in Asia", focussing on internships in Malaysia for Dutch students. In Malaysia, his company is known under the name Kong International 

When asked what he loves about Asia, he passionately describes the variety of fantastic food and the dynamics of cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. "Walking through a skyscraper city makes you feel alive", he adds. Kong also emphasizes the entrepreneurial spirit in Asian cities, where "companies are being built every hour".

"What brought you to Malaysia ?", I wanted to know. Timothy explains that his brother was studying in Singapore and while visiting him he spent a couple days on the Malaysian island of Tioman. Later, in 2011, he did an internship himself at a tour operator in Malaysia. It was then that he saw the tremendous potential that Malaysia has for students. "Everyone speaks English. And who doesn't want to stay in an affordable apartment with a swimming-pool, a gym and security ?"

Kong proudly states that Stage in Aziƫ/Kong International carefully selects the best companies in Malaysia for its interns. What are Kong's plans for the (near) fututre ? "As a company, we are still growing, expanding our service portfolio into new industries, such as Game Design, Web Development, IT and Finance".

"Good luck with your business and see you again soon, Timothy !"

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

One of Japan's best-kept secrets

"This beach......only three hours from Tokyo"
When we were planning our 2-week family holiday to Japan, we definately wanted to include some quiet nature retreat days, preferably with beaches, to counterbalance the metropolitan dynamics of Tokyo and the cultural splendour of temple city, Kyoto.

When you look for tropical beaches in Japan, you will most likely be led to the tropical Okinawa islands, two and a half hours by plane from the country's capital, Tokyo. There you will find Japan’s picture-book beaches, so it says.

We decided to look a bit closer to Tokyo and our eye fell on the peninsula of Izu, about 2-3 hours (depending on how far south you want to go on the peninsula) by train southwest of Tokyo. We did not expect to find white-sand beaches, but all we hoped for were quiet coastal towns with some sea views and an occasional seaside promenade. Some fresh air and a sub-tropical mild sea breeze to soften the summer heat would be just fine after having been in steamy crowded cities for over a week. 

When in Kyoto, I had picked up a free magazine from a tourist office, 
"Time Out Tokyo". In the July-September issue, it featured an article, named ”This beach….is only three hours from Tokyo”, which included a beautiful photo of a long stretch of pristine beach along a crystal-clear, green-blue ocean ! The article stated that the area surrounding Shimoda on the southeastern tip of the Izu Peninsula boasts several stunning beaches. 

The Izu Peninsula offers a comfortable train ride along its East Coast, taking around 45 minutes from the Northern part of the peninsula to the town of Shimoda in the far south. Northern towns, such as Usami and Ito, do have pretty nice (black sand) beaches too, but the most exotic ones you will find further South, so it was promised. 

From the train station in Shimoda, we hopped on a bus to Shiharama Beach, which took us through Shimoda’s picturesque historic harbour and steep hills with spectacular ocean views. After a 10-minute drive we descended upon the magnificent Shiharama Bay, where blue waves gently rolled in on a white-sand beach. The beach as well as the North Pacific Ocean were as pristine as elsewhere in the world’s tropical paradises ! 

Although Shiharama Beach was pretty busy with cheerful Japanese families and young surf dudes, it was not extremely crowded. Nor was it packed with tourists, foreign nor domestic, in other places on the peninsula. The towns of Ito and Izu-Kogen, for example, were quiet, almost deserted, with only elderly residents going about their daily routines. The seaside of Ito town, although peaceful, seemed a bit old and rundown as if its glory days were long gone, which gave it a certain kind of pleasant melancholic feel. 

Maybe, Izu Pensinsula does not have what it takes (anymore) to draw in the big trendy crowds from Tokyo and abroad, but its natural beauty and tranquility are definately making Izu a place worth visiting !

This article appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Bangkok - Paris of Indochina

Pratunam, Bangkok
Siam Paragon
Recently, I was in Bangkok to run a cross-cultural training program for a large multinational. Having lived there from 1989 until 1999 and having been back there a number of times since, I am always eager to register any notable socio-economic changes in the city. 

The euforia of the Nineties, whereby Thailand was one of the early emerging Asian Tigers may have been gone, but the country has since then weathered, with mixed success, the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 and the global economic crisis of 2008. In the meantime, Thailand is economically on par with its Southern neighbour Malaysia and not that far behind Southeast Asian success story, Singapore.

Emerging from a developing nation into a transition economy is not that hard, but the last stretch, towards a truly developed country, is the toughest. Thailand’s neighbouring countries, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia still have a long way to go and even Vietnam, which was in the economic spotlight in the Nineties too and is back on track again, is not another Thailand yet. In Vietnam, “Made in Thailand” is a status label and is considered poche. And what Paris is to Europeans, is Bangkok to Indochina and even entire Southeast Asia.

he Indonesian Embassy on Petchburi Road in Bangkok’s Pratunam area booked a middle-class hotel for me across the street from the Embassy. My wife used to work at the Embassy and every time I am in town, former-colleagues book a room for me nearby. The hotel appeared to be fully booked, but what was more interesting, that I was one of the few Westerners in the hotel ! Primarily, Indonesian women groups and Vietnamese families were staying there. As the area of Pratunam is known for its wholesale clothing outlets, and is also close to the more upmarket department stores on Ratchdamri Road and Rama I Road, they flock to shopping paradise, Bangkok !

These new middle-class visitors from the region add a new dimension to the city’s tourism landscape. Apart from an increasing number of Chinese tourists, there are more and more Indonesians and Vietnamese who can afford a short trip to the Paris of Indochina !

This article appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia

Friday, May 22, 2015

AEC - 2015 & beyond

with DBAV Executive Director, Hyunju Park (middle) and DBAV Chairman, Remco Gaanderse
with fellow-panelists in the dialogue with the audience

ASEAN leaders adopted the ASEAN Economic Blueprint in 2007 to be the masterplan for the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 31 December 2015 and eventually a full-fledged ASEAN Community by 2020.

Recently, the Dutch Business Association Vietnam (DBAV) organized a luncheon talk, under the name 
"ASEAN Economic Community - 2015 & beyond" in Ho Chi Minh City. 

In my 45-minute talk, I outlined both the achievements thusfar and the challenges still ahead. Although the ASEAN-6 states (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) have managed to make significant progress on import tariff eliminations and the easing of foreign investment regulations, the other member states (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) are lagging behind and need till at least 2018.

Intra-ASEAN trade stands at around 25% and cross-border M&As at around 9%, with Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as frontrunners. This relatively low figure (which, off course, excludes major investors (and non-ASEAN states) China and Japan), however, will rise, due to the fact that, in particular, the cross-border investments into Myanmar have risen dramatically in 2014 and will continue to do so in 2015. 

Sceptics have pointed out that economic disparison between member states will prove to be a major hurdle in realising a true AEC. But even within the EU, there is still a large economic divide between the Nordic countries and Eastern Europe member states and the fact that a powerful economy like Germany plays a leading role in the Union (as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand do in ASEAN), is not necessariy a bad thing. While ASEAN multinationals have been engaged in cross-border investments for quite some time, the AEC will, in particular, open doors for SMEs of, for example, tech-savy young Vietnamese and Indonesians to take on cross-border adventures.

Is 31 December 2015 a deadline ? No, it is rather a milestone in the work in progress, which is called "ASEAN Community". 

Read DBAV's comment

This article appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

China cross-culturally aware

Sheriff Aligbeh of Clever Culture Communication at Addax in Geneva

Coca Cola, Disney, and more recently, Starbucks……, over the years, Western marketeers have successfully  “sold” lifestyle concepts around the world. Curiosity coupled with creativity have layed the foundation for the penetration of new markets and the establishment of true global brands.

Only recently, Asian brands have begun to conquer the world. After earlier Japanese and Korean successes in the automotive and electronics sectors, now a broader range of consumer goods from Asia are entering Western markets. 

Over the past decades, outward looking Western marketeers have researched consumer behaviour and trends in other parts of the world. In the  Sixities of last Century, Dutch social psychologist, Geert Hofstede, developed a cross-cultural theory covering cultural values and behaviour in various regions and nations. Although, these so-called “dimensions” may be quite stereotyping and outdated nowadays, they did mark the beginning of trying to understand what drives the different peoples around the world and are embraced by the Western business community to this day.

However, the world is changing. Cultures are not static, but are constantly evolving, in the past 50 years even more rapidly than ever before, being influenced by urbanisation, economic development, technology and globalisation. People’s behaviour and even the values driving this behaviour are changing as years and generations go by.

Asian investors are beginning to understand that it takes more than just money to run viable businesses elsewhere and that some investments abroad may turn out to be a failure. In the West, we have learned to deal with financial setbacks and divestments the hard way. 

Chinese oil giant, Sinopec, in 2009 acquired Swiss-based Addax Petroleum. Both Addax’s Chinese and Swiss executives are obliged to enroll in cross-cultural training programs on Africa, one of the company’s core regions. As part of this cultural awareness initiative roll-out, Sheriff Aligbeh, Nigerian-born, Netherlands-based cross-cultural consultant and founder of Clever Culture Communication, is regularly in Geneva to conduct training programs on African cultures for Addax. Clever Culture Communication creates and delivers tailor-made cross-cultural (business) solutions to corporate and public sector organizations operating in the Sub-Saharan African region. 

"There seems to be a clear will to invest in educating employees on African cultures, but also other value systems, in order to encourage dialogue and an open approach to differences", says Aligbeh.

Last year, affiliate of the Royal Tropical Institute in The Netherlands, KIT Intercultural Professionals, opened an office in Shanghai. Within one year of operation, in which it served multinationals active in China, its Chinese daughter company will now run cross-cultural training programs for Chinese clients for the first time. Chinese companies with overseas investments and universities with exchange programs in, for example, the U.S., recognise the need to prepare their managers and students for their business dealings and social life abroad. 

Shanghai-based Wendong Deng (far right) is heading KIT Intercultural Professional's China operations. Also pictured (from left to right): Jolande Zeeman, Senior Trainer, KIT Intercultural Professionals and Heleen Agterhuis,  Managing Director, KIT Intercultural Professionals
This article appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia