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  • A kinder, gentler globalization

Photonics Spectra
Sep 2008
Diane Laurin

Of all the big winners in India, Infosys, the country’s second largest software service company, has been one of the first to embrace the predicament of global haves and have-nots. In a country predicted to become one of the top economic world powers in the next few decades, globalization already has brought enormous change, but in some cases at a price much too dear.

“There is one part of India which is rapidly growing and another part that is being left behind,” said Kris Gopalakrishnan, president and co-founder of Infosys in an interview last year with New York Times chief financial correspondent Floyd Norris. Infosys started a foundation in 1996 that, among many things, is working to aid India’s farmers and the rural poor.

Thirty percent of Indians are illiterate, he said, and more than 30 percent live in poverty.

So while India’s economy is doing extremely well, despite some bumps in the past few months, it’s possible that here at least globalization has created more losers than winners.

Farming, the livelihood of many of India’s rural poor, has taken a beating, for one, as a result of competition in the global market. It’s hard to imagine that a country with the power to shape the world’s economy is having so much difficulty distributing its good fortune.

But it has. So much difficulty that in the past six years alone an estimated 3000 farmers have committed suicide in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh in the face of crippling debt.

Global food prices have soared out of control, and where Indian farmers originally used their own natural fertilizers, pesticides and seeds to plant crops, they now use the hybrid seeds offered by international companies, seeds alleged to give bigger yields. The problem is the farmers must purchase new seeds every year.

To top it off, Washington’s annual multibillion-dollar subsidies to US farmers have driven down the price of cotton, exacerbating the Indian farmer's already bleak condition.

Former UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan offered some stirring words at the World Economic Forum in 2001. “We must ensure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs,” he said, “and that all the world's people share the benefits of globalization."

We can all benefit from the entrepreneurial spirit of people like Sridhar Vembu, who found a very unique way to make tens of millions of dollars in revenue while spreading the wealth. Founder and CEO of AdventNet, the company that introduced Zoho, Vembu employs 600 people in Chennai, India, and they're not the universities’ best and brightest. Rather, they're young professionals from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

And that includes young people from India's poor high schools. If they’re bright, Vembu says, we train them. And so we should.

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