SBE in Indian “Silicon Valley”

Eight days of business, bazaars and Bollywood. This was Bangalore for more than 30 MBA students from the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE).

As part of the School’s annual International Week, they travelled to India from 13 to 21 March to learn more about the IT industry in Bangalore. A city that, according to recent graduate Han Hoogma, “is not called the Silicon Valley of India for nothing.”

For MBA students, India is clearly an appropriate destination.

With its population of approximately 1.1 billion, a thriving economy and rising prosperity, it is without doubt one of the most important growth markets in the world.

Not to mention its booming IT industry and staggering innovation rates.

And at the heart of science and technology in India stands Bangalore, one of the fastest growing cities in Asia.

Bangalore also happens to be home to one of Maastricht University’s key partners, the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), which hosted the SBE visitors during their trip.

Learning by example

“The study week in Bangalore was important to help us discover how the knowledge economy is developing in India”, says Hoogma, who graduated from the Executive Modular MBA in 2009.

Alumni are also welcome to join subsequent International Week trips, making this Hoogma’s second (the first being to South Africa). “Cooperation among the players of the ‘triple helix’ – government, education and business – is important for the development of the knowledge economy. So we need to learn from successful examples. And Bangalore is just such an example: it’s not called the Silicon Valley of India for nothing.”

A major aim of the trip was to promote better understanding of the Indian business world. Along with work visits to the Philips site and Airtel (one of India’s largest telecom providers), the programme also included lectures on ‘Understanding the Indian economy’ and ‘Financial markets and institutions in India’, to name just a few.

Topics like these are crucial when it comes to bridging the gap between European and Indian business practices. Indian culture is quite different from the Western way of thinking and “this translates into many societal aspects like business, management and organisation”, according to Hoogma. “The Western countries need to develop a new orientation towards India. Prejudices have to be scrapped; openness needs to be created.”

‘India immersion’

For all these reasons, a significant part of the SBE programme in Bangalore was dedicated to ‘interactive immersion’ in Indian daily life and culture.

The ‘Traditional South India Experience’ kicked off with a Bollywood film and discussion on popular culture.

It included visits to temples, local markets and bazaars, and participation in the Ugadi (Hindu New Year) festivities. There was a ‘Spice Evening’, including samples and tasting sessions, and a even trip to an ashram – a religious retreat – where, as Hoogma puts it, “it became clear what the meaning of spirituality is in this society”.

“You learn to accept that India is a different world when it comes to norms and values”, he says. “Hindu culture is totally different to our Judeao-Christian culture. There’s a huge amount of respect for everything that lives, and most of the population is vegetarian. They also don’t like to disappoint anyone, so you rarely get a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And although the caste system no longer officially exists, you can still feel its role as an undercurrent in society.”

New way of thinking

So how have these insights changed Hoogma’s perspective on work, and life?

“You’re faced with the facts: we still have it really good in Europe – particularly in the Netherlands – but we’ll have to pull out all the stops to keep it this way. In India 1.1 billion people are just waiting to share in the prosperity. And on the basis of regional knowledge structures, there are opportunities for all of us to reap the benefits. This means we need intensive collaboration and openness. It also means that through sharing knowledge, everyone will be better off.”

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