Audacity Of Hope

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‘Does your father eat people ?’ was one of the many questions that Obama was asked as a child. He faced discrimination not just from his classmates but also from his teachers who were curious about the tribe to which Obama belonged. Obama obviously did not forget those incidents as he vividly mentions them in his autobiography. But of course he moved on, graduated from Harvard Law School (on an education loan) and went on to become the President of his country at a time when the country is undergoing its worst financial crisis.

Obama’s rise will obviously inspire a lot of people in different parts of world. Under despotic regimes, it will give rise to yearnings for democracy. In India, Obama could also act as a source of inspiration for politicians who cannot think beyond their respective vote banks. Since the rise of Obama in US politics 22 months ago, the Indian media has been wondering whether India can too have an Obama. By an Indian Obama they mean someone from a minority or disadvantaged group who has the support of majority of Indians nevertheless. Naysayers caution that India is not US and so there would not be any Obama here. Little do they know racial discrimination has not yet been completely eradicated from the US and disparity between the Blacks and Whites is still big if not as big as it was some 40 years ago but that didn’t stop Obama.

Mayawati is often compared to Obama and there are some valid reasons to do so. She is a Dalit and not long ago Dalits were as marginalized and powerless as the Blacks in the US. In fact the ordeal faced by Blacks is nothing when compared to Dalits in India. Mayawati could become the Chief Minister of UP because of the support of upper castes and primarily Brahmins. This is equivalent to White conservatives of Deep South voting Obama which did not happen in this election (Florida is an exception) despite the fact that at the national level Obama got more White votes than John Kerry and as much as Bill Clinton got.

But the similarity ends right there. Despite winning votes from almost all caste groups and Muslims, Mayawati has not done enough as far as development of her state is concerned, to consolidate her support amongst various sections of the people. In fact she was more in news for a duel with the Gandhi family for Dalit votes which still remains Mayawati’s core constituency.

Obama on the other hand has no core constituency. In the 2004 Democratic Convention when he first said that there was no Conservative America or Liberal America but just the United States of America, it was not just an election rhetoric. This was proved when he quoted Lincoln in his victory speech saying, We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

Obama was not a black candidate running for the office of the President of America who happens to be very good. He was in fact a very good candidate who happens to be black. The Indian Obama wouldn’t be different.

Stay Hungry Stay Foolish

The title of the book, Stay Hungry Stay Foolish is inspired by the last sentence of the commencement address given by Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005. In his landmark speech, Jobs chronicled the ups and downs of his life and explained how the low points in his life helped him in achieving great heights. The book is about 25 entrepreneurs who graduated from IIM Ahmedabad and chose the difficult path of entrepreneurship rather than joining or continuing with cushy jobs, high salaries and like Steve, had their low points but did not give up. The author, Rashmi Bansal is an alumni of the institute and an entrepreneur.

The oldest alumni profiled in the book graduated in 1967 from IIM A whereas the youngest in 2004. Most of them were from middle class backgrounds and had been to some of the best colleges in the country as under graduates. Many would be surprised to read that for quite a few of them, taking admission into IIM A was not a result of any well planned strategy but a decision taken almost at the last moment. In those days, IIM aspirants were still in four digits unlike today when more than two lakh people take CAT (IIMs entrance exams).

The book was commissioned by IIM A probably to drive home the point that it does not just produce people who can sell financial instruments & soap. But after reading the book one does not get the impression that the institute imbibes the culture of entrepreneurship in its students. All the people profiled in the book were either Believers (people who knew that entrepreneurship is the chosen path for them even before they joined IIM), Opportunists ( who seized their chance when they saw it, much long after graduating from the institute) or Social Entrepreneurs. There is no instance where the premier B School of the country had influenced or inspired anyone to be an entrepreneur. Of course most entrepreneurs give credit to the “insurance” of a job that an IIM tag gives them and the alumni network which played a very crucial role in some of the success stories covered in the book.

But what about the primary function of any educational institute? Was there any special learning from the institute or any special moment within the institute which played a crucial role in their decision to find their own way ? Very few. A few did take some entrepreneurship electives and the institute now boasts of an incubator (the book is funded by the same) but for most, the institute played little or no role in inspiring or guiding them to strike out new paths.

One wonders what would have been the fate of the same people had they not been a part of IIM A or for that matter any B School ? Would they have been still successful without the “insurance” of a well paying job or the alumni network ? Does a believer really need an MBA education ? Probably a Stay Hungry Stay Foolish – Part 2 which covers entrepreneurs who had not been to B Schools can answer such questions.

Of the profiles covered in the book, there is a good mix of people from different sectors. From the founder of naukri.com, manufacturer of Sintex tanks, a sugar baron to the founder of First Micro Finance Institution in the country. Each chapter of the book is actually a candid interview of the author with the people profiled. Of course, it would have been better if more research was done rather than just basing the entire chapter on one single interview (the financials seemed to be updated & verified). But then the book is not about the businesses that these 25 people founded but about their never say die attitude. The book does not claim to be a primer on Entrepreneurship but like Steve’s speech at Stanford aims to inspire the younger generation with real stories that it pays to remain hungry and foolish. And the book is more than successful in driving home that point !!

Don’t miss this book if you ever thought about striking out on your own but were bogged down by the risks involved. As the book says, in life there is always risk involved and security is not everything. I can’t agree more.