A few weeks ago I boldly announced that I was launching a social enterprise camp in India and even more boldly, that I would get it off the ground in two weeks. Well, two weeks grew into three weeks but I can say with more than a little confidence that I did indeed make some decent headway and that the camp will have its pilot run in July 2014. We have two great institutional partners in the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and SNDT Women’s University, as well as the backing of the British Council and the Science & Innovation Network of the British High Commission. We’ve even managed to appoint a couple of wise heads to our advisory board, and I’m in the process of hiring a project manager.
It’s easy to join the dots looking backwards, as someone once said, but I think I’ve learnt the following things about getting things done in India. I make no claims about the originality of these insights, by the way.
1) Pick up a phone. Better yet, turn up.
This is pretty good advice for getting things done anywhere. Email has its purpose, but is almost useless in getting people’s attention. Emails get deleted, neglected or skimmed over. It’s hard to persuade someone over email. I know lots of people who think it’s not proper to call someone they don’t know well. Get over it. Unfortunately phone calls are only good for getting a foot in the door. Everything else needs you to be there. Yes, the hefty carbon footprint is unfortunate, but if you want to get things done in India, you have to go to India.
2) Persist, persist, persist.
Most of my trips to India have a similar trajectory. At first it feels like nothing is happening and there’s always a point when I’m close to packing up. I never do. Keep knocking on the door. Eventually it will open. The key is persistence but also resourcefulness: if one contact doesn’t yield result, consider who else in your network could help out. I think of each trip as comprised of incremental stages; it is only towards the end that things start to come together.
3) Don’t queue.
Anyone who’s been in an Indian shop will know what I mean by this. There is no such thing as a queue; there’s no such thing as being at the front of it. Someone will emerge on your side and demand to be served. Getting things in India demands that you do the same. You have no claims on the person you’re seeking to work with. Their attention can be taken by anyone, at any time. This can be distracting – and dispiriting -but it also means the opposite is true: you can take anyone’s attention at any time. Don’t wait for permission to contact someone, and don’t wait your turn. Your turn is whenever you need it to be.
4) Follow-up is essential.
Out of sight, out of mind. If your project is based on establishing a relationship with an Indian partner, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve reached a baseline which can’t be reversed. On the contrary, it takes constant follow-up to maintain such relationships. Think of it like a plant that needs constant watering. If you’re willing to put in the effort of going into partnership with an Indian institution or company, you might as well protect your investment by nurturing the relationship over time. Emails and phone calls can do a decent job but, once again, you really need to be physically present if you don’t want things to slide.