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India Conquers the World

"From the exclusive Club Lounge on the 19th floor of Singapore’s Mandarin Oriental, Anish Lalvani gazes out at the city’s skyline, a dazzling array of glass and steel and vertical ambition. The Lalvani family has come a long way since the days when Anish’s paternal grandfather, Tirath Singh Lalvani, got his start in business by retailing medicines to King George VI’s soldiers in Karachi. Back then the city was a part of British colonial India—until independence arrived in 1947, and its inhabitants suddenly found themselves amid the bloody turmoil of the newborn Pakistan. The Lalvanis, like millions of others on both sides of the border, fled for their lives. But instead of making new homes in present-day India, the Lalvanis sought their fortunes abroad. Today the family’s Hong Kong–based Binatone Group employs some 400 people on four continents. “We couldn’t break the old boys’ network,” says Anish. “But overseas we created our own.”"

"The Lalvanis’ voyage from refugees to moguls embodies a worldwide phenomenon: the growing size and sway of the Indian diaspora. The exile population now numbers some 40 million people, spread across West Africa, the Americas, and East Asia. And in many of those countries—including the United States, Britain, Canada, Singapore, and Australia—Indian immigrants and their offspring have both higher incomes and higher education levels than the general population.

The international importance of India itself is rising to an extent unmatched since the onset of the European-dominated global economy in the 17th century. And with the country’s economy growing at roughly 8 percent a year for the past decade—more than double the rate of the United States—India’s influence can only continue to strengthen. Most economists predict that by 2025 the country will outstrip Japan to become the world’s third-largest economy.

India is more dynamic than any other major country in dem-o-graph-ic terms as well. Its population today is 1.21 billion, second only to China’s 1.3 billion, and thanks to the latter’s one-child policy, India’s numbers are expected to surpass those of China by the late ’20s, when India will have an estimated 1.4 billion people versus China’s 1.39 billion. Currently home to the world’s second-largest contingent of English speakers, India seems destined to step into first place, ahead of the United States, by 2020.

But the mother country’s rise has been more than equaled by that of India’s émigrés. In fact, the diaspora remains one of India’s most important sources of foreign capital. According to the most recent available figures, workers from India in 2009 sent $49 billion in remittances to relatives back home, outpacing China by $2 billion and Mexico by $4 billion. Four percent of India’s gross domestic product comes from North American remittances alone.

In fact, India’s business community tends to be family--centered, both at home and abroad. Chinese entrepreneurs are more than twice as likely to be financed through banks, most of them state-owned. In contrast, Indian firms and business networks tend to be essentially familial and tribal, extending in networks across the world. “Much of the Indian middle class has ties outside India,” notes researcher Vastala Pant, formerly with the Nielsen office in Mumbai. “Our ties around the world are also family ties.”"



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