As executive director of Sri Sakthi Auto Motors Limited, Shankar Vanavarayar was recently in Australia (as part of a CII delegation) to speak on education, knowledge and skills at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Perth. Also president of NIA Educational Institutions, he talked toNeena Bhandari on the significance of the Commonwealth for young entrepreneurs and the role they can play in strengthening India-Australia bilateral relations. Edited excerpts:
You attended a three-day Commonwealth Business Forum that focused on ‘Partnering for Global Growth: The Commonwealth, Indian Ocean and the Pacific Rim’. What does the Commonwealth mean for young entrepreneurs like you?
This is my third engagement with the Commonwealth as an organisation. We are working with them on different fronts. A few months ago, I was in London talking about youth and enterprise at a round-table. This is the first time I have spoken at such a large event. Despite this debate on the Commonwealth’s relevance today, I think it is a great forum which has so many emerging nations and some developed nations as its members. One could get the feel of different economies in this organisation. As an entrepreneur, I also feel it gives you an understanding on how developed and developing economies function; the regulations and opportunities that are emerging in different countries.
Today, one has to understand both the developing and the developed nations and share the learning, because if one takes an idea from a developed economy, then one has to innovate and adapt it for somewhere else. So, that sort of exposure has been very good. Next year, we are hoping to have a session or a time or something specific for young people to interact, talk and get together -- and that forum will be very powerful.
Would you be pushing for a separate youth forum at the next CHOGM?
Absolutely. I think the Commonwealth Business Forum should have a young entrepreneur network/alliance/working group/round table. It will offer trade and business opportunities besides people-to-people links. For example, if I was talking to someone from any other country at a youth forum, the exchange can be at a very different level.
In your view, how can one take the India-Australia relationship beyond curry, cricket and the Commonwealth?
India-Australia partnership has multi-dimensional possibilities. It has been a case of missed opportunities thus far, but if a good strategy is put in place, the relationship can emerge as an important partnership for the next decade in food, energy, education and infrastructure.
For the younger generation born in independent countries, perhaps the significance of the Commonwealth is different. How do you relate to it?
The Commonwealth is all about the past; but for my generation it has relevance for the future. We naturally look at the rich heritage and shared history, but one can contemporarise it by engaging the youth and finding a new paradigm through economics, global opportunities, entrepreneurship and the multicultural diversity by using English as a common link. I think that is where the relevance of the Commonwealth lies.
Do you think young Indian entrepreneurs are looking at Australia for business and investment opportunities? As a young executive director of a company, what would you be looking at in Australia?
I am going to be specifically looking at the education sector. We run educational institutions; so that is my primary interest here. I have already had two conversations with universities here. I think there are lot of opportunities.
Australia is very strong in skills teaching and empowerment and can offer a lot to India in vocational education and training. A 500 million Indians need to be skilled, 30 million additionally coming into higher education in the decade and 100 million joining the workforce. This amazing transition is a global opportunity, one that requires innovations and game changing situation calling for new models, frameworks and ways in the educational sector.
o you think the attacks on Indian students in Australia issue is behind us and the two countries have moved on?
I personally think there needs to be a stronger will and imagination to take the Australia India relationship forward into the next decade. There has to be some amount of positioning by leadership in government and the private sector to look beyond this issue. Australia is taking measures and India needs to do its bit. When I meet people from the Diaspora here, they seem to be very happy and they feel there is an equitable existence in most places. There are incidents which the authorities would have to tackle, but I don’t think it is a case that should mar our future.