Fathers and mentors are key to powerful women, says India’s head of tech firms

Debjani Ghosh, female president of India’s association of software companies and former Intel India chief, says Israelis must have local partners for inroads to Asian giant

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Debjani Ghosh, the president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), a trade association of Indian technology companies, during a visit to Israel, March 6, 2019 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)
Debjani Ghosh, the president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), a trade association of Indian technology companies, during a visit to Israel, March 6, 2019 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

Israeli tech firms and Indian companies could benefit from considerably increased collaboration, with the key to that being Israelis finding a local partner and better understanding the local market, the head of the Asian giant’s umbrella organization of tech companies said in an interview with The Times of Israel.

“There is a tremendous opportunity to do a lot more,” said Debjani Ghosh, the president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), a trade association of Indian technology companies, during a visit of a business delegation from India to Israel earlier this month.

Before joining NASSCOM in 2017 and becoming its first female president in April 2018, Ghosh, 52, worked for US tech giant Intel Corp. for 21 years in various positions around the world. Since 2012, she was the first woman to lead Intel India and South Asia. Over the last five years, she has been consistently named as one of the 20 most powerful women in business in India by Fortune magazine.

The delegation, which included heads of 30 leading technology companies from various sectors across India, was hosted by the Indian Embassy in Israel. The aim of the delegation was to gain exposure to technological innovations and solutions and to examine opportunities for investment and collaboration.

Illustrative image of women carrying water in a village in India. (FrankCornfield; iStock by Getty Images)

“I do see there are opportunities for collaboration at several levels — academia, large companies to startups, startups to startups,” Ghosh said, with each party setting up its own “playbook in terms of how they want to collaborate.”

Having a local partner in India, and better understanding the local way of doing business, would ease the entry of Israeli firms into the world’s fastest growing economy, she said.

“Everyone knows that India has huge market potential but how do you leverage, how do you find the key that unlocks that potential – that is the question that a lot of Israeli companies are asking,” she said.

An “understanding of India is needed,” she said. When they think of India, a lot of Israeli companies think it is one country. “India is not one country – it is a lot of different states.”

Debjani Ghosh, the president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), a trade association of Indian technology companies during a visit to Israel, March 6, 2019. (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

While the central government plays a big role in defining policies and frameworks, implementation of deals and technologies happens at state level. “So, when you are building a go-to-market strategy for India, you are going to fail if you think there is one strategy that is going to work for you” across the nation, she said.

Firms must take a deep look to see if their technologies suit the needs of the particular states they are targeting, and whether the problem is pressing enough for these states to want to pay their prices.

“I think it is very, very important for Israeli companies to build local partnerships, because India is a complex market,” she said. ” If you really want to scale and grow a business in India, I think local partnerships are going to be critical for success.”

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel in 1992, bilateral trade has surged to $5.02 billion in 2016 and 2017, from $200 million in 1992, according to data compiled by the Indian embassy in Israel. The figure does not include defense systems. Trade includes chemicals, electronic machinery, medical equipment and communications systems.

In 2017, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a “historic” visit to Israel, marking the first to Israel by an Indian head of government. In January 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a five-day trip to the Asian nation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bids farewell to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at Ben Gurion International Airport on June 6, 2017. (Kobi Gideo/GPO)

During Netanyahu’s visit, Modi said he hoped to develop India-Israel relations by strengthening existing cooperation in agriculture, science and technology, and security, and by exploring new forms of cooperation such as oil, gas, cybersecurity and movie-making.

India enjoys the fastest economic growth in the world, at over 7 percent annually. By 2024, according to the UN, India will become the world’s most populous country. In 2017, the scope of foreign investment in India stood at $40 billion.

Since Modi took the reins of the country, India has announced a number of initiatives aimed to shake up its economy: doubling the income of small-scale farmers by 2022, opening 150,000 new healthcare centers in peripheral areas, and transforming 100 central cities into smart cities, the Israel Innovation Authority said in a statement.

These initiatives are backed by extensive financial investment, including $1.7 billion in a new plan for the country’s health system and almost $1 billion in developing agricultural innovations, creating connections between investors and startups, and investment in digitization and infrastructure, the Israel Innovation Authority, in charge of setting out the nation’s strategy for the technology sector, said.

The Indian government is trying to promote Ayurveda, an ancient medical system that utilizes herbs, like the one pictured in this illustrative photo, to achieve holistic health. (Getty Images)

“Until two to three years ago Israel was not on the radar of the Indians,” said Avi Luvton, senior director Asia Pacific Operations at the Israel Innovation Authority, in an interview. The Indian government “didn’t put its focus on Israel and the industry didn’t try in a stable manner to connect to Israel. A major turning point was the visit of Modi.”

There are a lot of opportunities in all sectors in India for Israeli companies, he said, “but the challenges are huge.”

“In the end of the day you need to bring tech and adapt it to the market at a price that is suitable,” he said. Making a cheaper version of a product to suit it to the Indian market is often “no less of a challenge than to develop the technology itself.”

The perfect playground for tech

Ghosh is a firm believer that technology has the power to make lives better. She was instrumental in developing Intel’s Digital Nation strategy, working with the government to accelerate technology adoption in India.

“I don’t think there is a better playground out there than India” for technology, Ghosh said, because of “the way you can stretch the boundaries of tech to solve all the problems that exist in India you cannot do that anywhere else.”

Women account for 35 percent of India’s tech workforce, she said, and the tech sector is the second largest employer of women.

When Ghosh was heading Intel in India, HP’s managing director was also a woman, Neelam Dhawan; Facebook India was headed by a woman, Kirthiga Reddy; Rekha Menon was the chairman of Accenture; and Vanitha Narayanan headed IBM India and South Asia. “So, you do have a good representation” of powerful women in the tech scene, she said.

Of fathers and mentors

“The two things we found in common,” Ghosh said, was that “each one of us had a father who believed in us more than we did; it was uncanny how every single woman said the same thing.”

The second thing they all had in common, she added, was the role male and female mentors played in their careers. Education and the belief that financial independence is more important than marriage are also key, she said.

“Having worked in a lot of different countries, once you are in the room, once you are at the table, gender is not an issue unless you make it an issue,” Ghosh said. “If I am troubled by the fact that I am the only woman in the room, and I let that hold me back, that is my problem. But if I am at the table and I forget my gender or I don’t care about it and I start bringing value to the discussion, nobody else will bring it up. And that makes a big difference.”

An Indian rickshaw puller makes way through a water logged street following heavy rains in Allahabad, India, August 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

During the Indian delegation’s visit, the Israel Innovation Authority signed an accord with India’s Wipro Group to identify Israeli companies in a variety of fields including industry 4.0, water and healthcare with which they can join forces in research and development, adapt the products to the Indian market and implement products and pilots in India.

Wipro Group has a variety of activities including ICT and industrial manufacturing.

An additional collaboration agreement was signed with India’s EM3, which is looking to import Israeli agricultural technologies and make them accessible to farmers in India.

Members of the business delegation from India also attended the OurCrowd annual conference and visited Israeli firms and startups, including Wix, Pitango and SOSA, the Israel Innovation Authority said.

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