Global Britain and Global India hold global talks to unlock global opportunities

Henna

China is not the only nation of 1.3 billion people, iconic cultural treasures, towering mountains, deserts and growing global influence. India is incredible – or so the famous ads tell us, as I’ve not been myself – and likely to figure much more strongly in our lives in the years ahead.

India, of course, is also a member of the Commonwealth with traditionally strong links with Britain, and now there is growing momentum to forge closer ties. It looks like they even share a common slogan, with their Global Britain and Global India monikers.

To promote trade and investments, “UK-India Week” was held in London and Buckinghamshire last week, bringing together bigwigs from Britain and the subcontinent over 5 days to engage in bilateral talks.

Among high-level activities was an early morning yoga session (coinciding with the International Day of Yoga). There may or may not have been a Bollywood dance featured somewhere.

The week included a two-day UK-India Leadership Conclave to talk post-Brexit opportunities in areas such as smart cities, social impact, renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Promisingly for young talent,  an India-UK Technology and Talent Exchange programme was launched at the conclave called TechXChange (which curiously appears to have emerged 10 years ago under a different purpose). TechXChange aims to ensure that startups in both countries are given the right support to succeed.

Lest you think I’m – ahem – currying favour, one startup area in which India could improve in appeal is as a digital nomad destination.

India is an iconic country on anyone’s bucket list, sprawling from Ladakh to the tropics – and it’s easy to see why globetrotting freelancers would want to live and work there. I saw Poorna recently on a long flight, about a young Indian girl who scaled Everest, and I’m now itching to visit Darjeeling and Bhongir, both appearing in the movie.

Yet the country’s highest ranked city on Nomadlist, the ultimate city index for digital nomads, is Thiruvananthapuram in the southern state of Kerala: a lowly 397 worldwide. Legendary Goa, a popular backpacker destination throughout the years, is ranked 406. Both are far ahead of Agra (680) – famous for its Taj Mahal – and capital Delhi (853).

Remember The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? Jaipur, according to Nomadlist, is ranked 729, suggesting its perhaps not the best exotic digital nomad destination. But the biggest surprise is India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore – just 450 on the list.

Commonwealth opportunities in a post-Brexit world, from trade to impact

*Update*  Soon after posting this, I signed up as a Founding Fellow and Mentor with the Commonwealth Communicators Organisation, meaning a shiny new title to add to LinkedIn there will be more info to come on Commonwealth opportunities…

Recent days have propelled more than one formerly glorious institution with members around the world back into the spotlight. First Liverpool FC, then the Commonwealth of Nations through the Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM, sounding like an icky cough) and the Commonwealth Games.

I remember the Commonwealth having quasi-iconic status in my youth as a remnant of the British Empire, being quintessentially “British” in a global way like Hong Kong and Concorde (technically also French, but you know what I mean).

Yet unlike Concorde and British Hong Kong, it’s still there. A bit like The Simpsons, it continues to tick rather than hum along in the background after so many years, while the global conversation has moved on, to the EU, ASEAN and Africa, eyed by China and Macron. This in itself is pretty remarkable. The USSR imploded and the EEC is no longer a thing as such, yet the Commonwealth is still with us.

And it’s still relevant. They say that size doesn’t matter, but it surely plays its part. Numbering 2.4 billion people, the Commonwealth is not only bigger than Facebook – its citizens get to keep their data.

It also has breadth, wrapping itself around a fifth of the Earth’s territory. Comprising 53 member states (53 is apt, being the year The Queen was coronated and Everest was scaled for the first time), the Commonwealth includes large influential countries like Canada, Australia and Pakistan, and small countries like Tuvalu – a South Pacific island state, rather than a tickly organ in the back of the throat.

It’s this global reach that is enabling countries from across the Commonwealth to eliminate avoidable single use plastic in a bid to clean up the world’s oceans, from plastic bags to avoidable plastic waste – an admirable initiative that came out of the CHOGM (excuse me). A similar initiative to help protect the world’s rainforests, the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, was launched in 2015, with 40 countries now taking part.

As Britain pulls out of Europe, there will (probably) be more opportunities with Commonwealth nations, including fast-moving countries like India, Malaysia and Singapore, from trade deals to free movement.

But more than anything, there are shared interests between Commonwealth nations, which simply make working, living and doing business that little bit easier – the “softer” things in life.

As the Commonwealth was mostly the British Empire, member states share interests that are British in origin, like use of English, driving on the left, sports like rugby and cricket, and picking a fight after last orders the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy (though it’s fair to say that “democracy” is loosely interpreted in at least one or two nations). In fact, Malaysia remains the most comfortable country I’ve lived and worked in, and I believe that familiar factors like the English language had much to do with it.

But these are still early days in the Brexit journey, and from my point of view there are institutional and brand challenges for the Commonwealth to overcome. The organisation still feels a bit…staid, and its not entirely clear what its purpose is.

Perhaps oceans, forests and young people point the way forward – an opportunity to use our links to positively impact lives and the world around us.

Brand Britain biggest in China and India

Living in Hong Kong, I’m always up for a hike. Last weekend I scrambled over a long course of boulders in pounding heat, later emerging at a striking waterfall. I was the only person there. Then someone else inconveniently turned up. The two of us spoke (a bit awkward otherwise). Within minutes, the tattooed airport worker informed me that he was a huge Top Gear fan.

Top Gear, of course, is a massive overseas hit. But it’s not the only British export success. Anyone travelling to China will probably know that brands like Burberry are popular, while Man Utd is all over Southeast Asia like a red rash.

Then, of course, there are things like beer, whisky, gin, cheese and what not – the good stuff in life. Greene King IPA sales famously soared after the leaders of China and the UK were seen enjoying a pint at a country pub in 2015.

So it’s of no real surprise that a February report confirms that “Brand Britain” is popular in less established markets.

The report by Barclays Bank highlights export opportunities for UK businesses, saying that products flying the British flag were more likely to be purchased in emerging markets and that consumers in India, China and the UAE responded most positively to “Britishness”. Beyond these there are fast-growing economies in Africa and the “Far East” (“Far East?” Really?).

British goods are popular for reasons that include integrity, trust and reliability, while the UK is also perceived as innovative – something that was emphasised recently at the GREAT Festival of Innovation.

Among other recommendations, the report suggests displaying the British flag on products and thinking about marketing messages.