The stars of Indian film, politics, and business, along with leaders in those arenas in the U.S., all came together for the FICCI-IIFA Global Business Forum in Tampa last week.
As part of the Indian International Film Academy Awards held in Tampa this year -- also known as the Bollywood Oscars -- The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry organized the business forum in conjunction with the USF College of Business. The forum was held at the Tampa Convention Center on April 24 and 25.
Countless Indian dignitaries, actors, and businesspeople attended the two-day forum.
Panels of experts discussed such issues as U.S.-India Trade Relations, sport and entertainment, information technology, higher education, and sustainability. During the event, FICCI also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tampa Bay Trade & Protocol Council with the goal of promoting business connections.
Diane Farrell, acting president of the U.S. India Business council, noted that the connection between IIFA and business might not be immediately apparent, but said it made perfect sense.
"Why would a business forum be here at IIFA when there's all this glamour? I think there's a lot of glamour in this room," she said. "When I think about the IIFA theme of 'One People, One World,' that's really what we have the ability to create."
Top leaders in global businesses and government -- including FICCI Vice President Harshavardhan Neotia, Consul General of India-Atlanta Ajit Kumar, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Desai Biswal, Tata Motors President Ranjit Yadav, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chairperson Rajendra K. Pachauri, Syntel Chairman Bharat Desai, UST Global CEO Sajan Pillai, and Chief Executive at L&T Infotech Mukesh Aghi -- spoke about such issues as the growing Indo-U.S. business relationship, sorting out the challenges in relations between the two nations, and the steps business needs to take toward sustainability and countering global warming.
One panel, moderated by USF College of Business Dean Moez Limayem, included discussion about the opportunities in higher education internationally. Panelists from American and Indian universities discussed ways they are already making a difference and talked about ways to do more.
"We're very active trying to make a difference for both communities we serve," said USF President Judy Genshaft, speaking about creating a university that benefits both domestic and international students.
Another higher education panelist, T. Muralidharan, founder and chairman of Indian HR services firm TMI group, noted that in India, higher education has yet to become geared toward meeting the workforce's needs.
"People think graduation is a means to something, and by creating more graduates we create more unemployment," he said.
In contrast, Genshaft noted that USF works with the local community to make sure students are gaining relevant experience.
"Every student needs to have a practicum or internship before they graduate, so they are job-ready," she said.
Local entrepreneur, philanthropist, and doctor Kiran Patel gave a keynote speech before a panel on worldwide health and health care. His remarks drew spontaneous applause as he questioned the direction of health care in both America and India.
"The fundamental question people should be asking is, is health care a birthright or a privilege?" he noted. "In the 21st century, unfortunately, ethics and morality are sometimes coming second to finance."
He spoke about the need for humanizing the business of health care and to bring a level playing field to India so that the rich are not the only ones who can receive care.
"Your health care is only as good as the ethics and morality of your own doctor," he said.
From the entertainment side of the business equation, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Rinku Singh, the first Indian baseball player and also the subject of the upcoming Disney movie "Million-Dollar Arm," spoke about his career trajectory on a panel moderated by USF Sport & Entertainment Management Director Bill Sutton. Singh spoke about his desire to give back to children in his hometown, and Sutton offered him a scholarship to the USF Sport & Entertainment MBA program to make that happen once he retires from baseball.
"When you think of India, you think of cricket, you don't think of baseball," Singh said. "My own mom doesn't even know what baseball is like."
He also spoke about wanting to give children in his village the opportunity to pursue their passions regardless of class or wealth in both education and sports.
"It took me seven months to learn to play baseball, and look where I am now -- I'm here," he said. "Every single human in this world, they want to succeed."
John Paul Basile, Associate Vice President for International Development at the NBA, spoke on the same panel about the grassroots movement to market basketball in India. The NBA is giving basketball to Indian children, hoping to reach 500,000 this year and one million the next.
"It hasn't developed the same way it has in China, but there's a following there," he said.
The room was packed for another discussion between Indian rockstar businessman N.R. Narayana Murthy, founder of global tech giant Infosys, and Indian filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.
"He is a person who has inspired millions of Indians to believe that wealth can be created in a fair and ethical manner," said USF College of Business Associate Dean Kaushal Chari in his introduction of Murthy. "He has demonstrated to the world, yes, it is possible to build a globally respected company in India, provided one dreams big – and has the courage to put in the hard work and dedication required to make those dreams come true."
The director, clearly accustomed to being around Bollywood's superstars, seemed starstruck as he interviewed Murthy. Mehra and Murthy talked about everything from Murthy's favorite Bollywood actress to what the driving conflict would be in a movie about his life to how to globalize the Indian film industry.
Murthy spoke about the value of respect, and why it is Infosys' key value.
"Good governance is all about ensuring good value to stakeholders, along with values of fairness and respect," he said.
The forum ended with a star-studded panel on empowering women to lead through education. Moderated by former USF Provost and current University of Houston President Renu Khator, Indian actresses Shabana Azmi and Priyanka Chopra, "House of Cards" Indian-American actress Sakina Jaffrey, and film director Tara Abrahams. Part of Abrahams' movie "Girl Rising" was shown during the panel, highlighting the values of educating girls to help them live full lives.
"Every time that I watch this film, every time I screen it for people, it moves me," Chopra said. "To help tell the story of hope, faith, and belief for little girls who have none of that, they can have a better life if you give them the chance."
"Educating one girl educates a family," she added.
"To think of how much I gained from my education -- yes, I pretend to be people who are really smart, but I believe I can do it," Jaffrey said.
Abrahams put it in business terms for the watching audience.
"When you're investing in a girl, you're investing in her community and her entire country, and it's that return on investment that we should be working for," she said. "This is the mindset that needs to change in India: that a girl child is a burden."