Atlanta-India Relations: My Maiden Trip to India
Atlanta City Councilmember KWANZA HALL describes a symposium he attended there as “a cross between a TEDx conference and the Aspen Ideas Festival.” Here are more snippets from his visit that he hopes will lead to additional dialogue between members of the Indian diaspora in metro Atlanta and elected officials.
I recently traveled to India for the first time as a member of a State Department delegation of government officials and business leaders. We were part of an exchange program that, a few months ago, hosted a number of leaders from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Kyrgyzstan here in the United States. The other Atlanta members of the delegation include Dr. Eloisa Klementich, Managing Director of Business Development at Invest Atlanta, and Mr. Kenneth Dobson, Economic Development Administrator for Fulton County. We visited Delhi, Dehradun, and Bangalore. I made a side trip to Hyderabad. Although our itinerary was designed to give us a broad introduction to India’s recently changing political environment and the country’s role in the global economy, much of the time with our Indian counterparts was richly spent exchanging ideas about civil society and learning about social entrepreneurship in India.
I have the privilege of representing Atlanta’s District 2, so diverse and international in outlook: it includes Downtown, The Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, the Carter Center, and various other areas with both small business corridors and a massive international tourism and hospitality industry. It also includes the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District, with the iconic statue of Mohandas Gandhi donated by the Indian Council for International Relations near the National Park Visitors Center. I also have a personal connection to Dr. King and Atlanta’s history in the global, nonviolent struggle for civil and human rights. My deceased father, Leon Hall, was Dr. King’s youngest assistant when Dr. King was the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. All of these connections resonated for me during my visit.
Our program began in Delhi on the same weekend as President Barack Obama’s participation in the country’s Republic Day celebrations. The media coverage was intense and added energy to our meet- ings. Our itinerary was designed to ensure that we interacted with members of many political parties. I appreciated this nonpartisan approach to our schedule. One of the strongest impressions that I took away from our meetings is that a wide variety of Indians seem optimistic about the country’s future, even if they differ on how to get there.
Our trip also took place against the backdrop of the recently announced Make in India initiat- ive, one of the Modi administration’s first initiatives to scale up India’s manufacturing and econo- mic potential.
While we were in Delhi, a number of our well-connected hosts from the world of politics expressed doubts about our upcoming trip to Dehra- dun. “Why are you going there?” they asked. Our delegation was invited to participate in a two-day symposium on civil society and social enterprise at Dehradun’s World Integrity Center. The Center is a conference facility, co-working space, and gather- ing place for a city that places a high value on education. I thoroughly enjoyed the symposium and our time in Dehradun. The experience felt to me like a cross between a TEDx conference and the Aspen Ideas Festival. We heard presentations, participated on panels with other thought leaders from the area, and took excursions to local social enterprises. The most exciting aspect of the symposium for me was the sheer diversity of the participants and per-spectives. Artists, cheese makers, educators, politicians, and CEOs of major local industries were to- gether, listening to each other and asking questions with little regard for protocols and hierarchies.
Atlanta City Councilmember Kwanza Hall with the Georgia state department delegation in Bangalore.
In contrast to the conference setting of Dehradun, our stay in Bangalore was filled with hustle and bustle. I met social innovators and business leaders who were launching incubators, co-working spaces, and hyper-local, community-based manufacturing and educational enterprises. A number of the small businesses that we visited placed a premium on high quality, artisanal products capable of being produced on a scale that can satisfy global demand. Now that I am stateside, I am thinking about its applications for Atlanta, including the residents of District 2’s Boulevard corridor, which has the high- est concentration of poverty in the southeastern United States.
I hope that these observations lead to additional dialogue between members of the Indian diaspora in metro Atlanta and elected officials such as myself. We have so much to learn from each other.
Kwanza Hall represents district 2 on the Atlanta City Council, and frequently interacts with the Indian-American community of the region by attending events, amongst other ways.
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