Mahatma Gandhi had to Go Global to Know Swadeshi


In April 1893, a 23 year old Indian sailed to the shores of South Africa, for the sole purpose of making money as the legal representative for the Muslim Indian Traders based in the city of Pretoria for the period of a year. Little did he know that he would spend 21 years in this alien land, fighting for the rights of a whole community in another country and developing his own political views, ethics and political leadership skills. Indeed it can be argued, as done by the Gandhi biographer ES Reddy, that Gandhi’s philosophy and outlook is South Africa’s “Gift to India”. Interestingly, Mahatma Gandhi’s first biography, by the Rev JJ Doke, was entitled An Indian Patriot in South Africa.

This can be attested by the fact that when in a 1939 interview a missionary named Dr. John R. Mott asked him about the most creative experience of his life, Gandhi spoke of his South African experience. He said, “I recall particularly one experience that changed the course of my life…On the train I had a first-class ticket, but not a bed ticket. At Maritzburg, when the beds were issued, the guard came and turned me out. The train steamed away leaving me shivering in cold. Now the creative experience comes there. I was afraid for my very life. I entered the dark waiting room. There was a white man in the room. I was afraid of him. What was my duty; I asked myself. Should I go back to India, or should I go forward, with God as my helper and face whatever was in store for me? I decided to stay and suffer. My active non-violence began from that day.”

Gandhi thus extended his stay in South Africa to assist Indians in opposing a bill which had denied them the right to vote. As he writes in his autobiography, this exercise exposed personal handicaps to Gandhi that he had not known about. He realised he was out of contact with the enormous complexities of religious and cultural life in India, and believed he understood India by getting to know and leading Indians in South Africa. In fact Gandhi adopted the methodology of Satyagraha for the first time at a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg, as pointed out by the author Eric Itzkin.

Gandhi- the global leader

He also became the humanitarian and egalitarian leader in the course of this journey. In fact, many scholars claim that Gandhi too shared racial notions prevalent of the times, in his early days. It was his experience in the jails of South Africa which sensitized him to the plight of blacks. The Gandhi who returned from South Africa was an inspiring leader fearless, selfless and with a vision — who had led a small community in a long and difficult, yet victorious, struggle against a stubborn racist government.

One can indeed argue that Gandhi did not only become a better leader and a person because of his experience, but also a more successful one. He told the Kanpur Congress in 1925 “I never had a brilliant career. I was all my life a plodder. When I went to England… I couldn’t put together two sentences correctly. On the steamer I was a drone… I finished my three years in England as a drone.” It is also interesting to note that it wasn’t merely international exposure which transformed him thus, English education did not make him a global leader. It is only active contribution to a society in an alien environment which challenged him, which gave him enough for him to bring back to his nation.

“It is perfectly true that whatever service I have been able to render… to India, comes from South Africa”, he is known to have said. This illustrates the power in experiential learning which comes from international exchange. Indeed, sometimes one needs to become a go global, in order to serve one’s own nation. There is patriotism in being a global leader.

Going Global to Kenya

“As part of my internship, I visited schools in and around Kibera to talk to the adolescents about the problems they face, made proposals to fundraise for the sanitary napkins project and marketing for the Women Empowerment project.The schools we visited were mainly in the slums so the children from the schools got an opportunity to interact with us and discuss the problems they face in schools.

I also got to experience so much of the Kenyan culture, their food, their night life and how they generally live through the AIESECers from Nairobi who were again an amazing bunch of people. I travelled and saw almost all of Kenya and each place was better than the next. I had no idea that the country was that beautiful.

My internship experience helped me grow so much as a person. It led me to introspect and my future plans have taken a whole new turn. I also met some AMAZING people who really inspire me and changed the way I used to think. I can say that my time in Kenya was a mind blowing experience.  I had so many misconceptions and I realized how wrong I was about the country. I lived with 10 different nationalities in an intern house and the amount I’ve learnt from all of them is just incredible. All the interns worked for different NGO’s and through them I met more amazing people who redefined how I think.”

– As said by Lomarshini Anand – a student of Manipal University, an exchange participant who went global via an AIESEC internship to Kenya.

Read about Lomarshini’s internship experience via her impact report here.

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Going Global to South Africa

Hear Satwik Rajani’s global experience to South Africa.

“I went to South Africa for an AIESEC internship.

I worked for a project called S.M.I.L.E run by a South African not for profit organization that focuses on the empowerment of youth, education, illiteracy training and career guidance. I was teaching students Maths, English and Physics and was also the head of the photography workshop in the summer school.

This internship has been a definite eye opener more than anything. It challenged the way I perceive the world and opened my eyes to various things around us that I take for granted. I interacted with young ambitious people from over 15 countries. It really gave me a sense of being part of something bigger and made me realize the power I have to change the world.

Leaving in a different country, speaking a different language and living a different lifestyle never sounded simple till I experienced it which got me thinking of the various other things in life that I thought would have been impossible but might have just been in my reach.

I would definitely recommend this experience over any vacation or summer school, simply because of the depth of human interaction and the self learning. I would like to thank AIESEC for exposing me to a different meaning of life.”

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Being Global

As technology connects and businesses expand, the world shrinks further. It unites in both its opportunities and problems. Our challenges are global, might they be poverty, climate change or gender inequality. Our businesses too, are global. Yet unfortunately, our leaders are not.

global_leadership_crop275x275_01Both growing multinational companies and national governments are currently all facing a common problem, that of a Global Leadership Deficit. That is to say, they have failed to develop leaders who are capable of managing global enterprises (social or profit-based) and take advantage of strategic international opportunities. According to a survey of senior corporate executives in the US, 76% believe that their organizations need to develop global-leadership capabilities, but only 7% think they are currently doing so effectively. Of the US companies surveyed, 30% admitted that they could not sufficiently exploit their international business opportunities simply because they had a paucity of personnel with adequate international competence. The recent London Business School Global Leadership Summit discussed the lack of leaders with Global mindset in the public sector and policy making arena.

But what makes a global leader? Ángel Cabrera, commented on this in the Harvard Business Review, “The old mantra ‘think global, act local’ is woefully inadequate to describe the complex realities global leaders face. They don’t just think and act global, they are global.” Hence it is not simply about being aware of international trends or being sensitive towards various cultures – it is about living global experiences and understanding the routes of these business trends, political issues and cultures. She further elucidates that there are “three critical skill sets that are essential for effective global leadership: global mindset, global entrepreneurship, and global citizenship. The global mindset allows leaders to connect with individuals and organizations across boundaries. Their entrepreneurial spirit equips them to create value through those connections. And their citizenship drives them to make a positive contribution to the communities they engage with.” Global leaders thus “nurture relationships with associates and friends around the world and have a unique ability to transcend cultural barriers and cultivate trust”

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Some companies are gradually understanding the importance of “being global” and are reaping rich rewards. Moving among multifarious multi-year overseas assignments is “very much a part of Shell culture,” says Mathilde de Boer, a consultant on leadership development for the organization Shell Learning, a part of the Royal Dutch Shell. Benefits of a global experience are visible when executives get together for more formal training activities, says de Boer. “You can see it in the way they learn. Because they have experienced so many different situations, they can quickly grasp new ways of doing things. They have had a mirror held up to their leadership styles.”

People who have been on AIESEC internships also echo the same learning. “My internship in Egypt was a life changing experience because got to develop a global perspective about life, living and working with people from all over the globe made me realize my leadership potential to a great extent!”, says Ahsaas Chawla, a 2nd year student of Delhi Technical University who went for a social sector internship through AIESEC.

It’s clearly time to “Go Global”. What are you waiting for?

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