A Unique Template for India and Africa Relationship

Pranjal Sharma

I have had the fortune of travelling to about eight countries in Africa this year – mostly in the Eastern region. Almost everywhere I have been greeted with namastes and warm smiles. 

People in the fastest growing region in the world are incredibly warm towards India. I have felt more at home in Addis Ababa, Kampala and Nairobi than in any of the western countries I have visited.

As India grows in stature globally, its diplomatic efforts to foster relations with the developing world, especially Africa are growing too. India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) launched a unique initiative  last year to reach out to countries in Africa. MEA deployed an unusual diplomatic effort to bring together youth, students, civil society and entrepreneurs in a warm embrace of lasting relationship. 

This initiative is called ''INDIAFRICA: A Shared Future" and is managed by theIdeaWorks, a communication, design and marketing firm. The initiative holds ground events and conducts business plan, essay, poster design and photography contests with "India and Africa" as the key theme. The ground events bring academic institutions, students and young entrepreneurs together for partnerships.

There is also a Young Visionaries Fellowship Programme for identifying successful, young African and Indian entrepreneurs and providing them grants and mentorship to develop collaborative projects. 

The INDIAFRICA effort is a great template for the MEA to follow for engagement with other countries and regions. Such programmes will not only leverage India's soft power, but also create hundreds of ambassadors who can nurture and foster relations. 

India does not have the diplomatic bandwidth to do justice to its relations with the world. Its diplomatic corps has only about 800 officers. Compare this with China that has about 6000. In this situation, it is even more important to create innovative activities that bring India closer to other countries through a strategy of social engagement. 

The INDIAFRICA programme will have reached out to about 25 countries by June 2014. "The response has pleasantly surprised and encouraged us. Students, professionals, academics and entrepreneurs are very keen on India. They are looking for opportunities to share and partner with India," says Amit Shahi, CEO and Co-founder of theIdeaWorks. 

But while governments on both sides have been encouraging, Indian private sector's support has been low. Very few companies have participated in this effort through sponsorships. MEA and theIdeaWorks hope that some companies that have a long-term view on Africa will come forward. 

Corporate strategy and geo-political interests are best served by investing in long term relationship efforts. Especially, in a social framework. As the INDIAFRICA programme rolls out, it has the ability to inspire more such efforts by MEA in other parts of the world.

Pranjal Sharma. Consulting Editor, Business World, India.
Over 20 years' experience in print and television media. Member, Association of British Scholars. Recipient: Best Business Anchor, News Television Awards (2007). Interests: international trade and investment, national growth.

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