They have been elected as governors of two of America’s most conservative states and help the White House make policy decisions. The US Surgeon General is of Indian decent. And notable is that the median annual income of households headed nual income of households headed by an Indian immigrant is $103,000, the median of American-born households being $53,000.
What are most remarkable, however, are the strides that Indians have made are in the fiercely competitive technology sector. Silicon Valley is the most innovative place on this planet; and here, this group, which constitutes 6% of the workforce, has founded 16% of the startups. Microsoft, Sandisk, Adobe and Google have Indian CEOs, and they are in senior positions in almost every technology company .
How could an immigrant group achieve such incredible success -and what can India learn from the people who have left its shores? To answer this question, you have to understand what is different about this group.
First, it is highly educated and entrepreneurial. According to the US Census Bureau, 76% of Indian immigrants aged 25 or more have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the vast majority are proficient at English.
It isn’t generally the poor from India who make it to America; it is the cream of the Indian crop of students and highly skilled workers.People who leave their friends and families behind to build success in foreign lands are inherently more entrepreneurial and risk-taking.
Immigrants who come to America face discrimination just as foreigners in any land do.
Most Americans are tolerant and open-minded, but racism remains an ugly reality .
Foreigners with dark skin and foreign accent, who don’t understand the culture and values, are at a severe disadvantage. This means they have to work harder and think smarter. Though they were typically at the top of the social ladder in the communities that they left behind, they find themselves on the lowest rung in the US.
This is a very uncomfortable experience and provides incredible motivation to do whatever it takes to succeed.
I remember when I first came to the US as a child in the ’60s. My classmates asked me whether I charmed snakes; parents would ask their children to think about the starving Indians before wasting the food on their plates. Indians were only one social step above the scheduled castes of America, African Americans.
This motivated me to work ex tremely hard, to show that I was as good as my classmates were. Later in life, when I returned to the US after living abroad (my father being in the Indian Foreign Service), I experienced similar discrimination and disparagement from venture capitalists in North Carolina.
My blood still boils when I think about this, but it made me stronger and better, and it’s why I always go out of my way to help other groups -especially women -who have been discriminated against.
But Indian successes show another side of this country.
The greatness of America is that a person who achieves success receives the highest respect and is looked up to. Background, race, and religion all become irrelevant.This is the American Dream: an ethos of freedom that provides anyone who achieves success through hard work with the opportunity for prosperity and equality . There are no barriers to upward social mobility in America. That is why immigrants thrive and why America leads the world.
In America, all people from the Asian subcontinent are considered Indians. It doesn’t matter whether they be Bengali, Punjabi or Marathi; Hindu, Muslim or Sikh; Shudra or Brahmin; or Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi. They are all the same: Indians.
South Asians who come to the US learn very quickly to put their differences aside. They begin to understand that the key to an individual’s -and a community’s -success is to network, learn and help each other.
That is why they join groups such as The Indus Entrepreneurs, the South Asian Journalists Association, the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, and the South Asian Bar Association: to help each other -and, in the process, uplift their communities.
The key lessons that Indians can learn from the success of their kin in the US are to give back to the community and “pay it forward“, and that race, religion and caste are not barriers if everyone receives the opportunity to work hard and succeed.
Silicon Valley has shown that diversity fuels innovation and that networking provides great advantage.
Imagine what India could become if it learned from the American Dream.
Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of re search at Center for Entrepreneur ship and Research Commercial ization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University