• Governor General in India

    Film, Finance and Education in Mumbai

    From February 22 to March 2, 2014, Barj was a member of the Governor General’s delegation to India. These are stories from his trip.

    Feb. 27 – March 1:

    Mumbai is India’s financial, commercial and entertainment capital and naturally its richest and most populous city. It is home to many of India’s leading financial institutions and corporations including those with the largest investments in Canada such as the Tatas, Birlas and Essar groups. Mumbai also has the country’s two national stock exchanges, the Diamond Bourse, largest port, and the leading engineering institute – IIT Mumbai.

    We toured Film City which has a cluster of production studios. The Governor General and the delegation participated in a round table on the multi-media production opportunities between Canada and India at the Whistling Woods International Studio. Quite a facility here! Canada and India also signed a co-production and multi-media bi-lateral agreement during the visit.

    The slums are home to a vibrant and diverse civil society catering to the needs of the disadvantaged. This morning some of us accompanied her Excellency to a small skills training centre for girls and women predominantly from the Muslim community. The women are eager to get out of their small and crowded homes and learn skills like sewing and stitching and data entry. Some are able to find work some don’t. I saw a mixture of despair and hope on many of their faces…young girls with big bright eyes and white teeth in sad faces…. Her Excellency led the women in some yoga type exercises and told them that being physically well is important.

    Yesterday we spent the morning at the Bombay Stock exchange. The Governor General spoke at the Exchange and then rang the bell to signal the opening  of the trading day. This was followed by a panel discussion on how to build an innovation ecosystem in India. The discussion was held in a newly opened innovation incubator involving the Stock exchange, Ryerson University and Simon Fraser University. Three entrepreneurs pitched their start-ups.

    In the afternoon we held a round table at the John Wilson College (founded by an Scotish missionary nearly 200 years ago with the goal of providing education to boys and girls) on India’s education future and how Canada can help to improve India’s education system. I participated in this and gave the closing remarks and vote of thanks after the Governor General shared his thoughts.

    We concluded the day with a talk given by the Governor General at the Institute of Technology, Bombay on “The Next Generaton of Leaders: Driving Economic Growth Through Innovation.” It was another signature presentation by the Governor General with anecdotes and lively stories, which  his wife says she has heard too many times.

    The official visit culminated on the final evening with a Friends of Canada reception on the terrace of the historic Taj Hotel in Mumbai. The Terrace has beautiful views of the Gateway to India overlooking the Arabian Sea. The Taj Hotel was the site of the horrific terrorist attack of 2008 and the Governor General paid respect to the victims, survivors and responders by signing the book of remembrances.

    In 2010, Canada India Foundation conferred the CIF Chanchlani Global Indian Award to Mr. Rattan Tata for his decisive response to support the families of the hotel and first responders who died.

    Here tonight I met Mr. Tushar Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. Tushar is the Founder President of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, India, whose mandate is to promote the teachings of non-violence and the way of “Satya Graha”. Truth, non-violence  and love always triumph!

  • Governor General in Bangalaru

    Tech Talks in Bangalaru

    From February 22 to March 2, 2014, Barj travelled with the Governor General’s delegation to India. These are stories from his trip.

    Bangalaru is one of the fastest growing cities in India and sought after by companies, multinationals and tourists. Known as the “Silicon Valley of India,” Bangalaru is one of the world’s top technology clusters and hosts R&D centers for major global companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett and Packard, Infosys and more. It’s also the start-up capital of India and home to the Indian aerospace industry and a number of world-class educational institutions.

    These are all areas where we are seeing increasing collaborations between Canada and India, and that is why we visited Bangaluru. It also shares a unique characteristic with Vancouver. Like Vancouver, Bangaluru has grown enormously on account of migration of people from all corners of India, neighboring countries and from countries in the West. This has reduced the local populations to around 38% of the total population. In Vancouver the native born are now at 40% of the population. While Kannada is the language of the locals, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, English, French, German, and Punjabi are also spoken in Bangaluru. 

    Food Security and Small Millet Research in  Bangaluru:

    Our first stop in Bangaluru was at the University of Agricultural Sciences, one of the oldest agricultural universities in India. A number of Canadian universities including the Mennonite University in Winnipeg, have been collaborating in developing seed varieties in different crops which are tailored to diverse agro-ecological conditions of the state.

    Through funding from CIDA in the past and now through Intenational Development Research Centre (Canadian IDRC), research has led to the reintroduction of the small millets (bajra in Punjabi) as a viable alternative to production of rice and wheat. Despite their known nutritional benefits, tolerance for difficult growing conditions, and ease of storage, small millets have consistently been neglected by agricultural policy in India, which has put the emphasis on cash crops and cereals like rice and wheat. Rice cultivation requires heavy use of water and has contributed to the dramatic lowering of the water table and water contamination in states such as Punjab. The re-introduction of millet will help to conserve water while providing an alternative grain richer in nutrition than wheat or rice. This effort will contribute towards addressing India’s food security concerns.

    There were two significant panel discussions in Bangaluru. One on “Skills Development” and the other at the campus of Infosys on “Making Innovation Policy Succeed.” My good friend Yuen Pau Woo, Canada’s leading policy thinker and CEO of Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, was the moderator of the session.

    An important bi-lateral agreement was signed on skills development between the National Skills Development Corporation of India and the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. This will lead to greater collaborations in this field as India needs to provide skills training to 500,000,000 youth (under 25) by 2025 to reap the demographic dividend or otherwise it would be a demographic disaster. Canadian community colleges are global leaders at skills training.

    Photograph Credit: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall