I am not an Eisenhower Fellow

When I became an entrepreneur — fresh budding idealistic entrepreneur, I wondered how startups function in a policy vacuum. For the role of a startup is to disrupt the industry and if it does so, policies that govern them do not exist yet. So it must be a given that startups need government intervention. Which in itself poses a circular problem — if startups need policy then governments need to keep pace with them. And governments are not known for their speed.

The problem became quite visible to me when I applied for the Eisenhower Fellowship — a fellowship aimed at taking one Indian a year to meet USA’s leading politicians, development experts and industry professionals to enable us to apply best practises of the west to our development venture. I was one of the 7 chosen candidates to meet a panel of India’s previous Fellows who would decide on the final selection. As I looked around, curiosity trumping the need to study my notes, I realised that other than myself, all other candidates were IAS officers already working in the govt. Now before I narrate the next part of my story, I would like to make a strong disclaimer about IAS officers lest it prompts you to consider authors’ bias — for I have always believed them to be the best our nation has to offer, most intelligent crop of the lot.

I was called into the interview, where a large panel of 15 odd IAS officers looked down upon me and began to ask questions around my venture. I started explaining how we manage and run small resorts in offbeat locations by involving local communities. As tourists pour in, demand is created for goods and services which are all created by local entrepreneurs and incomes start increasing. At a particular point, these circular economies become self sustaining wherein locals stop looking for outside markets to consume their goods and services. While impact is at the most granular level, it is generated for thousands of locations where we run our resorts. The panel looked unconvinced — they said this is not sustainable in the long run. When I asked why, they said the environment is too controlled to be able to create this at various locations. They refused to hear me out, infact said quite clearly that a government official was better placed to get benefits of this program. And thats when I figured out 2 things — things that explain why governments fail. For one, they truly do not believe that capital solves problems, they still believe in the theories of grants — despite many an economist proving that grants and subsides lead to black market formations. And second, they protect their own. They are truly so high headed that any new idea, and especially one that is indigenous lacks any merit.

Since the IAS runs the government, not politicians, they fail to provide a conducive environment for fostering entrepreneurship. They are so closed to the idea itself, so sure in their own bubble that they fail to change with changing markets. And in doing so fail to create frameworks for new policy establishment. No wonder all innovation is still driven by the West.

And that is how I never became, nor shall I ever aspire to be an Eisenhower Fellow.


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Aditi Balbir

Founder V Resorts, largest eco-tourism chain in India. Champion of sustainability. Winner UNWTO 2019. Strong network of Women Entrepreneurs.