Lessons Learned from Beyond the Water’s Edge


January 11, 2016 11:37 AM


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I’ve traveled extensively around the world, from South America to Europe, from the Middle East to Asia, but no trip has impacted my world view the way my recent visit to India with the American Council of Young Political Leaders did.

Talking to Indians you get a sense that they are eager to draw lessons from outside their borders, including from the United States, to make India the powerhouse it aims to be.

This struck me because in the United States many are overcome with a sense of exceptionalism about our place in the global pecking order. We are the best at everything and no one – that is no one – can tear us down. As a result, we tend to mock the ideas and plans of other countries as second rate and not worth even a consideration.

India is in a different league altogether in this regard. As this still young democracy gains its footing after 89 years of British colonialism, it is looking to learn whatever it can from its friends and neighbors.

Indian nationalism is real, for sure, but on numerous occasions when asked about the solutions to their challenges, Indians pointed to other countries and how they addressed similar issues. Whether the example was Germany, or Canada, or even China, other nations provided ready-made blueprints for what India could accomplish in education, infrastructure or for their own economy.

For example, one individual noted that in crafting its constitution, India took bits and pieces from other founding documents. In fact, the first words of their constitution, “We, the people of India,” were lifted from the Constitution of the United States as were some of the principles contained within. One member of Parliament spoke highly of the dual-education system Germany has in place while a campaign consultant for Prime Minister Modi told us their successful effort was based on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s 1997 run.

We also had time to interact with PRS Legislative Research, India’s version of the Congressional Research Service, and with the Indian Council on Global Relations, their version of the Council on Foreign Relations based in New York City.

In all these meetings there was never a sense of, “We’re India and we know what’s best!” Everyone we met was well-read and worldly in their views. Don’t get me wrong, the United States is awesome in many regards, but it was refreshing to hear that even as we compete with each other for global market share and innovations, we can learn from each other, too. Think about what we could accomplish in our homeland if we plucked a few good ideas from beyond the water’s edge.

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