Manjeet Kripalani - "Our Arrival Has Changed the Dynamics in the Think Tank World"

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Dec 20, 2018
by Oscar Tollast
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Manjeet Kripalani - "Our Arrival Has Changed the Dynamics in the Think Tank World"

Co-founder of Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations discusses her work and her experience at Salzburg Global Manjeet Kripalani, pictured, is the co-founder of Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations (Photo: Gateway House)

Manjeet Kripalani is the co-founder of Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. She is also a Salzburg Global Fellow, having attended Mass Media in the Age of Globalization in October, 2000. At this point in her career, she was the bureau chief for Business Week magazine in Mumbai. Kripalini recently spoke with Salzburg Global to discuss the role of Gateway House, its successes, its challenges, and where its focus lies in the immediate future.

SG: Manjeet, thank you for taking the time to talk with Salzburg Global. To begin, can you tell us about Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, and the purpose behind it?

MK: We are a foreign policy think tank in Mumbai, established to engage India’s leading corporations and individuals in debate and scholarship on India’s foreign policy and the nation’s role in global affairs. We are membership-based, independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit.

We are located in Mumbai for several reasons, to get a non-Delhi, non-landlocked perspective of India but also because Mumbai is India’s most international, cosmopolitan city, one with historical links to the outside world. Mumbai is also at the heart of the changing international matrix – globalization, terrorism, energy, environment, innovation, technology, nation-building, and the new geoeconomics. And it is home to the country’s leaders – corporate, financial, media, artistic and technological. Mumbai is, as our logo and brand depicts the gateway to India and our face to the world.

SG: As I understand it, you were inspired to establish Gateway House during your time as an Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. What was it, in particular, that gave you that lightbulb moment?

MK: Three reasons: 1. The similarities between Mumbai and New York are obvious and were made even more apparent when I was at CFR. The pragmatic impact of business on America’s foreign policy is clear; it makes that country’s positioning and diplomacy more compelling and closer to the reality of people’s lives.

2. The participation of business, as members, of CFR, whether in meetings and discussions, in providing input on papers, in fund-raising and board positions, was active and impressive. I thought then – we can easily have a similar institution, a home for India’s internationalists, in Mumbai. As a business journalist who worked in both New York and Mumbai, I knew this was possible, and would be welcomed in India.

3. The time was right – India was changing thanks to the outsourcing of software, it was becoming a global participant, and it was the software business that was leading our diplomacy at that moment.

The actual moment when we became a reality for the public was [on] the 26th November 2008 [after the] attacks on Mumbai. No one knew who these attackers were, and the need for a think tank in Mumbai, which could study international affairs both economically and security-wise, was felt. Our funding came in right after this.

SG: What, in your opinion, are some of the success stories Gateway House can recount?

MK: There are several: 1. We are now nine years old, and still, the only major non-Delhi think tank in India, one which is independent, private and membership based. Our model is unique, and I don’t think easily replicable.

2. Our arrival has changed the dynamics in the think tank world, injecting a dose of cordiality into what is a fiercely competitive think tank landscape in India.

3. Because we are in Mumbai, our study area is geoeconomics and international finance, multilateral engagements – studies that have not been a focus in India. We parley that into global geoeconomic conferences and a deep study into the G20 financial agenda. We study with maritime affairs, given Mumbai’s coastal position, and data security, so important for India’s IT and other businesses.

4. We are the only think tank in India that creates visual research – maps and infographics, usually the preserve of consultants. It has given us the edge in our industry, and globally.  

5. We are perhaps the only think tank in the world founded by two women – one diplomat, one business journalist. We don’t play this up or parley it well enough in today’s politically correct world because we ourselves don’t feel any different from other entrepreneurs. But the input we receive from others is that the workplace is more congenial and that the special talents of individuals are nurtured and enabled to blossom.

SG: What are some of the challenges you've faced since establishing Gateway House? With hindsight, are there things that you would have done differently?

MK: Primarily, being founded by two women means that male-led institutional bastions do not treat women-led institutions with the same seriousness that they do the men’s club. We live with it, but we hope that soon it will change in India. I don’t think we would do anything differently.

There isn’t much recognition of the work and necessity of a think tank in Mumbai, for Mumbai. But as India is rapidly globalizing, we find that the knowledge of world affairs is gaining currency – and that’s where we come in.

SG: There are evidently a wide number of foreign policy issues to tackle. What's one area where more focus is required?

MK: A greater study of finance, of economics, of business, of media, of maritime affairs, of the blue economy, of technology. And less of a western lens in viewing the world. We need to build a body of literature and analysis, case studies, on India and its foreign policy.

SG: You've had an illustrious career. You've had an extensive career in journalism and gained significant experience in politics. In your current role, do you feel as if those experiences help you and provide you with an advantage in your work?

MK: No question that it does. A reporter is a researcher, a questioner, a tracker, following a quest that is persevering and who never gives up until the truth is found. A think tank does that and more – it develops an analysis of the same, and makes recommendations on policy-making.

Also writing is essential to communication. It is a skill, an art, a passion for me. Our website and papers do well because we do not write in dry, academic, jargon; we write in simple, clear language, so that ordinary people, young people – and in India, less literate people – can understand even the nuances of foreign policy.

SG: You attended a program of Salzburg Global Seminar called Mass Media in the Age of Globalization. What can you remember about this program? Did it have an impact on you in any shape?

MK: This was very long ago, but I do remember that it brought together groups of people from different parts of the world and from different areas of expertise and experience, all of whom were put together to bring forth a common solution. That has stayed with me as the defining characteristic of Salzburg. It taught me a lot.