PBD—The Road Ahead

By Ashook Ramsaran


GOPIO executive vice president Ashook Ramsaran presents a thought-provoking paper on the relevance of the PBD, and how it should take things forward

Thanks to the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) and its staff for arranging this session on the “Future of PBD”. It is an important discussion in my view and a timely one as well. 

The fact that this session has been arranged and this discussion is taking place here and now is a welcome development and it points to the fact that recognition is being given to recent requests made to MOIA. That is, for a discussion on Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) which certainly means an objective assessment and evaluation of PBD. It is also important that everyone, except one, of the panelists is a GOPIO representative who is in tune with the pulse of the global Indian Diaspora.

It is also important to note the MOIA and PBD are closely intertwined with global Diaspora organizations outside of India and this deliberation here today involve assessment, input, suggestions and recommendations of those of us who are part of the global Indian Diaspora and truly understand its issues of interest and concern. For this reason, I welcome the decision of MOIA in holding this session and my participation in it. 

This PBD will be the sixth one I am attending so I suppose that I can speak with a fair sense of validity and confidence regaring my views with respect to PBD, how it has evolved since its inception in 2003, the many areas of improvements and where it seems to be lacking or deviating from the original objective, etc. To achieve what I have set out to bring to this discussion, I will include how PBD it is being viewed by myself and those who have expressed their views to me.

My objective is to suggest and recommend ways to improve PBD so that it thrives as an important and relevant umbrella event for all of us in the Diaspora. The main points which I would like to bring to the attention of MOIA and address with this gathering revolve around the following questions I am posing here today: 

How relevant is PBD to the Diaspora?

Has PBD maintained its focus on its primary objectives as was originally conceptualized? 

Why should people in the Diaspora continue to attend in the numberes originally envisionsed? 

Why hold the PBD each year? 

What is the future of PBD?

Let’s examine the following considerations which is a summary I have accumulated from my experience and continuous contacts with GOPIO globally:

• Targeted, potential attendees of NRIs and PIOs – countries, groups, individuals
• PBD continuing relevance to the Diaspora: Issues of interest and concern
• Value and benefits to the potential attendees 
• Meaningful, continuing appeal to potential attendees to continue attending 
• Interest, convenience and cost to potential attendees 
• Location of venue and annual dates: Jan 7 thru’ Jan 9
• PBD program and sessions: Design format & Diaspora participation
• Registration fees for groups and large sized accounts
• Selection of speakers and allocation of adequate speaking time
• Responsiveness to inquiries: Expectations vs reality
• What happens to proposals made to MOIA for PBD?
• Showcasing the Diaspora or Government of India?
• Criteria for PBD Samman Awardees
• Criteria for membership to PM’s Advisory Council

Suggestions and Recommendations
PBD is a vital annual event for the Diaspora and substantial improvements have been made over the years. I have just listed many items for consideration and would like to make the following suggestions and recommendations which I believe can lead to more improvements and enhancement of PBD for the future:

• A re-evaluation and re-assessment of PBD more often, perhaps every 2 years, for a more insightful, updated and progressive way to make needed changes and improvements.

• Continue holding the regional PBDs which have been a very successful way of serving the Diaspora on a regional basis and with excellent results. Example: PBD-Europe 2009 which was managed and coordinated by local civic associations and very well attended. Costs to MOIA minimal.

• PBD appeal and interest to the diaspora must be current and more comprehensive so that it continues to be of interest for more people to attend. 

• PBD should focus on a few recurring topics with continuing mass Diaspora appeal (perhaps 2—3 topics) with annual revolving participation and rotation of suitably qualified speakers. Such topics can be selected in collaboration with civic groups such as GOPIO and would maintain the interest of significant segments of the Diaspora.

• Balance of PBD sessions to be more Diaspora centric and not overly Indo-centric.

• Actively engage the large sized, well established and recognized, active global civic groups (such as GOPIO) in the planning stages of PBD, its theme formulation, sessions, selected of suitably qualified speakers and outreach for participants and attendees.

• MOIA and PBD should be more responsive to inquiries and requests on a timely basis.

• Clearly identify and list those at MOIA who can be contacted to resolve and difficulties and problems faced by potential attendees, speakers and VIP guests in an efficient and timely manner for those making such inquiries. Reduce the many, frustrating levels of bureaucracy and red tape so that inquiries are handled and not shifted.

Note: In the crucial 3 months preceding PBD 2010, MOIA was missing a Secretary and Joint Secretrary while so much intense planning, corrdinating and logistics activities were taking place. There was definitely a vacuum there. I have to commend Deputy Secretary N. Balasubramaniyan for the yoeman’s work he has done and for his promptness and responsive to questions and requests for information. Thank you very much, Bala. 

• Need for more prompt and informed responses to invited VIP speakers and guests. Speakers and VIP guests are to be treated as “the draw” that will encourage better attendance. 

• PBD should showcase the Diaspora rather than officials who tend to consume valuable speaking time which results in very limited speaking time for invited speakers, in some cases less than 5 minutes for a PIO official from another country. Note: Invited VIPs and speakers from the Diaspora should be given the allocated time to make their presentations in full.

• Publish the proceedings of PBD sessions.

• Tabulate the proposals and inquiries and highlight the respective actions taken.

I trust my presentation here today is of help to those at MOIA. I am hopeful that my suggestions and recommendations are viewed as such with the intent to make PBD a better annual event with merit and substance with the intent to be the forum to address issues of interest and concern to the Diaspora -- so that PBD continues to be relevant, its appeal maintained, and attendance and participation make it worthwhile. As I mentioned in the beginning, my objective is to suggest and recommend ways to improve PBD so that it thrives as an important and relevant umbrella event for all of us in the Diaspora. I am hopeful I have been able to do so.

—Ashook Ramsaran, born in Guyana as a fourth generation PIO, is Executive Vice President of GOPIO International.

March 2010

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