Real connect in a virtual world

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Telstra’s Prathapan Nair is working at launching an online networking platform that goes beyond Facebook for Indians living and working abroad. Like?

Cast your mind back to the early 2000s, when the ‘threat’ of IT outsourcing was the hot political potato of the day in Australia. Telstra had just signed a multi-million-dollar deal with Indian IT giant Satyam. Unions were warning of job losses in the thousands and newspapers were filled with fearful headlines.

In the thick of the furore was Prathapan Nair. Having earned a Masters in information and communication technologies at the University of Wollongong, Nair was seen as the ideal employee to help Satyam win the Telstra account.

“We constantly faced significant criticism,” recalled Nair, who hails from the south Indian state of Kerala. “Labor senators in the Parliament were claiming Indian IT companies were run like sweatshops back in India… there was a lot of misinformation being spread by vested interests.”

Nair was tasked with the challenge of presenting the benefits of the deal to Australia’s critical media and politicians – payoffs included cutting Telstra’s multi-billion-dollar IT budget by some 30 per cent and improving service quality. He also had to beat the competition – American multinationals, including HP and IBM, which were just as eager to snatch the lucrative deal. They also had the advantage of already having a well-established foothold in Australia. As Nair said, “they operated in the market for many decades before Indian IT companies came into the country”.

The challenges didn’t end when they won the contract. Concerns then turned to the stream of young Indian IT professionals who came to work on the project in Melbourne, a city that remained hostile to the idea of outsourcing. “People were genuinely worried because they thought there would be massive job losses,” explained Nair.

“A significant influx of IT professionals came in 2002, representing both Satyam and Infosys. They probably brought in something close to 2000 professionals into Melbourne just in a matter of months. That was a huge change – given the size of Melbourne’s CBD, you could all of a sudden see the signs of the mix increasing in the streets, in the cafes,” said Nair. “There was significant backlash for the first 18-months.”

Today, near 15 years later, much has changed. Many of those first IT professionals remained in Australia, had families, and, as Nair pointed out, “contributed significantly to the economy”. They managed to win over Melbourne, Nair said, simply by showing that, “they are tax-paying people and generally non-controversial”. “Their ability to become an integral part of the Australian fabric has been tremendous,” he said.

Nair believes the IT wave eased the way for other migrants from India to settle in Australia. “One contributes to the other – it created awareness, and significant foot traffic between the two countries,” he said. “It was an important brick in the foundation of growth of the Indian population in Melbourne.”

Keenly aware of the vast numbers of Indians working and living abroad today, Nair’s next project seeks to unite them on a virtual networking platform. “They are comparatively high net-worth individuals and if they were able to come to together in a certain manner, aided heavily by technology, not only could they collectively benefit, they would also be able to influence policy decisions in a positive manner and collectively bargain,” said Nair, explaining the benefits of the platform.

But don’t expect to find silly cat photos and viral videos; Nair said this networking platform is for serious matters – a place for people to seek advice and qualify business ideas. “This is not a Facebook, this is not a platform where you exchange things that are not super important,” Nair said. “For things that really matter, choose this.”

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