Being a Global Indian is part of my DNA

Being a Global Indian is part of my DNA
Being a Global Indian is part of my DNA

Baroness Usha Prashar straddles the worlds of politics and arts with comfort and ease. 'India Global Business' explores what being a Global Indian means to her. How would you say the India-UK dynamic has evolved over the years India and UK have always had a special relationship but like any relationship it has had its ups and downs. In recent years the relationship has matured. India has become important economically and the relationship is beginning to change. There is now much more reciprocity and a recognition that the relationship has to be based on equal footing. It is gaining a different dynamic. India @ 70 is more confident and its 70th anniversary is being marked by the UK India Year of Culture. It is interesting that people are coming together to celebrate and ensure that there is better understanding, particularly among the young, about contemporary India and contemporary Britain. It feels very positive. A positive relationship between India and the UK has the potential of making two countries a formidable force for good. What attracted you to public life in Britain I came to Britain in 1964, at the age of 15, as a student from Kenya. I had all the intentions of going back but the political situation in Kenya changed and I stayed on. I became very interested in race relations and immigration which in the 1970s was a controversial issue. My first job was with the then Race Relations Board, I then moved to be the Director of the Runnymede Trust, an organisation which was set up after Enoch Powell's inflammatory 'Rivers of Blood' speech against Commonwealth migration to the UK. My time at Runnymede Trust also coincided with significant public policy developments in the fields of race and immigration. Runnymede Trust was an influential body which made significant contributions to the development of policy in this area, so I was almost catapulted into public life. Through my work at the Runnymede Trust I became very interested in organisational change designed to promote equality of opportunity. But I realised that to bring about institutional and organisational change I had to mainstream myself, that is, not just work in an exclusive race-related organisation but in a mainstream organisation. In 1984, I was appointed as a Director of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. I am a great believer in people organising themselves to bring about change and voluntary activity really appeals to me, as Margaret Mead said: 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has'. After the NCVO I went on to be Chairman for the Parole Board, and in 2000 I was appointed the First Civil Service Commissioner, and in 2005 I became inaugural chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission and most recently served as a member of the Iraq Inquiry. I have always had passion for the arts, I enjoyed my time as a member of the Arts Council, and I Chaired the Royal Commonwealth Society and set up the National Literacy Trust. Such diverse experience has convinced me that it is important to bring different experience together to affect change; working in silos is not very effective. How do you see Brexit having an impact on the immigrant experience The slogan 'taking back control' has led to anti-immigrant sentiment; it has made people from minorities feel very insecure. This is a great shame; I have been working in the field of race relations for over forty-five years and I have devoted most of my career to promote equality and fight discrimination. This regression makes me very sad. UK has a good record in promoting equality and combatting discrimination, it is therefore deeply regrettable that the debate around Brexit was so negative with regard to migrants. However, I remain hopeful, the minorities are resilient and I have faith in this country's sense of fair play. What drew you to your British Council role I have been an admirer of the British Council for many years. Before leaving Kenya to come to Britain, my first port of call was the British Council Offices in Nairobi. It was part of my orientation for life in the UK. So, I was delighted when I was approached to be its Deputy Chair. The work which the British Council does in inter-cultural relations is very effective. It is a force for good. It operates in over 100 countries and has enormous influence in education and the arts. The world is becoming much more interconnected and there is greater need for us to work together to bring better understanding between communities through cultural exchanges. With the advent of digital, a great deal of innovation is taking place which is very exciting. Interactions through arts and culture are needed more than ever before. What are some of the highlights of the UK India Year of Culture for you The British Council has enormous experience of running Years of Culture. Bilateral years of culture enable countries to focus on cultural activity in its widest sense and strengthen cultural and people to people connections. UK/India Year of Culture is not a one-year wonder, it is the basis for a step change in establishing a new dynamic partnership. It is about laying the foundations for the next 70 years for a refreshed relationship between India and the UK and getting younger generations to understand contemporary India and Britain. I hope through these activities and connections, we will not only celebrate the longstanding relationship between the two countries but inspire people to innovate and arouse curiosity. The one highlight is a new digital initiative, specifically aimed at engaging young people in both countries, it is called 'Mix the City', an interactive digital platform which will showcase the diversity of sound and music in four Indian cities, featuring 12 Indian musicians and four UK curators. It basically celebrates a joint love of music, arts and culture. The other exciting project is the Science Museum's up-coming exhibition of history of Indian science. What does being a Global Indian mean to you Being a global citizen, is part of my DNA. Born in Kenya, of Indian origin and having lived in the UK I regard myself as a global citizen. Being a global citizen is about being clear about one's own identity and appreciating and understanding other cultures and having the ability to navigate one's way through different cultures with ease, and seeing the world through the eyes of other cultures. Baroness Usha Prashar is the Deputy Chair of the British Council and an Independent member of the House of Lords. She has made significant contribution to public policy and public life in the UK and India.

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