Young Tibetans make success in India

Raymond Thibodeaux Sep 15, 2010

Young Tibetans make success in India

Raymond Thibodeaux Sep 15, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: As China and India grow economically — and they are — trade between them grows as well. But there are some tensions. There are border disputes. And in particular, India has given sanctuary to some 200,000 Tibetan refugees who moved there decades ago after Chinese crackdowns.

A lot of early refugees live on the margins of the Indian economy. But younger Tibetans have found new prosperity.

Raymond Thibodeaux reports from Punjab Khor on the outskirts of New Delhi.

Raymond Thibodeaux: In this small processing plant, several workers guide thick egg-noodle batter along a conveyor belt into an old-fashioned contraption that looks like a printing press. It turns the yellow batter into noodles.

Tenzing Wangchuk: My father, he knew only how to make noodles.

That’s Tibetan entrepreneur Tenzing Wangchuk. He inherited the noodle business from his father, Chodak, who, like the Dalai Lama, fled to India from Tibet in 1959. For Chodak, making noodles was a way to provide a modest living for his family. But for Tenzing, it’s different.

Wangchuk: With the newer generation that’s coming, they are educated, they know the laws. Now, with computers and the Internet, you know what’s going on in the world so it’s easier to go out and do business.

Tenzing has certainly done that. He’s grown the business far beyond his father’s dreams. Amdo Noodles now exports nearly 10 tons of noodles a year, mainly to Europe. At 36, Tenzing is part of a confident and growing group of young Tibetan business leaders in India.

Sonam Tobgyal is head of the Tibetan Chamber of Commerce.

Sonam Tobgyal: They’re looking to establishing themselves, starting businesses that could be inherited by the next generation.

Tobgyal admits these successful entrepreneurs are just a fraction of India’s Tibetan community. Most Tibetans remain in the shadowy informal economy, eking out a living as street merchants selling handicrafts, carpets and sweaters. But, he says, there’s been a huge shift into the formal economy, with Tibetan-owned restaurants, travel agencies, factories and food-processing plants.

The secret of their success?

Tobgyal: We take our spirituality as a big strength. The moment the essence of the spiritual is missing, the ethics are gone. We are not in a hurry to get one million or five-million dollar orders.

Tobgyal, a devout Buddhist, tells young Tibetan entrepreneurs to treat employees as partners and focus on long-term customer relationships rather than short-term profits. That approach seems to be working. The Tibetan Chamber of Commerce has ballooned in the last two years from 10 members to about 200.

Tobgyal says the main motivation for many Tibetan business leaders is sharing Tibet’s culture with the rest of the world — even China, despite Tibet’s troubled history with Beijing.

Tobgyal: One of our major targets is to do business with the Chinese. That is the only way the relationship can improve, because presently in political matters there’s a gap. But it is business which can bring us together.

Tobgyal hopes as India increases its trade and diplomatic links with China, Tibetans will have made themselves an irreplaceable part of India’s economic success story.

In Punjab Khor, I’m Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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