Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Mandeep Rai as part of her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Mandeep Rai, the author of ‘The Values Compass: What 101 Countries Teach Us About Purpose, Life and Leadership’, is seen as a global authority on values, working with companies, institutions, and individuals around the world. She has travelled to more than 150 countries and reported as a journalist for the BBC World Service and Reuters, amongst others.
Mandeep studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), has an MSc in development from the London School of Economics (LSE), and completed an MBA at London Business School, with a year at Harvard Business School and MIT. She also holds a PhD in global values.
Your book charts the values you learnt from your travels to over 100 different countries, no mean feat; How long did this journey take you and what was the greatest lesson you learnt?
Thank you, Reena! I’ve travelled to over 150 countries (so just a quarter of the world to go). It happened rather naturally over the last 20 years. I either studied, worked or travelled to each.
To answer your question in short, this journey took 20 years. My travels began at university where I won a full scholarship to study PPE at the University of Melbourne. Once there, with that window of freedom, I made it my mission to travel almost every country in between on my way back home to the UK, thinking to myself ‘who knows when I might ever get such an opportunity?!’
After working in private banking at JPMorgan, my first job as a graduate, I took a three-month sabbatical to travel Central America – and by a twist of fate, was given a job within media (Creative Visions) in Los Angeles, and never looked back.
Thereafter, I would report for the BBC World Service (the most widely listened to radio station in the world) and so by definition, the more varied my international work, the better it was for them. I reported from the Far East, South America, Africa, to name a few regions.
International travel was aided by a Masters in International Development from the LSE. I then went on to work for the United Nations in New York, the European Commission in Brussels, as well as many grassroots organisations in developing nations. I will never forget my first consultancy, which was in Uganda for the Memory Project – working with orphans whose parents had died from HIV AIDs.
After getting married I was offered the opportunity to set up the first Media Venture Capital Fund in the Middle East – investing in a plethora of media so that Islam wouldn’t be synonymous with terrorism, but that the wider world would know more about the region. This was based in Abu Dhabi and required me to travel across the Middle East and North Africa.
For my MBA, I studied at Harvard Business School and MIT in the US, and I have worked and lived there on numerous occasions, and then of course there was my honeymoon – during which my husband and I took friends on an adventure across India!
What I have I learned from all this in just a few words? The Thai phrase, “same, same but different”, speaks to our similarity and unity, although there are surface cultural differences. More detailed lessons from each place are covered in the book.
How would you best describe your relationship with the UK and India?
I love India. Not just the Bollywood India I delved into every Saturday growing up in a council estate in Gloucestershire, when my mother would insist we watch a film with her. Nor the India of the gurdwara visits in the 1980s. Nor the diaspora India, which is so different in each country.
In the US, Indians are more synonymous with education, for they generally migrated for a Masters programme as was the case with my Mohan Mama Ji. Whilst Indians here in the UK are a result of our longstanding relationship with Britain, and Sikhs made up about 50 per cent of the Indian Army from a less than 2 per cent of the population, and many Indian Troops fought in World War II.
My grandparents lived here in the 1940s, and although they wished to move back to India in their retirement, my children are now fourth-generation British. British Indians, vis-a-vis the diaspora I know in Canada, Australia, even Togo is very different the world over, given the year of migration, and the geo-political context. I do think the American diaspora suffer less racism than British Indians, but I digress. My relationship with India is different to all those above, it is with my own India.
I first visited India aged 14 when I quickly realised that Indians in India did not see me as Indian, and my white village in the Gloucestershire saw me as nothing but Indian. So not that India either.
But the India I relate to is the India I got to know during my first posting for the BBC World Service. I was in India for over a year and reported from across the breadth and depth of the country, covering almost everywhere geographically (apart from Assam and Sikkim). During this time, I also wrote and photographed for ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘The Times of India’ newspapers. This was almost 20 years ago, and I have made a concerted effort to try and visit India as often as possible with my family.
I love modern India and ancestral India – they have given me roots and wings, and I am grateful for the colour of my skin, spiritual way of life, the values associated and that Punjabi (and Hindi) are my ma-booli (mother tongue). ‘I love my India…’
The language, prayer, values, traditions, food, friendships, culture, dance, etc are in my everyday – always. In the UK I am Indian, and in India I am seen as British - however, having India has my foundation and England as my current home, I am simply a citizen of the world, whom seeks to see the best of where she is, and aims to incorporate that within, and hopes to inspire others to do the same. Hence the birth of The Values Compass, which distils one positive value per country.
Which one person has had the greatest influence in your life, and why?
My parents – it is a cliché, but in my case it is so true. Their hard work, sacrifices, continuous life proverbs that have been drip fed over my lifetime, have come out as a thousand little jewels in the book. My parents moved from Birmingham, to Gloucestershire, to California, and back to the United Kingdom, always with our best interest in mind – and you do not know until you are a parent, what it means to live like that.
Then there are my grandparents and all grand uncles and aunts, for it takes a village. Speaking of which, it would be amiss to not mention a few of the others who ‘made’ me, many of whom who have been mentioned in the acknowledgements at the end of ‘The Values Compass’. From Spiritual Guide Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, to my first mentor at Areos Flying School, Roger Poolman – teaching me how to fly, both physically and spiritually.
There is a special place in heaven for women who support other women, and I will be meeting a wonderful band of merry women in heaven or Nirvana, including my Fairy Godmother, Kathy Eldon, and all my soul sisters – you know who you are.
Then there are my incredible professors. I know it is their job to blow your mind, but some are able to blow your soul, past and future too, and Nitin Nohira, Dean of Harvard Business School, certainly did that.
The point of mentioning a few more than one, is that we all make a difference to another. I live to pay it forward like each and every one of these people and countless others have done for me.
No one can accomplish anything alone – it takes supporting one another all the way, and this type of community brings joy, longevity, meaning and colour to life. I used to live as though I might be married or dead very soon, and in hindsight this joie de vivre, or exuberant gratitude and enjoyment of life, right here and now, has worked wonders for me. It can all be summarised as Chardi Kala, defined as ascending optimism – why focus on anything else?
What has been your career highlight?
Although I’ve been fortunate to have many... becoming an International Bestseller, and perhaps the first Sikh woman to do so, is a definite highlight.
To have had ‘The Values Compass’ be a success throughout the world, translated into multiple languages, and be chosen as the guide to the Olympics Tokyo 2021, is honestly beyond my wildest dreams.
To be picked up at Dubai Airport and then presented to the Prime Minister of Hungary, such that it was immediately published for the country, is such a wild and true story!
To now, writing a regular ‘Forbes’ column and speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, regularly over the last decade.
To be having weekly national virtual dinners with 25 of the most influential women of each nation... celebrating the value of that specific country, across over 101 countries. And for each of those women to then pay it forward to a further 10 women, such that we host dinners of 250 women, with the Female Quotient Pack – well, the world has never looked stronger or better.
The concept of this book first began when I fell pregnant with my first child – I thought I was writing ‘Letters to my unborn child’. Now nearly 10 years later, having been through an incredible journey of discovery, including studying for a PhD, the book finally came out in 2020. Only for bookshops around the world to close and Amazon to announce that they would be focusing on delivering emergency supplies rather than books! And yet still, Gurakha (it was blessed by the Guru).
This is not my book but the 100,000 of incredible people that I’ve had the privilege to interview for it. Prime Ministers and Presidents the world over, past and present. World leaders from the Clintons to Kofi Annan, royalty from Prince William to the King of Bhutan, actors from George Clooney and Matt Damon to Aishwarya Rai, singers from Mariah Carey to Black Eyed Peas, spirits from His Holiness The Dalai Lama to Sadhguru, sportspeople from Rafa Nadal to Sachin Tendulkar, Indian film celebrities from Rekha to Amitabh Bachchan. What a journey to share!
*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.