Senator John Kerry came to India recently to discuss, among other things, his opinions on outsourcing. During the U.S. elections of 2004, Indians (or at least the Indian media) never quite warmed to Kerry, so I suppose this was a chance for him to go on a goodwill tour and to see outsourcing at its, well, source.
Of course, outsourcing is a very sore subject in the U.S. and its impact has unfortunatley turned some Americans against South Asians. Its short-term effect has meant that many Americans have lost their jobs to workers in India that can do their jobs, if not more efficiently, then more economically. I even have an Indian-American friend whose relative lost her job to an Indian in India!
After being in India for a while, however, I can’t help but be a little touchy when discussing outsourcing with my compatriots at home. The people that I have met here that work at BPOs (Business Process Outsourcing companies) are some of the most diligent, hardworking people. And they aren’t just involved in the telemarketing fields. BPOs such as Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services, e-Serve, and Datamatics have stretched their tentacles to cover industries like IT, banking, finance, government, and entertainment. In fact, outsourcing is involved in almost every industry I can think of (which is even more than the average American can think of), so it isn’t going away anytime soon.
Outsourcing is not at all a new concept in India. Here, you go to a tailor, a jeweler, or any other business that provides a service, and you can be sure that the person with whom you are doing your transaction is not the person that is manufacturing the product. One tailor that we go to in Colaba probably has 10, 15, maybe 25 people working for him: he does the fitting, he interacts with the customers, but he is just the face of the service. The real work is going on behind closed doors. In a land of 1 billion people this is the reality. With so many people, labor is cheap. Then again, those people that are working for so little are at least getting the opportunity to work. I’m not saying its fair, per se. But that’s the solution when the population far outstrips viable employment.
Outsourcing has certainly led to some headaches in India, including more cars on roads that can’t handle them. But it has also been a boon to the Indian economy, creating a larger middle class that will eventually seek to spend its extra money on entertainment, clothing, imported gadgets, and other things that America or Europe can sell to it. Being middle class here can mean making less, but living comfortably, on $10,000 per year. That sounds outrageous to Westerners, but not when you consider that you can buy here a pound each of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and rice for a total of a dollar (and I’m probably even getting ripped off at that price).
But how does outsourcing help me? Why am I singing its praises? Well, dear reader, its because I, too, have begun to reap the benefits of the evil that is outsourcing. Since the dot com bust of 2000, I couldn’t for more than four years get a meaningful full-time job in the U.S. But then poof I move to India and I’ve got the gig I’ve always wanted: doing voiceovers.
It pays to be an American or westerner in India, especially in a place like Bombay. There really aren’t that many of us here, so we often get called on to do things like “speak with an American accent” – one task that Indians are ill-equipped to do.
A friend of a friend recently hooked me up with an outsourcing company that was working with an American client who needed an American female voice to talk about its product. I went into the sound studio, did a voice test, and a week or so later, the American client had approved my voice. Apparently, the BPO works with a number of industries in the U.S. who need voiceovers for software tutorials, television commercials, and whatnot. So, by the time I started, the BPO had gotten my voice approved for five (!) short projects. I don’t know the scope of the projects at this time, but I know the names of a few of the companies and they’re pretty big. I’m completely bowled over.
Maybe I’ve just found a new career for myself? Indeed, this has always been one of my all-time fantasies, along with attending the Westminster Dog Show and the French Open, starring in my own television travel show, reading the news on Sportscenter, and being a competitive ballroom dancer. I’ve been dreaming for some time now to be the well-modulated voice of the voicemail or the young, spunky of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines “Get Out There” ad campaign. Perhaps my ship has finally come in (pun intended).
So, don’t knock outsourcing. At least it’s employing one American you know.