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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Young Tibetans make success in India

September 16, 2010

Marketplace (USA)
September 15, 2010

The new generation of Tibetans are taking
advantage of India's economic rise. Unlike their
parents who laid low, for the most part, in
India, younger Tibetans are using their
entrepreneurial spirit to make Tibetans an
essential part of the Indian economy.

Tibetan shop owners wait for customers at a
market in Majnu Ka Tila in New Delhi. India
houses the world's largest Tibetan refugee
population. (MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images)

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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