The farmers’ children in dusty Darbaripur no longer want to work the land. For them, software engineering is the new occupation of choice.
It’s not surprising. Their paddy fields have given rise to India’s latest technology hub – tall glass buildings dot the skyline, the hundreds of offices inside brightly light up Gurgaon. It’s 7am in the morning. Buffaloes graze nearby, and farmers settle down to their traditional clay hookahs. There’s very little left of their ancestral village.
Karan Singh is a 47-year-old farmer whose life – like the other farmers in his village – used to depend on erratic monsoons. Then property prices soared. He sold his farmland and became an overnight millionaire.
“There are no farms left here for us to remain farmers,” he says. “Our hope is that our future generation will also be employed as software engineers in the offices that have sprung up here. Given good education and the right facilities, our children are also capable of achieving anything.”
The dream is not as far-fetched as it seems. Located just outside India’s national capital, Delhi, the high-rise homes and offices in India’s so-called “Millenium City” are the product of two decades of the country’s rapid economic growth. Hundreds of software companies and call centres have set up shop here. The private sector is championing the India dream – it accounts for 87% of the total investments worth $72 billion USD (4.5 lakh crore rupees) that were attracted by the state (as of June 2012), according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.
Gurgaon is becoming one of India's most important cities. Its proximity to Delhi means that companies have access to political decision makers. The diversity of companies here – ranging from every major telecom player to automobile manufacturer to banking company means that the talent pool is diverse and with valuable experience. Many experts in India feel that Silicon Valley succeeded because of the kind of crossroads it provided for technical, creative minds with the right financial and marketing input. Gurgaon seems to be at a similar cusp now.
Unlike Bangalore or Mumbai, real estate is not a problem here; the city was started by developers so there is an abundance of high-quality office and residential spaces. So, in the 1990s, when multinational companies looked for office space to house thousands of employees in call centres in India, Gurgaon became an obvious choice. Other suburbs such as Faridabad were also well-placed, but a single decision changed Gurgaon’s fortunes overnight.
Indian real estate company DLF persuaded Jack Welch – then the chief executive of General Electric (GE) – to set up a facility here, and in 1997 it became the first US company to outsource software work to India. That prompted others to come to Gurgaon, says Pankaj Kulshreshtha who leads the analytics and research practice at Genpact.
Genpact’s story best illustrates Gurgaon’s success. The company began as a call centre within General Electric, but it was hived off in 2005 as a separate entity, and began to service other clients outside of GE. Today it employs nearly 60,000 people, and has centres across the world.
Gurgaon too has grown; it’s now the biggest hub of outsourcing companies in the world. Thanks to the success of its industry, half-a-million new jobs have been created in the area. India now has over 50% market share in the world’s IT outsourcing industry, and most of that work happens from Gurgaon. The total global and domestic outsourcing market opportunity for India is expected to grow three-fold from $500bn in 2008 to $1.5tn by 2020, according to India Brand Equity, a foundation set up by the government.