I’d be nowhere without India.
I first traveled there while running athenahealth, the Watertown-based health care technology company I cofounded in 1997. I was immediately struck by the sheer number of people crowding every street, the crumbling buildings and potholed roads that seemed woefully inadequate to accommodate them all — and the upbeat, can-do energy that radiated despite the infrastructure challenges.
In the beginning, my company created a 13-person data entry center in Chennai, an economic hub on India’s southeastern coast. Over time, athenathealth’s India-based operations grew to thousands of people in multiple locations. Within a few years, those teams were processing complicated workflows and building sophisticated products.
Most businesses with which I’ve had success have been unexpectedly productive because of India. India is teeming with “American dream” energy: the ferocious will to innovate, work, save, plan, and — yes— sacrifice in order to transcend history, poverty, and personal challenge.
This sensibility pervades not just India’s national carriage, but the carriage of countless individuals — like the data entry clerks who arrive from villages without ever having owned basic necessities, let alone cellphones, and convert themselves into multi-generation lifelines for their families and communities with each rupee they send home
There is a growing legion of talented engineers who were raised in poverty but transcend their circumstances to achieve technological breakthroughs that reshape all of our lives. The city of Bangalore has so many tech startups that it’s known as the country’s Silicon Valley. And in the original Silicon Valley, Indian Americans are among the most influential leaders and entrepreneurs.
Now all of this — the robust environment of innovation, entrepreneurism, and economic advancement — is at risk as the country passes a grim milestone of more than 24 million COVID-19 cases, which is probably an undercount. Only about 2.9 percent of Indians have been fully vaccinated, despite the country’s status as one of the world’s leading vaccine manufacturers. The virus is spreading to India’s rural areas, where the hospital infrastructure is dangerously weak. To make matters worse, a recently identified strain that the World Health Organization identified last week as a variant of concern is rapidly spreading across India and appears particularly virulent, affecting young and old alike.
India needs our immediate help. Against this harrowing backdrop, I called my friend Raj Sharma, a Boston wealth manager who serves on the board of the American India Foundation, an organization devoted to accelerating social and economic change in India. AIF is at work sending life-saving medical oxygen to the areas that need it most — and using its extended network to ensure secure, swift delivery. Across India, demand for medical oxygen has increased sevenfold since last month, and there have been multiple reports of people dying after hospitals ran out.
India is America’s ally, a source of ingenuity and inspiration. It’s a critical engine of our economic growth. And for decades it’s been our partner in upholding the values of freedom and democracy, even when things get complicated.
At a Zoom fund-raiser on May 8, Raj and I raised $1.35 million, enough to buy 1,350 oxygen concentrators. This brought the total raised by AIF in recent weeks to over $20 million. The organization is in the process of sending India’s public hospitals 8,500 oxygen concentrators, as well as portable beds, oxygen generator plants, and ventilators. But the need remains enormous.
As any believer in the American dream knows, business and life hinge on timing. Our response in the coming days is essential to the 1.4 billion people living in India, our allies in virtually every sense. So let’s tap into our characteristically American can-do spirit and act now to do what we can to support the people of India.
Jonathan Bush is a technology entrepreneur.