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Insights from the Seattle-Setu conference

By Jason Cruz 

Seattle University played host to a dynamic gathering on Sept. 6 known as the Seattle-Setu conference to discuss the social, political, and economic conditions that could shape U.S.-India relations, specifically in the Pacific Northwest. The conference highlighted the importance of the strategic partnership and opportunities between these two countries.

Panel discussions focused on the benefits that Indian companies bring to Washington state’s economy, investments flowing from the state to India, and opportunities for Seattle to engage with India. Prominent speakers at the conference included Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, state Sen. Manka Dhingra, King County Superior Court Judge Ketu Shah, and Raj Shah, the founder of clothing brand Shah Safari.  

The word Setu is derived from Sanskrit, meaning bridge. 

One of the major themes of the conference was the growth in the Indian population within the area. From a granular view, Judge Shah, one of the panel moderators on cross-border legal relationships, recalled co-founding a South Asian Bar Association for lawyers with only six attorneys many years ago. It has grown beyond its original six members since then. There were also anecdotes shared about the excitement of encountering other people of Indian descent at the mall, or a new store popping up. Samir Kumar, an executive at Amazon, noted that in 1999, he could find only one India store on the Eastside, which was at the Crossroads Mall in Bellevue. 

Multiple conversations during panels emphasized the opportunities for both India and Seattle to benefit from the expansion of companies, technologies, and industries. According to Kumar’s panel discussion, which focused on embracing opportunities and overcoming challenges, there are now over 70,000 individuals of Indian descent living on the Eastside.  

“We could feel there was a community coming up,” stated Kumar. “I’m not surprised because there has been all this talent. It goes wherever it is,” he said of the growing businesses in different sectors, including Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, and others.  

Anand Swaminathan, an executive at Infosys Communications, Media and Technology, advised on how Indian businesses can become successful in the area.  

“Being engaged [in the regional community] is going to make [businesses] more rich in so many ways.” He stressed that businesses must continue to invest and integrate into the region, even after establishing roots. The panel also discussed the cultural and company values and their relevance to success in the Northwest. 

Of course, the number of Indian restaurants that have sprouted in the region are vast compared to the late 20th century. 

The conference highlighted the new RoundGlass India Center at Seattle University, emphasizing its role as “a bridge to India,” said Assistant Law Professor Sital Kilany at Seattle University, who was one of the planners. The Interdisciplinary Center on the campus of Seattle University will be used to “engage the Indian community” and conduct research that can be applied to “practical academic knowledge,” said Kilany. The RoundGlass India Center, initially founded at Cornell Law School by Kilany and later relocated to Seattle University when she came west, will be a focal point for students and academics to engage with India.  

“It is a launching pad for a bigger and broader center,” said Kilany. This fall, the center will host several dignitaries including a member of Indian parliament, one of India’s top lawyers, and others to speak and engage with students and the greater community.  

“My friends, to me, this (launch of the RoundGlass India Center) is a very precious contribution from the U.S. to India in the post-9/11 era of the U.S. I am sure that this center will add tremendous value in bringing our two democracies even closer,” said Infosys Founder and Chairperson Emeritus Narayana Murthyin in videotaped remarks for the conference.

The distinguished keynote speaker for the event was Rep. Pramila Jayapal as she discussed the opportunities for Seattle’s engagement with India. Also, Deputy Assistant Secretary for India with the U.S. State Department, Nancy Izzo Jackson, spoke about the history and future of the two countries. 

Jason can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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