Reimagining France India Cultural & Business Leadership

Discover the interview with Coumar ANANDA, a Franco-Indian entrepreneur and founder of several initiatives aimed at strengthening relations between France and India. After a career in Banking and IT industry in France, Coumar decided to reconnect with India to pursue his passions and contribute to the development of cultural and business ties between the two countries.

Co-founder of India Advisory Paris, Founder of Textile MuseumLab, Founder of French TechAcademy India.
UJA: - After having a career in France, why did you choose, a year ago, to professionally reconnect with India?

Coumar ANANDA:  This project of reconnecting with India had been maturing within me for several years. When I arrived in France, my intention was to pursue studies in the history of art, but I was strongly advised to study finance and economics, fearing that I wouldn’t find professional opportunities with a degree in Art. So, I turned towards studies in finance. I started my career in banking, driven by employability and salaried work, but far from my inner passions.

My first attempt to reconnect with India dates back to 2008 when French companies regained interest in the country after the crisis. However, I was not ready at that time, and it was a learning experience that profoundly transformed me.

Subsequently, over the past ten years, I rediscovered the Indian corporate world through major Indian IT companies for which I worked in France. This allowed me to better understand the cultural, economic, and political challenges of the Indian market, as well as its connections with the French market. I learned a lot about the intelligence of human relationships and the necessary risk-taking to launch ambitious projects, without getting too caught up in debates about hypothetical business plans, planning, or managing theoretical risks. The leadership speeches of Indian industry giants still resonate within me: “de-focus,” “aim for unreasonable targets,” “train your brain to see the opportunities ahead of the market,”…

Thus, over the past ten years, I matured and nurtured this project again, and today I actively embark not so much on conquering the Indian market but rather on conquering my passions in creating value between France and India in the fields of arts and crafts, education, and new technologies.

I have undertaken several projects in the fields of education, culture, and consulting, with the profound conviction that we are not destined to pursue a single activity and specialize in one specific field, but rather to draw nourishment from as diverse experiences as possible while being aware of the economic realities and psychological pressures faced by entrepreneurs. We all have passions, but it is also necessary to finance our daily lives and our own transition to a new model of work and fulfilment. This cost often becomes a hindrance for most employees who dream of entrepreneurship. The world of employment pushes us to focus on a single aspect of ourselves for the company’s performance. However, no one is born to spend a lifetime mastering a single profession, a single tool, or a single process… We all have the capacity to learn multiple languages, engage in multiple professions, and live off our passions.

It is with this perspective that, working within large Indian groups, I acquired an essential understanding of the importance of generating projects in complex and parallel environments characterized by distinct short, medium, and long-term life cycles. Then, it’s about surrounding oneself with the best passionate experts to live new experiences before building new companies. Thus, short-term projects, with life cycles of 3 to 6 months, play a crucial role in financing long-term projects that have a broader impact. This is an approach we can achieve collectively by mobilizing our networks, friends, and families both in France and India.

Today, my main motivation is to contribute, through my projects, to strengthening the cultural and economic relations between France and India.

In this context, I have launched two projects in India and a third one in France:

Our first educational project involves the creation of the French TechAcademy Junior, aimed at providing young children from the age of 7 with the opportunity to learn not only about new technologies but also the French language, thus offering an additional advantage in addition to the linguistic diversity already present in India. Since March 2023, this project has been in the pilot phase in collaboration with the French International School of Pondicherry, which has opened its doors to us. Our ambition is to subsequently expand the French TechAcademy Junior to Indian cities such as Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, and Kolkata.

In addition to the French TechAcademy Junior, we have developed the French TechAcademy Expert, intended for Indian and French companies that wish to build a pool of bilingual talents trained in new technologies in India. These talents will be able to work in French in the field of new technologies. For this second project, we have partnered with OpenClassroom in France for certification and diploma training in the field of new technologies, as well as with institutions in India such as the Alliance Française and other private institutes for teaching the French language. This training is also aimed at French and Indian companies that want to train their employees in both the French language and new technologies. This new type of talent is sought after and currently non-existent in India.

Beyond language, teaching French culture and cultural etiquette are of crucial importance in terms of employability and economic competitiveness.

My second project, titled Textile MuseumLab, is related to the cultural sphere. This is my long-term project. I am reconnecting with my passion for culture, art, archaeology, and history, with the motivation of preserving, enhancing, sublimating, and transmitting them to future generations. It was in France that I became aware of the importance of cultural heritage transmission, as this country admirably masters the preservation and transmission of its cultural heritage.

The idea of the Textile MuseumLab was born during my visit to the old textile mills in Pondicherry, built in the 19th century. These mills were initially established by entrepreneurs from Bordeaux and Normandie with the aim of supplying the African market. They specialized in the manufacturing and printing of cotton textiles known as “Guinées de Pondichéry,” which were exported to Africa (Ivory Coast, Senegal, etc.).

After India’s independence, these mills ceased slowly their activities due to insufficient competitiveness, but the site was preserved. It houses remarkable architectural heritage as well as an exceptional urban forest spanning several hectares. The brick constructions, similar to those found in northern France, were built by French builders of that time. Steam engines imported from England still remain on-site.

These mills employed tens of thousands of workers from Pondicherry and constituted the city’s main economic activity, bringing together workers, engineers, and managers. Those who worked in these factories still retain memories of the factory and the premises. My grandfather was in charge of finances in this factory at the beginning of the last century.

Thus, beyond the architectural renovation aimed at creating a cultural space, our project also aims to preserve the memory of a city and the thousands of families who prospered thanks to this factory. Today, this place has somewhat fallen into oblivion.

UJA: - How do you plan to finance this project?

Coumar Ananda: – Our project involves creating a cultural, educational, and recreation space comprising a museum, a design school, and a laboratory focusing on India’s ancestral textile craftsmanship, which was once environmentally friendly and based on sustainable manufacturing processes. The objective is to rediscover this living heritage and teach it, passing it on to future generations.

In this context, we have assembled a team and established the “Pondicherry City & MuseumLab Foundation” in collaboration with several key stakeholders: architects, consulting firms, fashion houses, the City of Pondicherry, INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), and the Agence France-Muséums. The founding members of the foundation, namely Rashmi Naik, Caroline Nachtwey, Dev Gupta, Segiyane-sylvain Paquiry, Matthieu Lebeurre, Ganesh Karunamurthy, Naushad Ali, and myself, are involved in all project-related activities.

The primary purpose of this foundation is to conduct a feasibility study. To finance this study, we will seek CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) funding from companies and foundations in India to demonstrate the economic and cultural viability of this project for the city of Pondicherry and, more broadly, for India.

Finally, we come to the project that allows us to live and finance these dreams!

I co-founded India Advisory Paris with Jérémie Sabbagh, which aims to mobilize our complementary skills and support our clients in their acquisition and fundraising projects. Jérémie, a former Sciences Po Paris graduate and lawyer by profession, has built the impossible in India: a small empire in organic and responsible food experience. He brings valuable expertise to our clients in terms of implementing operational business strategies and leveraging a business network rooted in India.

On my part, having held various responsibilities for French and Indian companies in France over the past 25 years, ranging from treasurer in banking to head of commercial business units for Technology services companies, I bring banking and commercial expertise to our project, along with a partner ecosystem that we put at the service of our clients.

UJA: Who are your clients?

Coumar Ananda: – These clients are French or Indian startups seeking to make acquisitions and raise funds in France or India to finance their growth. Most of them operate in the field of new technologies. Currently, we are assisting a company specializing in virtual reality, another in artificial intelligence, and a third in business services related to international mobility.

UJA: Any final thoughts on your vision?

Coumar Ananda: – I would like to convey a message to those who wish to embark on entrepreneurship in India and still have doubts and questions. Your ambition should not be limited by your economic resources or social environment. If you are convinced of what you want to achieve for yourself and your family and if you deeply believe that India is meant for you, you can accomplish the unimaginable and unrealizable in France.

Things can move very quickly in India if you are open to new challenges and are willing to realize yourself in a different way. The French who succeeds in India are those who have a passion for the country, its people, and its culture above all else. The same applies to Indians who want to succeed in France. 

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