“It’s a different world today and a very different India. Today, India-related policy forms an important aspect of the U.S. foreign and economic policy. For USINPAC, an organisation that represents 2.7 million Indian-Americans, the challenges grow as the relationship evolves.
We have to work harder at activating the Indian community in the U.S. as well as raising awareness among members of U.S. Congress and those in administration,” says Puri. And he is himself walking the talk and trying to keep USINPAC on the cutting edge of the fast evolving Indo-US relations.
Puri is also the founder and president of the Alliance for US-India Business, an organisation working towards strengthening economic ties between the two countries.
A defining moment for the Indian community in the U.S. was the Indo-US nuclear deal under President George W Bush. USINPAC, under the stewardship of Puri, was at the forefront lobbying for it, and geo-strategic challenges are no less even today, three years after the deal came into effect.
“The challenges today are very different from three years ago. The pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan will have a deep impact for India and the engagement of the U.S. government with India on this issue is something that the Indian community is very concerned about,” says Puri. And the challenge for a political activist is about keeping the awareness campaign going on all issues relating to Indo-US matters.
As the head of a bipartisan organisation, Puri and his people have to work with politicians across parties and sometimes the lack of knowledge on India-related issues can be frustrating. “But for me the return on investment continues to remain high and even after 10 years I am not ready to move out of this role. It’s like the love for one’s children, it evolves but will always remain,” he says. Puri often works for 18-20 hours a day trying to balance between Indian and U.S. time zones.
He travels to India at least five times a year, sometimes at very short notices. And the reward for him comes when he sees the second and third generation of Indians in the U.S. increasingly taking on roles in public life.
“Earlier Indians in the U.S. were known for their apathy towards political roles and were focussed only on businesses and professional achievements. But that is fast changing. Younger Indians are entering various public roles — the large number of Indians in President Obama’s team is an example.
Even at USINPAC, we have a large volunteer base of young people and the energy levels are very high,” he says. Indians are also participating in elections at various levels and now there are many more Indian Americans holding elected positions.
Personally, Puri combines the role of an entrepreneur with his job at USINPAC. He feels that as president and CEO, he is lucky to have a great team at Optimos Inc, a Virginia-based IT services company that he founded in 1993. “I’m equally passionate about my business and my public role,” says Puri, who is considered a business leader in the northern Virginia community.
Optimos is among the top firms providing IT solutions to federal government agencies. Puri also has a long-standing interest in health care and has received a small business innovative research grant from the National Institutes of Health for an interactive Alzheimer’s diagnostic tool.
For him, the decision to start the Indian operations of Optimos in Pune was not just about cutting costs. “India for us is about huge opportunities — it is after all the world’s fastest growth engine. We have always looked at India to hire senior level staff. But now the U.S. economy is also bouncing back which represents growth opportunities for us,” says Puri.