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Think globally, act locally: Suhas Kulkarni organizing Louisville’s multi-mission Office for Globalization

by Terry Boyd

Mayor Greg Fischer and Suhas Kulkarni

If you think globally and act locally, you’re just the person Suhas Kulkarni is looking for.

Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer has chosen Kulkarni as director, Office for Globalization, charged with reviving Louisville’s moribund international affairs efforts.

Unlike past city efforts, Kulkarni promises the Office for Globalization will more than a festivals organizer.

He lays out a  holistic mission starting with assisting recent immigrants striving for self-sufficiency to building a platform from which Louisville businesses can start selling in overseas markets.

Kulkarni himself traveled the long road to the Land of Opportunity.

Immigrating from India in 1986, he comes to city government from the private sector, the founder if OmnisyS, s Louisville-based IT and systems consultancy.

But in the early days after his arrival, Kulkarni owned a convenience market in the Germantown neighborhood.

Kulkarni acknowledges he’s running a start-up at the Office for Globalization – ambitious in scope, modestly financed.

In the 2011 budget, the new office gets $140,000, funding covering Kulkarni’s salary and expenses, according to Chris Poynter, Fischer’s communications director.

Initially, the Office for Globalization will be a shoestring operation as Kulkarni builds a network of volunteers and social-services groups among Louisville’s business community, emigres and locals with international interests.

And he stresses how, if Louisville is going to join the 21st Century global economy, the city will need an all-encompassing approach.

(Click to enlarge)

In an initial Office for Globalization’s mission diagram, the effort is divvied up between three distinct but ultimately integrated efforts: “Sufficiency and Success,” Multicultural City: and “Global Publicity.”

“Sufficiency and Success” classifies new Louisvillians into three groups:

  • New arrivals who need English skills, education, jobs and survival basics including shelter. Kulkarni’s message to recent emigres is, “We don’t want you to feel dependent on us. We want to make you a success. We want to give them the basis skills to get into a pattern of self-sufficiency.”
  • Recent arrivals who need to be better integrated into Louisville’s economy .
  • Immigrants already “climbing the ladder of success,” Kulkarni said.

“Multicultural City” will include programs to bring together people with international backgrounds and interests.

“Global Publicity” will include programs to attract foreign investment to Louisville and to push Louisville companies into the global trade arena.

David Jones, Jr. says he sees Kulkarni’s appointment as a first step to figuring out how to best build a robust international effort.

Jones, chairman and managing director of the Louisville-based Chrysalis Ventures private equity firm, is a long-time advocate for making Louisville more attractive to international entrepreneurs.

He describes Kulkarni as a high-profile businessman with the organizational skills and entree to emigre communities sufficient to formulate successful strategies.

“Then, the funding needs will follow from the strategies rather than traditional way of saying, ‘How much money can we throw at this?’ ” Jones said.

Kulkarni helped form the Greater Louisville International Professionals program for Greater Louisville Inc., the Metro Chamber of Commerce, Jones noted.

Kulkarni also is president of Crane House, The China Institute, an Old Louisville-based community organization offering Asian cultural programs and events.

“He’s leader in Indian community, a thoughtful smart guy who can talk to everyone and figure what can be usefully done” Jones said.

Jones said Kulkarni has his and Fischer’s support to try and move past the Abramson administration’s defunct Office of International Affairs.

“That strategy was tired,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t have taken the meeting if they’d been talking about putting on festivals on the Belvedere.”

Jones and Kulkarni emphasized how they believe 2011 is a crucial time for Louisville to amp up its international efforts.

“Some of it is tying together a number of things going on,” Jones said. “Louisville has some incredibly global companies. KFC’s growth is the hottest story in China. Brown-Forman is a great story. It  used to be barely international. Now, it’s just ripping in emerging markets as its become much more sophisticated.

“We have a lot going on (internationally), but we just don’t have any way to tie it all together.”

To volunteer: Call the Office for Globalization at 502-574-8138.

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