Breaking trade barriers: Debadutta Dash works on building relationships with local businesses and India

By Sarah Yee
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Debadutta Dash

In 2001, at a round table meeting in Tacoma with Asian community leaders and Congressman Adam Smith, Debadutta Dash had an unpleasant experience.

“They said to me, ‘Excuse me sir, this meeting is for the Asian community.’ I said, ‘OK, I am an Asian.’ And they asked me [to leave] again a second time, third time, and [then] they left. Not all of them, but a few of them have that wrong perception that Indians are not Asians, because we don’t look like [East] Asians.”

Now, as Dash attends these kinds of meetings almost a decade later, he feels welcomed. He is the founder and co-chair of the Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee (WASITRAC), a major achievement that Dash looks back on this year.

“I was just thinking [in 2001], ‘My goodness, I’m just by myself. There’s no place to go.’ That was funny,” Dash reminisced. “I didn’t feel bad, but I felt sad because the level of awareness in our Asian community about other Asians is so wrongly perceived. India belongs to Asia, too.”

For almost nine years, Dash has worked toward building bridges between local Indians and other Asian communities. He is also excited for WASITRAC’s first trade mission to Orissa, India, with 12 community members and leaders who will attend from Washington state next month.

Dash describes Orissa as a treasure island. It is one of the 28 states of India. It currently has no ties with other foreign states or cities. Orissa boasts 300 miles of coastline, and the Port of Dhamra is a gateway to many mines and commercial centers of India. The state could benefit from a partnership.

“They have the resources, but they don’t know how to use them. They build homes, but they don’t know the architecture of saving energy. They establish industries without thinking that they are affecting global warming. They don’t know about clean energy. It is needed now.”

“I believe in collaborations. I believe in partnerships. You can’t achieve everything by yourself. When you collaborate, you can achieve much more and much faster,” said Dash.

The chief minister of Orissa sent a delegation of 25 members to visit Seattle in June. They were very high-profile and highly-educated individuals from India, and they look forward to a partnership between the two states.

“The United States [has become] a super power, within just 250 years of history. It is because we have the experience in how to do things best, as far as the international standard [goes]. We can finish a product according to the international standard, which can last a long time. We need to sell our expertise in consultancy, in guiding, in how to finish things more effectively so they can last a long time. We need to sell that strength,” said Dash.

Today at Bellevue’s Westin Hotel, where Dash is the group sales manager and the service culture trainer, he envisions that what he witnessed in Bellevue can also take place in India. The Westin Hotel and Lincoln Square in downtown Bellevue were nonexistent five years ago. Now, the development attracts many businesses and consumers from all over the region and the world.

“If within five years, we can build the city of Bellevue [in this way], why can’t we build the same thing in a different place, using our expertise in project management and our business?” Dash reflected as he sat in the café of the Westin Hotel in Bellevue.

In addition to his WASITRAC responsibilities and his full-time job at the Westin Hotel, Dash was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire last December as a Commissioner for the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA). He is busy improving the representation of Indians and Asian Pacific Americans in the community.

“I feel more challenged than obligated when I do these things. It gives me a sense of satisfaction that I can make a little difference that might be able to benefit the community in a big way.”

One of Gandhi’s philosophies deeply inspires Dash. When Gandhi was struggling to fight for non-violence and freedom for India, this is what he experienced.

“At first, they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you. But after that, you win. [Gandhi was] talking about people who want to do something but put a lot of effort for small changes,” said Dash. ♦

Sarah Yee can be reached at info@nwaswianweekly.com.

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