Diwali celebrations in Utrecht
Utrecht Meets IndiaText Indira Zuljevic
In the true spirit of Dutch enterprise, the city of Utrecht decided to broaden its economical programme and concentrate on its international orientation. In June 2015, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen adopted the New International Economic Agenda, which focusses on developing relationships between the city of Utrecht and the new economic powers, India and China. It may very well have been asked: two giant continent-like countries joining hands with a relatively small city—what could that achieve? However, positive results were soon visible in many areas. How did it happen?

ATTRACTIVE CITY

Utrecht is a beautiful, old, middle-sized town in the Netherlands, famous for its architecture and its 380-year-old university. Every year flocks of new international students bring fresh energy to the town. With its pleasant living environment, good schools and the national park at short cycling distances, the city attracts young families with children. Close proximity to big centres like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Den Haag, and good public transport connections makes it appealing to entrepreneurs, small businesses and the creative industry.

A view of the city

INTERNATIONAL PEDIGREE

In 2013 the province of Utrecht was proclaimed to be one of the most competitive regions in Western Europe. Quickly, thereafter, the city decided not to sit on its laurels but to innovate and focus on its new economical program. At first the new plan concentrated on what the city already had: a growing number of international students, visitors,
businesses and investors. Many companies and cultural organisations based in Utrecht were already engaged with the international market. The University of Utrecht has
a long history of international programmes. The Utrecht Science Park, the centre of international activities,

Waterways are also used to commute in Utrecht

is the largest science park in the Netherlands. The big conglomeration, in the heart of the university campus, concentrates on knowledge and high-end technology. It represents precisely the vision that the city has in mind: to become the international focal point for young talented academics, research institutes and modern companies.

A POSITIVE BEGINNING

You would expect a big organization behind such an ambitious program but only a small group of people in the municipality is working on the collaboration with India. The Netherlands has one of the most liberal and open public systems; every decision concerning the new economic program with India is debated and reviewed with the Indian community. Decisions are made together with due considerations to cultural and religious matters.

Bharti Girjasing, advisor for international affairs, India section, at the office for management strategy, municipality of Utrecht, says, “When we started working on the city of Utrecht’s cooperation with India,
we were aware of the differences and possible difficulties that we faced. But at the same time
we saw immense possibilities for development that would benefit both sides. Our admiration for
Indian culture, warm relationships between

Utrecht university woos Indians

people and their way of living grew day by day. Utrecht is working hard to become a pleasurable and attractive city for everybody and India has already made her impression on it. Our work enriched and inspired us immensely. Our journey with India has just begun.”

PROGRESS ON THE GROUND

Not long after the start of the programme, some concrete steps have been taken. The new Expat Centre in the municipal office is open, as is the International Primary and Secondary School, Utrecht. The municipality is facilitating workshops for international entrepreneurs and financially supporting promising initiatives.

The programme ‘Utrecht Connected Worldwide’ offers space for cultural and knowledge exchange with other Indian cities. The city of Utrecht is subsidising exchange in the areas of green economy, human capital, digital services and creative industries. It is apparent that Utrecht is becoming attractive to well-educated Indians. Indian businesses in the field of information technology have doubled. The service sector has seen a big increase in the number of Indian businesses. Lately, the city has been concentrating on improving the flow between people working in education and entrepreneurs.

Logo of the first Gandhi Walk

THE INDIAN EFFORT

The Indian community did not lag behind. Together, with the large community of Surinamese Indians, they are working on e-visibility of Indian culture. Non-profit organizations as Stichting India Nedeland Surinam are organizing different activities to support the program. These include unveiling of the Gandhi statue in Utrecht in October 2016, and a Gandhi Walk with Utrecht University; celebrating Indian festivals like Diwali and Holi; bringing together Indian entrepreneurs living in the Netherlands; creating meeting opportunities between Indian tour operators and local tour operators; and research and participation in the smart cities programmes in New Delhi.

And so, the answer to the question “how did it happen” is clear: the combine of the spirit of Dutch venture with Indian flexibility and resourcefulness works well.