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In Hyderabad, Indian Entrepreneurs Size Up Ivanka Trump

Ivanka Trump (left) speaks as Chanda Kochhar, managing director and CEO of ICICI Bank, looks on, during a panel discussion at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad on Wednesday.
Money Sharma
AFP/Getty Images
Ivanka Trump (left) speaks as Chanda Kochhar, managing director and CEO of ICICI Bank, looks on, during a panel discussion at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad on Wednesday.

Ivanka Trump was welcomed as American royalty in India this week at a global mashup of innovators and entrepreneurs.

She led the U.S. delegation to the 8th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which wrapped up Thursday in the city of Hyderabad, a vibrant IT hub.

Polished and splendidly attired, Trump packed a cavernous auditorium in the city that's emerging as a center of innovation.

"The greatest treasure is you," Trump declared in her keynote address, "the dreamers, innovators, entrepreneurs who never give up."

Trump noted that for the first time, women made up "the majority of the 1,500 entrepreneurs selected to attend this summit."

Nearly every statistic she rattled off about the economic benefits of women entrepreneurs was met with applause. There was genuine excitement about her visit, even if Indian summit-goers gave her mixed reviews.

A-listers vied for an invitation to the lavish dinner Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted in Trump's honor Tuesday night at the luxurious Falaknuma Palace. At a dining table said to be the longest in the world, 101 guests supped on a sumptuous five-course meal.

Some put the gushing over Trump down to Indian love of celebrities. Others cited her access — as the daughter of President Donald Trump — to the Oval Office.

Deepanwita Chattopadhyay, chairman and CEO of IKP Knowledge Park, an incubator for startups, said Trump was "projected as a state guest, and a state guest would get that kind of treatment."

But Chattopadhyay also said Trump was a "novelty," and the fact that she was a bona fide entrepreneur bumped up her relevance among the entrepreneurs from more than 100 countries.

Trump has stepped aside from the management of her apparel line since becoming adviser to her father.

Her clothing brand is sourced from factories mostly in China, where female workers dominate the low-wage industry. Allegations of labor abuse involving Trump's supply chain have surfaced.

In a letter, 23 labor and human rights groups told Trump that her clothing line makes a mockery of President Trump's "Buy American, Hire American" mandate, and urged her to publicly disclose the names and locations of the factories making Trump-branded products.

Many delegates in Hyderabad demurred when asked whether such alleged business practices collided with the theme of the summit: the empowerment of women. But not Harish Hande, CEO of Selco, a social enterprise that promotes sustainable energy for the poor.

"I see a complete contradiction because – what are we pushing for? Inclusivity in the business, right?" he said.

Hande said India itself needs to pull "600 million poor" into better living conditions and that "exploiting poverty" is no solution.

"You don't hire poor just because you get cheap labor," Hande said.

Anu Acharya, founder of the medical-diagnosis company Mapmygenome, said many delegates told her they were interested in Trump mostly as a fashion icon, which she says is "unfortunate."

"What mattered to me," Acharya said, "is that she has been an entrepreneur and she is an adviser to the president of the U.S."

Acharya and others said it perhaps would have been better to put the spotlight on a woman entrepreneur who had struggled more than Ivanka Trump, who had a privileged start.

But 31-year-old Shveta Raina, who runs Talerang, a startup that prepares Indian college graduates for the workplace, said Trump exceeded her expectations.

"She was poised and was able to answer questions that were seemingly off script," Raina said. "I think she is young and represents young women, so I think she was the right choice."

Shashank ND, 30, co-founded Practo, an online service that helps consumers find doctors, and now arranges 12 million appointments a year. He said Trump had been "warm and specific." But for him, the event was much bigger than one individual.

"It's about India, entrepreneurship and women's entrepreneurship," which Shashank says could be "a way for liberation from old rituals" that have bound India.

Indian delegates were enthused to see Ivanka Trump co-hosting the event with Modi, the prime minister, a signal of strengthening ties with Washington.

Shveta Raina is confident that India's lavish hospitality will pay off: "This kind of soft diplomacy works."

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Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.