She Travelled to 150 Countries, and Her Book is the ‘Compass’ You Need to Understand the World

Athira Nair
·6-min read

Palestine. The name evokes images of war, destruction, and protests. The narrative of a population, displaced by the formation of the State of Israel decades ago, has always been fraught with suffering and loss. Yet, it was a Palestinian teacher - Hanan Al Hroub – who won the $1 Million Global Teacher Prize in 2016. Another little known fact: Palestinians are among the most educated people in the world, and has more PhDs per capita than most of the world.

It is the tale of Palestine and another 100 countries across the world that makes up Mandeep Rai’s recently published book, The Values Compass. An avid traveller, this journalist - who has also donned the hats of banker, development professional, and venture capitalist – wrote the book to explain what 101 countries teach us about purpose, life, and leadership.

"My own childhood experience in the Gloucestershire village of Churchdown, where my  home was petrol-bombed, my nose broken so other children could see if I would bleed red or brown, and my parents would only leave the house with one of them in the trunk of the car (to avoid people seeing the house was unoccupied), has certainly left an indelible mark on me. We all have unconscious programming like this, based on our life circumstances and experiences.  We need to be aware of this so that, rather than letting it guide our lives, we equip ourselves to choose powerfully." - The Values Compass, Mandeep Rai   In her book 'The Values Compass,' author Mandeep Rai talks about her travels across more than a 100 countries. Talking to MAKERS India, she also revealed how her childhood in the UK shaped her as a person, and encouraged her to explore the world.
Mandeep Rai

In a recent Zoom call with MAKERS India from her home in London, Mandeep says, “What do we know that's positive about Paraguay or Peru or the Philippines? There are so many countries that are always overlooked; they are only ever reported (in global media) for a catastrophe or an attack or a disease. When are they [media] promoting a country’s success in any space? This book is about that one thing that's extremely successful, that you are completely proud of, that you can celebrate within your nation.”

Like, how Cuba – often regarded as a Communist dystopia – also offers world class education and leads medical innovations, is among the toppers in Olympics, despite hardly five percent of the population having internet at home!

“After spending a month in Cuba, I became convinced that it was because people don’t just live in the communist system; they believe in it. In a society where money doesn’t do all the talking, there is more respect and a stronger sense of community. The skills of the gardener, doctor, artist, and tradesman are celebrated equally,” Mandeep reveals in her book, naming Problem Solving as Cuba’s most important value.

In fact, each of the 101 countries she has written about tells the tale of an exceptional value that shapes its people and its role in the global space. If it is ‘Adaptability’ that shaped Luxembourg and ‘Entrepreneurship’ that guided USA to be among the leading nations in global economy, Mandeep writes, ‘Efficiency’ is the outstanding value of Estonia, a tiny European country with just a million population and leading a digital revolution.

“In just 2-3 pages, the book gives you a snippet of each of those 101 countries. The Japanese have decided to translate the book into Japanese and use it as their guide to the Olympics, so that each and every country can be celebrated,” says Mandeep.

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Relationship with India

Mandeep, who was born and brought up in the UK in a traditional Sikh family, has a strong connection to India. In fact, she believes that the Indian values in her have shaped the traveller in her too. She travels to India very often, and has built a relationship with the country herself.

“I was born in 1979 (in Birmingham). After the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots happened in India, some parts of Birmingham experienced a narrative that was deliberately being shown at that time. It's not until you go yourself, and build a relationship with your own faith, or the country, that you really know what you're building. Otherwise, it's third hand information that you're receiving, especially as a child growing up,” Mandeep says.

Now 41, Mandeep’s first trip to India was when she was 14. Many more visits followed, and she even had her wedding in India, with friends from all over the world flown in. Now a mother of two, Mandeep says they try to visit India at least every other year, if not every year. “We're making that effort partly for ourselves, but partly for our children. We make sure that it's not a journey in which they have to quickly catch up (with relatives). Otherwise, when they were older they would think, “Who am I?” We have a home there, and going back and forth means that we have very close relationships with people.”

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A scholarly view of the world

In a way, Mandeep’s education had moulded her to write The Values Compass. After graduating in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Manchester, she did post-graduation in Development Economics from the London School of Economics, and later MBA Entrepreneurship from London Business School. She went on to do her PhD in Global Values, which was an amalgam of Social Psychology, Sociology, Economics, and Philosophy.

But Mandeep has had struggles of her own too – right from convincing her parents about her ambitions and travel plans. (She has travelled as part of work and out of personal interest too.)

“The assumption is that it's too dangerous to travel as a single woman. But there will always be places where you can be safe and there will always be places where it can be dangerous; but those places exist everywhere. So have the confidence to seek out the safer places.

And if I'm always going to ask my mother’s permission, I might end up living her value set rather than my value set, because you can only get permission for what she really feels comfortable in. But if I just do what I want to do, and then show her that it's okay, that's a better way of doing it.”

She recounts that when she planned to go to Australia as a youngster, she didn't reveal what she was doing until the very last moment. Of course, not all trips were easy. She had almost drowned in Laos’ rivers and her skin had peeled off in the Cambodian Sun. “I didn't really talk about Laos and Cambodia (to my parents) until I'd come back from my trips,” she recollects with a smile.

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Love for Exploration

Once the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic dies down, Mandeep wants to travel more – to Libya, Gambia, Namibia, and many African countries she has not explored yet. Out of the 150 countries she has travelled to, she is yet to write about 49. Once she covers the rest of the countries in the world as well, she plans to write a second book.

Of course, publishing a book is not a simple task. But Mandeep’s mantra is simple: “Don't allow your life to be defined by other people's Nos; create your own Yes(es). There's nothing that you can't do if you really believe in it; you'll find support along the way.”

(Edited by Varnika Gupta)

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