In the 75 years since Independence, how progressive is India? And how ought we even define progress?
Despite the strides India has made, the fruits are still out of the reach of many, many people.
The next 25 years to 2047 when Independent India will be 100, is yet another opportunity to take stock of where we are, where do we want to go as a nation, and what will take us there. What do we need to learn and what do we need to unlearn?
This is a crucial discussion for the country to have today.
This conversation—between Ravi Venkatesan, founder of the Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship, and Naushad Forbes, co-chairman, Forbes-Marshall, and former president of CII, and Arun Maira, former member of the Planning Commission of India, and former chairman BCG India—delves deeper into those questions
1. What Young India cares about the most—three strands (explore the rich conversation, on the India@100 Notions page)
- A deep desire for financial independence that employment just cannot offer.
- Young women are confident in their role as trend setters; and young Indians want to take a more active role in determining where the country is headed.
- Education must also teach what it’s like in real life.
2. The world is disordered. Something has to change in the way the world is governing itself
- Globalisation has broken down; trade was broken down due to Covid restrictions; the flow of finance has been disrupted by the Ukraine crisis.
- In the US and in many countries in Europe, the idea of liberal democracy and the idea of free market capitalism have been contending with each other.
- Every 30 minutes in the last year, one new billionaire arose; but every 30 minutes, 1 million more people fell into poverty.
3. We have to change our approach to progress.
- It is “Incredible India” because of our diversity and also because we dared to become a democracy when we were very poor in 1947. Yet, our own house is not in order. There are gaps in
- Political freedom, through democracy, in electoral systems
- Social freedom—age-old discrimination still exists
- Economic freedom—most Indians don't have equal freedoms: Those that earn more than Rs 20,000 per month represent the upper 10%.
“We need to change the shape of the economy, and not just the size of the economy.” - Arun Maira
- Globalisation broadly is a significant cause for good. In the last 30 years our growth rates were higher than ever and pulled more people out of poverty. But the growth wasn’t inclusive—too many millions are excluded because of failure in the education and the employment systems.
- Livelihoods: We add roughly 10 million people to our population every year. And will continue to do so for the next 15 years till population peaks and starts tapering off.
- Self-employment alone will not create really good livelihoods for 10-15 million people a year. You need good jobs at a large scale—from manufacturing, more formal services, and more informal services but with much greater protection built-in (basic health and unemployment insurance etc).
- High achievements in education: A society where a much larger proportion of our population has high literacy and mathematics skills so they can participate in the economy in a much more effective way.
- Liberal approach: Create conditions, where people can fulfil individual aspirations—which is at the heart of liberalism.
“In 25 years I want to see a vibrant economy that continues to target rapid economic growth as a way to have more resources available to share across society.” - Naushad Forbes
4. We need to create S-curves for India—something goes through an explosive phase of adoption and then things plateau and you need to reinvent yourself to create a new S curve.
- Our first S-curve—winning our Freedom and learning to survive for the first 20-30 tears.
- Our second S-curve—liberalisation in 1991 which unleashed innovation and entrepreneurship.
- It is time to reinvent and create the next S-curve
5. Societies become prosperous when they embrace modern values. [Edmund Phelps in his book Mass Flourishing]
- An environment that empowers individuals of no great pedigrees to pursue their own paths, to tinker and invent.
- India became a cricketing nation when the game became inclusive and democratic—it allowed more and more talent to come to the top.
- To create such an environment, India needs certain values:
- Individualism—that everyone has a telnet and has the right and freedom to pursue that talent and aspiration.
- Risk-taking and acceptance of failure. Where failure is celebrated.
- Entrepreneurship. Wealth is created through entrepreneurship, which is to be celebrated.
- Enlightenment: The importance of reason and critical thinking—and also tolerance of different beliefs and ideas and let the best ideas win.
- Rule of law: A fair and speedy legal system. Where the state is becoming bigger and bigger, and there’s a real risk of majoritarianism, you need a strong judiciary for individual freedom. India also does very poorly in enforcing contracts.
- India has very limited state capacity. We can formulate policy but our ability to deliver it on the ground is highly limited. So we need to intervene in limited, focused areas. Rule of law is an essential role for the state—and it comes down to the criminal justice system and the judiciary. It is unnecessary for the state to identify which products industry should make, what should we incentivise or subsidise.
- India is becoming more unequal because fundamentally we are unequal in our minds—in the way we treat our maids and drivers; in how we pay them. We want to pay the minimum; we have no interest in understanding how this person will lead a decent life.
“We continue to hope for a better future, but with the same value systems. I hope in the next 25 years we can achieve this shift in values.” - Ravi Venkatesan
6. Social cohesion matters as much as individual freedom. People yearn for social connection. Trust in others gives people a feeling of security and resilience.
- The structures in society and economy which make it very hard for some people to get opportunities—privilege eats into education and how firms are run.
- It is not fair to tell young people that it is up to you to create opportunities.
7. Social wealth—the things money can’t buy—needs entrepreneurship as well.
- Extreme individualism has its own problems—the key is trust in each other and in institutions.
- Trust comes down to social capital. One aspect is bonding capital—where you bond with people like us. But you also need bridging capital that enables you to go from one group to another group. For that you need the rule of law and the right conversations.
- Dignity of everyone.
- Even in the US, they are unable to make laws that are humane, modern and current. (You have anti-abortion laws on the grounds of right to life; and yet no gun control laws to protect right to life.)
8. Learn to listen—how do we know what all young Indians want?
- The mistake we would make is to talk to young India rather than talk with them—and keep the narrative limited to creating skills and jobs.
- Education is more important than skills. A good education will enable the individual to acquire and master the skills they will need 10 years from now.
- India has the world’s largest army of problem solvers and change makers who have the ambition, energy and aptitude to help create a better future.
- How do you engage many more young people and give them a sense of agency—and support the paths they choose?
- Kashmir does a decent job on basic education. But then the young people are clueless about what they can do with their lives—more so than young people in other parts.
- Passion economy—help everyone—young and old—figure out what they are passionate about and get paid for it.
- Mass employment/entrepreneurship is a foundation for people to then start having enough of a resource to pursue their passions.
- We need to redefine the idea of leadership—it is not a noun (people with a title etc) but a verb (where young people see themselves as leaders of change.)
9. Where is the growth going to come from?
- Export-led growth
- We have to move towards a more sustainable economy—reinvent energy, transportation, materials like steel and cenet.
- Both Bharat (smaller towns and villages) and India (bigger cities) are challenged. Social fabric is tearing in a very dramatic way. Trust is collapsing.
- The India@75 movement chose skilling as a key for young Indians to earn enough. But the people being skilled were not getting employed. So fixing just one part of the system will not help.
- Ultimately people want more income and better lives.
- Rural and urban cannot be separated. The two are together; one needs the other.
- It is not “jobs”, but the nature of work. Categories like formal and informal jobs don’t matter. We have to unlearn what a job is.
- The world—and people—have changed. In the 80s there were limited pathways to success. Today there are vastly more opportunities and many more definitions of what success could look like—beyond the stereotypes of doctor/engineer/chartered accountant.
- A large garments company in Bangladesh employs 30-40,000 people. A large garments company in India employs 3-4,000 people. These are mundane, drudge-like jobs, but they provide that livelihood. They provide livelihood to millions of relatively unskilled people, so that if not they, then their next generation can participate in the passion economy.
- Of course, jobs are not the only way forward—we need mass entrepreneurship too.
Reflections from 6 thought leaders on the session
Listen on the India@100 Notions page
Founding Fuel invited six very interesting and thoughtful people to take the conversation forward by sharing their reflections and takeaways from what they heard during the conversation. Here’s what they shared:
“For me the event starts very squarely with the conversations with young people… they seem to be willing to work very hard in their chosen area of interest… what they are looking for is empowerment—from their education, from technology, from policy.”
- Anuradha Rao, Former Deputy Managing Director (Strategy and Digital Banking), State Bank of India
“Even now we do not know how to reach the remaining 90%... do we even know what India wants and do we ever know how to listen to them?… If we do not know what they want, should we even be discussing solutions?... Leadership must come from the grassroots.”
- Ajit Rangnekar, Director General at Research and Innovation Circle of Hyderabad, and Former Dean of Indian School of Business
“[We need] universal basic education and health, at a democratised cost… My biggest takeaway was of inclusion. The [youth] talked about every one of us getting engaged as entrepreneurs, as job seekers, as creators of value, as leaders, to make sure that we work for the common good.”
- Shailesh Haribhakti, a Chartered and Cost Accountant, Board Chairman, Audit Committee Chair and Independent Director at some of the country's most preeminent organisations.
“What shone through was the point about rule of law… Every one of us must have the confidence that there is a structure and a system that will support us in our efforts and back us up when things are not going OK.”
- Meenakshi Ramesh, Executive Director, United Way Chennai
“The passion economy cannot work until we build a society of self-fulfilled individuals who can choose to lead more community-oriented lives but are fundamentally and self-evidently individuals.”
- Jagan Shah, Senior Fellow at Artha Global, and Senior Advisor (Capacity Building), at the World Bank
“The future of this country will depend on values and beliefs that help build trust, even in strangers. This trust leads to social capital.”
- Biju Dominic, Chief Evangelist at Fractal Analytics & Chairman at FinalMile Consulting