Working for Bharat and in Bharat has to be motivated by passion and commercial acumen, not any false sense of patriotism or sympathy. Appreciating Bharat specific issues is the first requirement and an empathetic understanding of the real challenges in non-urban India is required to integrate Bharat into the national development mainstream
A few years ago, I was invited to speak at a Social Venture Partners International panel in Chicago on the meaning and practice of equity in various parts of the world. The American spoke about the guilt and anguish pertaining to the black communities, the Japanese talked about the issues with integrating Korean immigrants and I was confused. Do I talk about caste, class, community or choose any of the myriad issues that plague our country? Instead, I spoke about the pushes and pulls between India and Bharat, a challenge that has been aggravated in recent years by the digital divide and persists in small or large measure, even today!
How does one define Bharat? In a country where growth in many sectors, particularly, the one global success story IT Services, has been restricted the top seven to ten cities, it would be easiest to characterize Bharat as smaller towns, villages and other underserved geographical areas where the reach of technology, health and sanitation services and even education, employment, entrepreneurship and livelihood opportunities are severely limited.
An ongoing set of challenges
The big advantage that China has over India is their willingness and ability to create physical, digital and social infrastructure at scale to move development to new locations. The growth of satellite cities like Tianjin, Wuxi, Suzhou and Zhuhai are testimony to this capability and we have to realize that it is not enough for an Indore to be the cleanest city in the country or an Alleppey to have the loveliest backwaters, each one of these and at least another 100 locations must be enabled to participate in major economic growth. Many of the entrepreneurs setting up shops in these locations could also be given preferential access to Government buying and tax breaks provided to enable products and services created in these locations to be more attractive in terms of cost and pricing to the end consumer.
This move into Bharat need not be done all at the same time but the Central Government could actively engage with some states and regions like J&K and the North East to enable investment attractiveness and also encourage State Governments to think and act on the same lines. Availability of well educated and skilled manpower is also an issue and a public-private partnership to create portals that offer career counselling, education add-ons, just-in-case and just-in-time skilling and access to job opportunities would go a long way in encouraging bright youngsters to commence and build their careers in their home towns. Digital and Financial Literacy, which the 2014 NDLM program sought to distribute to every family in the country needs to be actually pursued and skills platforms to rival UPI in the financial sector will be required to give a sense of equity of opportunity in the country.
Access to capital through public-private partnerships like the Lighthouse Communities Foundation has been able to achieve in Pune with Pune City Connect and its CAPEX-OPEX partnership with the Pune Municipal Corporation and many social and business ventures have successfully done in infrastructure projects in the country is a definite need. Special funds to initiate the effort from Government, like the `10,000 crore startup fund and the newer Software Products Development Fund created by the Ministry of Electronics & IT and VC firms need to have a conscious Bharat focus and specific ideas can be chosen for preferential “proof of concept” implementations.
With “Atmanirbhar Bharat” we have a “Naya India” to create and a second chance to make a great impression
The new imperative
At NASSCOM’s recent National Conclave, we discussed the Bharat opportunity and its imperatives. Working for Bharat and in Bharat has to be motivated by passion and commercial acumen, not any false sense of patriotism or sympathy. Appreciating Bharat specific issues is the first requirement as businesses embark on a journey of enlightened self-interest into every corner of the country and an empathetic understanding of the real challenges of education, agriculture and rural enterprises is essential to integrate the large capabilities of non-urban India as well as address the gaps that need to be bridged to integrate Bharat into the national development mainstream. Apart from addressing the very visible physical, digital and social shortfalls, skills for specific domains, which can be managed nationally from rural or semi-urban hubs – water, sanitation, healthcare etc. need to be made available along with national employment exchanges accessible at every district and panchayat.
What Bharat needs is entrepreneurship at scale, startups must have a unique idea, an excellent business model and adequate funding runways and seek support from Government for infrastructure and participate in the creation of a supportive eco-system. What is needed is the creation of a “Bharat Hub” with the participating of large philanthropic organizations, development, banks, central and state Governments and multiple collaborative industry associations. This will enable corporates to embrace all of India, entrepreneurs to set up shop everywhere and tools and methodologies and startup support to enable businesses to be established in various spokes and truly set the wheels of employment and entrepreneurship rolling on a large scale. With “Atmanirbhar Bharat” we have a “Naya India” to create and a second chance to make a great impression. The time is here to make it happen!