Aug 21, 2009
Our Chairperson Gears Up the Indian Youth.
Creative Leadership Can Make All The Difference
Bridge the gap between individual achievement and poor social sector performance to spur India’s growth story
The recession has, thank God, stopped all of us crowing about how India is rising and shining. Giving us time to reflect on it in terms of our personal value systems and not “irrational exuberance”. But did the ‘boom’ pull everybody’s quality of life up? Without doubt, agriculture – only 20 per cent of our GDP but supporting 60 per cent of our population – grew at a healthy clip. The NREGS benefited 44 million families. The debt write-off made the lives of 43 million farmers a little easier. But travelling extensively around India, one cannot say that life for the poor and even lower middle classes has changed substantially over the past decade.
The tide is coming in and, if we grab the opportunity, every single one of us 1.1 billion Indians can rise. If this tide is not harnessed, it will result in social and economic conflicts leaving India worse off than before. The India growth story is on razor’s edge in almost all dimensions.
India’s young have driven the growth story. Our educated, English-speaking youth have made India the world’s back office. But the back office business can absorb only a fraction of our almost limitless supply of the young which will continue to increase well into this century’s third decade. India must ensure all its young have a shot at getting educated well. The Right to Education Bill has been passed and i will be rooting for it to achieve its objectives. To paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.
India must ensure its educated young have more avenues of productive growth than just the IT-BPO industries. More sectors need to take off. The central challenge is in promoting originality and innovation. India cannot emulate its way to success. We cannot do a US or a Japan. The US’s population density is 30 times lower than India’s. The US had to do a lot less with a lot more resources. But India has time on its side. We can find sustainable growth models that harness modern technology provided we learn from others’ mistakes and innovate.
India has no dearth of grassroots innovation yielding world class results in diverse fields. Consider the story of Ram Charan. He grew up in a small town in UP. In his early years he worked in his family’s modest shoe shop. As he saw his father juggle the shop’s finances to meet the income rhythms of mostly rural customers, he learnt the importance of carefully managed cash flow. Today he is a world-renowned consultant to global companies. In the recession his practice, unlike that of some consulting giants, is unaffected as he helps clients through turbulent times, adapting the lessons he learnt in his father’s little shop.
Consider India’s private health care sector. Doctors have fearlessly rejected new technologies like surgical robots and keyhole surgery kits – despite these being popular in the West – as fanciful and not cost-effective. Instead they innovate, making breakthroughs like ‘beating heart’ surgery which causes less pain, does not require general anesthesia, has the patient faster on his feet and costs less! ‘Beating heart’ surgery has medical tourists from across the world flocking to Bangalore. Paul Yock, head of Stanford University’s biodesign laboratory which develops medical devices, thinks that amid growing concerns about runaway health spending, the global industry can find inspiration in India on how to serve need without being blind to cost.
The Indian as an individual has in every field across the world, including business, demonstrated innovation and originality. But as a society and as communities, India is among the world’s least innovative. In every social sector – public education, public health, public infrastructure, public morality – India is abysmally below world class standards, ranking below 100 in the comity of nations.
India has always been a land of contrasts. But this contrast between the achievement of individuals and businesses and the continuing rot of India as a society can destroy us all. India must and will find a solution. Indian society needs a new kind of leadership. While the most visible component of a society’s leadership is the people in the corridors of power, an equally if not more important component is at the grassroots: the village sarpanch, the wise teacher whose counsel many seek, the respected NGO worker, the journalist respected for his perspective and his integrity, the spiritual or religious leader who is his community’s rallying point.
This ecosystem of leadership needs to shift from perpetuating the status quo to being a catalyst of change. To me, the greatest sign of hope is that this is beginning to happen. The general election results were a symptom of this tectonic shift. More important, the most potent political force to emerge from the election is a quiet young man who continues to concentrate on building a new apparatus of leadership at the grassroots. With creative leadership, India will become innovative at the societal level. Combine this with the innovative abilities of individuals and business – and India could reach a strategic inflection point that finally puts it on a path that lifts millions to a life without lack.
The Times of India, August 22, 2009