As the countries that created the international order after World War II increasingly look inward, we cannot afford a vacuum of leadership, said Ajay S. Banga, President and Chief Executive Officer of Mastercard, who asked: “Why the heck should it not be India’s turn to be the leader of that system?”
As challenges to inclusive growth stack up within India and beyond, the nation’s narrative is changing rapidly, agreed the Co-Chairs of the 33rd India Economic Summit, as they kicked off two days of discussion and collaboration among 650 business, cultural and social leaders.
The new narrative, said Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Enterprises, comprises the three I’s of Internationalization, Innovation and Inclusiveness. In climate change, for example, India has made commitments to the Paris accord far beyond the expectations of the international community. As powerful countries talk about raising trade barriers, India needs to speak out more forcefully in favour of open economies and societies, said Mittal, adding: “We are the most open global investment climate anywhere in the world.”
Domestically, India faces huge challenges in creating sufficient, worthwhile jobs for its burgeoning population. Technology and innovation are vital enablers in efforts to close the gap between rich and poor and ensure inclusive growth. Agriculture still employs upwards of 80% of India’s labour – most of it in the informal sector. Bringing these jobs into the formal sector is critical, through skills training, digitalization, entrepreneurship and boosting the participation of women in the economy, argued Banga. Smart villages are one solution – self-sustainable through renewable energy, digitally connected and e-governed, said Dipali Goenka, Chief Executive Officer and Joint Managing Director of Welspun India, adding: “Growth needs to be brought to villagers, not villagers to the cities – that’s very important.” If women can be employed and empowered, then their children will study better and contribute more.
India’s millennials have a leading role to play in India’s new story. Better educated, better connected and more entrepreneurial than their parents, the millennial generation is embodying Mahatma Gandhi’s mantra to “be the change you want to see,” said Malvika Iyer, Member of the Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality at the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development. India’s youth are passionate for change – for better governance and healthier free markets. “Millennials are solution-makers, not employees,” said Iyer. They will create the most value for India.
Even traditional industries, such as India’s railways, are embracing change. “Not less than 1 million jobs can be created in 12 months in railways alone,” said Piyush Goyal, Minister of Railways and Coal of India. Apart from obvious work such as maintenance, India’s railways are looking to create jobs through leveraging its extensive real estate to generate growth. Meanwhile, India is a world leader in renewable energy. In the past 27 months, India has sold 700 million LED bulbs without government subsidy, driving down power consumption by 11% and CO2 emissions by 80 million tonnes. This in turn will save the country $20 billion of investment in coal power plants in future – opening the way for renewable alternatives.
We are at the interval point of our narrative, suggested Bollywood producer Karan Johar, Head of Dharma Productions, but the second half is when things speed up. “Just like our films, our narrative is dramatic, sometimes melodramatic,” said Johar, “but eventually there is a happy ending.”