With 75 years of India’s independence not far way, The World Economic Forum National Strategy Day 2015 was a timely event to reflect on the past, present and future of the nation. The event –witnessing leaders from across the field of politics, business and civil society – addressed the biggest challenges facing India today, from urbanisation and skill development to renewing agriculture and ensuring financial inclusion. The event was a stimulating experience for us to rekindle our imagination about India’s growth agenda. The varied sessions conducted in different formats – both conventional panel discussions and the smaller interactive ones – provided the perfect setting to understand, introspect and deliberate about larger macroeconomic issues of the nation.
Where is the land acquisition bill headed? When is the goods and services tax finally going to be introduced? How are states practicing competitive and cooperative federalism? While there were no clear-cut answers to these better-known and more controversial issues, by throwing light on the other lesser know reforms taking place across sectors we realised that the intent of our leaders is intact and their sense of direction is undisturbed. For instance, while the panel on “Renewing Infrastructure Finance” agreed that mobilising $ 1 trillion for infrastructure is indeed a herculean task, they suggested it could be achievable by ensuring a string of measures. Some of the suggestions collectively offered included ensuring timely delivery of projects, working closely with city mayors to develop the urban landscape, deepening India’s equity and bond markets, envisaging an easier dispute resolution mechanisms, and most importantly, creating a Public – Private Partnership architecture customised for India.
The session on “Financial Inclusion”, another extremely enlightening one, underscored the need to move to a connected, comprehensive, cashless and collaborative ecosystem – one that would mark India’s shift from a land of savers to investors. The panel reiterated that a hybrid model was the way to go forward; the brick and mortar approach could not be completely ignored in the process of increasingly going digital. The use of technology as an enabler was also showcased by mentioning ideas such as creating an “udyog aadhaar” for small and medium enterprises and establishing more digital villages on the lines of India’s first one – Akodara. Probably, the best way to sum up the nature of momentum in the country is one of “continuity and change”. There seems to be a realisation that we need to build on India’s strong fundamentals, while simultaneously ushering in new out of the box solutions.
By the end of the event, there were several key takeaways. Firstly, we realised that there is a heightened sense of awareness about the need to iron out structural issues of land, labour and power that have haunted India for far too long. Secondly, there is a need for consistent and coordinated efforts by policy makers to leapfrog conventional trajectories of growth when and where possible. Further, India needs to take to models of growth that are indigenous and localised to its particularities and peculiarities, not ones transported and transplanted from the developed world. Thirdly, the transformation process is going to be incremental and evolutionary rather than one marked by big bang reforms. Fourthly, the need of the hour is convergence across policies, ministries and stakeholders – both horizontally and vertically – to ensure that the execution deficit is met. Last but not the least, we realised that our leaders are as motivated and committed, to solving challenges plaguing our nation, as ever before. We witnessed, first-hand, how well informed and articulate our ministers and business leaders are - be it the eloquence of Mr. Piyush Goyal on the eve of the Social Entrepreneur of the Year awards, listening to the fresh ideas of Mr. Chandrababu Naidu about creating the new capital city of Amravatti, the “on the tip of his tongue” infrastructure statistics echoed by Mr. Gadkari, or Mr. Jayant Sinha's familiarity and openness to new technologies in aiding financial inclusion. Not only did we, as members of the WEF Global Shapers community, infuse freshness and enthusiasm into the event, in return we pleasantly left the conference with a renewed sense of optimism about the future of our country and its role in the international arena.