Nandan Nilekani and scripting the Indian IT Dream

The valedictory address at any major conference is always awaited with bated breath. Usually it is delivered by a speaker of international stature, who draws instant recognition amongst those circles. This year, we have Nandan Nilekani doing us the honour. On this note, I must also add, that this blog is not about introducing the man – he needs no introduction really. Rather, it is about exploring the significance of such an address by one,  who is credited to have built a legacy, which most others could not even dream of. In his book “Imagining India,” he talks about ideas: that have arrived, that are in progress, that in battle and finally the ones to anticipate.

Ideas that have arrived:
India’s burgeoning population, once considered to be a major setback to effective distribution of resources, has an upside too. The fact that the country also houses a very large English speaking workforce, has worked to its advantage. The working age population in India, amongst the highest in the world, is now a source of strength and should be leveraged judiciously to bring about the desired results. The demographic dividend is finally paying off as we usher in globalisation and see the entrepreneurial spirit take over, amongst young people.

Ideas in progress:
For any nation to progress, the focus on education is an imperative. The Indian schools face a tough challenge today. Primarily, the infrastructure is appalling, adding to the woe, is an outdated course curriculum that doesn’t help anyone. The government’s immediate challenge is to address this issue and bridge the gap. He also talks about how the infrastructure in cities need to improve, in order to create a conducive environment for investment. The taxation system in India, with a focus on centralized power and control has been instrumental in creating a labyrinth of a tax structure at the state level. The present focus, is on to create a seamless market which allows free flow of goods and services.

Ideas in battle:
The constant shadow boxing between the Left and the Right, each of who comes from a different world view, is causing a gridlock in India’s policy-making . On one hand are those, who hanker for the village republic and on the other, are those preaching globalization. The left also wants a rights-based approach (right to information, right to food, right to work, right to education, etc). While a ‘Rights’ approach can help put the onus on the state, there is more to social change than just passing laws. However there is no fundamental difference on both sides in the desire to eliminate poverty, provide more equity, provide basic public services like health and education, and so on. It is largely a matter of approach. Resolving this gridlock is imperative to making intelligent policy decisions.

Ideas to anticipate:
When a country reaches the cusp of development, it is important to study what happened to other countries when they developed, and what lessons could be learned from them. The future lies in bridging the digital divide by making technology more accessible; providing good quality and affordable healthcare; clear and a sustainable approach to natural resources and explore alternative sources of energy to fuel growth.

Considered amongst the most successful IT entrepreneurs in this country , the man currently responsible for also leading the UIDAI initiative, is really the best suited, to deliver the valedictory at NILF 2010. This blog is just meant to be an arch through which gleams the untraveled world.

Please register for the Leadership Forum and be present for his address.

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