One Globe Conference – Interview with Harjiv Singh

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The ‘One Globe: Uniting Knowledge Communities’ conference (OGC) is an annual gathering of global thought leaders from across knowledge, finance and industry sectors in India and South Asia. The conference pivots on discussing the paths to developing knowledge economies in the region. Subjects covered include the exploration and intersection of the role and changes in technology, innovation, smart cities, skills, regional collaboration and education.

In the recently concluded 2016 chapter, the One Globe Conference sought to connect these ideas and outstanding issues with the impact of the Government of India’s new and ambitious multi-pronged economic initiatives – Digital India, Make in India, Smart Cities Mission and Start-up India. A sense of optimism in India’s economic story was clearly palpable, but was combined with a wariness towards India’s entrenched bureaucratic mechanisms.

Prior to the conference, our team at Dezan Shira & Associates conducted an electronic interview with OGC convener Harjiv Singh to gauge his thoughts on the growth prospects of South Asia’s knowledge economy, challenges of doing business in India, and the India alternative to China for manufacturing.

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1.The One Globe Conference maintains that Education, Skills, Technology, Innovation, Smart Cities, Urbanization, Healthcare, and Entrepreneurship are the essentials that will enable India and South Asia to leverage their human capital and become leading knowledge economies. What are the standing challenges in these segments that have so far prevented progress? Can South Asia become sufficiently integrated to achieve these goals?

For any country to become a 21st century knowledge economy, it is important that education, skills, technology, innovation, managing the urbanization process from the rural sector, healthcare, and entrepreneurship come together. I believe that in the seven decades since independence, India has been able to enshrine the importance of democratic values. We do need to invest in education, which is a key driver, both at the primary as well as the higher education levels. If we look at global comparative data from the United Nations, India and South Asia are behind other parts of the world in terms of the human development index. We need to ensure that we prioritize both education and healthcare, as they are critical in enabling a knowledge economy.

2.Following up on the previous question, should India focus on maintaining flexible partnerships in the region rather than confronting what it sees as China’s growing encroachment?

India is an ancient civilization and its strength has always been its diversity and ability to absorb, adapt and grow from external influences. I believe India’s strength in the future will also come from these elements. We should look at China not as a threat but as an opportunity because China is a large — and more importantly — a neighboring country. Historically, India and China have always shared cordial relations and we have many things in common – from being two of the world’s oldest civilisations, to a reverence for Buddha, to ancient schools of medicine.

There is clearly an opportunity for India and China to understand each other much better. On one hand, India can learn from China’s manufacturing prowess to help with Make in India; on the other, China can benefit from India’s services industry, particularly in information technology. Both can offer each other access to huge markets for further improving trade relations. Be it the corporate world or cross-border relations, we live today in a world of coop-etition, where we compete on some issues and cooperate on others. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, India’s relations with China have expanded and the two countries have signed nearly 25 different agreements in the areas of infrastructure, smart cities, railways, culture, skills, space and climate change. Both have agreed to open new consulates in Chennai and Chengdu respectively. As far as geopolitics is concerned, the issue of encroachment is something India needs to respond to.

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3.Infrastructure and supply chain development remain key challenges to the fulfilment of Make in India’s objectives – particularly if FDI inflows have to translate into greenfield investment. Are Digital India and the 100 Smart Cities plans seen as a solution or complementary to other development strategies?

If you look at the 25 years since the liberalization process started, India has grown its GDP from US $275 billion in 1991 to US $2 trillion in 2015. It has also built up its infrastructure, although not enough to drive the kind of growth rate that this government is looking to achieve. I believe Digital India, Smart Cities and the fact that India recently crossed a billion mobile connections are all going to help enable the country to fulfil its potential. Democracies are complex. In a large and diverse country like India, we need to give more time, but the results will be far-reaching in transforming and making India one of the leading economies of the world in years to come.

4.The ongoing deceleration in the Nikkei India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index exposes the fragility of industrial recovery in the country. Considering that Make in India is PM Modi’s flagship campaign, what do you think have been the key obstacles and can this decline be turned around soon?

If you look at the world today, there is no country that is exempt from the ongoing slowdown, including China and the economies of Europe. The only pockets of growth in the world today remain the USA and India. As a country with very large domestic consumption demographics, I believe Make in India will eventually succeed as we transform and invest in our infrastructure.

5.How will India be able to combat the impact of a weakening Chinese Yuan and global commodity slowdown? Also, China has begun to focus on boosting domestic consumption – is India in a position to inherit China’s manufacturing capacity and take on the mantle of the “world’s factory”?

I think India needs to makes its economy comparative based on its ability to create stellar infrastructure and manufacturing capacity, and drive growth based on its young demographic dividend. Again, the comparison with China is not always accurate given that China is way ahead in terms of development than India. I believe, given the fact that India is growing at seven plus percent each year, that the opportunity for India is its ability to accelerate its growth rate to double digits once the necessary infrastructure has been put in place. I believe that growth in India’s manufacturing industry, coupled with the ongoing slowdown in China, will offer an opportunity for India to catch up.

A serial entrepreneur, Harjiv believes in harnessing the confluence of media, technology and education to empower individuals. At Salwan Media Ventures, he has launched a portfolio of education-focused businesses that include the annual “One Globe: Uniting Knowledge Communities” conference which focuses on what it takes to build a 21st-century knowledge economy in India and South Asia, and BrainGain Magazine, the largest online magazine for study abroad in India and South Asia. Harjiv is also the co-founder and co-CEO of Gutenberg Communications, a global strategic communications firm with offices in the U.S., U.K. and India. He has a nearly two decade career spanning communications, technology, financial services and real estate industries, and has advised clients like UK Trade & Investment, GE, HSBC, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and Quest Diagnostics. He is a frequent commentator on television and has been quoted in leading news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, NDTV and Mint. In 2007, Harjiv Singh was the runner-up for the PR Professional of the Year Award by PR Week, Asia Pacific. He sits on the Advisory Boards of Knowledge@Wharton, the U.S.-India Business Council Education Foundation, and The American India Foundation (AIF), and is a Charter Member of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) and a Trustee of The Loomba Trust.

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