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From Assembly Elections to Industry the Need to Address Change is Universal

Along with announcing the schedule for elections in 5 states a few days ago, India’s Election Commission (EC) also imposed certain restrictions on how parties and candidates can campaign during these elections. The limitations on rallies and gatherings- the most popular platforms for all political parties- were the result of the continuing spread of Covid cases across India. It was also partly in response to the criticism of the EC for not preventing large gatherings and political rallies during the previous round of assembly elections held in 2021. The EC has said it will review its restrictions after a period of time.

Expectedly, some murmurs have begun about how such restrictions will create a non-level playing field against smaller and regional parties. This concern is probably not entirely invalid; the EC’s action will definitely have an impact on how different parties campaign (and possibly, the results too, in some cases). However, I prefer to see the bigger picture. Specifically, I see two key messages in the EC’s recent action. The first is the acknowledgement that even in our country, political processes are not immune to change. The second is that while many forces of major change are unpredictable (e.g., the pandemic itself), the human race is by and large equipped to adapt to them.

Responding to changes takes time, and these timelines vary with the context of the change. For example, climate change related actions have taken much longer than ideal. Also, not all solutions will be ideal. And as solutions are deployed, newer problems may emerge (e.g., the virus mutating to new strains). It will therefore be interesting to see how different parties and individual candidates utilize digital tools to reach out to the people in their constituencies and convey their poll messages. In some sense, election campaigning is a lot like marketing, so a mix of physical, electronic and digital avenues will need to be used. The restrictions on rallies will tip the scales in favour of electronic/digital and hybrid channels will emerge.

It is just as important for parties to keep track of which of these channels gives them the highest RoI, so that they can refine them and build on them for future use. There is no point in adopting campaign channels that do not deliver. All change must be looked at in the context of its impact on consumer behaviour. In elections, the voters are the consumers of the political messaging; elsewhere, it is the paying customer.

In the world of business, as in life, it is tempting but naïve to look for one-to-one mapping of cause and effect. Consider the example of disruptions to global supply chains that have adversely impacted certain industries more than others. The automotive industry, for instance, has been affected because customers are keen on buying a certain model of car/SUV with certain preferences- and if those are not available (because carmakers do not have the chips or other components), they defer their purchases.

The emergence of Electric Vehicles (EVs) as a distinct industry with its own ecosystem is another major trend. The high price of fossil fuels, government policies, reducing cost of EVs, availability of charging infrastructure and rising environmental consciousness around the world are all contributing to a shift to hybrid/EVs. This is a threat to conventional carmakers whose products run on internal combustion engines. Unless they pivot, they will find it difficult to stay relevant in the years ahead. I do not expect conventional petrol/diesel powered cars/SUVs to be replaced by EVs in the next decade. But players will need to transform themselves to meet the challenges posed on both the supply and demand side.

The rise of the Direct-to-Customer model in FMCG may well provide a template for carmakers as well. Rather than mass-producing a large number of cars of a certain model/colour etc. and shipping them to dealers around the country (where they remain as inventory), the industry may evolve to a model where customers can pre-order vehicles of their choice and get it delivered on a certain day/date. This has already started in India, with Ola adopting this approach for its electric scooters. But as with anything new, teething troubles are inevitable. Just as companies have to get used to not having the cushion provided by dealers, customers too will have to get used to the absence of the middleman- the dealer- whose neck is the first one to catch if there is a delivery delay or problem with the vehicle.

I cite the above example only to illustrate my point. Multifaceted change and the consequent need to respond to these forces is not limited to any particular industry. While the underlying drivers of change or the pace may vary, enterprises in every industry will need to transform to remain relevant. Even the professional services industry (lawyers, accountants, consultants etc.) is not immune, simply because the kinds of problems they will increasingly be called to help solve will not be similar to the ones they have dealt with in the past.

Image Credits: Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Multifaceted change and the consequent need to respond to these forces is not limited to any particular industry. While the underlying drivers of change or the pace may vary, enterprises in every industry will need to transform to remain relevant. 

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Family Businesses Must Think and Act Like the Boy Scouts

A couple of weeks ago, India’s first Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Rawat, his wife Mrs. Madhulika Rawat and a dozen other army/air force officers and personnel died in a helicopter crash near Coonoor. The loss of any life is sad, but this tragedy was of much greater proportions because Gen. Rawat had only begun the critical task of rearchitecting India’s defense forces in ways that enable greater integration. In a few weeks, our government will assign someone else the responsibility for leading the transformative process that Gen. Rawat had begun; after all, institutions like nations, their armed forces and even corporates are larger than individuals.

But what this tragic incident has painfully reinforced for many of us is the unpredictability of life. And if it hasn’t, it should. There are striking parallels that can be drawn between the outcomes of this helicopter crash and what happens when the head of a family business suddenly dies or becomes incapable of running the company. Both are sudden and cause large voids that can be hard to fill because the next generation family members are young and inexperienced or perhaps not interested in the traditional business.

This is why succession plans must not only cover people in leadership roles but also entire businesses. Maybe a strategic sale should be triggered or perhaps several group companies that already share synergies should be merged and after a few years, the entity could go public. The specific strategy is not the point of this article; rather, the key point I wish to make is that family businesses in particular should be ready with this kind of thinking. Not just a slide deck with the future strategy and trigger events, but at a much more granular level so that implementation becomes easier for those who will become responsible for it.

By the way, the sudden death of founders and leaders is by no means the only uncertainty that family businesses need to be prepared for. Many family businesses have complex holding structures that involve the formation of trusts registered in India and elsewhere. But the world is witnessing a new wave of concerted actions that are aimed at shoring up tax revenues by plugging various loopholes and tax planning avenues that have existed for years. As a result, tax laws can change quite drastically in various jurisdictions. And as geopolitical realignments occur and new regional partnerships are forged, regulatory changes may impact more than just one country. Family businesses that either does not plan for such risks or are not agile enough to respond quickly might find themselves seriously disadvantaged.

Plans are ultimately plans, and any plan can go wrong. Who, for example, could have forecast the Covid pandemic or that it would stretch for 2+ years (and God knows how much longer)? But that does not mean that there is no merit in planning. What is vital is to plan for various scenarios and figure out a solution that works best under a majority of situations. This needs expert advice and more important, perspectives and business savvy. The role of business advisors needs to change; they must acquire and hone their ability to transcend silos or be a part of the right ecosystem so that they are able to orchestrate the best advice for their clients and thereafter, help them execute the strategies and plans.

If you’re still wondering about the reference to the Boy Scouts in the title, I just wanted to tell family businesses to “Be Prepared”.

PS: Being slow to adopt cutting edge technological capabilities and putting them to use to capture insights that help drive strategies is another form of risk – but one that applies to more than just family businesses.

Image Credits:  Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Many family businesses have complex holding structures that involve the formation of trusts registered in India and elsewhere. But the world is witnessing a new wave of concerted actions that are aimed at shoring up tax revenues by plugging various loopholes and tax planning avenues that have existed for years

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Impact of India's Proposed Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC)

Numerous signals have been emanating from the government and the RBI in the past several months to indicate the imminent launch of India’s Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). This includes the announcement last month that the Cryptocurrency and Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021 will be tabled for discussion in the ongoing session of the Indian parliament.

What is a CBDC?

In simple terms, it is the digital version of legal tender issued by a sovereign central bank. In terms of value, it is the same as the country’s fiat currency and is exchangeable with physical currency on demand. Thus, India’s CBDC will be denominated in Rupees. Like physical currency notes/coins, CBDC can be used by individuals and businesses as a store of value and to make payments for purchasing goods/services.

 

Why does India need a CBDC?

There are many reasons why countries will need their own CBDC systems. In India, interbank transactions and settlements already take place through the reserves individual banks maintain with the RBI, so there may not be much impact in this arena. However, in the retail segment, a bulk of the transactions still rely on physical cash and increasingly, on digital payment solutions. It is important to recognize that payment solutions such as those from Google, Amazon, Apple, or Paytm and Phonepe are all privately-owned and controlled; as such, their growing popularity does pose a risk to the country’s financial system.

For example, it is estimated that 94% of mobile payment transactions in China are processed on transactions owned by Alibaba or Tencent. As the companies behind these apps start to build “ecosystems”, more and more goods and services can be paid for through these apps. Such integration and breadth of usage can easily create a virtual stranglehold that has the potential to place at risk the entire financial system of a country; there could even be regional or global ripples. The launch of a CBDC is thus not just a digital payment system, but also a mechanism towards mitigation of major risks that are associated with an increasingly digital world.

Currently, all payment solutions in India, whether developed and deployed by fintech players, Big Tech or banks, run on the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) infrastructure built and managed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), which is jointly promoted by the RBI and the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA). That India’s payments backbone has never been in private hands reduces the level of risk to our financial system. Also, it must also be acknowledged that the NPCI has done a fabulous job so far. The month of October 2021 alone saw more than 4.2 billion transactions being processed through NPCI infrastructure. But it is important to keep in mind that the payment apps owned and managed by fintech and Big Tech companies are not under the direct regulatory supervision of the RBI because they are not licensed banks. A CBDC-based ecosystem will make the regulation of such apps and platforms easier and more effective- thus enabling a higher degree of consumer protection. 

There are other reasons too why an Indian CBDC will become a necessity sooner rather than later. Countries like China are already at an advanced stage of launching their versions of CBDC. Given global cross-border trade and investment flows and repatriation of funds by Indian diaspora overseas and tourist travel, it is only a matter of time before Chinese or other CBDC enter the Indian financial system. And as more countries launch their own CBDC, it is imperative that we have our own, so that we can negotiate from a position of experience (and strength) when it comes to agreeing on multilateral CBDC protocols.

A well-designed CBDC system reduces the threat of counterfeit currency- something that our adversaries have used over many decades to weaken our economy. Arguably, CBDC can also play an important role in the nation’s fight against corruption and black money- although much will depend on how it evolves and the operational rules and regulatory framework governing it.

 

CBDC: The Road Ahead

At this time, it is unclear when and how the government will choose to launch India’s CBDC. But it is fair to say that an entirely new digital currency ecosystem will be needed. It is likely that the RBI itself will cause to design, develop and run the CBDC infrastructure. There are also speculations that they would be regulated as financial assets by the Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Big Tech, fintech and banks will need to link their apps to this new infrastructure as well- assuming that over time, individuals will retain the option to pay via physical currency-backed UPI platforms or their CBDC cousins.

Since no regulator can compete with those it is tasked with regulating, the RBI may have to let financial intermediaries continue to take responsibility for the distribution of digital currency via e-wallets or other pre-paid digital instruments and similar solutions. This also means that fintech players, BigTech and retail banks will need to evolve their platforms and come up with innovative offerings to ride this new wave of opportunity. The road ahead will have its own challenges at both the policy and operational levels. The success of CBDC will also depend on how quickly internet access expands across the country and how resistant to hacking and breaches the underlying systems are.

Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for an interesting ride at the end of which, digital currency could be the crowned king. 

 

Image Credits:  Photo by Alesia Kozik from Pexels

At this time, it is unclear when and how the RBI will choose to launch India’s CBDC. But it is fair to say that an entirely new digital currency ecosystem will be needed. It is likely that the RBI itself will cause to design, develop and run the CBDC infrastructure

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India's Own Crypto Asset Regulations Soon: Plugging an Important Gap

Till last year, most people (at least in India) had probably only heard of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum; now, many other names such as Dogecoin, Solana, Polkadot, XRP, Tether, Binance etc. are being spoken of commonly in media. The global cryptocurrency market cap is estimated at over US$2.5 Trillion.

India too is witnessing a surge in investment in cryptotokens – especially by millennials. There is a correspondingly increase in the number of advertisements for cryptocurrencies on national television as well as on various web sites; mainstream media reports extensively on the daily price movement of cryptocurrencies. One estimate puts the number of crypto investors in India at between 15-20 million, and the total holdings to be in excess of US$5.3Billion. 

This surge in unregulated cryptoassets is a matter of rising concern globally. Recently, PM Modi urged democracies around the world to work together to ensure that cryptocurrencies do not “end up in the wrong hands, as this can “spoil our youth”. His exhortation came just days after RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das spoke of “serious concerns” around cryptocurrencies.

The RBI’s 2018 blanket ban on cryptocurrencies was lifted by the Supreme Court in 2020. However, the time has now come for the government and regulators to act quickly, and there are indications that regulations are just around the corner. At the time of writing, the government has already announced its intention to table The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021 in parliament in the winter session.

It is expected that through this legislation, the Indian government will seek to ban private cryptoassets. This means that those trade in such cryptoassets may be liable for penalties and/or other punishment. It is also expected that there will be tighter regulations around advertising such products and platforms where cryptoassets can be bought and sold. Another regulatory salvo could be around taxing cryptogains at a higher rate (although such notifications may have to wait for the next budget due to be announced in another three months). The bill is also expected to deny the status of “currency” to cryptoassets because the prevailing ones are issued by private enterprises, and not backed by any sovereign.

The government has also acknowledged the potential of sovereign digital currencies (or CBDC- Central Bank Digital Currency, as they are officially called) in the days ahead. Countries such as China and the USA, are at various stages of launching their own digital currencies, and experts predict that such CBDC will be the “future of money”. In this context, the proposed bill is expected to create a “facilitative framework” to pave the way for the RBI to launch India’s sovereign digital currency in the days ahead by. In fact, the RBI is already working on India’s CBDC, and some media reports suggest that such a launch may happen in the next couple of months (which may also explain the timing of tabling the The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, at this time). CBDCs too require crypto and blockchain technologies that are similar to those that underpin cryptoassets, so the bill is also expected to promote these technologies for specific purposes. Indeed, not doing so would be akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Given their wide global reach, cryptoassets arguably will have a role to play in the world’s financial system. However, countries such as India must ensure proper regulation because by their very nature, cryptoassets can easily be misused for various activities that can destabilize the nation. They will allow for free inward/outward remittances that will make it harder to trace; being encrypted, the origins of such wealth too will become easier to hide. All this will make cryptoassets even more convenient ideal for nefarious activities such as money laundering, terror-funding, drugs-financing etc. In the absence of appropriate regulations, the rising supply of cryptocurrencies can hobble the RBI’s ability to perform its basic role. Its ability to manage the Rupee’s value against global currencies too will weaken, as will its ability to use domestic interest rates as a means to balance the economy’s twin needs of inflation management and providing growth impetus. This is a scary scenario, but not one that could unfold in the short-term. Even so, India needs to be prepared.

PS: The Indian government’s announcement to regulate cryptoassets has already triggered a significant (8-10%) correction in the prices of various cryptoassets. It’s therefore a good idea for resident Indians holding cryptoassets to sell them. They can decide on their future course of action once there is clarity on the specific regulatory impact of the proposed bill.

 

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Photo by Worldspectrum from Pexels

Given their wide global reach, cryptoassets arguably will have a role to play in the world’s financial system. However, countries such as India must ensure proper regulation because by their very nature, cryptoassets can easily be misused for various activities that can destabilize the nation.

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Tools for Effective Succession Planning for Family Businesses

The pandemic has hurt many families. There is no solace or succor for the lost loved ones. Yet as harsh as it may sound, life has to go on, for the rest of the family. This feeling of vulnerability has to be channelized to ensure that every entrepreneur, business owner, and head of business family think of securing themselves legally to ensure succession & estate planning.

It is way past the days when parampara (tradition) and prathistha (prestige) and prashasan (administration) were sufficient for a family to run its business. Since change is the only constant, the pandemic has forced many family businesses to re-consider and re-structure their succession and legacy planning as it has drastically increased the probability of unforeseeable deaths and long-term health complications of the family members. Demise of the family’s patriarch in the absence of a legitimate will, post-covid health complications rendering everyday functions and business operations redundant are some of the scenarios which are impairing the families resulting in stress, loss of business liquidity, and business opportunities.

Despite the abovementioned challenges and economic uncertainty statistics reveal a strong resilience for recovery. In the current financial year. 51% of family businesses are eyeing opportunities for growth in the domestic market, 22% shall be focusing on diversification, while 10% are contemplating entering the international markets[1]. However, it has also paved the way for drastic changes in the ways a family business shall operate.

Two areas that will be witnessing restructuring in the family business operations are; legacy planning and digitization. According to PWC’s 10th Global Family Business Survey, 2021[2] over 87% of family-run businesses have identified digital innovation and technology as the focal point of priority over the next two years. Succession planning is one of the most sensitive issues in family-run businesses. However, Covid 19 appears to have concentrated minds in this area. The survey confirmed that 20% of business families have incorporated a formal succession plan, while 7% of such families have revised their legacy plans in light of the pandemic.  

This piece intends to explore various tactics, legal resources, and preventive measures that are currently available at the disposal of family businesses to adopt a viable succession plan and lay down a comprehensive list of suggestions and actions that can be immediately incorporated and undertaken by such entities to this effect.

Dos and Don’ts of Succession Planning

 

While undertaking measures to establish a legacy plan, family harmony and communication are the two keys, which are imperative to be kept at the forefront. It is pertinent to ensure that succession planning does not prove to be detrimental to a family’s peace and unity.

The following two approaches should be incorporated while formulating a succession plan for a family business, in favor of the family’s interest:  

  • Family Harmony Comes First: Successful family business owners have believed that selflessly putting the family first is key to the survival of their business. Decisions that keep the family together should be given priority even if they could potentially cause short-term losses. Dynasties crumble due to family feuds and individual egos overpowering affection and mutual respect.
  • Communication is the Key: There needs to be clarity amongst all the family members, especially the next generation about their future roles. The older generation needs to have an open discussion with the young beneficiaries, about their exit and the subsequent taking over of the business after them. Similarly, the younger generation needs to communicate their plans for the future and expectations in advance so that a succession plan can be tailored in line with their mutual terms of agreements and prospects. It is advisable to engage an external facilitator who can assist the concerned parties to convert their aspirations, interests, and competencies and formulate a plan in the larger interest of the business. If the younger generation wants no part in the family business, then their decision should be respected otherwise a forced responsibility in the family business either through a Will or otherwise will only lead to resentment and strife in the family; and be violative of industry’s regulatory clauses depending upon the nature of business.
 
 

Planning for Protection of Assets in the Event of Succession

 

Most Indian family-owned businesses managed their assets and wealth themselves. Therefore, succession was either governed by will or personal laws. However, since succession and property laws are unique to every religion, the process became complex.

The indifference and ignorance of senior members of the family towards these issues is the primary cause for extensive litigation cases, mainly pertaining to title disputes. The following succession planning tools are recommended to sidestep from such scenarios:

  1. Will: Leaving behind a validly executed Will is the most uncomplicated mode through which a property can be passed down to the next owner. There is no fixed format for a Will under the law. The only requirements for a valid Will according to the Indian Succession Act, 1925 are; it should be made by a sound adult, signed by them, and attested by two witnesses. It is recommended that an Executor be appointed in the Will to reduce hassles. It is not compulsory to register a Will. Probate is also required only if the Will is made in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and Assam and within the local limits of the ordinary original civil jurisdiction of the High Courts of Madras and Bombay or where the property of the deceased is situated in these areas.

There are two scenarios that are to be considered while determining the ownership of a share in the family business after the death of a person:

  • In case a person dies leaving a Will: A person can make a bequest of his share in the family business by a Will according to the constitution of the family business:
    1. Corporate Structure: Large family businesses often operate through a private company structure in which the shares are issued to family members and the management positions are held by family members. Shares held by an individual family member can be willed by that person. A family company continues to operate after one’s death as it is a separate legal entity. The assets in the company belong to the Company alone and cannot form part of the estate and therefore cannot be transferred by a Will.
    2. Partnerships: Most small-scale family businesses in India work through the partnership model. The Partnership Deed between the family members as partners should ideally have a clause that provides for the procedure to be followed on the death of a partner. A family business owner can make a bequest of his share in the partnership in the Will, but the beneficiary does not become a partner to the firm unless all the partners of the firm consent to it.
    3. HUF: Many traditional family businesses do not have a formal document in place but may operate through a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF). According to Section 30 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, a person can make a testamentary disposition of his share in a co-parcenary property i.e he may dispose of his share in the assets of the family business (HUF) through a Will.
  • In case a person dies without leaving a Will: The ownership of the stake in the family business will be determined by intestate succession i.e succession according to the personal law of the deceased individual. The heirs will be determined in accordance with the religion of the intestate for example Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains will be governed by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, Muslims will be governed by the Mohammedan Law and all others will be determined by the Indian Succession Act, 1925.
  1. Trusts: The Indian Trusts Act, 1882 governs the creation of a Private Trust. A trust may be created during the lifetime of a person, referred to as the author / s It may be created with a written legal document through which the assets of the settlor are placed into a trust and trustees are appointed therein who manage these assets for the benefit of the settlor and the beneficiaries named in the Trust Deed. The biggest advantage of Trust is that it operates both during and after a person’s life.
    • A written Trust Deed is signed by the Settlor, requires a minimum of two trustees and two witnesses. The trust may or not be registered; registration is required only if an immovable property is transferred to the trust.
    • Family wealth can be secured with the help of trusts. The manner of conducting business, areas of responsibility, and pre-empting scenarios can also form part of the trust constitution.
    • Another benefit of Trust as a planning option is its dependability during a crisis. It helps in ringfencing the assets from any action taken by creditors or banks in the event of a financial crisis.
    • When a settlor dies, the trustee pays the debts, files the tax returns, and distributes the assets of a deceased. Trusts are an effective estate-planning tool if one wants to avoid the costs and hassles involved in obtaining probate. It is a quick and quiet procedure, preserving one’s privacy and done without any court interference.
  1. Family Constitution/ Charter/ Framework: Business assets such as securities can be accounted for in a Will or a Trust, however, it is also necessary for a family business to plan for succession of management of the business. These are often covered in Family Constitutions or any other business manifests. It clearly lays out the interaction between the family and the business. It is a document that can be used for governing the administration of the family business. Apart from detailing the values and ethos of the family business, it may also specify rules like the incoming generation would need to get a master’s degree and, work outside to ensure they are well equipped when they join the business. It may also make provisions for events like death, marriage and divorce in the family. However, for any family members to succeed onto the Board of Directors or any other Key Managerial Position, resolutions by the existing Board of Directors and/or shareholders would be required. It is recommended that the younger generation (if adults) should be made aware of the Family Charter, allowed to participate and their opinions should be given due consideration so that the document is in line with the thoughts of the incoming members of the business. This helps in maintaining a balance between the old and the new.
  1. Family Arrangements: Family arrangement resolves present or possible future disputes among family members ensuring equitable distribution of property among the family members. In a Family arrangement, a member gives up all claims in respect of all the properties in dispute other than the ones falling to their share. The rights of all the others are recognized. Therefore, under a Family arrangement, members of a family may decide amongst themselves about the distribution of the property of the deceased. A Family arrangement would have to be appropriately stamped and registered. However, even oral arrangements are valid in the eyes of law.
  1. Clear Retirement Policies: While making a succession plan, there should be a provision for a clear retirement policy that includes defining the benefits and shareholding of the outgoing generation post-retirement.
  1. Guardianship: Where minor children are involved, it is very important to make provisions either in a Will or by Trust, for appointing a guardian for minor children in the event of a parent’s death. If one parent dies, then the other living parent likely becomes the guardian subject to personal laws. If both parents die, then it is needed to mention who will be accorded guardianship. Failure to do so will involve the intervention of courts and various applicable laws given India’s pluralistic society. The need for an appropriate guardian is not only to provide for personal needs but to also ensure that the share of minors in family businesses are protected during the period of minority.
  1. Conflict Resolution Forums: Family disputes are often dragged to courts and fought in public. Creating conflict resolution forums in the family constitution is recommended where family members can discuss their differences and resolve disputes amicably. These forums may consist of trusted family members or outsiders like family friends who can fairly resolve the dispute. In case the dispute continues, family members may resort to mediation or arbitration. Litigation should be used only as a last resort. To maintain peace in the family, a well-drawn-out conflict resolution forum is necessary. Resorting to legal recourse at the first opportunity creates hostility and breaks down family relations.
  1. Setting up of Family Offices: Keeping track of investments and family wealth as it grows can become an extremely cumbersome task. Family Offices rescue family businesses and high net worth individuals from such burdens along with managing the administrative issues that crop up daily. Family Offices handle investment portfolios, taxes, provide legal support, maintain documentation, and manage shared assets of the family businesses.
  1. Choosing a Successor: The family business will flourish only if a family member has the passion to take on the responsibilities to run the day-to-day business. It is, therefore, important to identify a successor who not only has the skill sets to be the leader but also has the drive and excitement to take the business forward. Forcing the responsibility of running the family business onto uninterested family members would be detrimental to the business as the stakes are high for all stakeholders. When deciding between family and non-family members to run the business, the family should objectively identify and evaluate a variety of candidates early on. Whether family or non-family, they should be given the requisite training and opportunities to grow, and the best candidate often emerges over time. If no family member is qualified and/or willing to take the position, then the current leader must make the tough decision to appoint an external candidate or professional for the role.
  1. Mentoring the Next Generation: An important factor for successful business transfer is mentoring of the next generation of leaders before and after they take over the family business. It would be fruitful to train and groom them so that they learn and understand the culture and values on which the business was built. Often, business owners are afraid to give up their central roles in the system and hand over the reins of the business to newcomers even if they are family members. Successful family business leaders have kept aside their egos and objectively help build the mindset of the prospective leaders. One way to groom the next generation is to give them challenging tasks and the autonomy to make their own decisions. The current generation can also create a management training program for the next generation joining the business, in consultation with key senior personnel. This gives them a flavour of various aspects and functions of the business.
  1. Tackling Issues of Nepotism: One of the biggest challenges in any family business is tackling nepotism allegations, especially by the younger generation. Nepotism is inevitably a part of the package deal that cannot be avoided. If an undeserving family member is given a senior position in the business, it may result in low morale amongst the employees. What can be done is, minimalize its effect on the non-family employees. A good way to tackle nepotism is to set out clear employment policies. What qualifications would be required for a certain position in the business and what is expected from a family member if they do take up that role? Giving them compensation based on their performance instead of their relationship within the family, preparing them thoroughly for a position, and giving them jobs that fit their skill sets are some of the best practices which can be adopted by family-run businesses.

Since change is the only constant, the pandemic has forced many family businesses to re-consider and re-structure their succession and legacy planning, as it has drastically increased the probability of unforeseeable deaths and long-term health complications. Demise of the family’s patriarch in the absence of a legitimate will, post-covid health complications rendering everyday functions and business operations redundant are some of the scenarios which are impairing the families resulting in stress, loss of business liquidity, and business opportunities. 

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Will Air India Regain its Past Glory?

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome aboard this Air India Flight … We have been cleared for take-off and should be airborne soon. Thank you for choosing Air India. We should reach our destination at … Meanwhile, sit back, fasten your seat belts, and enjoy the in-flight service…”.

It’s been many years since I chose to fly Air India when other options were available, and I dare say that is true of many of you readers as well.

A new beginning for Air India in a tougher environment

 

Now that the Government has completed the sale of Air India to the Tata Group, I am hopeful that the airline will regain its glory from 25+ years ago – even in an environment that is much more competitive and vastly different, thanks to a number of reasons including the pandemic-imposed restrictions on flights/travel, the soaring cost of aviation fuel and indeed many other input costs. Also, in the intervening years, our once-venerable national airline has lost significant market share, and regaining it will not be easy.

There are some signs that after 18 harrowing months, the aviation industry may have put the worst behind it. For example, Emirates is expected to restore 70% of its pre-pandemic capacity by end of 2021. Data from FlightRadar24 suggests that average weekly departures of flights briefly crossed the comparable figure in 2019. In India, Indigo Airlines, reported a 44% increase in passengers since early 2020

 

The journey to regaining market share and past glory is long and arduous

 

Merely wishing for the airline (which, during the 1960s was one of the top large airlines in the world) to regain its past glory is not enough. All stakeholders need to play their roles well- the government, the new management, airport operators, ground service handling agencies and above all, passengers like you and me.

Business leaders talk about “customer experience”, and what they are doing to constantly improve it. (Remember Jan Carlson’s “Moments of Truth”?). While customer experience is largely digital for some industries, in sectors such as airlines and hospitality, there are inherently large elements of “in-person” elements of experience. In an age when every business operates in “ecosystems”, customers expect additional benefits. Indeed, frequent flyer and loyalty programs have for years been attracting customers with deals on hotels, local transportation, restaurant discounts etc.

There are many head-winds and possibly, lots of turbulence that the Tatas- and Air India- will need to overcome in the long-haul flight to becoming a leading airline brand that is once again loved, respected and preferred by customers around the world.

The new Air India needs to address every link in its customer experience chain. This includes:

  • A great digital interface (app/website/call centres) to make it easy for customers to select flights and buy tickets (and make selections around food, seating preferences, need for wheelchairs or other special needs etc.)
  • A large network of routes (the starting point is of course what it has inherited in the sale)
  • Smooth check-in and baggage handling (possibly with differentiated services for passengers traveling light)
  • A fleet of clean, well-maintained, state-of-the-art aircraft (this may mean terminating leases on old aircraft and leasing new ones)
  • Professional, well-trained crew (pilots, cabin crew) and other staff who contribute to smooth running
  • Orderly boarding
  • On-time flights
  • Smooth handling of passengers who may miss connecting flights due to flight delays
  • Good service on board (choice of food and beverages, catering to special dietary needs etc.)
  • Efficient baggage handling at destinations
  • Good frequent flyer program with multiple partners providing a range of discounted services/products
  • Mechanism to capture customer feedback and redress any grievances so that customers will want to fly Air India again and again.

Given its flying rights to almost every continent, it still remains the only Indian airline capable of providing truly global connectivity. Also, the Tatas have investments in Air Asia and Vistara- so they will surely look for ways to synergise operations. Ensuring the above will take time (not to mention significant investments), and I am sure the Tata Group has hit the ground running.

 

Each passenger choice can make a difference

 

But all the above only deals with Air India and its service capabilities. The demand side of the equation is what we can influence. Although Air India is now privately owned, it is still an airline owned by Indians. I strongly believe that as Indians, we must, to the extent possible, take pride in the rejuvenated Air India and give it the support we can by flying with them as often as we can. Just as the Japanese, Chinese, Germans and French make it a point to fly only their airlines, I believe we as Indians too should do the same.

Earlier, MPs/MLAs and government officials were required to fly Air India/Indian Airlines. That may no longer be the case- although I would urge officials of the central and state governments/PSUs and MPs/MLAs to continue to fly Air India. If you are a leader with influence over your private sector organization’s policy, I would urge you to encourage colleagues and employees to fly Air India. Of course, while this is subject to the Air India option making sense in terms of fares, flight timings, connections etc., I feel that we should be willing to make minor sacrifices.

I for one will fly Air India in the days ahead, and subject to my experience, will seriously examine the possibility of becoming a regular Air India passenger again.

PS: I hold no brief for the Tata Group or Air India; these are my views as an Indian who takes pride in the country and wants to contribute in every way possible to our country’s growth and prosperity.

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Photo by Daniel Eledut on Unsplash

Now that the Government has completed the sale of Air India to the Tata Group, I am hopeful that the airline will regain its glory from 25+ years ago – even in an environment that is much more competitive and vastly different, thanks to a number of reasons including the pandemic-imposed restrictions on flights/travel, the soaring cost of aviation fuel and indeed many other input costs.

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Strong Tailwinds for India’s Technology Sector Entrepreneurs and Startups

Venture Capital (VC) investments in Indian startups in the period January – July 2021 were reported at around US$17.2 Billion. Although this figure is lower than the quantum of investments made in China in the same period, it is a healthy 55% more than the US$11.1 Billion VCs invested in India in the year 2020. Here’s an even more interesting data point: in July 2021, VCs invested around US$8 Billion in India, in comparison, their investments in China were approximately US$5 Billion. This was the first time since 2013 that India attracted more VC investments than China.

One swallow does not make a summer, but there are many reasons to believe that significantly higher levels of risk capital will become available to Indian entrepreneurs- and especially to those in the tech space. While most of these have to do with India’s intrinsic strengths, there are also some external forces at work. Here is what I believe will fuel India’s tech entrepreneurs over the course of the next five years or so.

  • Steep increase in the number of Indian unicorns:

The first 9 months of 2021 alone have seen 28 new unicorns (a term that denotes startups with valuations of US$1Billion or more) emerge in India. This number stood at 38 at the end of 2020.

  • Fintech innovation:

India has seen several innovative fintech come up in the last ten years, many of which are already unicorns or on their way there. As the global banking and financial services industry look for disruptive solutions and new ways of building ecosystems, many of these “Made in India” innovations will become globally relevant and hence attractive investment opportunities.

  • The rise and rise of Edtech:

As a result of the pandemic and the emergence of interactive technologies, the learning and education space has undergone a massive transformation in the last two years. Not just in the early school years but also coaching for various entrance exams. Byju’s for example, is valued at almost US$16.5 Billion, and has already acquired 9 other Edtech companies in recent months. Like fintech, the Edtech opportunity too has the potential to tap global business opportunities.

  • Rising interest amongst western VC funds:

Existing investors are looking to expand their Indian portfolio, with some big-name investors like Tiger Global making 25 investments in India between January and August 2021 (in 2020, they invested in 18 startups). New VC firms that have not previously invested in India too are also entering the market. Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) fund, for example, recently closed a US$260 Million investment in crypto player CoinSwitch Kuber (valuing it US$1.9 Billion). Reports suggest a 60% increase in participation by US investors in Indian fintech startups over the last three years. The Unacademy group, another major Edtech player in India, recently raised US$440 million (investors included non-US funds as well)- valuing the startup at almost US$3.5 Billion.

  • Many global giants already have an Indian presence:

It was recently reported that one in 12 global unicorns have their technology centers based in India (source: August report of the IVCA). As Indian ventures and their innovations gain global visibility, I believe many more global organizations will set up shop in India (As elaborated in my earlier blog – Global Captive Centers in India: Can add Value If Set Up Differently).

  • Strong talent base:

India has a large, trained pool of tech and managerial talent that can be attracted to startups both by higher compensation made possible by Venture Capital backing and the thrill of creating something new. Such talent can form the crucial leadership and middle layers as these startups scale and grow rapidly.

  • Entrepreneurship on the ascent:

Increasingly, young graduates are turning entrepreneurs– and choosing this avenue instead of the safety of “safe” jobs with established companies. And of course, there are senior leaders from various companies who are also getting bitten by the startup bug and leaving to start/mentor various early-stage ventures.

 

Conclusion

 

Of course, there’s also the elephant (more accurately, the dragon) in the room. The Chinese Communist Party leadership has, in the past year or so, made a number of major policy changes with the apparent intention of targeting China’s home-grown Big businesses (tech and others). The Chinese government’s seeming unwillingness to come to the rescue of defaulting real estate majors is another event that has muddied waters for investors. Western investors have significant exposure to many of these companies whose wings have clearly been clipped. Strains in diplomatic and economic ties between China and the west are expected to trigger a slowdown in fresh investments, if not cause an exit from Chinese businesses.

Capital chases the best risk-adjusted returns and so will always gravitate to where investors expect the best outcomes. India, with its relative political stability, acknowledged track record of democracy, continuing commitment to reforms, and growing stature as a global innovation hub makes it an attractive alternative.

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Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Capital chases the best risk-adjusted returns and so will always gravitate to where investors expect the best outcomes. India, with its relative political stability, acknowledged track record of democracy, continuing commitment to reforms and growing stature as a global innovation hub makes it an attractive alternative.

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Global Captive Centers in India: Can Add Value if Set Up Differently

Major forces of change, such as the emergence of new technologies, maturing of platform-based business models and other competitive threats are forcing businesses to transform themselves. Another driver of large-scale change is the pandemic, which has led to new ways of working. Hybrid models, where a large chunk of employees work remotely and not from a designated office space, are now becoming the norm. Although some companies have begun to announce plans for their employees to return to workplaces, the consensus opinion is that a hybrid model is going to become the new norm because it significantly reduces operating costs; also, employees are finding it more convenient.

One area where the above changes are clearly visible relates to how large and medium enterprises across industries are looking at outsourcing to countries such as India. In recent years, the contours of both IT outsourcing and BPO have evolved rapidly; the above-mentioned forces of change are only accelerating the velocity of change.

A survey by NASSCOM recently found that by 2025, MNCs are likely to set up 500 new Global Captive Centers (GCCs) in India. Until two years ago, the number of such units established annually was around 50. This demonstrates that India’s large talent pool continues to be attractive. But it’s a different world we live in than even five years ago.

Earlier, most MNCs viewed their GCCs in India as low-cost delivery centers and design, architecture, prioritization of projects etc. were all the exclusive domain of Business/Technology leaders in the parent company. Cost arbitrage opportunities still exist in India vis-à-vis western countries, and thus, cost savings will remain an important objective for evaluating GCC performance. However, the ongoing shifts are raising the bar on how GCCs are expected to contribute to their parent organizations. Along with cost-efficient service delivery, enhancing automation, driving process innovation and enabling adoption of new technologies and architecture paradigms will all become important performance criteria. In some cases, there may even be expectations of new product innovations coming out of the Indian GCC.

MNCs will need appropriate operating models and talent to deliver on the potential. Employee contracts need to be suitably structured. IPR must be appropriately protected. Compliance with data privacy and other regulations must be ensured. As MNCs plan and implement their GCCs in India, they must keep in mind that India too is changing rapidly. They must formulate their strategies keeping in mind four specific factors:

  • Quality infrastructure (including reliable electricity and broadband connectivity) is now available across the country, and not limited to Tier 1 cities. This gives companies a wider choice of locating their GCCs.
  • As a result of reverse-migration triggered by the pandemic, talent too is available in smaller cities across the country. Given the possibility of remote working, the proximity to families and lower cost of living have become significant incentives; in fact, many employees prefer to live and work from such locations.
  • Many state governments are offering incentives to companies establishing operations in less-developed parts of their states and creating employment opportunities.
  • The country’s FDI, income tax and GST regimes are also frequently being tweaked to make India more competitive and business-friendly.

All this means that making choices and decisions around business objectives, investment routing, structuring and locations based on criteria and checklists that were relevant even a couple of years ago may lead to sub-optimal outcomes. Your GCC in India has the potential to be a global Centre of Excellence- so make sure that you make the right decisions so that your investments deliver ROI in ways that go far beyond cost arbitrage.

Mr. Sandip Sen, former Global CEO of Aegis and a well-known veteran of the BPO industry, put it thus: “These are exciting times for the Business Process Management industry for many reasons. Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics and higher levels of automation mean that players at the lower end of the value chain will need to raise their capabilities. In the next phase, GCCs will focus more on innovation as well as technology enablement aimed at enterprises to embrace ecosystem-based business models and higher levels of customer-centricity. But to achieve all this, companies have to take an approach that is very different from what they might have taken some years ago”.

 

Image Credits: Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

MNCs will need appropriate operating models and talent to deliver on the potential. Employee contracts need to be suitably structured. IPR must be appropriately protected. Compliance with data privacy and other regulations must be ensured. 

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The Other Face of Digitalization: Changes to Tax Laws and More

Very often, speeches and articles begin by alluding to an environment of significant change, that brings in its wake, opportunities as well as higher levels of uncertainty. The wave of digitalization triggered by the emergence of various technologies is often cited as a prime example of this change. Digitalization has undoubtedly proved its worth in the past 18 months. Enabling remote working for millions of employees in various industries, enhancing the convenience of online banking, creation of new mobile payment options, virtual video/audio conferences are all examples of how digitalization has transformed the global society.

But there is a flip side to this too. Big Tech companies are growing rapidly, not just in terms of influence but also their financial muscle. To put it in perspective, the combined market capitalization of the top five Big Tech companies- i.e., Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google’s parent), Amazon and Facebook was around US$9 Trillion as of 1 October 2021[1]. By comparison, the market cap of India’s top five companies was around US$750 Billion.

Tax laws need to keep up with the “digital economy”

The pandemic has severely dented government revenues worldwide, while expenses have ballooned. This has led to spiraling fiscal deficits, that have their own consequences. Given that most corporate tax regimes worldwide evolved keeping conventional businesses in mind, and that digital economy businesses are very different in nature, a new corporate tax playbook is clearly needed.

Given its large number of digitally-savvy consumers, a country like India is often one of the top three markets for digital economy companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, etc. But the nature of their business is such that they can carry out business in India (or any other jurisdiction) without having a significant place of business in that jurisdiction. So while countries like India contributed to revenues, low local operating costs meant higher profits. But this did not translate into higher taxes for India because MNCs registered companies in countries with lower tax rates and assigned IPR to these companies. The subsidiary operating in India would then pay a royalty to this overseas company. This is not illegal under the letter of existing tax laws, but it does lead to low tax revenues.

The Tax Justice Network estimates that India loses US$10.1 Billion annually due to abuse of tax laws; the US is believed to lose five times that amount (US$49.2 Billion). It is interesting that the same study identifies the Netherlands, the Cayman Islands, China, Hong Kong and the UK as the largest enablers of tax abuse. (source: “How global Tax Rules may reshape India”, The Mint, 23 September 2021).  

Change is already in the air

India was, in fact, a pioneer of sorts, when it introduced the equalization levy (a sort of digital service tax) in 2016 to bring some of the revenues of these digital companies into the tax net. Many other countries followed suit. Not surprisingly, there are now more concerted efforts to plug loopholes that Big Tech in particular is able to exploit to avoid tax in jurisdictions with higher tax rates. A major step to address this situation was announced in July 2021 by the OECD and G20. The move envisions a minimum corporate tax rate of 15% worldwide as well as a new framework for allocating more rights to tax digital economy companies to countries housing digital consumers- i.e., ensure fairer taxation of businesses in those jurisdictions where they earn profits.

Stop press!

Talk about timing! Just as I thought I had finished writing this blog, I saw the news that the OECD has finalized the framework for this major international tax reform. A new global minimum corporate tax rate of 15% has been set and will apply to companies whose revenues exceed 750 million Euros. Additionally, MNCs with global sales above 20 billion Euros and profitability above 10% will also be covered by the new rules. Model rules are expected to be formulated in 2022 and the new regime is to take effect in 2023.[2]

Including India 136 countries (that together account for 90% of global GDP) have backed this framework. Once such a regime comes into effect, individual countries will be required to withdraw any digital taxes they levy- e.g., India’s equalization levy.

While this kind of thinking will have a far-reaching impact on digital businesses and the global economy, new tax laws are not the only drivers of major change. If the recent testimony to the US Senate by whistleblower Ms. Frances Haugen is any indication, Facebook and other companies may soon face tougher laws around advertising and targeting specific segments of users. And given Google’s dominant position in the search business, competition laws too will inevitably get tougher. And as seen by India’s tough stand on Mastercard, data localization requirements too will become increasingly stringent. And finally, of course, data privacy laws too will evolve. The popular saying “May you live in interesting times” (incidentally, there’s no credible evidence that this was indeed a Chinese curse, as is often claimed) seems to have had the current period in mind. Even if it didn’t, we do live in interesting times- that’s for sure.

I wish you all a Happy Navratri/Durga Puja.

  1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1181188/sandp500-largest-companies-market-cap/
  2. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/oecd-deal-mncs-will-be-subject-to-a-minimum-tax-of-15-from-2023/articleshow/86876192.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

Photo by fabio on Unsplash

The pandemic has severely dented government revenues worldwide, while expenses have ballooned. This has led to spiraling fiscal deficits, that have their own consequences. Given that most corporate tax regimes worldwide evolved keeping conventional businesses in mind, and that digital economy businesses are very different in nature, a new corporate tax playbook is clearly needed.

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Being COVID Sanguine: Some Silver Linings to the Pandemic

Given the devastating effects the COVID 19 pandemic has had on the world in general and India in particular, you’re probably wondering about the title of this blog. Don’t get me wrong- I am in no way trying to diminish the massive damage to life, livelihoods and health that the pandemic has brought upon millions of people in India and around the world. Had I seen a similar title even 4 months ago, I too would probably have experienced thoughts similar to what you felt. 

So what has changed in a matter of a few weeks? There has been a major drop in the number of cases around the country; instances of serious infections requiring ICU care have also declined. The vaccination drive is going from strength to strength, with as many as 10 million people being vaccinated across India on a single day.

But the biggest change is in my own perspective. Earlier, I always saw only the negative and the bleak, but now I am beginning to see some positives. And that’s what prompted me to write this piece. Here are five specific areas in which I see positives.

Our people exhibited phenomenal resolve and resilience

The second wave (March-June 2021) was especially brutal on India. Our healthcare infrastructure was stretched beyond breaking point. Oxygen was in short supply, as were critical drugs. Medical experts were trying to firm up treatment protocols. Although vaccinations had begun for some people, the Cowin portal was glitchy and even vaccine supply chains were far from streamlined.

But we saw hundreds of self-help groups come up on platforms like Whatsapp and Telegram. Volunteers would man them 24×7 to ensure that across India, patients and their families got access to critical resources including food, oxygen cylinders and medicines. These supplemented (and often replaced) government measures. Technology was used to the fullest, to ensure that people knew where vaccine doses were available, so they could quickly register.

The pandemic has powered a surge of innovations

Almost every day, there were/are media reports around some innovative activity in India. Some emanate from the government sector: for example, in many cities, stadia and large school buildings were converted into makeshift hospitals or Covid Care Centres.

There are many examples of innovation emerging from private enterprise too. For example, given the large quantities of PPE waste being generated, someone came up with a way to convert used PPE kits (which would otherwise have to be incinerated or buried safely in landfills) into briquettes that can be used for constructing low-cost housing.

Around the country, different teams developed prototypes of low-cost oxygenators and ventilators. This will be a source of great benefit to the country because it reduces dependence on imports. And as we have seen, geopolitical triggers or maritime issues (like the ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal) can wreak havoc with global supplies.

Recently, I read about a woman-led team in Hyderabad inventing a fabric that has anti-virus and anti-bacterial properties. Imagine the wide range of applications at home, in workplaces and public spaces for such a versatile invention.

 

Public-Private Partnership (PPP) redefined

The notion of Public-Private Partnerships too has changed in the last 18 months or so. Whether this is a direct result of the pandemic or more the outcome of policy changes is perhaps hard to separate. But India as a nation is seeing much higher levels of collaboration between government laboratories and infrastructure and the private sector. DRDO collaborating with start-ups for developing drones that can be used for vaccine delivery is one example. Another is ISRO encouraging startups and even students to design satellites. A third is ICMR collaborating with Bharat Biotec in the development of Covaxin, India’s first indigenous Covid vaccine.

Passions are changing into professions, creating employment opportunities

On the one hand, the pandemic has killed many livelihoods. But with many people looking at new, home-based business ventures- and using digital channels to market themselves and deliver their products (and in some cases, services too), one can hope that they will be able to scale and over time, some job losses can be offset. Examples include food delivery, baking, making pickles etc.  Of course, India still needs contact-based industries, such as construction and manufacturing, to pick up and get back on track.

Attempts to harness the creative talent of our youth

This may not be directly linked to the pandemic, but I believe that greater participation will result because of the restrictions imposed by it. The government is looking for innovative ideas from our youth. The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) and The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) recently announced Manthan 21, a “hackathon” aimed at getting our country’s youth to come up with innovative solutions to address the challenges faced by our intelligence and security agencies. Specific areas have been identified. (more details are available here: https://manthan.mic.gov.in/about-intellithon.php).

 

Experts say that the world around us has changed for ever, and there’s a “new normal” in the wake of the pandemic. There is no doubt about that. But hybrid working models or other changes visible in the organized sector (especially in larger firms and companies) are not the only changes to our world resulting from the pandemic. The impact of the less visible changes described above too will be felt by India and the world in the years ahead.

 

The second wave (March-June 2021) was especially brutal on India. But we saw hundreds of self-help groups come up on platforms like Whatsapp and Telegram. Volunteers would man them 24×7 to ensure that across India, patients and their families got access to critical resources including food, oxygen cylinders and medicines. 

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