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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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Education in India: Time to Connect the Dots and Look at the Big Picture

In the last few days, I read news reports that are seemingly unrelated on the surface. However, I think there exists a deeper connection for those willing to think outside the box. I thought I would use this article to articulate my thoughts on the connections and their possible implications for India. 

India’s New Education Policy expected to gain traction

The first item was about various initiatives announced by the Union government on the first anniversary of India’s National Education Policy (NEP). While internationalization, multiple entry/exit options, and digital education will be key pillars, one other important component is to enable students to pursue first-year Engineering courses in Indian languages.

In the context of the broad-brush changes envisioned to India’s education system, it is time to rethink the role of the UGC as a body that enables the nation’s higher education system in ways beyond disbursing funds to be recognized universities. There also ought to be more harmony between the various Boards that govern school education. The roles of bodies responsible for governing professional education in India- e.g., AICTE, NMC (which replaced the MCI), ICAI, ICSI, ICWAI, Bar Council of India etc. should also be redefined to ensure that India’s professionals remain in tune with the needs of a fast-changing world.

English will play an important role in our continued growth

The second report that caught my attention was on two main points made by Mr. Narayana Murthy (the Founder of Infosys), in a recent media interaction. He stated that it is high time that English be formally acknowledged and designated as India’s official link language, and greater emphasis is given to its teaching and learning in Indian schools. He said that his opinion is based on his first-hand knowledge of many technically qualified students in Bangalore/Karnataka who lose out in the job market largely because they lack a certain expected level of proficiency in English.

In the same interview, Mr. Murthy went on to say that on a priority basis, India needs overseas universities and vocational educational institutions to set up facilities in India to train students and teachers in key areas like nursing. This too makes sense because our healthcare infrastructure needs massive upgrades- and human resources will be critical.

China’s tightening regulations threaten its US$100 Billion EdTechc industry

The third report was on China’s recent decision to tightly regulate its online tutoring companies. The new rules bar online tutoring ventures from going public or raising foreign capital. There are also restrictions on the number of hours for which tutors can teach during weekends and vacations. In fact, the rules go so far as to make online tutorial businesses “not for profit”.

Different views have been expressed on why Chinese authorities have taken this step. Some see it as a means to reduce the cost of children’s education- and thus encourage couples to have more children. They point to this as a logical enabler of the recent relaxations in China’s two-child policy. Others view it as a step designed to clip the wings of Chinese tech companies that are deeply entrenched in many consumer segments, and have, over the past decade, acquired significant financial muscle.

To put into perspective the size of Chinese EdTech companies, consider this data point: Byju’s, arguably India’s largest EdTech company, was valued at over US$16.5 Billion as of mid-June 2021. Despite this high valuation, Byju’s would have been smaller than the top 5 Chinese EdTech players (on the basis of valuations that existed before the recent draconian rules came into effect).

Implications for India

The majority of China’s EdTech ventures are financed through significant venture capital investments from the west. Analysts expect that China’s sudden actions will, at least in the short run, divert capital to other locations. India could be a potential beneficiary because it already fosters a large EdTech ecosystem.

Given our demographics, we have a significant domestic market for education across all levels- primary, secondary, and college. Since digital education will likely become the norm, this space is ripe for newfangled innovations in the days ahead. If online education can bridge the gaps that employers currently perceive in our fresh graduates, unemployability rates shall notably decline. . This will not only contribute directly to our GDP but also indirectly stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship.

India has a large technical skill base. Some of these resources can easily be harnessed to develop next-gen education solutions using cutting-edge technologies such as AI, ML, Language Processing, Augmented Reality, etc. To begin with, Indian start-ups can build, test, and scale EdTech platforms and solutions for our domestic market. Over time, these can be refined and repurposed for global markets. Similarly, features built for the global market can be adapted to Indian markets, thus creating a virtual cycle. Such a trend will not only proffer legs to implementing India’s NEP but will also enable us as a society to improve access to education to underprivileged sections of the society. This is critical to sustaining our growth on the path of socio-economic development.

By taking the right decisions now, we can attract capital, talent, and world-famous institutional brands to this critical sector. EdTech in India has the potential to become a powerful engine of growth for our services sector. Done right, I have no doubt that in a few years, India can become a “Vishwaguru” not just in the spiritual sense, but also literally.

PS: As with many other sectors in India, the legal framework that governs education too needs to be made more contemporary and relevant, but that’s for another time.

Image Credits: Photo by Nikhita S on Unsplash

By taking the right decisions now, we can attract capital, talent and world-famous institutional brands to this critical sector. EdTech in India has the potential to become a powerful engine of growth for our services sector. Done right, I have no doubt that in a few years, India can become a “Vishwaguru” not just in the spiritual sense, but also literally.

 

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Sports and Business: Long Term Thinking is Vital for Success in Both

India’s sportspersons have returned to India after a fantastic performance at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Neeraj Chopra’s javelin throw gave India its first ever gold medal in athletics (and second in an individual event). Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu and wrestler Ravi Dahiya won us two silver medals, while boxer Lovlina Borgohain, badminton player P V Sindhu, wrestler Bajrang Punia and the men’s hockey team won bronze medals. Our overall tally of 7 medals is the highest at any Olympics. Overall, a very creditable performance the nation should be proud of.

As a proud Indian, I too am hopeful that the exposure and “big stage” experience gained by our sportspersons in Tokyo, combined with better training, practice infrastructure and facilities will help India better its 2021 performance. However, I worry about the flurry of speculative discussions in the media about how many medals India will win at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

The media is full of expert analysis and recommendations on what the government and sports federations need to do to ensure a higher medal tally in 2024. Sportsperson I am not; nor am I a seer. Therefore, I do not know what individuals and teams need to sustainably enhance their performance and win medals for India in the future. But I do know that ad hoc actions will not suffice.

A structured, long-term approach is essential for sustaining success in sports and business

I see a clear parallel between the world of sports and the corporate world, with which I am more familiar. No matter how talented and skilled an individual athlete or player is, skills alone are not enough to win him/her a medal. They need the right coaching, top quality training facilities, regular opportunities to compete with the world’s best, the right nutrition, inputs on biomechanics, mental conditioning etc. Having all this also does not guarantee a medal-winning performance, because, on the day, anything can happen.

Similarly, individual brilliance or an innovative new idea or product alone will not guarantee success in business. India needs to strengthen its ecosystem for business, with a particular emphasis on startups and young ventures. Coaching and mentoring to give better shape to business ideas, access to risk capital, support during the early stages of the business, tax breaks, the right kinds of sector-specific laws and regulations that will help businesses become viable sooner are all elements of what our business ecosystem requires.

Just as world-class sports infrastructure cannot come up in every state or city in the next year or two, incubators cannot come up everywhere. Junior talent identification and nurturing programs too can take 8-10 years to produce top-class sportspeople who are ready to compete on the global stage. Even if physical infrastructure comes up, finding equally qualified coaches for all locations will not be easy.

Although we know that Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, Clean Energy, Electric Vehicles etc. are all critical emerging areas, it is naïve to expect that overnight India will become a leader in these sectors. The same is true of our performance in sports as well. Countries prioritize participation in those sporting events that afford them their best chances of winning medals; India is no exception. This same thinking needs to be applied to business as well. The first step is to mindfully identify sectors that are critical to our future- for example, clean energy, healthcare, space, drones, defence equipment (aircraft carriers, submarines, 6th generation fighter aircraft, anti-missile systems), electronic chips etc.

Then, just as countries identify individuals with promise in the “priority sports”, the government of India (and the private sector) must identify/agree on ventures with the potential to become world-class and nurture them. Within the national business ecosystem, smaller regional ecosystems need to be created across the country, based on resource availability and other strategic considerations. Individual states must compete with each other to build such ecosystems and attract the best entrepreneurial talent. Doing all this will definitely give India a stronger and more vibrant domestic industry, besides acting as prime movers for overall socio-economic development, employment generation and GDP growth.

Spotting and nurturing young talent in various sports must be part of our education system

Also, our education system has focused on academics, with sports and other activities labeled as “extra-curricular”. This needs to change in two ways. First, right from the primary school level, children must be encouraged to participate in different sporting activities. Trained teachers and specialist staff must spot talent and at the right ages, enable specialized training. This obviously must be done with the parents’ active cooperation. Second, for super talented children who wish to pursue sports as a possible career option, specialized institutions must be set up (either by state/central governments or in PPP mode). Children in these institutions must be given extra coaching and training, while also being allowed to pursue a basic level of academics that will help them once their sporting careers end. Seasoned athletes must be invited to train at these facilities so that young aspirants can learn and benchmark against the country’s best. The National Education Policy 2020 seeks to make sports and physical fitness more central to school education, but the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. Only time will tell how seriously this is taken in a country that values grades and marks over excellence in a chosen field.

Concerted action is essential not just for a US$5 Trillion economy but also a richer medal haul in the future

Winning in sports is not easy- and neither is succeeding in business. If we are not quick to act, flight of entrepreneurial talent to other countries is a distinct possibility, and in time, our businesses (and athletes) may end up competing with rivals who also had their origins in India- and could perhaps have been part of our sports contingents and GDP. What is worse, we may be ranked as poorly on innovation in critical areas as we have been in world sports.

Just as countries identify individuals with promise in the “priority sports”, the government of India (and the private sector) must identify/agree on ventures with the potential to become world-class and nurture them. 

 

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India Needs New Regulations - But Simplification of Compliance is Just as Critical

In earlier posts, I have touched upon the need for Indian laws to be updated to better reflect the current environment and foreseeable changes to it brought about by various forces, primarily technology-led innovation. This is not just because of the need to plug legal loopholes that are exploited to the nation’s detriment but also with the objectives of streamlining compliance and better enforcement.

 

Recently, the union government did exactly this when it announced a new set of rules to govern the operations of drones in India. A new draft of the Drone Rules, 2021, now out for public consultation, will, when approved and notified, replace the UAS Rules, 2021, which were announced in March 2021. The fact that the government has come out with a new set of rules within 4 months of issuing the earlier version is a welcome sign of change, as it signals recognition of a rapidly-changing environment as well as the importance of timely and appropriate responses.

Changes are aimed at simplification and less regulatory control

The new rules are remarkable for other reasons as well. At about 15 pages in length, the new rules are only a tenth of the earlier rules. The changes are not limited to the form; there are substantive changes too. The new rules seek to do away with a large number of approvals (e.g., Unique Authorization Number, Unique Prototype Identification Number etc.).  Licensing for micro drones for non-commercial use has been done away with. Recognizing the immense potential for drones to revolutionize our society and economy, the government proposes to develop “drone corridors” for cargo delivery. Prior authorization of drone-related R&D organizations is being removed. A drone promotion council is to be set up, in order to create a business-friendly regulatory regime that spurs innovation and use of drones. All this augurs well for the development of a robust drone ecosystem in India.

Implementing the “spirit” of underlying regulations is vital

The change to the drone rules is a welcome step- just as the consolidation of 29 of the country’s labour laws into four Codes during 2019 and 2020 was. But rationalization becomes futile if there is no element of reform- e.g., doing away with requirements that have outlived their utility or need significant changes to remain relevant in the current environment? There were many expectations around the Labour Codes, but in the months that followed, it is fair to say that there was also much disillusionment amongst industry stakeholders because sticky issues, such as the distinction between “employees” and “workers”, payment of overtime, role of facilitator-cum-inspector etc., remained.

Simplifying compliance is necessary to improve “ease of doing business” further

The World Bank’s 2020 “ease of doing business” report ranks India 63rd; we were ranked 130 in 2016. The 2020 report considered three areas: business regulatory reforms (starting a business, paying taxes, resolving insolvency etc.); contracting with the government, and employing workers. 

But there are miles to go before we sleep. To ensure that India’s entrepreneurial energies and creative intelligence are directed to areas that will be critical in the years to come- e.g., space, AI, robotics, electric vehicles, clean energy etc. all need new regulations or revamp of existing legislations and rules. But this alone will not suffice. Implementing the spirit, and not just the letter of the law and rules and the simplification of regulatory compliance are important angles that government must pay attention to. These are going to be key determinants in improving our “ease of doing business”.

 

Technology is a necessary enabler but it is not sufficient

All regulatory filings- whether for approvals or compliance- should ideally be enabled in digital format. Digital dashboards in the government and other regulatory bodies should facilitate real-time monitoring. Only exceptions or violations should need further actions. To be sure, the government has initiated some steps in this direction- e,g., “faceless” interactions between business and the Income Tax authorities with the intention to reduce human interventions and thus, the possibility of corruption. But if the underlying income tax portal itself is not working properly, as was widely reported soon after it was launched, the desired outcomes will not be achieved.

Moreover, it is not just about having the right technology platforms in place. It is equally critical to bring about a mindset change in the administrative machinery that helps political leadership formulate policy and thereafter, enable implementation and performance monitoring.

Given India’s large domestic market and attractiveness as a base for exports, we as a nation stand on the threshold of a phase of significant economic growth. Many Indian entrepreneurs are establishing businesses overseas; this means that the benefits of jobs, tax revenues and IPR creation all move to other jurisdictions. The longer anachronistic and irrelevant laws remain on our books, and the harder regulatory compliance remains, the more we stand to lose. In a world where global investment flows, trade and supply chains are facing significant change under the influence of numerous forces, it would truly be unfortunate if India loses out largely because of continued difficulties in regulatory compliance.

Image Credits: Photo by Medienstürmer on Unsplash

The longer anachronistic and irrelevant laws remain on our books, and the harder regulatory compliance remains, the more we stand to lose. In a world where global investment flows, trade and supply chains are facing significant change under the influence of numerous forces, it would truly be unfortunate if India loses out largely because of continued difficulties in regulatory compliance.

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Entrepreneurship is the Key to Power India's Growth

One of India’s “unicorns” Zomato recently closed its IPO. Another one, Paytm is scheduled to hit the capital markets soon. Both companies operate in very different segments, but in less than a decade, have altered and shaped many people’s lifestyles in an increasingly digital world. It can be argued that demonetization and the pandemic contributed significantly to the rapid growth of both these ventures, but this blog is not about cataclysmic events triggering business growth. It is about the increasingly important role that entrepreneurs and their ventures will play in the development and growth of India in the years ahead. For years, India’s young talent has been at the forefront of innovation- but what has changed in the last decade or so is that many of these innovators are also turning savvy entrepreneurs.

Potential Scale of Entrepreneurship in India

Also, many of these new ventures are looking to solve a variety of problems in healthcare, education, supply chain, agriculture etc. using “tech”. The potential scale of some of these ventures is simply staggering, even on a global scale. For example, a recent study suggests that in the SaaS space alone, there are more than 1000 companies in India, of which 10 are already “unicorns”. The study further estimates that in the next ten years, India’s SaaS companies can capture 4-6% of the global SaaS market alone, accounting for annual revenues of over US$60 Billion. This represents a value creation of over US$0.5 Trillion, powered by more than 0.5 Million jobs.

Entrepreneurs have Shown Resilience & Reinvention 

Over the last 18 months, entrepreneurs have painfully realized that it’s no longer business as usual. As a result of the lockdowns and continuing restrictions, an estimated 15-20% of India’s startups shut down. But the silver lining is that many entrepreneurs have shown resilience and the smarts to reinvent themselves. The “revenue at any cost” mindset, that was dominant amongst entrepreneurs in many sectors, has changed. Ventures have pivoted; there is now greater focus on unit economics.  Digitalization has enabled changes to offerings and go-to-market strategies, including the emergence of new channels. Many startups are fueling Direct-to-Consumer sales, which is seen as a new channel for B2C businesses.

Change in Consumer Behaviour

On the demand side too, changes in consumer behaviour are evident. Whether it’s banking, food, insurance, education, healthcare, retail, fitness or entertainment, an increasing segment of buyers are becoming comfortable with digital transactions- not just for payment, but also in terms of looking at catalogues or menus and making choices. Many ventures are now focusing on the MSME sector, which too has been hugely impacted by the pandemic. Digital solutions for payroll, HR, payments, book-keeping etc. are all becoming popular. All this is enabled by growing smartphone penetration and improved internet access even outside large cities and towns across India.

Koo, a credible home-grown alternative to Twitter is growing rapidly- not just in India but also overseas. The ban on TikTok last year has spawned many Indian apps for creating short videos. Even in governance initiatives implemented by the central and state governments, a shift to digital technologies is visible, aimed at increasing convenience, easy access and higher service levels on the one hand, while on the other, reducing costs for the provider.

Increasing Government Partnerships

The opening of partnerships between government organizations such as DRDO and ISRO with private enterprises has already seen some sterling outcomes in the context of space and satellite technologies, Covid treatment, disaster management and national defence. All this will only gather momentum in the years ahead- provided an enabling, empowering and nurturing environment is created and sustained. Such an ecosystem must comprise all key stakeholders- the government, regulators, lenders and investors, business advisors, lawyers etc.

New Reasons for Entrepreneurship

To be sure, not all ventures are high-tech- or need to be. Many people who lost their jobs due to the COVID 19 pandemic too have turned into entrepreneurs, launching small ventures in different sectors. Besides being testaments to the indomitable spirits of these people, these ventures represent new avenues for livelihood and employment generation- both critical aspects of India’s socio-economic development. In some cases, employees from the IT sector have taken up scientific farming or started working with artisans to preserve dying craftsmanship and skills while creating a market for traditional products. A rising number of fresh graduates are also turning entrepreneurs instead of taking up regular jobs, because of a slowdown in hiring.

Dr. Devi Shetty has for long been saying that we need a large cadre of trained medical technicians and nurses who can reduce the pressure on our healthcare system by being able to take care of basic tasks like recording blood pressure, taking ECGs, vaccinating citizens etc. The current crisis may well represent the trigger needed to bring in such capacity-building programs through new private ventures. The education and skill development sectors too must align themselves to ensure that these ventures get access to skilled human resources- not just in “high tech” fields like robotics, 5G or AI, but also in areas like education and healthcare, where there will be a growing emphasis on using technology.

Exploring New Avenues

Many ventures will operate in areas that are entirely new, for example, the use of drone technology to deliver drugs and vaccines to remote areas. Unless there are adequate regulatory and legal safeguards in place, and these are updated periodically to reflect the deployment of new technologies or emergence of new use cases, the ventures will not get the necessary tailwinds. Not only will this dampen entrepreneurial spirits, but it will also deprive India of the opportunity to fully harness the benefits of advanced technologies and the innovative agility of startups.

As a nation, we have to ensure that there is an appropriately supportive and enabling financial, legal and human resource ecosystem both during the early-stages of ventures to provide them with seed/growth capital and thereafter, to scale within India and globally. If we can get this fine balance right, India surely stands on the threshold of an exciting new future, where societal transformation will be efficiently powered by the innovative, out-of-the-box thinking and nimbleness of execution that our entrepreneurs have the capacity for.

Image Credits: Photo by Burak Kebapci from Pexels

As a nation, we have to ensure that there is an appropriately supportive and enabling financial, legal and human resource ecosystem both during the early-stages of ventures to provide them with seed/growth capital and thereafter, to scale within India and globally. 

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Family Businesses Must Rethink Their Strategies in the Wake of the Pandemic

The pandemic (and the rapid mutations of the virus) continues to force big and small changes at multiple levels. At the national level, policy shifts are visible in diplomacy, economics, healthcare, defence etc. As the government unveils new policies to attract investment and promote a more “Atmanirbhar Bharat”, business leaders are recalibrating strategies and plans to ensure that they remain plugged into the newly emerging configurations of global supply networks. Across sectors, corporates are learning to work with new constraints such as hybrid working models, increased sickness in teams and higher attrition. The way individuals live and work has changed- both for frontline workers and others. And many have lost their means of livelihood and/or families as well.

That life is uncertain is axiomatic, but even this truism has been brutally knocked out of shape by the current pandemic. The novel coronavirus has repeatedly shown its scant regard for age, sex, health, education, social standing, financial status or indeed, any other criterion. In recent months, many individuals have succumbed to Covid or related complications. Apart from causing immense sorrow (and physical and financial hardships) to the bereaved families, such losses also pose challenges to the organizations they are associated with – even if “replacements” can be found.

In the context of a family, and hence, family business, a “replacement” is not possible. Therefore, the impact of losing a member of the family can be particularly severe for family businesses because it can abruptly affect plans around succession, estate and even diversification or expansion.

Over the past two decades or so, many family businesses in India have been actively working on professionalizing the way their companies are run. They have hired professional managers, and given them the necessary operating freedom and often, even strategic flexibility. Members of the younger generations are professionally qualified, and eager to drive growth, often through diversification or introducing innovative changes to the strategy or operating model. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, many members of the younger generation have moved away into completely new areas. Social entrepreneurship and philanthropy have become popular, as has angel investment into new ventures.

While the pandemic-induced uncertainty has accelerated the attempts of family businesses to bring order to their matters, the task is far from easy. Especially if some of these businesses were inherited and there are many branches of the family, ownership patterns may still remain tangled. In some cases, ownership changes have arisen as a result of an amicable settlement process initiated by the patriarch, while in other instances, such changes have been forced by disputes within the family.

All such changes are predicated upon a certain expected longevity of family members. It is this key variable that has now become much more unpredictable than in the past. Therefore, families need to re-evaluate their strategies to build contingency plans that are not just more effective, but also flexible and less prone to legal challenges. Where earlier, a Plan A and a Plan B may have sufficed, going forward, family businesses may need Plans C and D as well.

Even if they have been procrastinating decision-making on inter-generational transfers or other ownership and growth decisions, the pandemic has forced the hands of leaders of family businesses. They will need to find answers to several key questions to ensure that risks are adequately mitigated even while the family’s interests are protected and objectives achieved.

Every family business will have its own unique situation. However, here are ten common questions that will need to be discussed and suitable answers found in light of the specific context:

  1. Are wills adequate or is there a need for something that can be less open to dispute-such as setting up trusts? If trusts are the way to go, should they be public or private, and who should be the trustees and who should be the beneficiaries? If some of the members are still minors or foreign citizens, what are the implications?
  2. If the family holds assets in foreign jurisdictions, are wills in those countries needed or is one will adequate? Does it make a difference if these are immovable properties?
  3. How do we ensure that the charitable/philanthropic activities being undertaken or planned do not get stalled?
  4. If members of the family move to overseas locations as permanent residents there, what are the tax implications following changes in ownership (say triggered by wills). What about Board memberships?
  5. How will a change in citizenship status change any aspect of the overall situation? (This may be relevant where there are restrictions on who can be Chairperson or hold controlling interest).
  6. The family may have invested in ventures as angel investors. What happens to them?
  7. ESG is becoming increasingly important as investment criteria. What can be done to comply with the expectations of such investors?
  8. How can trusts be safeguarded against them being wound up in the future?
  9. If some family members inherit equity shares and seek to exit the business, how to ensure that the shares are not sold to a competitor?
  10. What happens to ongoing litigation against individuals/entities? Can new litigation be triggered by criteria such as PoEM (Place of Effective Management) applied by the Indian Income Tax Authorities?

As you will appreciate, there are no “one size fits all” answers to the above questions. Each family will need to obtain answers keeping in mind family structure, business interests, ownership patterns and other asset holdings. Thereafter, based on advice from qualified professionals, identify suitable options, and assess risks, costs and trade-offs in each of them in order to arrive at solutions that will work best for its members.

As you will appreciate, there are no “one size fits all” answers to the above questions. Each family will need to obtain answers keeping in mind family structure, business interests, ownership patterns and other asset holdings. Thereafter, based on advice from qualified professionals, identify suitable options, and assess risks, costs and trade-offs in each of them in order to arrive at solutions that will work best for its members.

References

Image Credits: Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

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A New Spin to Tagore’s Immortal Lines – “Where the Mind is Without Fear and the Head is Held High”

Two things happened in the past few days that got me thinking even more about something that has been playing on my mind for some time now. The first was a conversation I had with a friend, with whom I reconnected after a gap of several years. In the course of our conversation, he told me that his twenty five-year old son runs his own start-up that does cutting-edge work in the field of AI. I was somewhat surprised to hear this because when the children were in school, his wife would often complain about the boy’s poor academic performance. As if he had read my mind, my friend told me that he had given his son complete freedom to pursue his interests in life. He said, “The only thing I told him was to excel in whatever field he chose, and to be accountable for all his decisions in life”. Pretty good advice.

The second was that I read an article titled “Be humble but also be brave” by Mr. Ratan Tata. The article, which appeared in the Times of India on 27th December 2020, contains Mr. Tata’s views on what we as a nation need to do to improve our society. He writes about our collective responsibility towards the underprivileged sections of our society. He also writes about the importance of gender equality and equity in rewards given that women can (and will need to) play an important role in the nation’s growth. You may read the article here if you missed it earlier.

I agree with him on both counts. However, what resonated with me, even more, were his observations that India’s transformation will be powered by young people, and to enable this efficiently, we need to create a culture that is more supportive of innovation.

As I pondered the ways in which life has changed over the past nine months, it struck me that while technology has created “Digital” alternatives and workarounds, we as people have changed our mindsets too. This is in no small measure due to the pandemic. Being mistrustful of digital devices and ways of communication, many of us preferred to physically visit banks or shops. (Some will claim that they did so to maintain relationships- which is also a fair point). But while being forced to stay at home for several weeks, we discovered the freedom and convenience of banking and shopping from home. And now, this has become mainstream, thanks to the growing penetration of smartphones and hence, access to the internet.

I asked myself in what other areas do we need to change our mindsets and realized that change and shifts are inevitable in every walk of life. Here are five that immediately come to mind.

Parenting

At least in my generation (and earlier ones), the general paradigm was that “parents know what’s best for their children”. That may have been true during an era of relatively little change when things remained more or less the same for decades (say 1950-1990). But it is certainly not true anymore. So many career choices are coming up in the gig economy- but yet, many parents are even today fixated on Engineering, Medicine, MBA, Chartered Accountancy or Law. Maybe this explains why so many Indian executives are CEOs in global companies, but the number of innovations that have emerged from India and shaken up the world remains small. India has been an IT services powerhouse for more than two decades, but where are we with products? Zoho is perhaps one success, but there are not too many others I can think of. As parents, we need to be more encouraging of our children’s interests and allow them to pursue avenues that were once labelled as “offbeat”.

Education

Our education system has largely remained oriented towards rote learning and examinations. Marks and grades continue to be indicators of learning. But in a world where there are new problems crying out for new solutions, critical thinking skills become even more important. The new education policy alone is not adequate- all stakeholders including parents, teachers, society at large and students themselves need to change their mindsets. Risk-taking as a behavioural attribute has generally been suppressed in us right from a young age. “Don’t do this or you might hurt yourself” or “Don’t do that because it might damage the object” have been a part of our growing up years; we generously proffer the same advice to our children, and so the cycle continues.

This needs to change so that our youth are not afraid to take calculated risks. I am not advocating that they take wanton, senseless risks- but if they have a business idea, they should be encouraged to explore it and give it a shot- even when they are in say, middle school. They may fail, but their journey of pursuing their dreams will teach them so much more about life, success, failure, planning, preparation, resource management, handling people and so on than our institutions can. Just as only a tenth of an iceberg is visible above the water, 90% of failed start-up ventures remain invisible to the world. But the successful ones have ushered in so much transformation. Remember that only a few years ago, Uber, Zoom, Byju’s and Swiggy were all little more than ideas or early-stage start-ups.

Maybe the government needs to make it easier for new courses to be offered online, so that interested students, entrepreneurs, mid-career executives and professionals can expand their repository of skills- and in the process, also get awarded a certificate, diploma or even degree. The digital ecosystem is already a powerful catalyst for such a step. What is needed is a “nudge” in the form of reasonable regulatory unshackling to set up virtual universities, for example.

Innovation Ecosystem:

Depending on the idea and the problem it seeks to solve, the seed capital needed may vary from a few thousand to several lakhs. Not everyone will have access to the resources needed to set up a company and develop solution prototypes. But this does not mean these youngsters should not be given a fair opportunity. Some of the best ideas for solving our country’s problems come from young people.

The other day, I watched a video on the solar-powered ironing cart designed by Ms. Vinisha Umashankar, a fourteen year-old girl from Tamil Nadu. For a country like India, this is a great solution for three reasons. First, we have adequate sunlight throughout the year. Second, many people get their clothes ironed by people who use coal to heat their irons- and even this coal burning is a source of air pollution. Third, providing such services is a source of livelihood for many people in urban India. How she got thinking about this solution and how various entities got together to refine her prototype makes for interesting reading.

But not everyone will be as fortunate as young Vinisha, who seems to have had access to a supportive ecosystem through her school. To democratize access to resources, we need the government and the private sector to set aside more funds as “risk capital”. There are already several schemes at the central and state government levels, but awareness is limited. Teachers themselves do not have the necessary information to guide their students and help them apply for such funding. I am aware of executives who mentor and coach youngsters through NGOs and other social initiatives. I salute the people doing this and invite more people to volunteer.

For some years now, my colleagues and I have been assisting young entrepreneurs (on a pro bono basis) to give them advice and provide guidance on the legal aspects of setting up an entity in India, securing their IPR, etc. The Fox Mandal Foundation runs an early-stage incubation center in Bangalore. If you know of any start-ups looking for office space, legal assistance and mentorship, do ask them to contact me.

Regulatory Reforms

Entrepreneurs (and even established businesses, for that matter), spend inordinate amounts of time on seeking regulatory approvals and thereafter, on ongoing compliance. A certain amount of regulation is necessary- and in fact, desirable. But needless process delays (and instances of corruption) only cause frustration. For example, in today’s digital environment, it should be possible for company incorporation procedures to be completed within two business days. To be fair, the government has been taking steps to improve the “ease of doing business in India”. But more needs to be done- both by the central government and individual state governments.

Social Support

Not every startup idea will succeed. In fact, if history is anything to go by, 8 out of 10 will probably fail. This is where society at large has a role to play. Don’t chide or deride youngsters you know who have turned entrepreneurs and failed. If you have not done it yourself, you have no right to comment on others; at least they had the courage to take that risk. Perhaps this mindset should extend to parents preferring to give their children in marriage to those with “secure jobs”- which entrepreneurship is definitely not.

Unless we empower our youth to be bold and take calculated risks, we cannot expect India to transform at a pace that meets our aspirations. In this context, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s famous lines, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…”, take on a whole new meaning. We need our youth to be able to boldly take calculated risks and if they fail, move on to the next idea or do something different, without feeling like misfits, failures or under-achievers.

I wish you a happy new year!

Unless we empower our youth to be bold and take calculated risks, we cannot expect India to transform at a pace that meets our aspirations. In this context, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s famous lines, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…”, take on a whole new meaning. We need our youth to be able to boldly take calculated risks and if they fail, move on to the next idea or do something different, without feeling like misfits, failures or under-achievers.

Image Credits: Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash

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The Inevitability of “Digital” and What It Might Mean for Us

Here are five items of important news that hit the headlines in the past month:
  • Whatsapp’s decision to share certain types of user data with its parent (Facebook), and the consequent shift towards apps like Signal, Telegram and India’s home-grown “Arattai” from Zoho.
  • The Indian army displays of how a swarm of drones can be used to attack and neutralize enemies in future wars.
  • Tesla’s announcement on setting up an R&D Centre in Bangalore.
  • The launch of the Vaccine Credential Initiative brings together diverse technology and healthcare organizations such as Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, Mayo Clinic, Cerner etc., to collaboratively develop a “trustworthy, traceable, verifiable, and universally recognized digital record of vaccination status.”
  • Amazon’s plans to enter India’s buzzing online education market with the launch of the “Amazon Academy”, which will reportedly provide curated learning content and assessment material to students preparing for competitive entrance exams like the IIT JEE.

What’s common to the above seemingly random list? “Digital” is one common theme that connects each of the above items of news. This is perhaps not surprising because, in the last few years, it has become quite clear that the shift to “Digital” is a trend that is both inevitable and largely irreversible.

In this context, it is fair to say that the economic growth of various countries, including India, depends on how quickly, efficiently and effectively they embrace “Digital”. At one level, this means companies imagining and developing the right solutions to help various industry sectors “go Digital”. At another level, it also means individual companies across industry sectors are adopting such solutions to make their operations more efficient, connect better with customers, improve quality of service etc.

But the “Digital” world will also bring other substantial changes. A critical aspect is that it will need all of us to reimagine the important concept of “trust”. We will need to rebuild it in new ways with various members of our respective ecosystems. This is not just about data privacy or security; it extends to the choice of raw materials, the process of manufacturing (e.g., Manufacturing 4.0), management of supply chains, how we communicate (e.g., 5G), how products are marketed and indeed, how they will be used (and not allowed to be misused). Employer-employee relationships too will need to evolve in the context of “Digital”. New skills will be needed. In short, every aspect of business (and indeed, life) will need to be reconfigured.

In a digital world, how services are delivered also needs to change because there is not just greater interdependency, but at least in the initial years, there is also a higher degree of “unknowability” about how advice in one area might impact other areas. In today’s world, accounting, consulting, legal advice, financial advice, IT services, HR services, Governance solutions etc., are all neatly siloed. But in the brave new world that lies ahead of us, that may well need to change. We may need “super advisors” who have the ability to coordinate multiple strands of expertise to ensure that clients get the best solutions to address their needs. In many cases, even the needs will need to be elicited through a process of brainstorming because what “digital” means to a company cannot be easily defined or benchmarked.

Under the influence of various geopolitical forces, changing demographics and the consequent mindset shifts, the next few years may also see a realignment of global organizations. As and when this happens, we can also expect to see other changes, and those might also impact how the world moves forward on the “Digital” highway.

If you are older than, say, 45 years of age, you’ve likely grown up and worked through relatively long periods of stability. But in recent years, technology-enabled innovation has led to large-scale disruptions. Add to that the changing demographics, and it is fair to say that the world is on a roller-coaster. Generational shifts bring with them new ways of thinking and working and new attitudes towards life, including changing notions of “success”, “risk”, “happiness”, and so on. In this dynamic environment, some of us can be at the forefront of defining and shaping the future of industries. The simple question is: how many of us are up to the challenge?

What’s common to the above seemingly random list? “Digital” is one common theme that connects each of the above items of news. This is perhaps not surprising because, in the last few years, it has become quite clear that the shift to “Digital” is a trend that is both inevitable and largely irreversible.

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Unlocking the Potential of Space Technologies for Nation-building

On 28 February 2021, ISRO successfully launched 19 satellites using the PSLV-C51 launch vehicle. The payload included the 637 Kg Amazonia 1, Brazil’s first indigenous earth observation satellite, as well as 18 Indian satellites (including some built by students and faculty from three Indian engineering colleges). ISRO’s robust and world-class capabilities in designing, building and launching satellites have been demonstrated on multiple occasions in the course of the past five decades. The growing interest shown by India’s private sector (including start-ups), to build satellites is certainly something to be proud of.
India is already a member of an elite club of countries with significant capabilities in the arena of space technologies (“spacetech”). While we are making steady progress, space needs to be looked at in the broader context of the important role that will play in enabling and accelerating the future economic growth and social development of countries like India.

Mobile telephony unleashed a worldwide revolution two decades ago. By quickly becoming a part of it, India benefited hugely; indeed, we continue to see how a hand-held device can become everything from a bank to a source of news to a shop and so much more. If India can pragmatically direct even more of its resources to spacetech, enormous benefits can be realized in the decades ahead. This is something that has started to happen in recent years by way of enabling policy changes.

For many years, ISRO’s satellites have been providing us with tangible benefits in three areas:
  • Giving farmers better and more timely information about weather conditions;
  • Alerting vulnerable populations to impending natural disasters and assist rescue and relief operations;
  • Enabling TV-based classes for rural students.

But the world is changing in several ways, and harnessing space technologies can ensure that we as a nation are able to adapt more effectively. One set of direct benefits accruing from spacetech relates to people living on earth, on the other hand, exploration of outer space through manned and unmanned missions can lead to greater knowledge about other planets and their suitability to support life as we know it. This of course may offer only long-term benefits.

Harnessing space technologies can deliver a range of benefits

Here’s a look at diverse areas where space technologies can play an important role in the coming years.

It is quite clear that water will become an increasingly scarce resource because of climate change as well as continued irresponsible behaviour by human beings around the world. Managing groundwater resources will become even more critical in the years ahead. This is something that satellite-based remote sensing technologies can enable. Such information can also help farmers in selecting crops that are better suited to their areas so that they are less impacted by the vagaries of nature.

Traffic jams are an undeniable reality of most urban centres. With satellites at the right locations, it is possible to gather real-time information about traffic build-ups and alert on-ground police and other authorities to take timely action to minimize the magnitude of the jam. Similar eyes-in-the-sky can also be used to monitor forests, wildlife movements, prevent poaching and other illegal activities. Fishermen can be provided with better communication facilities when they are at sea. Government properties can be monitored so that encroachments can be prevented. Spacetech can also aid e-governance activities.

In a post-COVID19 world, as remote working and hybrid working models become mainstream, robust and reliable nation-wide digital connectivity becomes even more critical. Education too will be delivered through hybrid models, as will some elements of healthcare. However, large sections of India’s rural population do not yet have access to reliable and high-speed internet access due to various reasons including difficult terrain for laying fibre optic cables, inhospitable weather conditions for large parts of the year etc. This effectively denies many of our fellow-citizens access to various essential services. Spacetech has the potential to provide better connectivity.

If India is to encourage investments in new clusters to move away from large urban centres, those areas need high-speed connectivity. This is especially important for factories that wish to embrace Manufacturing 4.0, which relies on IoT (Internet of Things) technologies. Providing land banks and physical transport infrastructure, though necessary, will not be sufficient in the next decade.

While we in India are still in the early stages of testing 5G technologies, some countries have already started experiments in 6G. Although the world is several years away from agreeing on 6G standards and specifications, in November 2020, China launched what it calls the “world’s first 6G satellite” to demonstrate the use of terahertz frequency waves. If successful, this technology can enable data-transmission speeds that are many times higher than 5G can deliver.

Collaboration on space-related areas can play an important role in India’s foreign policy. The launch of Amazonia-1 is the culmination of years of collaboration between Indian and Brazilian space scientists and technologists.

As other countries start building and deploying space-based defence systems, India cannot afford to ignore its security interests. Spacetech can help identify threats and create more effective deterrents against hostile intentions.

Outer space is another frontier we must explore

While colonizing space to overcome the earth’s real estate limitations is a few decades away, we cannot ignore the growing competition in outer space exploration. Countries such as the US, Russia, China etc. have already made significant progress by sending probes to many planets. India too has made significant progress with its Chandrayaan 2 mission. While the lunar lander did not land as expected, the orbiter continues to provide valuable data to our space scientists. The Chandrayaan 3 mission is already in the works, as is Gaganyaan, India’s manned mission to the moon.

Several enablers are needed to efficiently realize the benefits of spacetech innovation

It is one thing to identify priorities and appreciate the need to move decisively; creating the right ecosystem to move forward productively, quickly and at scale is another matter altogether. Allocating financial resources is of course an important aspect. But it is just as critical to ensure that the different stakeholders- the government, industry (private and public sector) and academia work collaboratively and cohesively.

The government of India has put in place some important policies and legislations in this context. These include a Satellite Communication policy, Remote Sensing policy and the Space Activities Bill. While the intent to open up participation in different areas of the space sector to private players, the laws seek to maintain government control to prevent national interests from being compromised. However, there are still references to the Indian Telegraph Act (1885) and National Frequency Allocation (2018) that make the process of approvals and clearances cumbersome.

The draft Space Activities Bill, 2017 envisages mechanisms for regulating space activities, authorize and grant licences for commercial space activities, register space objects and liabilities relating thereto etc. India needs such umbrella legislation in keeping with the fact that we are a signatory to the international space treaty.

The government has established the Indian National Space, Promotion & Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) under the aegis of the Department of Space to enable and support the participation of India’s private sector in the arena of space technologies. To build launch vehicles, provide launch services, build satellites and provide space-based services, the government, in 2019, set up New Space India Limited (NSIL). The role of the latter is to encourage industry participation in India’s space programmes. Yesterday’s successful launch was the first commercial mission undertaken by NSIL. But there needs to be more clarity around the regulatory powers of IN-SPACe.

The UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) has established a framework to ensure that individual entities (private or government) do not misuse space. Along with the International Telecommunication Union, this attempts to govern important aspects of activities in space, such as registration of objects launched into outer space, radiofrequency coordination, assignment and registration of satellite network frequencies, and compliance with the guidelines on space debris mitigation. Compliance is critical to ensure that the launch of a flurry of small satellites in the coming years does not put military or other satellites at risk.

Early steps have been taken. It is time that the government looks at bringing in necessary regulations and fine-tune existing ones to ensure that the intention of public-private partnership in this important field is encouraged, enabled and empowered.
This article talks about the important role of ‘SpaceTech’ in enabling and accelerating the future economic growth and social development of countries like India.

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Unshackling the Education Sector - A Surefire Way to Accelerate Development

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, said former South African President Nelson Mandela. I believe his prescient observation is timeless in its relevance. In the world that we live in, there are two major factors that will shape how education will be consumed in the future. The first is the reality of ever-increasing digitization. The second is the huge changes to lifestyles forced upon us in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In many ways, these two are closely intertwined in the context of education. We as a nation today stand on the threshold of a historic opportunity to transform our education system. The New Education Policy has set the ball rolling, but much more needs to be done to enable our institutions to deliver the kind of education that our nation needs. This is especially true for higher education. We have hundreds of universities and higher education institutions (HEIs) that cater to the entire gamut of academic fields. But the fact that even the best of our HEIs do not rank among the top 100 globally is telling. By comparison, several Chinese universities do- and have got there only in the past decade.  

Innovations around the world, powered by digital technologies, are enabling better remote teaching and learning experiences. In India, mobile/internet penetration is increasing rapidly and becoming ever more affordable. Together, these are powerful forces of change. For many courses, virtual classes can easily be conducted by teachers from their homes- provided they are equipped with the right digital infrastructure. Students too can attend these classes from the comfort of their homes. Of course, for certain courses such as Medicine, Engineering, Agriculture, etc. it may not be possible to fully replicate the experience of a laboratory or a field- although I think sooner rather than later, Augmented Reality will enable even this gap to be bridged. This means that unlike in the past, universities and HEIs no longer need large areas of land to build physical classrooms or other on-campus facilities. 

Given India’s legacy of teaching in English and the relatively lower fees and costs of living, our universities have, for the past many decades, attracted students from Africa and Middle Eastern countries who pursue various undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. To be fair, some of this is also the result of “education diplomacy”. Why not take advantage of this and work towards making India the education hub of the world for the new era? Given India’s own linguistic diversity and the needs of foreign students, multilingual support too can be provided digitally, to improve learning outcomes and hence increase the attractiveness of our HEIs.  

We have the talent to develop the right curricula and teaching methods. Just a few weeks back, Ranjit Disale, a government school teacher from Maharashtra won the Global Teacher Prize for his revolutionary contributions to the education of girls by leveraging QR code technology. There must be hundreds of other teachers in our HEIs with innovative ideas on how to enhance learning efficacy in their subjects.  

If asset-light, “virtual-only”, for-profit HEIs are permitted, private capital will more legally and transparently be attracted to the education sector. Investors such as PE funds will be more willing to fund the development of next-generation technology-based delivery infrastructure, hiring quality teachers, and development of new, digitally deliverable content that enables students to develop core knowledge as well as critical thinking skills and gain exposure to emerging fields that will become more and more important for India and the world. These knowledge assets can be used to scale up the education venture, thus lowering the risk for capital providers.  

 

Allowing asset-light virtual universities to be established in specific disciplines will also address the challenge of a shortage of qualified and motivated faculty. By allowing faculty to teach courses on multiple platforms, even students affiliated with different HEIs can get access to top-notch teaching. Digital content can be updated more easily, without the costs associated with printing, distributing, and updating physical textbooks. 

Naturally, such a massive transformation will need a radical change in the mindset of parents, teachers, and students. It will also need changes to the laws that govern the country’s education sector. Under India’s Constitution, education was originally a State subject. In 1976, the 42nd Amendment transferred some aspects to the Concurrent list. Visionary state governments can take the lead in amending the necessary regulations or enacting new legislation so that the education sector is able to attract adequate capital and has the ability to innovate around new courses, curricula, delivery models, testing mechanisms, etc.  

The pre-condition that Universities/HEIs can only be permitted when those who wish to set up such institutions have adequate land available is a major structural impediment. This is especially true for courses where there is no need for laboratories or hospitals etc. Per prevailing law, even private education institutions in India are supposed to be “non-profit”. But the reality is very different- and this is what breeds corruption. Trusts are set up to acquire large land banks on the outskirts of cities ostensibly to establish a school or college/university campus. The funds used to acquire these large tracts of land sometimes have questionable provenance. If the HEI clicks, well and good. If the institution does not gather the desired traction, that’s no big deal either. Over a period of time, these land banks are used for commercial or residential projects.  

In cities that have grown rapidly in the last decade or two (Bangalore is an example), educational institutions whose campuses were established say 20 years ago, are now located in the middle of the metropolitan area. These institutions shift to new areas on the outskirts. The prime real estate thus freed up in the city centre is used for other projects. In some cases, developers build a school as part of a large gated community, thus seeking to satisfy the conditions of land grant or conversion.  

Such new-age virtual universities can benefit students from India as well as overseas and allow underprivileged students to access high-quality education. Even in the current setup, there are several examples of talent from underprivileged backgrounds coming up with innovative ideas. Imagine what might be unleashed when virtual universities are able to channelize the creative energies of millions more of the world’s youth!  

 

Image Credits: Photo by Mohammad Shahhosseini on Unsplash

Even in the current set-up, there are several examples of talent from underprivileged backgrounds coming up with innovative ideas. Imagine what might be unleashed when virtual universities are able to channelize the creative energies of millions more of the world’s youth!  

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