“Indian startups can find solutions to global problems by innovating for Indian challenges” — Amitabh Kant

A country’s GDP growth is one of the primary measures to gauge its economic health. And India’s GDP growth, at 7 percent per annum is growing on the back of surge in opportunities and the impetus provided to encourage the growth of entrepreneurship. How does one continue to bring up this number, and ensure that India grows in a healthy and consistent manner over a long period of time, while also working to reduce the vast economic and social inequity that exists?

                                        Amitabh Kant at Kalaari Summit 2018 #ImagineTomorrow

At the recently-held Kalaari Summit 2018, Imagine Tomorrow, the dynamic Amitabh Kant, CEO of the NITI Aayog and the man behind the pathbreaking Incredible India!and God’s Own Country campaigns, shared his vision for the India of the future, and he believes that startups and technology have a very significant role to play a role in building this India. Here are some excerpts from his talk:

On the paradigm shift brought about by UPI

“Almost a decade and a half back when I was Secretary of Tourism, I was also in charge of the fisheries sector. We wanted to open bank accounts for fishermen and fisherwomen in Kerala, but it was a huge challenge. It took me 11 months to open those accounts. A couple of months back, I was at an Onam celebration at Federal Bank. They opened my account using my thumb impression in 55 seconds flat. So imagine, from 11 months to 55 seconds flat, that is the paradigm shift of what Nandan(Nilekani) has actually done. He’s created an infrastructure which enables us to do this.”

On a robust government-led infrastructural backend that can power global innovations

“Unlike China, where your private data is owned by Alibaba or Baidu or Google and Facebook in the United States, what distinguishes India from the rest of the world is that we’ve been able to create this unique Aadhaar infrastructure, the India Stack, and the UPI, which is all government-led. On the back of this public infrastructure you have almost a thousand fin-tech companies innovating on a regular basis. You have Google Tez, Facebook, WhatsApp, Samsung Pay, all of them innovating for the Indian market. It is because of this phenomenal backend which has been created that you are able to come up with all these innovations in India which will enable them to be carried to the rest of the world.”

On India innovating and finding solutions for the real challenges facing humanity

“While Silicon Valley has the greatest number of innovators, it has the least number of problems. In India, you have all the challenges of the world, therefore you need all the innovations of the world. And if Indians and Indian startups can find solutions for the problems of India, which are water, cleaning up your cities, converting sewage into energy, by doing these social innovations you are actually not finding solutions for the one billion people of India, but you will be finding solutions for the seven billion people of the world.”

On laying an early foundation to build the innovative mindset

“We’ve grown up with the Anglo-Saxon system of education where book learning, examination, passing, is very critical. But one of the things we are trying to do is to disrupt this. In the last one and a half years, we’ve opened 2,400 Tinkering Labs in schools under the Atal Innovation Mission. We’ve provided robots, 3D printers, Internet of Things, to students from class 6 onwards. Our objective is to develop the innovative mindset from class 6 onwards. We are also supporting a vast number of incubation centers across India linked to educational institutes, private institutes as we want students to play around in these incubation centers and come up with innovative products.”

On viewing failure as an essential part of starting up

“We’ve all grown up in a system where a parent or a teacher couldn’t afford to see a child failing. But failure is a very inherent part of a startup movement. Indians must start respecting failure. There’s nobody in the world who has not failed, you fail once, you fail for a second time, but the third time you’ll definitely succeed. But we should create an ecosystem which will enable you to move out of the system.”

On the role women entrepreneurs need to play in boosting India’s GDP

“If India’s challenge is to grow with jobs, these jobs will come from young startups, they’ll come from MSMEs. That’s why, along with the big impetus to the startup movement the government has tried to provide Mudra Loans without any collateral, so that we can create young entrepreneurs. Around 76 percent of these Mudra loans have been taken by women entrepreneurs.”

“In India it’s very difficult to grow at 9–10 percent per annum. We’re growing at about 7 percent plus but the challenge is to grow at even higher rates over a three decade period. So women entrepreneurs have to play a very key role. In India, women account for just 20 percent of our GDP. The challenge is to take it close to the global average of 44 percent. Therefore, you need to create many many women entrepreneurs in India, many startups have to be driven by women.”

On disruptions required in the areas of education, health and agriculture from startups

Education: “The quality of learning has really fallen in India, 44 percent of the students in Class 5 are not able to read or write Class 2 English, 25 percent of the students are not able to read or write their mother tongue and almost 38 percent of Class 5 students are not able to do simple addition and subtraction. There is absentia of teachers and teaching is not fun. How do we use technology to leapfrog in education and how do we improve the quality of learning?”

Health and Nutrition: “Eight crore people in India are below the poverty line because their out-of-pocket expenses for tertiary care are very high. On the health front, I think a huge amount of work has to be done and the only way to make a difference is by startups.”

Agriculture: “Another issue is enhancing farmers’ productivity and doubling their incomes. This morning, I interacted with a number of agricultural startups in Bangalore and I was pleasantly surprised by the extent of technology they’ve used for bringing in farmers’ produce, getting them a higher return, monitoring the crops, analyzing them, using artificial intelligence, some of them even used drones.”

“All these are areas which are dying out for disruption. I believe that in several of these areas we cannot make a breakthrough if we are not able to bring the passion and energy of young startups into this movement. And we need to ensure that we are able to use technology to leapfrog.”

Amitabh Kant’s vision for a transformed India is simple yet vast: “I envisage an India where the quality of learning is radically improved. I envisage an India where people, as citizens, are able to get safe drinking water, where healthcare is accessible and available to those who need it.”

The situation is ripe for Indian startups — now with access to all the resources they need to growth and thrive — to rise to the challenge and create real disruption for a billion-plus Indians.

Watch Amitabh Kant’s full talk here:

At Kstart & Kalaari, we are committed to continue playing an active role in fostering India’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and this year’s Kalaari Summit #ImagineTomorrow was one such endeavour where we got together thought leaders from different walks of life to talk about India’s dream of creating a trillion-dollar digital economy. Other topics at the summit include Connecting a Billion Indians, The Dawn of Exits: An Incredible IPO Story, Scaling Up: Getting It Right!

Amitabh on Shaping India’s Trillion Dollar Digital Economy #ImagineTomorrow

Hear Amitabh’s view on shaping India’s Trillion Dollar Digital economy. I encourage you to share your thoughts on Twitter with #ImagineTomorrow and tag @Kalaari and @KstartIndia

Disclaimer: The article is the independent opinion of the author and does not represent those of Kstart or Kalaari.

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