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Scripting India’s growth story: 2021 and beyond

It is a new year and besides the obvious festive spirit, what I am looking forward to are the new dreams and hopes for a completely re-energised 2021. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have been a big jolt to the socio-economic machinery of countries across the world. It has in many ways thrown our ‘normal’ lives out of gear.

As it is rightly said, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”, we must realise that challenges in life are inevitable; but it is we who have the power to transform them into opportunities. While the uncertainty around human lives has posed a serious doubt on our capabilities of handling a crisis, it has united the world in many ways, to prepare for a combat.

To survive and thrive in a post-Covid-19 world, we need to dismantle and dismiss known realms to discover new capabilities. We must ‘learn’ to adapt to a world of diverse actions and must continue to travel the road of digital transformation. This 3D plan (Dismantle, Diverse and Digitise) is key to stay relevant in the future.

I believe that now is the time for us to zoom in and out to take a clear stock of the situation and shape an economy, which is prosperous, circular, and sustainable and offers equitable growth opportunities.

According to International Monetary Fund (IMF), relevant reforms made by the government and opportunities harnessed, have helped India move up from rank 100 in 2018 to rank 63 in 2020 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. The economic reset, which has kicked in due to the pandemic, has opened up a world of opportunities. We just need to choose our battles and pick up the best bets to rise and shine.

Invest in technology and ramp up the digital infrastructure

Technology will drive economic recovery globally. It has already changed the way consumption is done. Technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, cloud, and automation will be the drivers of change across sectors like education, communication and media, online services and retail.

We must ramp up digital infrastructure to ensure last mile connectivity, because digital is now mainstay. Investing in new-age technologies will pay-off in terms of automation of processes and more agile, intuitive, productive operations. The focus needs to shift to building Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and platforms that generate and keep the data in the country. Data being the “new oil” must be generated, consumed and monetised within the country, as it certainly will fuel growth across sectors.

Further, digitising traditional industries will strengthen the supply chain and boost trade. Tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), blockchain, and automation have brought in exceeding levels of operational efficiency and vastly improved products and services while also helping with market expansion.

The Information Technology (IT) sector is well poised to expedite the transformation and meet demands of the future. A fitting example of this is the high-powered committee set up by the Prime Minister’s Office, comprising government officials and tech leaders to work on solutions to deal with the Coronavirus crisis.

Sharpen digital leadership and skilling: Learn, unlearn & re-learn

Life is all about learning from experiences—Good, Bad, or Ugly. Covid-19 has resulted in a loss of formal economy jobs and other means of livelihoods. We must continue to sharpen our learning curve with new-age skills. Retraining both skilled and unskilled at-risk workers will be a wise step to match pace with the changing times. Right skilling is important to check issues like financial inclusion, migrant employment, and to harness opportunities in a gig economy.

Nurture the green shoots

E-learning, telecommunications, telemedicine, e-commerce, media and entertainment have been a big boon during the pandemic. Agriculture is yet another ace in our pack of cards that ensures social stability in times of a crisis. Besides making India self-reliant, a well-rounded approach to boost this sector will help in stabilising the economy.

As per NASSCOM report, India is home to more than 450 agritech start-ups, growing at a rate of 25 percent year-on-year. We have to leverage this to ensure supply chain improvements, financial inclusion in rural areas, and enabling informed farming decisions. Manufacturing is another sector which needs to be nurtured and the excellence in this sector using technologies like A.I., IoT, 3D printing and Nanotech can further foster the ‘Make in India’ initiative and help us strengthen our exports and take the lead position in supply chain.

Collective action for sustainable and inclusive growth

Covid-19 has been a wake-up call for us to reconcile with Mother Earth and build lasting, resilient ecosystems with abundant resources for our future generations. This is an opportune moment for nations to rebuild and plan their recovery in ways that are green, clean, resilient and sustainable. Sustainability is never complete without inclusive growth.

Hence, there should be additional focus on financial and social inclusion to ensure sustainable development of the nation. Let this be a period for us to take a pledge that all our current and future investments will have sustainability and inclusive growth as an integral factor, because the right investment today will be tomorrow’s savings ensuring a sustainable profitable economy.

The ultimate call for harnessing opportunities—Atmanirbhar Bharat

With a population of 1.3 billion population, inclusive of around 400 million millennials, the world is looking at India to be the flag bearers of socio-economic growth.

Self-reliance on indigenous 5G technology, cybersecurity, renewable technology, and manufacturing set-ups across defence, electronics, and healthcare among others can help India become the enabler of international trade and take the lead in supply and exports. This could be made possible through collaborative efforts from the government, industry, and private sector.

Further, government support to indigenous manufacturers and towards attracting young entrepreneurial talent in the technology arena will amalgamate to form a strong, self-reliant India. Apart from just setting up factories and manufacturing units, the need for the hour is to invest in innovation.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and in India’s case, 'self-reliance' will be the ticket to enter the league of global superpowers. For now, it is time for us to take the plunge, shrug off the painful memories of this setback and make a grand, well-planned comeback.

This article was first published in Fortune India.

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