Tapping brain power for inclusive growth

India’s 1st mobile school (photo credit: indiabookofrecords.in)

By: Javid Hassan

“Money never starts an idea; it is the idea that starts the money,” says William J. Cameron, journalist and public relations representative for Henry Ford.

Crowd funding is an idea whose time has come as the year 2020 marked a new milestone in Indian history. It coincided with the 105th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s return from South Africa as the first NRI for India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid him glowing tributes by honouring Gandhiji with the title, “Sarva Shreshtha Pravasi Bharatiya” (the foremost Indian Diaspora member) when he inaugurated the PBD Convention that was held in Gandhinagar (Gujarat) on January 8, 2015.

Between then and now the global economy has been jolted by a giant economic quake that saw millions of job losses around the world and financial crisis on an unprecedented scale. It has created a multi-dimensional problem leaving India with a monumental task of rebuilding the economy. Now is the time to map out a strategy for rehabilitating NRIs from the Gulf and the Middle East who quit their jobs and are returning to face an uncertain future back home in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

The problem is further compounded by millions of Indian nationals who lost their jobs in the wake of the crisis. A majority of the migrant workers had also borrowed loans from banks in the hope of improving their economic prospects after years of struggle marked by long working hours, low salaries, confiscation of passports on arrival and poor living conditions.

Manipal Academy of Banking, which trains Indian and foreign youths online on various aspects of banking-related services, could convert the current challenge of economic slowdown into an opportunity by innovative means. One of them is the use of mobile (van-based) service in areas where there are no banks on the ground.

Similarly, mobile schools, clinics and labs could fill in the blanks in those sectors. The way forward in this regard is creating synergy through NRIs/entrepreneurs, automobile industry, people’s representatives (MPs, MLAs) and mobile banks for funding projects in the socio-economic sector.

Around 25 million NRIs from the Gulf countries had remitted over $ 100 billion back home in India in 2015, according to a PTI report published on June 9, 2015. The amount was estimated at 6.2% of the combined GDP of the six GCC states—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The figure is projected to fall by about 23% to $ 64 billion in 2020 as against a growth rate of 5.5% and receipts of $ 83 billion in 2019, says a World Bank report on April 23, 2020. The situation calls for boosting productivity to overcome the challenge.

In this context, the National Policy on Electronics (NPE) 2019 has launched three schemes—the Production-Linked Incentive Scheme (PLI), Scheme for Promotion of Manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS) and Modified Electronics Manufacturing Clusters Scheme (EMC 2.0) to position India as a global hub for Electronics System Design and Manufacturing (ESDM).

These electronic schemes for manufacturing and designing, together with PLI mentioned above, could push up India’s stature as South Asia’s leading economy.

In the same context, a study by New World Wealth, a Johannesburg-based wealth consultancy firm, said that in 2020 India had 102 billionaires which put the country fourth in the world, after the United States, China and Germany. The number of Indian billionaires has reduced to 102 from 106 in 2019. Mukesh Ambani has remained the richest Indian for 13 consecutive years.

Even so, there were an estimated 363 million people living below the poverty line during the same period (2014). Five years later in 2019 there was a dramatic improvement on the socio-economic front, according to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) program. Thanks to the government’s poverty eradication drive, 88 million people out of 1.2 billion, or 6.7% of India’s population, lived below the poverty line of $1.25 in 2018–19.

At another level, the yawning gulf between urban and rural students in the country prompted late President APJ Kalam to call for bridging the gap in one of his speeches, since “the real power of the country lies in its villages.”

Seen in this context, poverty alleviation should be the prime focus of planners at the bottom of the financial pyramid. The way forward is to harness the financial resources and technical skills of the people, including stake-holders from the Gulf countries, by setting up small-scale ventures in the areas of their expertise in collaboration with the Skills Development Department and the Ministry of Small-Scale Industries in Karnataka.

Media reports indicate that NRIs and other investors are willing to come forward if there is a guarantee at the government level that their hard-earned money will not be misused. Accordingly, these government entities could take the initiative along with an educational institution for setting up a STEAM group drawn from the faculties of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics/Management as well as angel investors and entrepreneurs for translating ideas into products and services.

To this end a seminar with the participation of entrepreneurs and investors could generate ideas which could be processed by the STEAM group for taking it into the implementation stage.

Mobilizing investors

This is where the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, a giant business conglomerate with interests in construction, real estate, energy, engineering goods, shipping and biotech sectors, could further beef up its presence in the Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia.

Its international construction wing, Shapoorji Pallonji and Co. Private Limited (SPCPL), has cumulative project orders worth $2.7 billion in the GCC countries alone.

Mohan Dass Saini, managing director and chief executive officer of SP International, had said in an interview that SP International’s projects in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries were being implemented by the company. He pointed out that SPCPL’s total order backlog globally stood at $15 billion till September 2020.

The Shapoorji Pallonji group could lend a new momentum to Gandhiji’s charkha, the moving spirit behind the freedom struggle, by launching a socio-economic freedom movement via a different route. Relevant in this context is Bangalore-based engineer RS Hiremath who has designed an e-charkha that not only produces yarn but also generates electricity by using a maintenance-free lead acid battery.

Asked what motivated him to reinvent the traditional charkha, he cited Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote: “In my dream, in my sleep, while eating, I think of spinning wheel. The charkha spinning wheel is my sword. To me it is the symbol of India’s liberty.”

According to media reports, small towns in the drought-affected areas offer lucrative business opportunities in terms of chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides used by farmers, besides retail business. This is where mobile labs and van-based marketing services could be deployed by the Shapoorji Pallonji Group as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in collaboration with a manufacturer of mobile vans for various community services.

The other source of business opportunities is the franchising sector, which deals only with tried and tested products and services in addition to education, sanitation and many other sectors. For example, HelpAge India, a national NGO with over 100 mobile medical units across the country, had floated a tender for the supply of generic medicines from pharmaceutical distributors at the all-India level.

My 255-page e-book, ‘Reinventing the Wheel for Inclusive Growth’, released online by Amazon, stresses the need for diversifying the auto industry’s customer base. Besides passenger and commercial services, it should also serve as a means of transporting Knowledge and Healthcare on Wheels through mobile schools, mobile clinics, mobile labs, mobile toilets, etc.

The need for a KNOWHOW division in the auto industry for community services has assumed a new dimension in view of India’s position as the No. 1 destination for Foreign Direct Investment and third in global manufacturing, thereby proving that where there is a wheel, there is a way.

Yet, its ranking in terms of HDI (based on parameters like education, healthcare, infant mortality and other indices) stood at 131 out of 189 countries in 2020.

Clearly, it has a lot of catching up to do in education, healthcare and socio-economic sectors. In the absence of moral education as part of the school curriculum, crime rate will be on the upswing. Thus, 8.1% of all crimes registered in India are violent crimes. There are 15 different types of crimes classified as violent crimes in the National Crime Records Bureau (CRB) report.

Kerala, which has the highest rate of literacy at 96.2% in India, also topped the crime rate chart at 1287.7 per one lakh population in 2020 followed by Gujarat (631.6), Tamil Nadu (600.3), Haryana (577.4) and Madhya Pradesh (478.9), according to the ‘Hindustan Times.’ These statistics underline the need for including moral education as part of the school curriculum.

Another glaring example of this lop-sided growth came to the fore in Malappuram district of Kerala recently when Shahal K, a student, went on a hunger-strike. His school has insufficient teaching staff, lack of toilets, poor laboratory facilities and inadequate classrooms. No wonder, the wheels of change should move off the beaten track indicating that where there is a wheel, there is a way.

Mobile Lab

A Bengaluru-based NGO has launched a new Mobile Lab in partnership with 3M. Two Mobile Labs were flagged off in Haridwar and Jhansi in association with BHEL. Bosch has also sponsored a Mobile Science Lab program in Jaipur. In collaboration with Birla Institute of Technology Alumni Association (BITSAA), it has sponsored a Science Center, Mobile Lab, and iMobile Program in Pilani.” The NGO has been described as the world’s largest hands-on mobile science education program for economically deprived children and rural teachers.

Besides mobile schools, another innovative approach on the educational front is the Round Robin or interactive essay writing for harnessing the power of ideas. It may be compared to the role of a honey bee which draws nectar from different flowers and churns them into honey. Here, groups of five or six students will contribute as many paragraphs together on a given topic. It is essay writing in a collective form, since overemphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) course in secondary schools has sapped the writing ability of students in English.

Even if they have creative ideas, they cannot articulate them properly. This is where the interactive essay writing project online can play a pioneering role in tapping demographic dividend at the socio-economic level. The inclusion of a journalist in the STEM team will help in enriching the content to the next level.

It is a novel project that seeks to bring weak and bright students together on a common platform via the internet for writing essays on topics of community interest. Such an initiative will be relevant in today’s context, as a number of toppers in SSLC or PUC exams hail from the interior parts of India.

The material coming online from various students is bound to be disjointed and weak, both in language and substance. It will be re-written and fleshed out with facts and figures in a coherent manner. An interactive essay bringing together students from cities and small towns of Karnataka, for example, could give an idea of their problems and ways of overcoming them with input from the proposed STEAM set.

The starting point of the exercise is to conduct a SWOT analysis of the strength, weakness, opportunities and threats facing India in general and Hyderabad in particular. On the agricultural front, for example, an obvious choice would be to identify business opportunities in the face of drought due to scanty rainfall.

Ideas gleaned from students in the districts may give a clue to the low yield of crops and other problems facing the farmers. Those ideas, in a summarised form, will be forwarded to the members of the STEAM faculty to move them up to the next level.

The students’ content will provide insight into the calibre of educational standard in different schools and explain why some land jobs, while others remain dead wood. Another point is that this format will keep changing periodically. For each essay, we can promote interaction between Indian and other students from international schools or those from districts by turn. The idea is to awaken students to the dawn of a new era in a vibrant India by promoting work ethic and other fundamental values among them.

Over the years, unemployment among the Indian youth (aged 15-24 years) rose from 17.6% to 20% during the last census (2001-2011). In 2020, the estimated youth unemployment rate stood at 23.75%. Hence the need for arming students with the right skills is of crucial importance. This is the only way to convert a challenge into an opportunity for growth and development through group therapy in a written form.

Sources of funding

The other advantage is that each essay on topics varying from education and healthcare to agriculture, environmental preservation or socio-economic issues, could be sponsored by Indian companies/MNCs as part of CSR.

Worth mentioning here is the example set by Union Minister of Finance, Nirmala Sitharaman. She has adopted two villages from her constituency in Andhra Pradesh by allocating Rs 3 crore (over $612,180) from her MP-LADS funds to kick start projects concerning RO (reverse osmosis) plants, skill development of salt-pan workers, and a community centre.

Crowd funding, referred to earlier, is another option, since the target audience will include NRIs and returnees among others. Through content enrichment, editing and rewriting it will ensure that the final product, in about 500-600 words, will be substantial and fruitful within the framework of our objective.

Together with NRIs, returnees and other stakeholders, they can come out with new products or services based on the input drawn from the participants in the essay as well as the proposed seminar for tapping the market potential. Their suggestions on a rehabilitation scheme could be put together in my book, which could be sponsored by the Indian Embassy in Riyadh in collaboration with Yahind.com on the web.

After all, the whole thrust of this effort is to harness brainpower as an agent of change on the socio-economic landscape. Let the e-charkha spin out a new yarn for the social fabric of the Indian society at large in the 106th year marking Mahatma Gandhi’s return as an NRI from South Africa on January 9, 1915.

Once this article goes online on your website, you may circulate it to representatives of the automobile industry and companies that are promoting van-based community services in education and healthcare sectors, besides medium and small-scale industries.

– Javid Hassan, Journalist and author
– YaHind.Com

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