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A New, Transformational Wave Of Global Entrepreneurs

About 1,500 entrepreneurs from 170 countries – more than 50 per cent of whom are women – are participating in the three-day summit

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This was the stuff of science fiction when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s.

The event: the inauguration of the eighth edition of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Hyderabad this week. A five-foot tall robot painted white – I wonder why innovators, otherwise brimming with dashing new ideas, cannot think of a colour other than white with which to paint their robots – walked up to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and daughter and adviser to the US President, Ivanka Trump, who pressed their palms against the Indian and US flags on a screen on Mitra the Robot to declare the summit open.

This year’s GES, the first to be held in South Asia, has a theme: “Women first, prosperity for all”, which fits in very well with a key thrust area of the Modi government, which has paid special attention to women – gas connections to below poverty line families comes immediately to mind.

About 1,500 entrepreneurs from 170 countries – more than 50 per cent of whom are women – are participating in the three-day summit. The contingent of US participants, at about 350, is the second largest – after, of course, Indians.

In his opening speech, Prime Minister invoked ‘Shakti’, or divine power, which emanates from the all-powerful Mother Goddess. He further elaborated that in keeping with this ancient tradition, modern India celebrates many women super-achievers, including SEWA or the Self Employed Women’s Association, some of Gujarat’s best-known milk cooperatives and Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad are examples of successful and globally acclaimed women-led co-operative movements.

Prime Minister Modi also pointed out that women chief justices are heading three of the four oldest high courts in the country.

These achievements are and will remain, transformational not only for the women who pioneered them but also for society as a whole.

“From your childhood, selling tea to becoming Prime Minister, you've proven that transformational change is possible’… and your firm belief that the progress of humanity is incomplete without the empowerment of women…,” the US President’s daughter said effusively.

Transformational change! Yesterday’s science fiction is today’s reality. What can be more transformational than that?

Take the case of Mitra the Robot, developed by Ivento Robotics, which has been founded by an  Indian – who, some media reports say is the most followed person on Quora. This robot is a huge advertisement for what Modi’s Make in India programme can achieve and the transformational change it can bring about.

Ivento’s Kaundinya Panyam was quoted as saying: “Mitra is an end-to-end India product …provides contextual information to customers using a recommendations engine similar to what Facebook and Google use for their services.”

But transformational change – indeed any great change – make people nervous and wary. The changes in the world as we knew it just 10 years ago have sparked off changes that most people would consider inconceivable before they actually happened.

It has stoked protectionism and isolationism in the West and extremism elsewhere, disrupting societies and destroying many lives. And as the industrial age steadily makes way for emerging new digital age, this change will become more brutal, more in-your-face and more unforgiving – much as the dawn of the industrial age in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was for the likes of Ned Ludd and his band of merry men.

We will see before our eyes the death of many high employment industries. What will replace them? 3D printed cement and homes that can be built in a mere 12 hours using this cement?

We don’t know. But what we do suggests that the world as we know it will change beyond recognition. Driverless cars and drones delivering items for Amazon are already a reality for some people. The possibilities are endless.

Do we resist this change or embrace it and look to the future of human existence?

If this question looks difficult – or out of syllabus, as some students say about anything they don’t know or can’t understand – spare a thought for the Luddites, who fought hard to stave off the industrial revolution.

Just think, would the world have been better off without that revolution? The answer, as far as I – and, I’ll make a guess, about six billion other people – am concerned, the answer is a resounding no.

We will go through a period of turmoil before settling down to business as usual. In this regard, I think India and Indians are particularly well adapted for survival.  But the challenge of jobless growth is here and an immediate priority to address for leaders globally.  Burying heads in the sand is, however, frankly not an option.

Look at the Indian diaspora in Africa… incidentally, my parents were also settled in Africa before they uprooted from their adopted country and settled in the UK, where they, and thousands of others like them, rebuilt their lives – by sheer dint of entrepreneurial spirit, adaptation to new (initially even hostile) environments and sheer hard work – and have contributed significantly to the economic and social life of Great Britain.

This innate Indian spirit is what gives me optimism.

Couple this with a government led by Modi, a pragmatic realist who has taken several initiatives – such as Start-up India, Make in India and Digital India, to name just three – that allow young and old Indians to dream and give concrete shape to those dreams, and you have the ingredients of a bold new emerging India that is simultaneously exciting and challenging.

It will need an enabling eco-system to thrive. A culture that celebrates effort (and by definition, failure) as much as success is equally important.

The government has taken several steps to facilitate this but India is still only at the beginning of the journey. 

The long road lies ahead. And this is where events like GES can come in handy… by offering a platform for entrepreneurs to exchange ideas and by providing an avenue for them to network with others across the industry value chain to enable them to bring their ideas to market.

Many of us cannot yet see, as Ned Lud and his ilk couldn’t two hundred years ago, the benefits that can accrue from new innovations that are still on the drawing board, or at best, at the beta stage.

But that will not stop me from dreaming about a much brighter, tech-enabled, future for all.

Manoj Ladwa is a London based entrepreneur and author of a recent landmark study on UK-India Relations Beyond Brexit. @manojladwa

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Manoj Ladwa

A London-based strategist, the author is chief executive and managing editor of India Global Business magazine and India Investment Journal

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