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BW Businessworld

Problems The World Is Facing Are Complex Because Many Things Are Interacting: Arun Maira

According to Arun Maira the world hasn’t progressed enough and what must change in the theory of change is what the world has been following, so that India will progress and everyone will progress

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Arun Maira, Author, Transforming Systems Management Consultant & Former Member of Planning Commission of India, Former India Chairman, Boston Consulting Group, in conversation with Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld and Exchange4media, about his new book in association with Rupa Publications.

Why do you feel that we need a new ethical framework and what is that framework?
I think most people have become aware because of Covid that we need a new framework. I wrote this book before Covid but many people around the world were feeling the way the world was going, it wasn’t right. Environmentally it wasn’t sustainable which is of course the universal realization now, and in many countries, especially our country, many of us felt that it wasn’t societally and economically sustainable also. Then this crisis happened, so the need to have a new idea, a new design of the world has been very vivid to people, and in my book as I am having discussions with others about it, I think myself and many other people are realizing that the principle idea of the book were very relevant even before Covid and much more relevant now.

What do you think was not working? Can you expand a little bit about what we need?

There is a metaphor, an analogy that has come to my mind during the Covid time that many of us inside the economic bus of India found it very comfortable, the seats were good, safety equipment was there, we could even get cheese and wines inside the bus. And this bus was moving fast, quite a big bus and we were happy looking at this gauge in the front that the GDP is going well, 1 trillion, 2 trillion, we might have even pressed the accelerator to 5 trillion. Suddenly the bus had to stop and when it stopped all these people fell on the road who were clinging on to the bus, sitting on top of the bus. Then as the bus stopped completely we all fell off. They then realized that this economy wasn’t including them. They were not traveling comfortably and safely while we were in the mode to get the bus go faster towards the higher numbers of GDP. A realization that we were looking after ourselves, those who were in the positions of shaping policy and those who were in a position to influence those who shape policies – business people and economists. We were quite happy with reforms which we felt were good for us. We were with a lot of space in the bus pushing out people who wanted to be in the bus. This is an ethical point.

What has got us here in your view? What haven’t we got right since independence? 
We didn’t get the economic policies right, we didn’t imagine an economy of the right shape. So after independence we adopted, what we call the Nehruvian model of the economy which were about the commanding heights and about big publicly owned enterprises. There was the whole paradigm that unless the top grows, the top becomes bigger, there can’t be enough trickle down below. This was what we called in India the public sector or socialist idea but the same model applies in USA that the top must grow and be given freedom to grow, low taxes, so that there will be trickle down to the people below. There was a model of an economy that the top must grow.

In your book you talk about purpose. How does one find the purpose and living it?

In the case of business, the purpose of a business is only business. Define your purpose very narrowly. If you define it so narrowly and selfishly it is very easy to live to the purpose and the businesses are getting very well to their purpose. Look after yourself and you can stick to that purpose very easily. That is why one has grown purposefully. However you are harming others and on a spiritual note it is believed you have not come into this world to look after yourself only. Your purpose is to nurture the family around you, the society around you and nature around you. With all that, which has given you birth and unless you are a part of the system, nurturing the system, the system will not nurture you which is what we are recognizing in the environmental crisis. That we try to overpower nature in only looking after ourselves. Nature is now hitting back.

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