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The Unfair Advantage

The global world increasingly will be a tougher world where change will be the only constant. Most often change will be exponential on every front

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Prediction is difficult, specially if it is about the future,” commented Niels Bohr, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics. True, the future is shrouded in uncertainty. Who could have imagined the tectonic shifts across the world in the last two decades that we have all been witness to. India has been no exception. It has been a defining period on all counts — economic, social and political. India has been on a transformative journey practically in every sphere. Twenty years on, the journey will continue at a more aggressive pace. I believe the changes will be even more phenomenal, given the complexities, and trends that we see today.

Increasing globalisation, environmental issues, progress in technology and research, as well as our demographics are the major factors that will have a marked influence in the foreseeable future. Let me focus on a few factors:

The United Nations, which had earlier forecast that India would become the most populated country in 2030, recently revised its projections adding that our country will overtake China in terms of population by 2022. India’s population is expected to top 1.56 billion by 2035, higher than China’s projected population of 1.49 billion. And with an additional 325 million people, India will continue to remain the most populated nation in the world 20 years from now.

Going by the current trends and the focus on skills training as well as education, India, by then, will enjoy a distinct comparative factor advantage as a vast reservoir of young skilled manpower. The vocationalisation of our educational processes has just begun. In the ensuing two decades, it will be at its zenith. In this context, the partnership between business and government will become even more robust. The success of any business is inextricably linked to that of its manpower. Regardless of the advance of technology, the human element will always remain paramount. It is my firm belief that talent is the organisation’s most critical asset. The nature of talent itself will change dramatically. Increasingly, the concept of a single career will become irrelevant. Talented people may want to work for a while, begin startups later or even retire well before 50 and pursue their passion, go around the world and enjoy every moment.

That said, developed countries are facing a shortage of a young workforce because of lower birth rates and ageing population. The net workforce shortage in developed countries will be nearly 50 million by 2035. And by then, India will have the largest number of young people, skilled and educated. The challenge of the developed countries will become a window of opportunities for India. This is the time when India will be in the forefront of the global pool of human capital. This asset, our youth, holds the potential and the promise to take our country to greater heights. There are many more upsides.

Today, we have nearly 275 million people below the poverty line. In the coming two decades, these will merge into the mainstream of the economic development that we as a country will achieve. The move towards a progressive ecosystem and inclusive growth is increasingly happening. A host of government-led initiatives such as UID, Aadhaar, Digital India, the Jan Dhan Yojana are a testament. So, people at the bottom of the pyramid will become sequestered in memory by 2035. And in its place one will see a rising middle class with great aspirations. A much more equitable society will then become a reality.

At the same time, we will see a much more urbanised India. A Mckinsey Global Institute research paper estimates that 40 per cent of India’s population going forward will be housed in urban areas in the coming 15 years — approximating 600 million people — up by 75 per cent than today. Infrastructure will take on a new form.

By 2035, I also foresee discontinuous changes in technology. Who could have imagined cloud computing, augmented reality, driverless cars, and the Internet of Things, which we see today. Indians have proved themselves to be masters of technology. Look at their overwhelming presence in leadership positions in Silicon Valley. While many are working overseas, I see among them, an increasing desire to return to the homeland. So, you can well expect India to be a country of technology giants.

This brings me to trends that mark research for the future, which will deeply impact human life itself. Who would have thought that the unravelling of the human genome would be a reality. In a similar vein, regenerative medicine through stem cells might become the order of the day. Likewise, in all other domains too such as manufacturing, services and education, innovation will be the ongoing mantra. Furthermore, sustainable development will be at the base of all activities. I see India emerging as a global manufacturing hub. We are already world leaders in several sectors.

The global world increasingly will be a tougher world where change will be the only constant. Most often change will be exponential on every front. In this kind of a milieu, one can envisage a totally different form of leadership — alchemical. Corporations would also be characterised by opposites. And that may seem paradoxical. Consistency and constant change, centralisation and de-centralisation, control and empowerment, mavericks and others moving side by side. As Indian corporates enlarge their global footprint, that many Indian business houses will be led by expatriates, should come as no surprise. The writing on the wall is clear.

Forging public private partnership will transcend the concept as currently comprehended. A whole new movement may surface, wherein government officials take up jobs in industry and businessmen and professionals ascend to leadership positions in roles that have hitherto been the domain of bureaucrats. Both will be professionally run outfits.

We stand on the cusp of a retooled global India, which is on a phenomenal transformative journey. An India that is contemporarising itself, on the foundation of values that have stood the test of time.

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.

Kumar Mangalam Birla

The author is chairman, Aditya Birla Group

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