Nandan Nilekani’s ideas for India’s future – A Talk recorded @ … sometime May 2009

We know Shri Nandan Nilekani, as one of the co-founders of Infosys, one of India’s leading information technology companies, back in 1981. After serving as its president and then CEO, he’s now joined the Indian government to help lead a massive new IT project: providing every Indian with a unique identity card [ UID] and to concentrate on his next great endeavor: re-imagining India in the new millennium.

His book Imagining India asks big questions: How can India — which made such leaps in the past two decades — maintain its demographic advantage? How can democracy and education be promoted? How, in the midst of such growth, can the environment be protected for the next generations?

“Seattle has Bill. Bangalore has Nandan. What makes Nilekani unique? For me it comes down to one phrase: great explainer.”  —Thomas Friedman

Shri Nandan Nilekani talks about India through the evolution of ideas. This is an interesting way of looking at it because in every society, especially an open democratic society, it’s only when ideas take root that things change. Slowly ideas lead to ideology, lead to policies that lead to actions.

There are four kinds of ideas which really make an impact on India.

The first is: “the ideas that have arrived.” — These ideas have brought together something which has made India happen the way it is today.

Six factors — the rise of the notion of population as human capital, the rise of Indian entrepreneurs, the rise of English as a language of aspiration, technology as something empowering, globalization as a positive factor, and the deepening of democracy — has contributed to why India is today growing at rates it has never seen before.

The second set of ideas is: the “ideas in progress.” — Those are ideas which have been accepted but not implemented yet.

The four factors –the ones of primary education, infrastructure, urbanization, and single market — are ideas in India which have been accepted, but not implemented.

The third set of ideas is: “ideas that we argue about” — those are ideas where we have a fight, an ideological battle about how to do things.

The three factors  –  ideological issues of caste and other things; the labor policies that make it so difficult for entrepreneurs to create standardized jobs in companies and, that 93 percent of Indian labor is in the unorganized sector and higher education in  India is completely regulated.- where consensus needs to be arrived at.

And the fourth thing and the most important, is: “the ideas that we need to anticipate.” –Because when you are a developing country in the world where you can see the problems that other countries are having, you can actually anticipate what they did and do things very differently.

The three ideas — use technology for governance, for direct benefits, for transparency, and many other things; the health issue [a set of poor country diseases with a set of rich country diseases]; the problem of entitlement — the cost of social security, Medicare, Medicaid etc. [ a chance to put in place a modern pension system so as to avoid entitlement problems as the Indian Demographic Society grows old];  to marry environment and development, i.e. no more environmental degradation as the physical development grows at around 8 to 9% p.a.—which require anticipation from what others did and do.

When the whole process of a billion people going to prosperity is in the fast forward mode, having a clear strategy is important for India and important for the world.

After almost, three years also his views on “ideas that we argue about” and “the ideas that we need to anticipate” still seem to demand as much attention and action as was possibly anticipated when he delivered this speech originally.

One of that topic is UID, under watch by all.