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.




In July 2011, I opted to retire from my active career as a practicing management professional. In the 38 years that I pursued this career, I had opportunity to work in diverse capacities, in small-to-medium-to-large engineering companies. Whether I was setting up Greenfield projects or Brownfield projects, nurturing the new start-ups or accelerating the stabilized unit to a next phase growth, I had many more occasions to take the paths uncharted. The life then was so challenging! One of the biggest casualty in that phase was my disregards towards my hobbies - Be with The Family, Enjoy Music form Films of 1940s to mid-1970s period, write on whatever I liked to read, pursue amateur photography and indulge in solving the chess problems. So I commenced my Second Innings to focus on this area of my life as the primary occupation. At the end of four years, I am now quite a regular blogger. I have been able to build a few very strong pen-relationships. I maintain contact with 38-years of my First Innings as freelance trainer and process facilitator. And yet, The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

10 thoughts on “Nandan Nilekani’s ideas for India’s future – A Talk recorded @ … sometime May 2009”

  1. this is such a well summarised account of nandan nilekani’s views. Thanks for sharing. Such articulations definitely raise hope for something path breaking to arrive. However at the same time it remains a task for the government to be ultra careful of the errors and the insensitivity that might have a chance of creeping in while ascribing to any of the ideas. It is necessary to separate the articulation of grounded ideas from rhetoric.
    The fear that the UID project might lead to the establishment of a police state in India is a genuine one and needs extensive thought and discussion before it is actually implemented!

    1. Discussions on merits and demerits of UID is a subject of full-blown discussions.
      But, the fact that this was neccessiated to plug the known leakage of welfare measures underscores the need for a postive and unfudgeable identification mechanism.
      By simply parting with your data with State should not cause fears of bringing in the police state, since, with the advent of e-transactions, more and more people have been sharing thier identity with outsiders. Hence, one already looses the privacy.
      But, yes, all and every safeguards, from the State, riding over your neck at every step, are necessary and welcome.

  2. We take a note of the article – Reducing Healthcare Costs through Supply Chain Management – published on, in the supprting series to the concern for afforadable helathcare entitlements in the original article.
    The present article tries “to unravel the tangled supply relationships that drive up the cost of healthcare, burdening hospitals and frustrating efforts to expand coverage among the uninsured.”

    “Bottom Line:
    •Supplies are the second leading cost to hospitals after labor in providing patient care. Managing supply chains in healthcare is been a neglected area in efforts to improve efficiency and save costs.
    •Researchers at the W. P. Carey School of Business, working in collaboration with key players in the industry, are exploring ways to improve the efficiency of supply chain management in healthcare.
    •The Health Sector Supply Chain Research Consortium is the only structured academic program in the United States focused on healthcare supply chains.
    •Some of the leading companies in U.S. and regional healthcare are members of the consortium. They include Catholic Health Initiatives, Hospital Corporation of America, Ministry Health Care, Premier and Scottsdale Healthcare; as well as group purchasing organizations GHX, Novation, Owens & Minor and Yankee Alliance; and software and business intelligence company Craneware.
    •As the consortium expands its collaboration with the supplier community, a greater emphasis will be on the ability of supply channel partners to craft “win-win” solutions.
    •The biggest supply costs to hospitals flow from so-called “supply-intensive admissions,” typically orthopedic or cardiac procedures involving artificial joints, implants and stents. Standardizing some of these supplies could bring hospitals substantial savings.
    •Gainsharing is a way of aligning the interests of hospitals and doctors. In gainsharing, hospitals reward doctors for efficiencies by sharing some of the money saved.
    •Improving health sector supply chains requires physicians, hospitals, and others in the healthcare field to reassess the roles and collaborative efforts.”

  3. Here is an interesting point of view on the subject of broader conception of healthcare on the Drucker Exchange in an article Healthy Changes.

    It has been observed in the [so called] developed nations that cost of providing the healthcare is increasingly becoming inversely proportional to its quality as well as effectiveness.
    In an article, quoted in the article we have under discussion, by Rebecca Onie, Paul Farmer and Heidi Behforouz in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the authors suggest that we could easily be doing things more cheaply and more effectively.

    The first is to start thinking less about doctors and more about health. The second change is that we should learn to do what we already know we ought to be doing.

    Apart from these two corrective changes, the article has another very interesting quote: “Failure more often stems from ineptitude (not properly applying what we know works), rather than ignorance”.

    Peter Drucker wrote in Toward the Next Economics, “Clearly, the most intelligent and most effective way to produce healthcare is the prevention of sickness, rather than its treatment and cure”. In fact, Drucker anticipated in Management Challenges for the 21st Century that healthcare would shift from “being defined as the fight against disease to being defined as the maintenance of physical and mental functioning,” with big consequences for existing institutions. “Neither of the traditional healthcare providers, the hospital and the general practice physician, may survive this change, and certainly not in their present form and function,” Drucker asserted.

    That improving outcomes could be as straightforward as doing what we know how to do would likewise have resonated with Drucker. “There is an old American story of the farmer who turns down a proposal for a more productive farming method by saying, ‘I already know how to farm twice as well as I do,’” Drucker recalled in Post-Capitalist Society. “Most of us (perhaps all of us) know many times more than we put to use.

    It is a great pleasure to land upon this article in the connection with the concern shared in our original talk by Shri Nilekani. It not only offers some quick insight to the issue of addressing the ballooning cost of healthcare with simultaneous the balloon getting flattened through punctures of poor quality of the service and delivery, but offers a new, deeper insight in terms of our ineptitude to put to use what we know, rather than ignorance.

  4. In our orginal talk, Shri Nilekani has not only shared his thoughts about the ideas that need anticipation, but has also implied his concern with the ability of the modern world to anticipate.

    We have an intersting article – How to Predict the Next “Big Thing” – on This is an article written by Dr.William Cohen on Lessons from Peter Drucker.

    He stresses Drucker’s point of view, in that that “he looked at changes in population, and realized that population change and its characteristics alone is perhaps the most important factor which a researcher or planner can analyze to accurately predict behaviors of the future.”

    In concluding the article, he says:

    “Drucker’s process was to observe events that have already occurred, reason to logical conclusions as to resulting happenings, and then to seek opportunities in the competitive advantage of this knowledge. It does not absolve the need for segmentation and developing appropriate profiles of the segments members along with other important marketing analyses and decisions, but it imparts a major advantage to companies which know what is in the coming environment.

    Using Drucker’s method of looking at demographics, not only could many of our current problems be solved, but we would take advantage of many opportunities in the future as well. Will you exploit demographic change in your job, or will you do things the old way and assume the conditions of today will hold for tomorrow.”

  5. We have one more interesting interview on the subject – Navigating a changing health care environment: An interview with Pfizer’s Kristin Peck –

    “Health care has reached a turning point..Consumers and funders of care are demanding more information, greater transparency, and more value for spending. In parallel, technological advances and a series of innovations in how services are delivered are paving the way to a new model, one where health care is more personalized and decentralized and requires a greater role for consumers. ”

    Kristin Peck, is Pfizer’s executive vice president for worldwide business development and innovation.

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