Big Ideas for India Contest: Question 3: How should the government-citizen engagement model be?

India has a federal structure of government, but that is increasingly getting centralised. Delhi has been deciding what is good for everyone, and creating policies for the states to implement. Is that the best model? What about the third-tier of government – at the corporation / panchayat level? Is that getting marginalised?

For the most part, Indian citizens’ involvement in government seems to begin and end with the ballot box. In urban areas, even that is not happening – as the pathetic voting percentages have shown. Other than the occasional candlelight vigil, there is little involvement that Middle India has in governance. So, is the result any surprise?

Given this, what should the new engagement model be? Can groups of citizens get more involved in local government? Can experts provide inputs to the various Bills being passed in Parliament – or is that best left to our elected representatives? What should the new model for government-citizen partnership be?

Contest Overview.

Big Ideas for India Contest: Question 2: Is there an alternative to entitlements for the social sector?

Given India’s deep and wide poverty, anti-poverty programmes have been the hallmark of most governments in the past 60 years. That they have clearly not worked is evident in the poverty numbers. Be it in urban India or in rural India, even as a small part of India shines, a large fraction of the population still has a hand-to-mouth existence.

The UPA government has focused on creating various Rights – Right to Employment (through NREGA), Right to Education and the soon-to-come Right to Food. All of these involve handouts and entitlements of some sort. The result is that the social sector spend in India has ballooned to $100B of the trillion-dollar economy. With efficiency of spend being estimated at no more than 25 percent, there is clearly significant wastage and leakage.

So, what is the alternative to entitlements? Or, is there?

Contest Overview.

Big Ideas for India Contest: Question 1: What should the government’s role be in India?

In India, we have a paradoxical situation of maximum government, minimal governance. While it is not possible to simply say that we will have minimal government given the challenges that still lie unaddressed, what should the focus for government in India be?

Linked with this is the question of the objective of the government. As has come to light in the past few months (and what we have suspected all along), many of those in government have chosen to simply do with the British did to the Indian economy – extract and exploit. This is a result of the tremendous control that the government exercises on the economy.

So, what is the way ahead? What should be the objective of government?

Contest Overview.

Big Ideas for India Contest: Overview

India needs big ideas if we are to create a rich, developed nation in the next 20-30 years. We are not getting these at the national level. In the political skirmishes between the various parties and their leaders, what has been left behind is an agenda of transformation.

In every sector of India’s economy, there is a need for big, bold and imaginative ideas to fast-track economic growth and development. We cannot have another generation hobbled by illiteracy, malnourishment, poverty and a limited education.

For the most part, we in Middle India have stayed away from the discourse of policy-making, leaving it to the so-called experts, politicians and bureaucrats. It cannot stay that way – for the future that is impacted is ours and that of our children. We need to participate in the process if we are to contribute towards changing the course of India’s future.

Over the course of the next couple weeks or so, we will take 10-odd areas where India needs big ideas, and open it up to contributions by all. Each weekday, I will outline one area and put forth a brief backgrounder on the need for change. You can then put forth your ideas on what needs to be done.

The 10 best ideas overall will receive a free copy of Atanu Dey’s forthcoming book, “Transforming India: The Road to India’s Development.” The judging will be done by me, along with Atanu Dey. To participate, you can simply leave your ideas as a comment on the blog post page or the Facebook page with the question or email me at

I will announce the winners in the last week of April.

All the best! We will start the contest tomorrow with a few questions on the governance model and then move to specific sectors.

PS: These ideas will be valued. So don’t be skeptical. While good ideas are what we want all political parties to make use of, I will ensure that the best ideas are shared within the highest levels of the BJP.

Tomorrow: Question 1

Blog Past: 1s, 2s and 4s, 6s

From a post a year ago since cricket is the flavour of the season:

Since this is the season of cricket (IPL), I will use a cricketing analogy to write about an idea that all who are heading businesses or responsible for P&Ls need to think about.

In cricket, one needs a mix of the ones and twos along with the boundaries and sixes to get to a good score. In business too, one needs to get the low-hanging fruit (or call it the bread-and-butter business) going, along with the game-changing ideas. Without the base revenue streams, it becomes hard to keep investing in the big ideas – because one runs the risk of failing (caught out). Keeping the scoreboard ticking is very important. At the same time, one does need to think about how to create a product that can provide a significant competitive advantage and be a differentiator in the marketplace.

Many times, we try and only do one of the two, and that is not good enough if one wants to create a dominant position in the industry segment.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

Wanted: Suggestions for a New Mobile

It has been two years since I have been using the Nokia E71. (My phone previous to that was the first generation of the Apple iPhone.) So, any suggestions on what to buy next? I would actually be keen to try out an Android phone, but am open to smartphone suggestions from across the board.

Just for the record, my previous five phones have been (in reverse chronological order): Nokia E71, Apple iPhone,  Nokia N80, Nokia 6630 and Nokia 6600.

The Need for Open, Linked Government Data

I have written about the need for “Open Data, Open Government” earlier. One example of the impossibility of analysing data is the Economic Survey and Budget data, available here.

The good thing is that the information is available as PDF and in the applicable cases, XLS. But the problem is that the XLS files are all separate. It is hard to see the linkages. So, if I wanted to actually see where the government’s Rs 5 lakh crore in social services is being spent, it is almost impossible.

That is what needs to be changed. The data files that need to be made available should show the linkages between data, rather than showing them basically as tables and columns in XLS, which do not lend themselves to any sort of analysis. How can we dig deep into the government data to understand the specific expenditure heads?

How much does India spend on Social Sector Services?

During one of my recent trips to Delhi, I picked up a copy of the Economic Survey 2010-11. While browsing through it, I was struck my one figure: the amount of money we spend on social services. Page 294 of this report has the answer. Between the centre and the states, we spend about 25% of all our money on education, health and other related sectors. That figure is Rs 5,22,492 crore for 2010-11. Which comes to about $115 billion dollars, or about $100 per person per year.

I could not find a detailed break-down other than the fact that education accounts for 45% of this and health for 19%.

Given the quantum of corruption that we know of,  what’s needed are ways that this money can be spent more efficiently. This is an important question because not only is the quantum very large, so is its growth rate. That expenditure has more than doubled in the past 4 years.

India needs Big, Bold Ideas

India needs a combination of new political leadership and a new set of economic policies. Leadership change will need to come before policy change.

In the past year, instead of thinking big and bold, we have been caught in a whirlwind of successive scams. I cannot even think how those in government would be getting any time to think about the future of the country beyond the next few days since they don’t know where the next scam is going to come from. This is a sad state of affairs.

We should be discussing big ideas for India’s future. We should be discussing how we can transform India in a single generation – from a poor, underdeveloped nation to a rich, developed country. But no one has the time for that. Maybe, that is an opportunity – for some leader to come forth and articulate a vision for India and outline the big ideas that we so need in almost every sector.

India needs Leadership and Vision

I was reading a book on India’s economic history when I started thinking about why we took the wrong policy turns we did repeatedly since Independence. My answer: it comes down to the leader at the top and his/her vision. Which, if you think about it, is not very different from what happens in the corporate world also.

A leader has great influence over the economic policy of a country. The mental models of the leader determine the direction of policy. If India has had flawed economic policy through the years, then in stands to reason that the mental models of our leaders were flawed. Also, given the position they were in, it is only a rare leader who is willing to learn and change by listening to others. Most of those around the leader are not forthcoming with dissent. As a result, what the leader thinks generally holds sway.

Look at India through the eyes of its leaders of the Nehru-Gandhi family, since they have ruled India for most of the time since Independence. Nehru had a dislike for being in anyway dependent on anything foreign, even terming it economic imperialism. Instead of integrating India into the world via trade, he cut India off through his policy of import substitution industrialisation. Indira Gandhi had a socialist bent of mind – with a focus on redistribution and equity. The outcome was all the anti-poverty programmes and various measures to ensure forced redistribution of wealth (high taxes, licence controls on big industry). Rajiv Gandhi did have some good ideas, but did not have the full understanding of the need for opening up the economy.Quite obviously, his mother was his biggest influence.

Sonia Gandhi (MMS is quite irrelevant) too has been influenced by her mother-in-law since there have been no other visible influences on her. So, we see the modern method of redistribution – take money from the middle-class and hand it over to the poor. Farms loans, NREGA, and a myriad other social sector schemes with one thing in common – handouts. What makes us think her son (or daughter) will be any different? Is this the India of tomorrow we want?

What India needs is a real leader who lives, breathes and understands development. A leader with vision who can see the future and make things come alive. Until that happens, we are not going to get out of the morass. If anything, we are digging a deeper hole and reaching a point of no return. The only two leaders who did something good were the ones who did not have the legacy of the past and the family – PV Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Blog Past: Internet Portals

From a post written a year ago:

 The Internet portals business is about three things:

  1. Reach: the raw numbers for a basic free service (on desktop and mobile web)
  2. Ads: how can we monetise the free services attention via ads
  3. More: how the free user can be monetised either through premium products (subscriptions) or via transactions (commerce)

On the Internet, portals have mostly focused only on 1 and 2. By itself, just web ad revenue is not good enough to cover the costs or to scale operations. This limits the portals capability to scale. The challenge in India is to also think about how to build 3.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • How to estimate market size: by Jeremy Liew. “TAM is really a pretty simple concept – it is what your revenue would be if you had 100% market share in your business.”
  • Using Influence to Getting Things Done: from strategy+business. “Convincing senior management colleagues to follow your lead requires a blend of skills that add up to influential competence.”
  • Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss: from NYTimes. See the 8 good behaviours.
  • The case against News: by Bryan Caplan. “News, I like to say, is the lie that something important happens every day.”
  • Manmohan Singh Epitomizes Evil: by Atanu Dey. Read and feel the outrage. ” India’s government is the greatest evil force that is destroying India. Manmohan Singh epitomizes that evil since he heads that government. So I believe that unless we wake up and destroy those who seek our destruction, we would be responsible for our demise.”

Digital India: Part 5

  • OPEN HIGHER EDUCATION: The states need to open up the higher education sector so world-class universities can come in and set up institutions here. This should drive research and post-graduates, so that industry gets the skillsets they need for cutting edge work in the IT area.
  • INCORPORATE USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN EDUCATION: Information technology (IT) makes the provision of education at all levels efficient, effective and affordable. Use of technology while learning makes students “digital natives” and gives them the power to be successful in the post-industrial digital age. Furthermore, use of technology boosts the demand and therefore supports the IT industry of the states.
  • WORK WITH BUSINESS to SET TARGETS like KOREA’s IT839: South Korea focused on creating expertise in multiple cutting-edge targets.  Started in 2005, South Korea’s IT839 Strategy laid out a roadmap for both developing South Korean technological infrastructure, and for building an electronics manufacturing capability that would power the country’s economy for decades to come.

In this context, also see the comments I had made at CSI.

Digital India: Part 4

Digital India can be built around the following themes:

  • BROADBAND: 100 Mbps bandwidth available for Rs 100 per month anywhere in the state. Broadband is a key fundamental requirement for building everything else on the digital side. Basically, the digital infrastructure needs to be given as much attention as other aspects of physical infrastructure (roads, ports, airports, power, etc.)
  • MAKE MOBILE NUMBER as IDENTITY and WALLET (STORED VALUE CASH). Even as the Centre plans to spend tens of thousands of crores on the UID/Aadhar project, there is a simpler solution which can be deployed far more quickly and at a fraction of the cost.
  • VENTURE FUND: State to do PPP for setting up a Rs 500 crore fund to invest in technology startups based in the State. Ideally, this should be done by VCs, but it is not happening. We need to make an intervention so that innovation “made/created in the State” gets a boost. One way to do this is to create the equivalent of X-Prizes for achieving specific goals in different verticals. This will also attract entrepreneurs to the state.

To be continued.

Digital India: Part 3

Showcasing Digital India’s ABC GIS

  • By delivering results within the next 2-3 years, state governments can show how corruption can be eliminated and a true democratic platform can be created with citizen participation in local decisions. This will put development on a fast track, and excite the youth and middle India – reinforcing the message that what the state is today, India can be tomorrow.

IT-enabled Social Inclusion in Governance

  • Both Central and State Governments at various levels are attempting to ensure that they are able to deliver the benefits of various schemes and program to the needy, society and monitor their effectiveness. Banks and FIs with reach and modern day technology are the most appropriate channels for delivery of these services. In this context, IT Policy and Infrastructure of the state will be very crucial.

To be continued tomorrow.

Digital India: Part 2

Accessible Basic Comprehensive Government Information Systems (ABC GIS)

  • When citizens have information of what the government is doing, the level of trust goes up, and corruption can be  eliminated
  • Government officials and bureaucrats become more accountable and therefore more effective in their functions
  • The delivery of government services can be assured

Implementing the ABC GIS

  • Make all government data available in real time over the internet
  • Establish metrics at all levels of government – state, corporation, ward, panchayat – and track performance
  • Make citizens aware of their rights and responsibilities to actively participate in governance by accessing the information and keeping abreast of progress
  • Help citizens interact closely and provide feedback to their elected representatives
  • Create a “Mirror World

To be continued.

Digital India: Part 1

At the IMC event last week, I did not get much time to speak since the programme was running behind schedule and I had a deadline due to which I had to leave early. Had I got the opportunity to speak more, this is what I would have liked to talk.

Technology and Government: Fast-tracking Democracy

IT Infrastructure to redefine Citizen-State Relationship

Creating “Digital India” is about using Information Technology to:

  • Disseminate information
  • Deliver services more effectively to citizens in the State
  • Encourage feedback from citizens and provide a channel for them to talk back

Information Technology enables transformation at various levels:

  • Governance made “user friendly” and transparent
  • Involve citizens in working synergistically with the government
  • Make citizens active stakeholders in the development of the state

To be continued.

Blog Past: Five Questions

From a post written a year ago:

As one thinks about one’s business, here are five questions that one should ask:

  1. Is the market that we are in large enough to ensure our growth?
  2. Can we ensure that the Base business continues to grow?
  3. What are the Boosters that we can add through new ideas / initiatives / recruitments to incrementally grow the current business?
  4. Are there adjacent markets that we can tap into?
  5. What are the Breakthroughs / disruptive innovations that we can do that can create or amplify future growth opportunities – either in the current market or adjacent markets?

One way to remember these questions is 3B (Base, Boosters, Breakthroughs) +2M (Market large, adjacent Markets).

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • The Coming Wave of “Social Apponomics”: from strategy+business.”The secret to profitability on the Internet has finally arrived in an innovative blend of social media, Web mobility, and creative e-commerce applications.”
  • The Always Logged In Experience: by Fred Wilson.”On your mobile, you are permanently logged into every app you have on your device. When you get a notification, you click on it and are taken right to the exact part of the mobile app you want to engage with. No log in is required. That in and of itself is a big deal.”
  • Three steps to building a better top team: from McKinsey Quarterly. “When a top team fails to function, it can paralyze a whole company. Here’s what CEOs need to watch out for.”
  • Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services: by a committee headed by Isher Ahluwalia. “Its central message is that urbanisation is not an option. It is an inevitable outcome of the faster rates of growth to which the economy has now transited. Indeed, urbanisation is itself a process that will support growth. The Committee has made recommendations on how to deal with these challenges of urbanisation.”
  • Reviews of two interesting books from NYTimes: Aerotroplis and The Information.