India today is home to the third largest numbers of dollar billionaires in the world but, at the same time, harbours within its borders a third of the world’s poor and hungry.
The fact of the matter is that equality is a figment of imagination. Disparity between people exists in all societies for the simple reason that we are not born equal and we have unequal abilities and skill-sets. I cannot run like Usain Bolt, compose music like AR Rehman or act like Shah Rukh Khan.
If there were no events like the Olympics or Asian Games, we would never really know about Sindhu or Bolt and might presume that humans are not that different in their running skills. Once you have a platform and infrastructure, the distinction between Bolt and the average human is clearly visible. Without a good recording facilities, it would be hard to recognize an A R Rehman. Without a playing facilities, Virat Kohli’s skills might not have been so visible.
In the same way, in primitive economies without a lot of opportunities, there might be an appearance of equality. India today has a third of the world’s dollar billionaires because we have a lot more opportunities today then we had four to five decades back. For many of us lucky Indians living in urban centres, we have access to the same things like an average citizen in the USA or in the UK. We use the same mobile phones, we use the same internet, we more or less eat the same food. Most importantly, India as a nation, has access to the same technology (if not more ) as Western countries do.
UNIQUE POSITION IN OUR HISTORY
So in the history of India, we are in that very unique position today…where we have access to the very best of technology and to the very best of people; we live in an open and free world…yet at the same time, we seem to have left behind a lot of our people in the 19th century. Nothing seems to have changed for a lot of our poor and hungry brothers and sisters over the last seventy years. They suffer from the same problems that their grandfathers and grandmothers suffered.
Now, I don’t need to tell you that the appropriate use of modern technology can help eradicate many of the socio economic problems that we have. And we have seen some very good examples of that in our own life-time. What better example than that of the mobile phone; with its penetration to the remotest of corners in India, it has helped bring in so many people into the mainstream, in one way or the other. The launch of Jio with free calls for a lifetime and very reasonably priced data access now opens up so many more opportunities.
But a lot more can be and needs to be done. Not only with mobile phone technology but business process innovation around easily available technology.
TECH INNOVATION CAN GO IN TWO DIRECTIONS
Tech innovation can go in two different directions.
There is an app called SMTH or Send me to Heaven. You can download it on your mobile phone, and if you throw the mobile up into the air….towards heaven…the app measures how high it went into the air. So they have SMTH contests in the US where some of the stupidest people get together to send their mobiles towards heaven. And I thought talking to God was for free!
At the same time there is an app called Point & Measure. We use it to measure heights of structures and the distance between objects, walls, etc. It’s a great tool and comes very handy for people like me, Architects, surveyors, engineers, and just about anybody actually. Now, this app and the SMTH app uses the same technology to measure height; but of course the usage is very very different.
So this is the strange thing about technology innovation….it can go in two very different directions. In one direction you have applications, which can solve real world problems; and in the other…well, it helps burn a lot of investors money for nothing. This is one of the reasons which prompted me to ask “Smart Phones Dumb People?”You know which path, we as a nation, ought to choose.
PROBLEMS ARE OUR OPPORTUNITIES
Yes, as a nation we have a lot of socio-economic problems. At the same time these are huge opportunities for us.
The supporting eco-system is developing fast. The government has announced an India Innovation Fund, it has made CSR mandatory, there is lot of impact funding available, incubation centres are coming up across the country…more importantly it is no more strange in our urban communities, for a fresh graduate to chuck a good job and start up something on his own. With a realization that the socialist trickle-down approach, based on charity is not working…the eco-system allows ‘Capitalism for the Poor’ where there is no shame in making money through business models for the poor and hungry.
With more e-commerce businesses closing down over the past year than staring up, social innovation can be the next gold rush. With an access to the very best in the world, the youth of today has the best chance in years to bring about change at the grassroots level. Because doing good, is good business.