A recent article by Raghuram Rajan (ex-RBI Governor), Lamba and Chauhan referenced the government’s Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) and Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s Consumer Pyramids Household Survey to estimate that 35-39 million Indians of working age aren’t able to get jobs. Without a doubt, one of the most formidable challenges that the government faces, considering our demography, is the creation of jobs. And maybe the best way to address that is to continue to unleash India’s entrepreneurial energies. Here are some thoughts to encourage that.

We’re in an age of instant entrepreneurship. It’s important to recognise this inflexion. Because in the current global environment, beset by a stubborn pandemic, conflict, shortages and uncertainty, investors have become impatient. Earlier, there was tolerance for cash burn - to steadily build the team, develop products and grow the market - allowing time for entrepreneurship to bloom. Now there’s a shift. In relative terms, it’s a switch from peacetime to wartime thinking. Cash is in short supply and uncertainty colours the outlook. It’s a time for no indulgences and rapid outcomes. But the lessons to imbibe are clear - grow profitably and know the runway is shorter.

Digital natives must leverage the digital age. This is the first generation that has grown up playing with and using computers, video games, digital music players and cell phones. Their thinking patterns are perceptibly different – they parallel-process, multi-task, thrive on instant gratification and function best when networked, unlike older folks who are always catching up. Digital natives are citizens of the digital age for whom entrepreneurship should mean digital transformation. Because the digital age demands it. The book ‘Digital Vortex’ helps us understand how digital disruption is a devastating industry - across sectors. What’s happening to companies is akin to what happens in a whirlpool, where objects get pulled towards the centre, their velocity increasing exponentially as it happens, their paths being chaotic and unpredictable, with objects colliding, breaking up and recombining. The best advice to digital natives, therefore, is - to be the disruptor.

What’s the problem you’re solving? Examples below of the digital impact created by disruptors are illustrative.

Take the case of a state in India suffering from poor management of its pension system. Many pensioners weren’t getting their dues on time, causing widespread agitations. The root of the problem was proof of life, done once a year, which involved old and infirm pensioners trudging to a government office to sign a register. What compounded the problem was that many deceased pensioners continued to get remittances. The state worked with a digital entrepreneur, who provided a black box that enabled a digital voice signature. Pensioners had to ring up a particular number on a particular date and speak a sentence or two. The smart system, programmed to purge mimics and recordings, thus enabled proof of life to be obtained 12 times a year. Pensioners started to get their money on time. And remittances to those who had passed away stopped, saving the exchequer hundreds of crores.

Similarly, a smart intervention solved a mining problem at a large mine in Australia, suffering because they were also excavating extra-large boulders. Some would get stuck in the crushers, bringing the conveyor belt and the entire production line to a grinding halt. A simple IoT solution helped eject these oversized boulders, saving the mine millions of dollars.

A third example is a case about cutting down poaching in a wildlife reserve. The sanctuary was divided into cold zones and hot zones, and the zone with the maximum violations was digitally enabled with IoT sensors and cameras. The moment there was unusual movement, the lights came on and the sirens blared. The rangers positioned nearby got there in just about 3 minutes, stunning the poachers. No surprise, the poaching levels crashed.

As you can imagine, digital transformation opportunities abound across sectors.

Entrepreneurship is the ultimate form of creativity. I believe filmmaking is the ultimate form of creativity. Because it combines creativity in respect of the story, scripting, drama, choreography, lyrics, music and the visualization of every frame. Very many creative aspects are encapsulated in entrepreneurship too - new ideas, converting those ideas into meaningful solutions that customers seek, collaboration across the value chain, and utilizing left and right brain skills. It’s also about deploying money creatively, pitching new ideas effectively and taking risks. And of course, it’s about creating employment, which is what India needs in ample measure.

Trust is the most valuable currency there is. Finally, a vital aspect, that doesn’t get the attention and respect it deserves: is trust. When an organization establishes credibility with its people, elevates their work experience and celebrates their smallest wins, they engage at a deeper level, and co-passengers in a journey of fulfilment are less inclined to leave. When customers feel grateful for the solutions you have created and the value you are generating for them on an ongoing basis, they come back. When vendors become equal value creators, it makes for durable partnerships. And it makes a world of difference if you repay your board, investors and other stakeholders for their faith by giving them the transparency they seek. Because trust and authenticity have immense, immeasurable power, especially in times when you need them the most.

We have got caught up in imagining that value is valuation, that the purpose is becoming a unicorn – which, in reality, is an outcome of having played an honest game skillfully and sustainably. 

According to union minister Piyush Goyal, we have 84, 012 start-ups as of 30th November 2022, up from 452 in 2016, and India’s success rate is the highest in the world. If our start-up ecosystem fires on all cylinders, certainty will replace even the remotest doubts on that score.

Views are personal. The author is former MD, Country Digital Acceleration, Cisco.

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