The global geopolitical arena is hallmarked by intense disruption. The war between Russia and Ukraine will be remembered most of all for the tragic humanitarian crisis it is, for the shock to supply chains — exacerbating an already spiralling inflation cycle — and for the polarisation between ‘blocs’ of nations. The temptation and need of supplies from China and Russia will face off against national stances against war, to state ultra-simplistically.
Most crucially, though, the underpinning of all geopolitical relationships is now access to — and collaboration or competition over — technology. India’s participation in the Quad — a loose but powerful formation along with Australia, Japan and the United States — hinges on our massive ability in tech-ready manpower and services. Others bring product/patent capability but no other, except perhaps China, can deliver on this crucial piece at scale. The Quad signals national alignment at one level, but at another, it signals how nations will now collaborate on key technologies of the future in multiple sectors, from pharma and life sciences to defence. We also become once again, a natural choice for tech-led manufacturing.
This is good from all perspectives — the big answers needed in areas like health, food and education are first up. How humans will use tech as an enabler could define sustainability in the future. What, however, does this mean for industry as brass tacks? For starters, massive opportunity could open up as this fructifies further. Second, intense competition for tech talent is only the beginning. Corporate ability to offer an ecosystem where freedom (of both spirit and operation) and learning are core plinths will define success. The Work Capital and Fortune India Employers of the Future study highlighted how top tech talent will be moored only thus. Easier said than done though. The other big ask is of skilling and educational institutes. India must build formidable capability not just in existing tech, but in those of the future. Anticipating that must be the job of central and state governments, and the private sector. Policy must become the wings beneath the wings of this trend.
Most critically perhaps, start-ups could stand to count, and hugely, in the coming decade. Not just because of India’s entrepreneurial spirit that they embody but because many are built to solve ‘real world problems’. Every start-up founder of meaning responds to this purpose. They sight a problem and see the opportunity. Many of those problems are global in proportion. They centre on tech without letting it lead them, and their culture, built as it is by leaders, who are young, and teams that are often younger, are a natural fit for a world of empowered innovation and deep collaboration. Clearly, this is just the base and only those whose business ideas and systems are real and not built for the non-stop circus of valuation will survive. Investor skittishness is itself a cycle, and we are in a ‘down’ right now as the world seesaws economically. It remains to be seen who stands when the chips finally fall but I speak of the principle. And in that, there is hope.
(The author is General Partner, Work Capital, and Member of the Board, The Employers of the Future.)