A playbook for a new India

Debjani Ghosh | Updated on November 17, 2019

Title: Bridgital Nation: Solving Technology’s People Problem Authors: N Chandrasekaran/Roopa Purushothaman Publisher: Penguin Allen Lane Price: ₹799

New-age technologies can bridge that gap between India’s workforce and meaningful employment

The first thing that interested me about the Bridgital Nation was its title: Bridgital Nation: solving technology’s people problem. What a fascinating lens to apply to the human and technology equation, and the book didn’t disappoint.

Bridgital Nation brilliantly defines India as an antarlaapika — a Sanskrit word which means a puzzle that has its answers hidden inside it. The book uses some heartwarming stories of everyday people to show how India holds the solution to two of its biggest challenges: jobs and access.

By 2020, India’s population will have a median age of 28 and by 2030 it will be 31, whereas most developed countries are well into middle age. China and the US will have a median age of over 38 by 2020. Developed nations will be looking at technology to primarily solve the unavailability of labour, one of their core issues.

India, on the other hand, will have an abundance of human capital, and is perfectly poised to carve out a its own unique roadmap where technology leverages people to solve some of the biggest issues facing India. It can act as a bridge between the overwhelming demand for vital services and an overwhelming supply of human capital. Hence the term ‘Bridgital’.

Through the use of examples, the book brilliantly illustrates why India must build its own unique playbook that leverages technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) to augment and raise people’s skills to innovatively solve the challenges of access.

Women at work

Bridgital Nation also calls out two pieces of the puzzle that are critical for India’s successful transformation — working women and entrepreneurs.

It was absolutely shocking to realise that nearly 120 million Indian women — more than double the entire population of South Korea — have at least secondary education but do not participate in the workforce. This is unimaginable, given that the country is suffering from a huge skill gap and only 33 per cent of the workforce has a secondary education or above.

The ‘XX Factor’, as it is called in the book, addresses the skill gap by allowing more of India’s higher-educated population to transition into the job market. Even if half of the above-mentioned women entered the workforce, India’s share of workers with at least a secondary degree would jump from 33 per cent to 46 per cent in one stroke, adding $440 billion to India’s GDP. Imagine the possibilities!

The problem is not that women do not want to work. In fact, it’s the opposite. Three-quarters of over 70,000 teenage girls in a national survey said they wanted a career after graduation. India, as the book rightly calls out, doesn’t have a problem of bringing women into workforce. The challenge is keeping them there. Half of India’s women are married by the age of 19 and one in three women have a child before they are 20.

Also, in India, women are secondary earners at best — and primary caregivers. The priorities are hard-wired into our culture and mindset.

Bridgital Nation takes a hard look at how this issue can be addressed through some brilliant examples of real people like Jasleen Kaur, a police officer in Punjab, and by studying the best-known global methods. It makes a compelling case for smart policies which are focussed on childcare provision and parental leave, as well as concerted steps that must be taken to change the society’s attitude towards working women.

The challenge is not an easy one to solve, as there is no simple playbook to address the very tall and invisible barriers that keep women from work, but the book shows why India cannot give up on its women. We must make a real effort to address these barriers and get the women back to work. This is a rare chance for India to go beyond statements of intent and prove that it really wants more inclusive growth, in letter and spirit.

Boosting entrepreneurship

On the second piece of the puzzle — India’s entrepreneurs — Bridgital Nation makes a very interesting case for a new focus on entrepreneurship across the country, that could potentially shift 45 million workers into more productive employment in small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

These jobs, as the book stresses, are more formal and pay better. Also, entrepreneurship can flourish through development of ‘bridgital clusters’ that create a bridge between SMEs and a range of digitalised business services.

As the authors beautifully describe it, the book is a study of a most reluctant subject and its citizens. It’s about everyday people and how they find in themselves the strength and resilience to turn adversities into opportunities. It is about bridging the India of numbers with the India of the senses.

Bridgital Nation is about developing a new mindset for India. One that is not about problems and challenges we are facing, but about the opportunities that can be leveraged to address them.

It’s about how we use the abundant resources India has in its people and the new advancements in technologies like AI and the Internet of Things to create that ultimate bridge for India. A must read for all of us who want to be a part of shaping the new India.

The writer is President, Nasscom

Published on November 15, 2019

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