Archive for December, 2006

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Gaping holes without goals shall put us on the mat in a world that is flat.

December 9, 2006

I just finished reading the wonderful book “The world if flat”. by three times pulitzer winning author Thomas Friedmann.It is basically about how flatteners like outsourcing, off shoring, supply chaining among other flatteners were creating a level playing field for all countires in the world. It spelled out the consequences from several perspectives on the United states in general and the world at large in particular. While saluting the manufacturing and service prowess of China and India respectively, the author is of the view that unless education in America is radically transformed, Americans shall have a tough time coping with global competition.

The book has several interesting references to India including the TCS contract in the state of Indiana, interactions with Infosys President Nandan Nilekani and former Wipro President Vivek Paul, India’s prominent role in business process outsourcing and supply chains, India’s rural mismanagement , role of NGO etc.

Though on the whole the book salutes both China and India, it has certain misgivings about Indian misgovernance. Some excerpts:-

Foreign investors “ When we go to India and are asked about opening plants, we say “You don’t have the infrastructure. Your electricity goes four times a day

“Dinaker singh, the hedge fund manager regularly goes back to India to visit his family. In the winter of 2004, he went back to New Delhi for a visit. When I saw him a few months later, he told me about the moment when Inida’s economy as a whole, had still not taken off as much as it should have- outside of the high-tech sector. “I was on the sixth floor of a hotel in New Delhi and when I looked outside the window I could see for miles. How come? Because you do not have assured power in Delhi for elevators, so these are not many tall buildings” No sensible investor would want to build a tall building in a city where the power could go out at any moment and you might have to walk up twenty flights of stairs”

“There is no question that china and India are better off for having at least part of their population in the flat world. But there are many, many others living outside this cycle. They live in villages or rural areas that only criminals would want to invest in, regions where violence, civil war and disease compete with one another to see which can ravage the civilian population most.”

In the same context, this is what was written in another part of the book “ At the same time rural Indians understood, at the gut level, exactly why it was not happening for them: because local governments in India have gotten so eaten away by corruption and mismanagement that they cannot deliver to the poor the schools and infrastructure they need to get a fair share of the pie. India can have the smartest high-tech vanguard in the world, but if it does not find a way to bring along more of those who are unable, disabled, undereducated and underserved, it will be like a rocket that takes off but quickly falls back to earth for lack of sustained effort.

This reminds me of a statement that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi often said and which was repeated time and again “ I know that from every one rupee that the government allocates for the poor, only 15 paise actually reaches them. “ A strong prime minister with 400plus MPs in parliament was powerless to do much about it. It so happened that when Rajiv Gandhi died in 1991, I used to be executive assistant to the managing director in a washing machine company. Earlier I had also functioned as executive assistant to my father in a lighting company that he had helped turn around. My experiences as an executive assistant in these medium sized companies can be best summed up in these words- there is a slip between the cup and the lip. So many things can go wrong after instructions are issued because of the hassles of communication and other things that one really wonders how a country as diverse as India with all its powerful vested interests can ever be governed without executive assistants who monitor implementation and report directly to the prime minister or the concerned union cabinet minister in some cases.

Another thing that amazes in politics is the lack of transparent goals. After one elects an MP, one does not even know what that member of parliament is doing. There should be websites on which there should be clear cut goals for each MP, minister or whoever is there in an office of responsibility. The book says that with the way India, China, Russia and certain countries of Latin America are expected to progress, if rural development does not catch up and rural population continues to migrate to the cities in search of a better life, these countries and the world at large shall be in serious trouble because of infrastructure problems and pollution.

Management consultants emphasize that setting goals is so important that it is a habit that should be cultivated in school days. My wife, a nursery school teacher told me that they have goals even for the tiny tots to develop their gross and fine motor skills. Politicians without goals are like naughty boys in need of regulation. There is no point in blaming them all the time if there is no proper mechanism to ensure accountability. Information revolution and mass communication are usless without clear cut goals and effective monitoring. The media should not just report misgovernance but monitor the issue to its logical conclusion.
Our so called “democracy” is quite infructous if not useless without this.

If governance does not cope up with economic progress, it could be counterproductive and India could become a veritable hell impossible for anybody to nurse back to health.