The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management hosted its second annual India Conference on Oct. 6 at the school’s Media Lab. The event, titled “Connecting the U.S. and India through Technology, Entrepreneurship and Education,” brought together some heavy hitters from India to share their view on the continued growth of the country and the ways in which it can continue to move forward as a global and economic power.
The India Conference, which is a joint initiative of the MIT schools of management, science, engineering, humanities, social sciences, and architecture and planning, examined several key questions: What business models are contributing to the success of entrepreneurial ventures in India? What trends are shaping India’s information technology sector? How can professionals connect with the mindset behind one of the world’s fastest-growing economies?
The keynote speakers included: Nadir Godrej, managing director of Godrej Industries and chairman of Godrej Agrovet; Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, spiritual leader and founder of the Isha Foundation; and Akash Paul, director of the Caparo Group.
Godrej was perhaps the highlight of the conference with his unique presentation, which entailed him addressing just about all of India’s political, economic and social issues through long-verse prose he wrote. With impressive rhyme and cadence, Godrej covered topics such as the value of the rupee, corruption, agriculture, the economy, debt and education.
In a room full of heavy proponents of academics he drew strong agreement with his musings on India’s education system and how it can incorporate advancements in technology and online education for improvement. “This transformation of education will be the savings of the nation,” he recited.
Godrej Industries is a multi-faceted company that works in foods, consumer products, animal feed, agriculture and chemicals. Godrej, who is an MIT graduate, has played an important part in shaping many of these industries through the efforts of his various businesses. He is also well recognized for his contributions to Indo-French relations. He is president of the Indo French Technical Association and the Alliance Francaise Mumbai. The French government has honored him with “Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite” and “The National Order of the Legion of Honour” for his work boosting the relationship between India and France.
After his prose, Godrej interacted with the audience and expanded on some of the topics that piqued the most interest.
He said that his company is continuing to look into more energy options such as solar energy and shale oil. “Shale gas has made a huge difference in the U.S. economy. … To get gas at these extremely low prices could be transformative for the U.S. ecomomy,” he added. “And India probably has shale deposits also.”
He was not as bullish on nuclear energy, saying that the potential threat from catastrophes may still out weigh the positives. “If there are globe-threatening risks then there is no place for nuclear energy,” he said.
Godrej did support the Indian government’s increasingly opening the country to foreign direct investment, but said the jury is still out on the impact this will have. “I’m not sure if foreign investment is going to be transformative in the India economy,” he said. “But there is an impact of the funds flow.”
Unlike some who have expressed concern about allowing companies such as Wal-Mart into the retail sector in India, Godrej did not seem too worried. “I think it is going to take a long time until it impacts consumer products,” he said. According to him, the main reason for this is because companies such as Wal-Mart are only currently being allowed into big Indian cities and 50 percent of the consumer products market in India is in rural areas.
With so much experience in agriculture and animal husbandry he was also very positive about the continued outlook for those industries. In particular, he said advancements in methods of feeding livestock and growing crops will continue to drive the sectors forward. “In agriculture just improving the yield will have a tremendous impact,” he said.
While many pundits voice concern over India’s water resources, Godrej is not one to panic about that. “I don’t think water is a very challenge issue at all,” he said. “We just need better management.”
As he did in his prose presentation, he expressed a strong opinion about India’s continual need to improve its education system. He said his company is doing its part by committing to educate 1 million people in India. And he reiterated that the use of technology in education will be the factor that makes the biggest difference in advancement. “Technology can extend the power of teachers considerably,” he said. “The real challenge is going to be the balance between contact education and online education.”
The MIT India Conference also featured five panels. Panel discussions included:
Entrepreneurship: An exploration of the current explosion of entrepreneurial ventures in India and their impact on the Indian society.
Governance: Spotlighting case studies from nonprofit organizations dealing with corruption within the government agencies that they interact with.
Connecting with India Culturally: How is Indian culture impacting the country’s business environment? How best can overseas professionals connect with the Indian mindset?
Information Technology: A look at the challenges facing the software industry along with new innovations in its business model and ecosystem.
Role of Diaspora: Advancing Indo-U.S. Economic Ties: How does the Indian diaspora affect and influence the diplomatic, economic and cultural exchange of ideas between the United States and India?
Some of the notable panelists were Surendra Kaushik, founder and chairman of Mrs. Helena Kaushik Women’s College; Asad Lalljee, vice president of The Essar Group; Supratim Sen, senior vice president of Tata Consultancy Services; Piyush Lumba, director of worldwide sales for Microsoft; Harish Fabiani, chairman of Americorp Group; and Ambassador Arun K. Singh, deputy chief at the Embassy of India in Washington.
Other conference guests include: Kaushik Basu, chief economist at the World Bank, and Supriya Sule, a member of Indian Parliament.