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April 9, 1998


The Rediff Business Special/ Mukesh Ambani

'One million young men and women, employed in the information sector, will bring in $ 20 billion into India'

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Firstly, I hope, you agree with me that the future of the country is carved by young people. With each passing year, the young population in India is growing. By 2020, about 400 million Indians will be below the age of 35 years; nearly double the number today. This youth is still in schools and colleges -- bubbling with energy and enthusiasm. They are ready to adapt to new technologies, ready to take on the world. Give inspiring motivation, they will leave no stone unturned to build a great India. Here is that motivation. The dream of making India an economic superpower.

(Left: Mukesh Ambani [on right] with father Dhirubhai)
Secondly, not many countries in the world have the benefit of as huge a growing domestic market as India. Our per capita consumption of energy, steel, plastics, telecoms, etc is amongst the lowest in the world. India is destined to be one of the two biggest markets in the world.

Thirdly, the world over, the time required for doubling the per capita output has shrunk dramatically. Thanks to wondrous strides in technology. To double its per capita output, the UK took 58 years, US 47 years. Japan accomplished the feat in only 34 years. After the 1940s, Indonesia did the same in 17 years, South Korea in 11 years, and China in 10 years. Now it is our turn to take up the challenge -- the challenge we face is to double per capita income every 5 years.

Fourthly, plurality, tolerance, democracy, hospitality are essential properties of the Indian ethos. These are essential pre-requisites of the information age. Because this age will pull down hierarchies, demand the quality to be participatory and insist on harmony among its constituents. Several other societies will have to make great adjustments to imbibe these traits. India will therefore enjoy a competitive advantage in dealing with the demands of the information age. This age will bring about the formidable latent strengths of our ancient civilisation. Other societies will struggle to be like us, that is, secular, pluralistic, tolerant, and democratic.

Fifthly, India's family system will be a source of great strength. Our traditional values will stand us in good stead. Respect for elders, supporting the aged, concern for the under-privileged, sharing of joy and sorrow, and above all, a feeling of togetherness, characterise these values. In the West, alienation, depression, and distancing from the family are social malaises. Our family system will act as powerful shield against economic stress in the new information age.

Sixthly, a solution of many of our chronic problems have become much easier today than ever before. Take for example, education. Inadequacy of infrastructure will cease to be a problem. Knowledge and information can now be accessible across all physical and geographical boundaries.

Seizing the opportunity

Most experts seem to have settled for a 7 per cent growth rate of GDP for our country. At this rate India will have to wait 68 years to achieve a GDP of the developed world. Does anyone believe that with television exposing the remotest village to modern life, you can have patience, peace and stability at this rate. Either we perform or perish.

I am of the conviction that rapid growth is the only path forward. India has the ability of grow at double-digit rates on a sustained basis. How do we seize this opportunity? We have to alter our strategy drastically and change our mindset fundamentally. We must refuse to look at the world as it was yesterday. We should look at the world of tomorrow and fashion our strategy. This will make a quantum leap possible.

Two sectors have the ability to leap frog India -- agriculture and Information technology. These areas are capable of generating maximum wealth with modest investments.

Focus on agriculture

Farmers on their field Let us look at agriculture. India has 329 million hectares of land area. Nearly half of its is arable. We can increase production at least five fold if our current yield is raised to international standards. Agriculture requires soil, sunshine, and rain, which we have in abundance. Nature is generous with us. We are blessed with varied agro-climatic conditions. The Indian farmer adapts to innovations rapidly. The success of the green revolution has demonstrated this conclusively. It is one of the few sectors in which India enjoys international competitiveness. Given the growing world population, dismantling of trade and tariff barrier amongst economies as a result of GATT -- agriculture can be a major contributor to Indian exports.

Dynamic and progressive agriculture puts purchasing power in hands of millions of people in the shortest possible time. It can provide maximum employment, more than any other sector, in the shortest time. In fact, Indian agriculture can easily employ another 120 million people just by concentrating on developing 40 million hectares of wasteland. Modernisation of agriculture will reverse the present unending migration to the cities and thereby improve the quality of life in the country's urban areas also.

We have the natural resources. We have the human resources. And the benefits are so obvious, extensive and immediate -- clearly India's future is in her farms. Agriculture has the potential to accelerate economic growth and social development in India.

Harnessing technology

The computer boom in India Let me turn to the sector of the future -- I am afraid, we have completely ignored so far the dramatic potential of information technology markets -- India has an extensive network of institutions of science and technology.

Every year thousands of young people are joining the skilled workforce. They are conversant with work in the English language. These young people, we know from our experience, relate very favourably to information technology. The demand for such skills is snowballing the world over. Millions of young people can be trained to service this demand. At $ 10 per hour and working for 2,000 hours per year, a young Indian in the information sector can easily earn $ 20,000 per year. He will be competitive and he will bring this money from overseas while working at home. This is because new technologies have made distances irrelevant.

One million young men and women, employed in the information sector, will bring in 20 billion dollars into India. In the next 20 years, it should be possible to employ 50 million young people in the information sector. They will bring in an astronomical income of about a trillion dollars. And these people will create demand for cars, refrigerators, houses, telephones and all other amenities of life. This is turn will help the core sector of the economy to grow. Thus by reorientation of approach and emphasis in these two sectors, we can create a self sustaining cycle of prosperity and growth, each supporting and accelerating the other.


Mukesh Ambani, continued

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