Workers of the World Unite! Make Small (and Medium) Beautiful

As she often does, Merryn Somerset Webb recently gave us some wise words, about dominant companies around the world (Financial Times 18th May 2019, and Quoting a Barclays study from the US, Merryn noted the more powerful firms are “the less they pay, the less they invest and the less dynamic and innovative they appear to become”. That’s bad news, not least for current and future workers at these firms. Over the past decade some of the world’s biggest companies have effectively become “labour monopsonies” – setting the market levels for pay, and setting them low.

But better news could be emerging. The superstar firms of the last few decades “might soon get the beginnings of their comeuppance”. Why? In a number of countries there is talk of increasing the scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions, and introducing better laws to try and prevent anti-competitive behaviour. Regulation around data and infrastructure sharing (including forcing big firms to share the resources that keep them dominant) is being considered. So is a rise in taxation, in an attempt to “remove from big firms the outsize profits they make from the monopsonies”.

For workers, particularly young people entering the jobs market for the first time, this is all very welcome. Their future opportunities to contribute to the sort of economic growth they want (sustainable, equitable, inclusive) may be, with a little assistance from regulators and governments, in new competitors. Big may no longer be beautiful. Instead, young workers might now be attracted to dynamic disruptive small-to medium-sized companies that have a chance of challenging the large ones. These organisations will probably have a more instinctive view of what sustainable future growth looks like, including:

·     Policies that empower women (such as maternity leave)

·     Internships or hands-on training in new skills (including AI, data engineering, wireless technologies, responsible environmental management, software applications for education and medicine)

·     Collaboration with schools, colleges and universities – pushing academics to acquire the practical solution-building knowledge they need to better teach new skills

·     A focus, encouraged by government, on export of both goods and services to the wider world

·     Controls to make sure intellectual property and brand value stays in-house (and isn’t sold off to large companies or business tycoons)

·     An acknowledgement that upskilling new workers, and developing new markets, demands patience and a fair playing field.

There are a number of positive signs. 

The European Commission’s antitrust regulator has recently launched a formal probe into Amazon. The giant online firm is accused of misusing sensitive data from independent retailers (often small and medium-sized) who sell on its marketplace. Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, will investigate whether Amazon has used the data to give it an unfair market advantage as both a retailer and a marketplace.

In India, a May 2019 Reuters report revealed the antitrust regulator is looking into allegations that Maruti Suzuki, the country’s biggest car maker, resorted to anti-competitive practices by controlling how dealers discounted cars. Maruti, majority-owned by Japan’s Suzuki motor Corp, commands a 51 per cent market share in India, selling 1.73 million passenger vehicles in the year to March 2019. It has nearly 3,000 dealers across the country. The Competition Commissioner of India is looking into allegations that Maruti forces them to limit the discounts they offer, effectively stifling competition and harming consumers (as well as putting off potential new workers looking for a sustainable future).

Less than a year ago, the UK’s Office of Communications fined Royal Mail a whopping £50,000,000 for a serious breach of competition law, after the company abused its dominant position by discriminating against its only major competitor (Whistl). By raising wholesale prices for delivering business letters (known as “bulk mail”) Royal Mail’s actions amounted to anti-competitive discrimination against customers like Whistl looking to expand and compete directly against it. Ofcom said: “Royal Mail broke the law by abusing its dominant position in bulk mail delivery. All companies must play by the rules. Royal Mail’s behaviour was unacceptable, and it denied postal users the potential benefits that come from effective competition.”

Merryn Somerset Webb believes that ten years ago investors might have been smart to buy into the big brands (she includes Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Mondelez International, McDonald’s, Nestle and Suntory, and her Barclays reference mentions Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Ford and Johnson & Johnson). It’s not much of a stretch to apply her logic to young workers seeking out the sustainable jobs of the future. Today, they should look for those small but beautiful firms “that, with a little regulatory assistance, will be their new competitors”.


Millennials Are Changing Workplaces For The Better

Rohan Silva is a very smart guy (well worth following on the way), with a track record of making things happen and interesting views about the future. Although his recent article in the London Evening Standard was focussed on young professionals in the UK, many Indian ‘millennials’ (roughly speaking people between the ages of 18 and 34) may well share his point of view.

Rohan believes as more qualified school leavers and graduates enter the workforce, they’re bringing with them the language and attitudes from classroom and campus debates – and changing workplace culture in all kinds of ways.

This is partly due to sheer weight of numbers. According to KPMG, millennials already make up 35% of the UK workforce (in India, the figure is even higher at around 50%). But it’s also to do with a gradual shift in attitudes. “Countless reports and surveys have shown that [UK] millennials are – on average – more socially-engaged, more relaxed about diversity, and more committed to important causes such as gender equality”. In India, a 2018 World Economic Forum/ Observer Research Foundation survey found the influence of family and peers on the career choices of India’s youth is in decline. “Young people are increasingly seeking productive employment opportunities and career paths that reflect their individual aspirations.” Reetu Raina further noted “perhaps no single value exemplifies [Indian millennial’s] expectation from an organization than the persistent and universal demand for equality. They are resolute in their support for equal opportunities and practices and want bold and transparent policies that complement this ethos.” 

In Rohan’s own business Second Home, the youngest employees have pushed the organisation to ban plastics at work, make recycling policies much stricter, and introduce a literacy and work training programme for refugees and asylum seekers at the company’s East London bookshop. In his words, socially engaged young people aren’t just agitating for change, “they’re also putting in the hard yards to start new projects and make them stick”.

It’s a similar story in India. Tamanna Mishra has highlighted thedeep positive impacts on business, society and politics young people are making as “crucial and articulate narrative shapers”. Examples include: job creation and upskilling in Kashmir (Nazir Ahmad Ganaie, Umar Maqbool, Ishfak Ahmad and Shabir Ahmad Ganaie); a social network of trusted donors, hospitals and blood banks (Karthik Naralsetty’s Socialblood site); and Womenite – a youth-led initiative founded by Harshit Gupta that works for women’s empowerment by “fighting the social patriarchal setup”, and has so far reached over 10,000 students.

Organisations are ultimately made up of people working together towards some common goal. So, when the identity and outlook of those people changes, organisations change too.

As workplace cultures start to evolve, the implications for so many important issues – from sustainability to gender equality – can be profound. With new ideas, energy, and an open worldview, millennials can be the breath of fresh air needed to help solve not just immediate organisational problems but wider social and economic challenges too. 

It’s clear a generational shift is happening right now in the UK, and quicker than many people realise. It may well be happening in India too.

Local Education and Tech Partnerships – Best for Students and Parents

Student and parent expectations of education are changing. 

At root, the assumption remains to gain a competitive advantage when leaving education with job-ready qualifications, skills and competencies. But today, often faced with scarce job opportunities and wide inequalities, students and parents are looking for more. They’re also wanting a high quality educational experience that offers personalised support, and seamless ways to plan and track individualpaths to academic success.

Driven by these changing student and parent expectations, many educational institutions are engaging in a process of transformation, leading to a reimagination of the role that digital technology might play in delivering higher quality student outcomes. 

At the same time, technology companies are advancing digital trends and changes that enable new approaches to be offered for virtually anything – from whole “digital architectures” to specialist cloud-based assessment platforms. 

These new approaches promise a generation of great opportunities and outcomes – including innovative teaching and learning methods and improved student success. 

But is all this really good news for students and parents? Can their changing expectations actually be met? The answer to both is potentially Yes.

Some affluent countries, such as the US, are watching age-old models for education being called into question and seeing educational institutions painfully restructuring or closing. In other countries, including the United Arab Emirates and India, these trends have not yet taken hold in the same way. Worldwide, organisations of all different sorts have started proactively working together to invest in digital transformation that will help students, parents and institutions themselves better prepare for the future of education and jobs. 

The most successful educational institutions in the future, wherever they are located, almost certainly won’t see a need to “re-invent the wheel”. Instead, they’ll make progress by drawing on the experiences of successful digital transformation programmes in other sectors.

Specialists in the field, Mark Abell and Roger Bickerstaff, partners at international law firm Bird & Bird,offer two key lessons:

● Firstly, a working technology delivery platform is an absolute must. “Solutions need to be stable, reliable and provide high quality educational content to give any chance of success.” Any unreliability in availability, or difficulties in accessing the service, are likely to result in students and parents looking elsewhere.  

● Secondly, working in partnership with a strong localdelivery partner is also essential. The combination of a well-established institution with a desire to change and a local technology partner who can deliver the solution “on the ground” can be powerful.The role of the local technology partner is not merely to “embed and deliver” education services enabled by new digital solutions – it is also “to build a strong distribution network and provide ongoing support, training and quality auditing.” 

Jisc (a UK-based not-for-profit digital infrastructure and services operator) has reinforced the need forlocalarrangements when successfully delivering digital change. Working in China, Jisc finds many universities choose to use local internet service providers (ISPs) for a range of services, including accessing overseas content. To improve quality of delivery and optimise the student experience still further, Jisc has partnered with two local ISPs to connect to a high-bandwidth network (ORIENTplus) delivering Chinese educational institutions access to UK content providers. 

Two other practitioners (also working in Chinese education), Will Percy and Anne Keeling, have stressed the need for individual educational institutions to develop and keep good relationships with their technology partners. “Who are the people working for the company and do they have shared ideas about student learning?” If they don’t, “it doesn’t matter how great their system is, it won’t work for you”. Having a technology partner that is local can make building (and keeping) these good relationships much quicker and easier.

Some local partners may have particularly useful skills for educational institutions. For example, in the UK a number of digital marketing start-ups have locations near Oxford. This means the University and Oxford University Press can leverage local expertise to build best in class direct publishing distribution models, identifying the most efficient channels to acquire customers and grow. In other countries, India for example, educational institutions could take similar advantage of local software and cloud-computing expertise to deliver stable, reliable and high quality solutions that are also value-for-money.

There’s a range of benefits that local technology partners should be particularly good at delivering:

 ● Gold standard security certifications – to reassure students and parents that their information has the highest possible level of protection available. These will help the educational institution maintain compliance with national and international regulations and further protect data from any possible misuse

● Help for institution staff to truly understand their audiences and the marketing / public relations channels they use. This seems obvious but it involves speaking with people, mapping journeys that span both the digital and traditional spectrum, understanding emotional touchpoints and discovering where (and how) people go to consume and act on information. This is not about intuition or personal perspective – it’s about reaching out and gathering data about how people engage 

● Digital content – additional material to complement the institution’s core offering, including for example mock-exams, question banks, links to other respected institutions’ content and wider perspectives from different sector commentators or specialists

● Student and parent support tools – including for programme comparisons (including suggestions for new or different academic resources and what courses might be considered in the future), online applications, student portal (including self-service tools for conducting student-related business), parent portal

● Training – personalised for students, parents and staff members. Talking face-to-face with people (and supported by how-to videos and web links) on a full range of topics – from log-on and password management to content management, assessment and reporting, data analysis, security, digital marketing

● Ongoing support – especially making software applications, cloud services, databases, security and quality audits all remain stable and reliable

So, can student and parent’s changing expectations actually be met? Potentially Yes. It’s clear that many educational institutions are looking to digitally transform, and along the way develop new business models. It’s also clear new solutions will need to be both well planned and well executed, requiring more than just content and technology. Not many educational institutions have the resources to fully develop digital solutions on their own. Therefore, partnerships with technology providers, especially local ones for “on the ground” delivery and ongoing support, will be key to successfully creating higher quality educational outcomes.

Students and parents will be taking note.

The “Procurement Guys” of the Future

The “procurement guys” of the future probably won’t recognize the term. And they certainly won’t have the word “procurement” in their job titles. They won’t work in in a stand-alone department at some distance from customers, taxpayers or decision-makers. They won’t have their own “siloes” and jargon. And they’ll have little interest in creating a professional discipline to try and match old favourites such as accountancy or law.

They’ll be multi-skilled – not just at buying, but also selling. They will have expertise in both building and delivering business cases, and in performing investment analysis. Language skills will come naturally to many.

The “procurement guys” of the future will be well paid, with roles attracting candidates who in the past would have gone after big salaries in investment banking or fintech. Their pay will be made up of a high basic salary, plus bonus components for sales (revenue), cost of sales or achievement of project financial metrics.

They won’t just be “tech savvy” (old term), but completely technology enabled, to match sellers’ knowledge, manipulate large amounts of data, specify (not necessarily write) algorithms and use technology platforms as tools to achieve commercial goals.

The old “category” view of procurement (direct, facilities, utilities, professional services, IT) won’t be relevant. Donald Ferguson from Astra Zeneca, a drugs manufacturer, reckons “spend categories will gravitate much closer to and become more integrated into the business lines”. They will be driven much less by cost management and “much more by innovation and contribution in terms of selling the products we are trying to create”. In the future “procurement guys” will focus on just two broad areas – Inputs (raw materials, components, ingredients) or Digital Services.

Input guys will essentially have a commodity trader mentality. They will constantly digitally monitor the market and interact with sellers through a variety of channels – catalogues, e-auctions and exchanges. Depending on the inputs needed, and the scale of their operations, they may use various forms of digital forwards, futures, options and spot-buys. Even if their requirements are relatively small in volume or value they will regularly interact with other Input guys via digitally-driven consortiums. Just as with commodity trading they will understand and demand common standards and measures of quality. Unlike much commodity trading their organisations will actually take receipt of the inputs.

Input guys will certainly operate in a world that’s regulated and subject to strict cyber security procedures – so they will have routine exposure to national and international bodies. 

They will often learn their craft on the job, sitting next to Nellie. Typically they will undergo a form of apprenticeship, first in a physical inputs department (where they will learn logistics or raw material handling), and then running their own Inputs desk. They may even follow the path of some commodity traders and get involved “upstream” in their supply chains, perhaps by buying into existing infrastructure that’s key to production and distribution, or arranging partnership finance to develop new assets.

Digital Service guys will be responsible for a full array of resources as opposed to physical inputs. These will include data, predictive analytics, storage, security, artificial intelligence, monitoring (Internet of Things) and other specialists (such as design, legal, HR, PR/Comms and marketing). All of the services they buy, rent and manage will have a digital content and delivery platform. In one sense they will link together to provide the “back office” functionality that their organisations need. But in another, and as importantly, they will provide the joined-up means (the heartbeat) to develop revenues – defined as either earned revenues (from customers) or public revenues (funding from tax payers).

Digital services will in many cases be provided by stand-alone third parties (Efficio, a consultancy, sees corporate spend on suppliers “averaging of 30 to 40% of revenues”), but in some by joint venture partners or in-house teams recharging their activities on a commercial basis. 

Digital Service guys will essentially be technology entrepreneurs who drive the revenue lines for organisations. One piece of current procurement jargon that will survive in their future world will be “end-to-end”. As a routine they will be responsible for all commercial aspects of their services, regardless of the operational or project time period. They will be very closely linked to, and in some cases even replace, traditional sales guys. They will learn their commercial skills (“what the customer wants”, negotiation, basic contract law) both formally and by sitting next to another Nellie. They will operate as a small team (they won’t need a large department) under the overall governance of the Finance Director. Typically they will also have straight lines to traditional executive roles – the IT (Digital) Director, the Sales Director, or in the public sector the Service Delivery Director.

Is this future far away? No. It’s already happening, and will soon become the norm. Dr. Heinz Schaeffer from AXA, an insurance company, believes by the end of the decade – “my personal view is that procurement will no longer be called procurement in 2020”. Input and Digital Services-type guys are already being recruited into far-sighted organisations. According to MRA Global Sourcing, a management search firm, gifted individuals are being attracted to Amazon “by a buffet of desirable challenges like M&A due diligence, standing up sourcing groups, business process integration and more, with extremely high stakes and visibility”. Tech start-up Provenance (which is making use of blockchain technology to provide ground-breaking supply chain transparency software), continues to recruit into its multi disciplinary team of developers, designers and commercial specialists.  Founder and CEO says Jessi Baker says they’re getting chased pretty aggressively – “I’d say we’re getting about 200 emails a day from people either asking questions or wanting to work with us”. Fancy joining them in the future?

Implementing Digital Healthcare

Lessons From India

The need for innovation is well understood and much trumpeted – in September 2015 National Health Service England declared “supporting innovation across the healthcare system is more important than ever and will be central to securing transformation and improved patient outcomes”. But innovation is too often interpreted simply as creating snazzy new equipment or techniques. Important though these are, successful implementationof digital healthcare (meaning the actualdeliveryof proper benefits) needs clear thinking and energetic management as well.

Western countries are feeling their way towards a digital healthcare future. Great hopes have been raised for new technology providing breakthroughs in early warning, treatment and care provision. In the UK, the goal of digitally “joining up” health and social care has attracted attention from both consumers and suppliers, and cash from the government. But progress is patchy.

India, a country with many of the same health challenges as Western countries (including diabetes, cardiovascular and other “lifestyle” diseases) only on a vaster scale, provides signposts for the successful implementation of digital healthcare. Many are in contrast to approaches in countries like the UK and US, and hark back to basic, but sound, management principles well understood and well delivered.

  • Frugal innovation (or coming up with smart, cheap solutions to problems). Digital healthcare innovations in Western countries are often expensive – the head of one US bio-design laboratory believes many suppliers have “looked at need but been blind to cost”.In contrast, as Navi Radjou a Silicon Valley innovation adviser confirms, Indians are the“masters of the art of doing more with less” – finding technology that just works and not getting distracted by hype that delivers little value. He quotes the example of GE Healthcare in India, who have developed a low cost, portable electrocardiogramdevice, the MAC 400, which is sturdy enough to operate in extreme conditions in rural areas. Instead of designing a new printer from scratch for the MAC 400, GE’s R&D team adapted a printer being used in buses to print tickets. Dr Alex Yeates, medical director of UK software and services provider Advanced Health & Care, came across another example in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Hyderabad. There, staff use technologies such as remote camera monitoring of ICU equipment to enhance patient care, coupled with the WhatsApp messaging service (free, with end-to-end encryption) to share patient notes and scans. Highly trained ICU nurses and clinicians manage and monitor multiple wards in remote locations, delivering critical expert care to patients who previously had no access to it. WhatsApp is being used in clinical settings in Western countries, but combining it with other digital technologies in ICU delivery is rare.
  • Patient, bottom-up local networking (not central bureaucracy) to achieve “platform” scale – Apollo Hospitals, an Indian private healthcare pioneer, has been in business since 1983 and has carefully built an entire health network (or “ecosystem”), including 69 hospitals, primary and specialty clinics, a health insurance company and a chain of more than 2,400 pharmacies.  In 2008, the organisation launched Apollo Reach Hospitals for smaller cities and their surrounding rural and semi-urban areas, to provide facilities with a limited but robust set of medical services. Apollo well understands “network effects” that simultaneously build bigger economies of scale and bring benefits to more people. Lots of management attention is therefore paid to increasing the local network for each hospital: deploying air ambulance services for remote and life-threatening emergencies; providing telemedicine (Ask Apollo email, voice and video consultations) to further improve reach to the at-risk population; developing a fast-track career path to attract high quality doctors to semi-urban and remote areas; increasing the number of low-income patients by cross-subsidies from higher income customers. With this long term-focus on the management of network effects, Apollo is effectively a healthcare “platform”, able to deliver further major potential benefits. The organisation now has a huge dataset providing the building block for implementing Artificial Intelligence – in turn giving an ability to undertake analysis and proactively deliver preventive healthcare for conditions like heart disease. The focus on local delivery is most significant. Western world healthcare consumers’ attachment to large centralised brands such as the UK’s NHS may be, literally, unhealthy. Another healthcare innovator operating in India, Josh Nesbit (who runs Medic Mobile), believes in the future “there will be many new types of health workers, all supported by mobile technologies. Health systems will be decentralised, local and preventable.”
  • A relentless focus on costs– in contrast to simply be given more consumers’ money (for example a recent call in the UK for “an extra £50bn a year above inflation for the NHS by 2030”), Indian managers address the cost side of healthcare provision as an ongoing day-to-day activity. At one globally renowned health care provider Narayana Health (NH), founder and chairman Dr Devi Shetty applies economies of scale to surgery, believing that under the right circumstances higher volume leads to higher quality (“the more operations surgeons perform, the better they get at it.”) A US surgeon typically does three or four surgeries a week. At NH, they typically do two or three surgeries a day – six days a week. Business Today in India details other successful NH cost management techniques: 
    • Leasing on a pay per use basis, rather than buying all the equipment that’s required (this keep capital costs low)
    • Tight procurement controls, driving down prices by negotiating directly with equipment manufacturers, and in some cases, encouraging domestic companies to make in India inexpensive local versions of costly imported medical supplies
    • Convincing other equipment suppliers to install their machines for free, earning their revenues from selling the “consumables” required for tests or procedures (suppliers are often prepared to do this to ensure high quality reference sites for their products)
    • Placing a big emphasis on maintaining equipment and extending its life

Crucially, NH uses a scalable cloud-based Enterprise Resource System to help optimise its processes (incidentally saving 65% over conventional IT database system costs). Receiving information via text message, the organisation’s management team study the profit and loss account on a daily basis, enabling them to make quick healthcare decisions (for example on requests for free or subsidised surgery).

Dr Shetty has confidence in his model – so much so that he believes India “will soon become the first country in the world to disassociate healthcare from affluence.”

Using only providers with a track record of delivery to implement digital healthcare projects.Western consumers have become familiar with poorly executed digital healthcare projects, for example in September 2013, an NHS patient record system that would have been the world’s largest non-military IT system was abandoned, leaving it dubbed the most catastrophic IT failure ever seen by the government. The failed centralised e-record system cost the UK taxpayer over £10 billion, £3.6 billion more anticipated. A Dutch government project to introduce anElectronic Patients File ran into similar difficulties.

Western consumers have become familiar with poorly executed digital healthcare projects, for example in September 2013, an NHS patient record system that would have been the world’s largest non-military IT system was abandoned, leaving it dubbed the most catastrophic IT failure ever seen by the government. The failed centralised e-record system cost the UK taxpayer over £10 billion, £3.6 billion more anticipated. A Dutch government project to introduce anElectronic Patients File ran into similar difficulties.

A lesson from India is to engage the “right guy for the job.” The Times of India recently reported that according to IT veteran and tech investor T V Mohandas Pai “there is only one person capable of delivering the infrastructure for India’s proposed National Health Protection Scheme” – NNandan Nilekani, co-founder and non-executive chairman of Infosys (India’s second largest IT company). Nilekani’s track record includesbuilding and operationalising Aadhaar, of one of the key pillars of “Digital India” (and the largest government database of personal information in the world), as well as designing the national Goods and Services Tax Network. Pai believes Nilekani has shown he can recruit a team that understands both technology and how to navigate past bureaucracy. “Nobody else globally would be able to develop the IT infrastructure for NHPS in as short a time as Nandan and his team.” Nilekani is “eminently suited for this” and has “the ability to attract best of class global talent” to work with him on conceptualisation, design, architecture and implementation. The NHPS aims to provide medical cover for poor and vulnerable Indians – about 40% of the total population. The digital infrastructure will be of a similar huge scale to that required for Aadhaar (capable of handling one billion plus transactions per year) and, because of the massive range of the programme, will need to be scaled up gradually.

Professionals with a track record of successful digital implementation, whether locally or like Nandan Nilekani on the national stage, are valuable. But their talents, and those of the teams they assemble, may be worth seeking out (and paying the market rate for), in order to maximise the chances of successful digital healthcare implementation. 

Countries such as the UK and US should learn from India’s growing expertise in implementing digital healthcare. India faces many challenges (including shortages of healthcare workers and infrastructure) resulting in few country-wide solutions. But, as Dr Alex Yeates observes, “in spite, or perhaps because of this”, India is “ripe with examples” of innovations in digital healthcare delivery, providing better outcomes for fewer resources. Indian healthcare professionals don’t generally go in for snazzy digital designs, but instead have a clear understanding and an energetic willingness to do the basics of implementation management well. Their counterparts in Western countries should take note – and so should Western healthcare consumers.





Moving On From Lagaan

In the 2001 epic film Lagaan, villagers from a small Indian community pull together to inflict a symbolic defeat on the cruel and greedy British Raj. Today taxation and cricket are still alive and well in both countries, and to a lesser extent so is trade. In 2019, Britain and India should not only continue with their trading links but build on them. Citizens and small / medium sized businesses from both countries could develop new trading networks that outpace large corporations and governments. They should do this not just to enrich modern-day merchants, but also for civic benefit as well.

Whatever your views on the Raj era (when trade was the overriding reason for the British presence in India), the extent of direct political control from London was a veneer that lasted for a relatively short period – from the mid-1800s to 1947. But many Indians have good reason to resent this imperial period (and a significant number of Britons also hold negative views). By one important measure – Gross Domestic Product – the Indian economy grew by just 19% in that time, compared to 134% in Britain. 

Today however, both countries could benefit substantially by moving on from a Raj focus and grasping future potential opportunities. From Bengaluru, Subhasish Ghosh’s view is “it is high time we stopped blaming the Britishers for everything. We are still building statues and wanting our Kohinoor back. Move on!” Vivek Bhatt goes further – “please learn from the past and carry the learnings to build a progressive future.”

British-Indian bilateral trade remains significant – as recently as 2015 it was valued at £16.33bn, with over 800 Indian companies operating in Britain. But the future should be so much more, with civicas well as trade benefits flowing to both populations. Both countries should capitalise (literally) on opportunities presented by youthful multiple cultures inside their respective borders, and distribute the dividends of opening up trade to all citizens. Britain has a sizeable population of people with Indian heritage (1.45 million according to ABPL), while India herself welcomes as many as 800,000 British visitors every year (with over 30,000 Britons living in India). This is a ready-made civic network that should be developed much further.

Instead of the Raj, British and Indian citizens could see a new relationship as non-imperial, non-militaristic (except for defensive purposes) and strongly focussed on small / medium sized businesses (SMBs) and civic enrichment from trade. 

Instead of wheat, jute, tea and textiles, trade could develop from modern “raw materials” – ideas, knowledge, high standards, software and digital technology. From these, new goods and services could flow across physical and virtual networks, to populations that have a youthful urban focus but also a more prosperous and open rural hinterland. Here’s some examples:

  • Apps for citizens– opening up opportunities for sharing a wide range of information, mobile analysis and improved e-commerce. Both countries already use apps a lot (Indian smartphone users for example have an average of 51 apps installed on their devices, regularly using 24 of them). Both can boast highly skilled app development and maintenance organisations (like Spice Money, Quy Technology and Waracle). But for key official information, Indian citizens are better served than their British counterparts (Umang – a single app for citizens to access pan-government services – has been well received. Rachit Tyagi comments “another example which demonstrates that our government is listening to the public and making attempts to solve some actual grass root level problems”). Indian developers who’ve created and maintained government apps could be well placed to export their expertise to Britain, where the HMRC tax app remains an isolated example, and others aimed at improvingchild literacy and getting EU citizens to apply for settled status have yet to be rolled out. 
  • Frugally-engineered medical services– or coming up with smart, cheap solutions for citizens’ healthcare problems. British innovations are often expensive, whereas Indian healthcare professionals have been described by Navi Radjou as “masters of the art of doing more with less” – finding technology that just works, and not getting distracted by hype that delivers little. One British doctor, Alex Yeates, came across an example in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Hyderabad. There, staff use technologies such as remote camera monitoring of ICU equipment, coupled with the WhatsApp messaging service (free, with end-to-end encryption), to share patient notes and scans. Highly trained ICU nurses and clinicians manage and monitor multiple wards in remote locations, delivering critical care to patients who previously had little access to it. Indian organisations should continue looking to expand their medical service offerings to Britain – potentially by further leveraging BAPIO’s (British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin) encouragement for strengthened healthcare infrastructure and greater two-way investment. Better workforce planning and improved infrastructure for elderly citizens’ care would be particular prize.
  • Investment-led skills development– helping citizens get their desired jobs, especially in the age of digital technologies. One commentator, Atul Raja, is concerned India doesn’t have the skilled workforce required to fuel economic growth – and cites reduced government spending on education (down from 4.4% of GDP in 1999 to 3.7% in 2017) as a reason. But does government alone have all the answers? No. In Britain, a mixture of organisations from both industry and education is playing a leading role in re-skilling individuals and communities. Domestic success has led to expansion of support for skills development in India. Following on from Mott Macdonald (educating 100,000 Indian school students every year in energy saving) and Reckitt Benckiser (training investment in India increased by 50% from 2017 to 2020), British SMBs associated with fintech, cyber security and smart cities are now working in India to “unlock its future potential, and deliver high-skilled jobs and economic growth in both countries” (Matt Hancock). Academic institutions have also made investments too – some small (early career scientists from Cambridge University have recently completed a month-long 10,000 mile VIGYANshaala – ‘classroom of science’- tour of India, bringing hands-on science from Cambridge laboratories to 5,000 schoolchildren), some larger (the University of London currently has 1,000 students in India studying towards a range of qualifications via three established teaching centres). British organisations should continue contributing to civic benefits in India with further investment-led skills developments. 
  • High quality human resource (HR) services– helping to develop flexible employment models. British organisations have had notable successes in delivering HR services to benefit domestic employers, employees and wider communities – an OECD survey of 15 countries facing future skills shortages found Britain was second best off (with only 12% of firms with skills shortages). India was second worse off (64%). Successful HR services that could be exported to India include: implementing high quality online job opportunity, skill development programme and recruitment channels; standards based in-service and vocational training to upgrade workforce skills; career counselling and mentoring services. More challenging would be the opportunity to increase female labour participation (for example by promoting generous maternity leave and other female-friendly workplace policies). To improve the chances of British service providers replicating their home success, India could help herself by removing legal constraints and excessive government labour regulation, including for British providers setting up training institutions. In turn, British organisations would do well to recognise the importance of regional languages and pricing that reflects local purchasing power. With these in mind they could build on the success of EY, Willis Towers Watson, TMF Group and others by providing HR services to India that are high quality, and benefit many.

These examples of potential new trade would disproportionately help young people. That’s both welcome and unsurprising. In India, half the population of 1.3 billion is below the age of 25. In Britain, young workers face a prospect of funding the care and pensions of an ageing population: the number of people of pension age is set to increase by 33% by mid-2039, with the number of working age people only rising by 11%. 

Citizens are often in front of large corporations and government when it comes to seeing opportunities and moving forward. They can be quick to network, and through SMBs, quick to build trade. It’s to the citizens and SMBs, especially young ones, of both Britain and India that we should look if we want to grow trade successfully and bring benefits to the many. We should be moving on from Lagaan.