Nav­i­gat­ing the Stature of In­dia’s Tech Re­nais­sance

By 2020, In­dia will be the youngest coun­try in the world with a me­dian age of 29 and the path to­wards progress for this over­whelm­ingly young na­tion has dra­mat­i­cally shifted

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With In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s visit late last year to Sil­i­con Val­ley, the first In­dian head of state to visit Cal­i­for­nia in three decades, talk is still swirling about his ef­forts to cul­ti­vate In­dia’s dig­i­tal econ­omy. With its pop­u­la­tion of 1.25 bn peo­ple, In­dia is the world’s sec­ond most pop­u­lous coun­try af­ter China, but with­out China’s govern­ment re­stric­tions. The coun­try is largely seen as the world’s next fron­tier for tech­nol­ogy growth, solv­ing not only In­dia’s do­mes­tic prob­lems but of­fer­ing so­lu­tions with global rel­e­vance.

But, what some may not re­al­ize is that the busi­ness and eco­nomic re­forms which Modi is ded­i­cated to nur­tur­ing are decades in the mak­ing. As a teenager grow­ing up in In­dia dur­ing the 1970s, I would have been hard-pressed to pre­dict the flour­ish­ing in­no­va­tion ecosys­tem present in In­dia to­day. Back then, ab­ject poverty and des­ti­tu­tion were ram­pant, re­sources were scarce and the mid­dle class was nearly non-ex­is­tent. Our par­ents pushed us to pur­sue en­gi­neer­ing or medicine —in­sist­ing these were the only pro­fes­sions that would lead to­wards a bet­ter life. This de­sire to sur­vive, achieve and ac­com­plish led many of us, my­self in­cluded, to pur­sue higher ed­u­ca­tion, and ul­ti­mately ca­reers, in the West.

From my dis­tant van­tage point, I watched In­dia in­sti­tute sweep­ing eco­nomic lib­er­al­iza­tion mea­sures in the early 1990s in an at­tempt to grow the econ­omy through more open-mar­ket re­forms. The govern­ment pri­va­tized many state-owned busi­nesses, dereg­u­lated in­dus­tries, and re­duced re­stric­tions on for­eign trade. Con­sid­ered widely suc­cess­ful, these cal­cu­lated re­forms were in­stru­men­tal in cre­at­ing more ser­vice-based jobs, in­creas­ing for­eign in­vest­ment, en­cour­ag­ing en­tre­pre­neur­ial ven­tures and chang­ing the pri­or­i­ties and at­ti­tudes of In­dian cit­i­zens to­wards money and spend­ing. It was in the midst of these early eco­nomic changes that In­dia be­came one of the world’s largest providers of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy out­sourc­ing, gain­ing a new­found cred­i­bil­ity in the tech­nol­ogy world.

To­day, aris­ing from the coun­try’s ini­tial tech­nol­ogy boom, In­dia’s mid­dle class is said to be some­where be­tween 50 and 250 mil­lion ac­cord­ing to vary­ing re­ports. While it’s far from per­fect and there are dif­fer­ing bench­marks to de­ter­mine mid­dle class sta­tus, you can’t ar­gue that life over the past few decades has im­proved for many. There’s a grow­ing group of cit­i­zens ben­e­fit­ing from more ed­u­ca­tion, higher in­comes and in­creased up­ward mo­bil­ity than in gen­er­a­tions past. And spend­ing among this group has shifted be­yond the ba­sics or ne­ces­si­ties to spend­ing on as­pi­ra­tional life­style items in an econ­omy now ex­plod­ing with con­sumer goods and lux­ury brands.

While In­dia’s so­ci­etal bias to­wards tra­di­tional ed­u­ca­tional struc­tures has not di­min­ished, it has been em­brac­ing a “STEM to STEAM” tran­si­tion where Art and De­sign are now con­sid­ered just as crit­i­cal to in­no­va­tion and www.dqin­ 31

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