Tuesday, 5 April 2016

ERR in India

A team of three spent almost a month in India to find out how is it possible, that a country, best known for it’s contrasts and inequality in its society, is becoming the fastest growing economy in the world. The analysis of the topic and everything we personally experienced visiting the country will be brought to you as a documentary film in the autumn of 2016 by a cameraman Mustafa Celik, director Gert Kark and the author of the film Eeva Esse.

A former part of British Empire, regained independence in 1947, India has 29 states that differ by language, culture, living standards, religions etc. But India’s diversity often conceals its underlying unity. Despite not having decent infrastructure of roads and railways for proper connectivity, India has covered the whole country with mobile internet and also plans to cover the land with broadband internet. This makes it possible for more than 1,2 billion people living in India to be connected to each other and with public sector service providers via internet.

The focus of our film lays in the boom of technology sector in the last 20 years, which followed the economic liberalisation in 1991. However, the country still faces tough challenges of poverty, malnutrition, corruption, inadequate public healthcare and education. Our documentary aims to show how the progress in the technology sector could also reach the problematic areas and help to decrease inequality in India’s society and generate wealth in different sectors.

We started our exploration from the South Indian city Chennai, formerly known as Madras. As we decided to show how technology has the power to improve the lives of poor people, we chose ride sharing technology platform Uber as an example of it. We got acquainted with an Uber driver in Chennai and drove around with him for several days. He told us his story, that coming from a poor background and no potential to improve his living standards, Uber is now giving him the opportunity to rent a car from them and earn the best salary he has ever got for any job. He is now able to pay back his loans, also pay for his living and provide education for his children. Since Uber was launched in India in 2014, it can be said that the company has changed the life for tens of thousands of its drivers, by giving them well-paid jobs.

Our ambition was to get the best overview and analysis about the struggles the Indian society is facing and what part technology is playing in solving those problems. This means that we had to find people who literally know the anatomy of Indian technology development during the last decades. For that we had to travel to India’s start-up capital city Bengaluru, situated also in the southern part of the country; and after that of course the capital itself, New Delhi. In those cities we managed to meet up with some world-renowned IT industry grandees, the founders of one of the biggest software engineering company Infosys - Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani. Both of them have retired from the company’s everyday management, but are still active in the IT innovation field. Mr Murthy is considered to be the father of Indian IT industry and nowadays a great visionary who is attending summits all over the world. The same goes about Mr Nilekani, who has developed the cloud-based identity system, which is far more innovative than, for example, the ID-cards we use in Estonia. The idea itself, as he told us, to have innovative system for governing, came from Estonia. But this man took a step further and started a system which identifies the person by scanning his or her eye retina. There should be about billion Indians who are already registered in the system. The cloud-based retina-scanning system also means that the registered person has to own a smart phone to identification oneself when using public sector services for example. The same system is also needed to open up a bank account, which is also comparatively new service in India. This kind of innovation in e-governing is brought to action in order to decrease corruption in the public sector and at the same time it is once again a great example how technology is something that the people of India need to have in their pockets to keep up with their daily lives.

What is interesting with the technological development is that half of the population is under the age of 25, which will make it the youngest country in the world in the near future. This makes India a rapidly growing market and especially for tech-gadgets, smartphones in particular. This factor alongside the proper internet access has brought India to the point, that if you do not have a smartphone for your everyday actions, then you basically do not exist. And there is a tough competition between tech companies for the title - who can produce the cheapest smartphone available? Growing demand in this field is more than certain.

During our stay in Bengaluru and New Delhi we also met some other great minds, when it comes to big time investment in innovation together with a touch of social awareness. Mr Pramod Bhasin, founder of multinational tech company Genpact and Mr Saurabh Srivastava, the head of Angel Investor Network in India, are men who have made a fortune in the IT industry, but are giving much effort nowadays in matters of finance and knowledge altogether to make India stronger and more educated via technology.

Last stop for us was Chennai again, where we visited local slums to get the real experience when it comes to the contrast between the much spoken two India - the India with astounding poverty alongside the modern India. In the Nochikuppam slum, we saw the phenomenon with our own eyes. Most people living there have to manage their lives under 2 dollars per day, which is a clear sign that they live in utmost poverty. But what caught our sight was that technology is accessible even for them. Those people, living in the poorest conditions imaginable, have smartphones to connect with the world, gather information and make their lives easier. For example, it is financially complicated for them to educate their children, but technology again gives solution for this matter. There are countless free smartphone apps for educational purposes and made exactly for people who don’t have enough finance for schooling their children or even themselves.

All this mentioned before reflects the steps India has made to break through the image we tend to have about it. In some parts it has been possible with the help from abroad, from European Union funds to decrease the poverty for example, but also with the technological know-how the country has developed together with the demographic situation we can see nowadays. But many steps are needed to be taken in the future. And these are the steps needed in the process of “becoming the first”.

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