Learning from Sam Pitroda. He believes in "disruptive technology," has a "I Can Fit it" attitude, is constantly trying to find ways to shake things up and "connecting" people remains his driving passion. Innovation, creativity and problem solving are his mantras while routine, structure and respect for status quo are attributes he never abided by. That is Sam in brief.
In the recently concluded Gujarat campaign, I had the privilege to work and learn from none other than the legendary Sam Pitroda, popularly known as "Sam". The context was the drafting of the "People's Manifesto" which was envisioned as an outreach to the common people to listen, absorb and incorporate the voice of the people in the Congress campaign.
It is while traveling across Gujarat, while sitting at a breakfast table or while simply listening to him talk to people at large, that I gleaned some key learning's which I want to share in this article as I believe they have relevance outside of politics, outside of Gujarat, in fact indeed a relevance that spans geographies, demographics and ideologies.
According to Sam, "The World needs to be redesigned!"
The paradigm that the world lives in today was founded post World War 2. This paradigm was founded on basic tenets of democracy, nation states, superpowers, economic imperialism, individualism, capitalism, consumption, multi-nationals and war. Over the past nearly 7 decades, many of these tenets as well as institutions that were created to uphold them, have become outdated or dysfunctional. As per Sam, the world needs to be redesigned on Gandhian ideals of freedom, global community, a multi-polar world, bottom up development, respect for tradition, family values and a sense of community.
In this transition he believes that India can play a leading role as many of these value systems are embodied in the everyday life of Indians. While democracy has been reduced to elections and elections to the machinations of the privileged, crony capitalism in turn has led to massive inequalities and adverse impact to environment as well as to traditional communities.
In the coming decades some of these imperfections can be corrected through some of the BIG IDEAS that were shared by Sam as illustrated below:
Economic of Scarcity to Economics of Abundance
Many of the developing and under-developed economies of the world are caught in what Sam calls the "Economics of Scarcity". People as well as institutions in many of these societies have a mindset of scarcity where despite having achieved self-sustenance and even abundance, scarcity still prevails as a whole, as people with privileges tend to hoard resources both tangible and intangible, much beyond their justifiable needs, thus leaving the society worse off as a whole.
Even the institutions and pressure groups are focused on cornering resources for their specific groups in the form of reservations, quotas etc. To overcome this, these societies, its people and its institutions need to move from the Economics of Scarcity to the Economics of Abundance wherein instead of reservation in the job market, the thinking needs to shift to job creation where there is a job for everyone. People need to develop a sense of community and becomes job creators instead of job seekers.
Its better to have 1000 people with 1 crore each than 1 person with 1000 crores
As per Sam, the gross income and wealth inequalities prevalent in developed as well as developing economies, needs to be overcome to truly realize the collective potential of a society. Equitable distribution of community resources, equal opportunity to all and focus on small and medium scale entrepreneurs instead of just mega corporations are the key to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth.
Democratization of information
Access to timely and accurate information is one of the levers to human and societal development. Thus one of the key priorities of any progressive society is to ensure easy access to information for all its citizens.
Knowledge as a key resource
Though there was broad international acknowledgement that the world had reached a stage where knowledge was displacing capital as the key resource required for progress, institutional mechanisms to support this reality are not in place, especially in developing societies. A first step was taken in this direction when the National Knowledge Commission, was constituted on 13 June 2005, by the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh with Sam Pitroda as its Chairman.
The National Knowledge Commission was a high-level advisory body to the Prime Minister of India, with the objective of transforming India into a knowledge society. It was charged with considering possible policies that might sharpen India's comparative advantage in the knowledge-intensive service sectors.
Such initiatives need to be continued despite regime changes as future ready societies need to be knowledge societies built on foundations of access to knowledge, creation of knowledge, a knowledge network and application of this knowledge.
Sam Pitroda is known for disruptive innovations.
As per Sam, while India needs more innovation, it does not have to be the 'western kind'. Real Indian innovation continues to be low-cost tweaks at the bottom of the pyramid, or, to use a word Indians love, "jugaad". Instead of looking down on Indian innovation i.e. "jugaad", We need to take the same, "Fix it" thinking behind every "jugaad" and move from incremental changes to non-linear, breakthrough innovations, not just for solving the country's complex problems, but also for creating a far more equitable and inclusive society.
Sam Pitroda's driving passion continues to be connecting people, be it through telephone or through Internet. Sam truly believes that if we connect people and allow free flow of ideas, innovations will happen.
In conclusion, as I look back at all that I learnt from Sam, a line that he repeated often to us, and one that he embodies, has stayed with me like a talisman:
The best brains are busy solving problems of the rich who really do not have a problem and as a result the problems of the poor do not get the right talent. Problems of the poor demand focus on affordability, scalability and sustainability.
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