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India has created the wrong skill pipeline: Arun Maira, Former Planning Commission member

12 May 2021

India’s planners and policy makers have erred with the skill development programme by asking the industry what skills they want, according to Mr Mr Arun Maira – Former Member of the Planning Commission and Former India Chairman of Boston Consulting. “We have set up the wrong skill pipeline for the future,” he says, adding that the industry has never been very good at predicting the future and the young people need to learn to learn in an uncertain world and not learn what is currently short in supply.

Mr Maira was speaking about his new book ‘A Billion Fireflies - Critical Conversations to Shape a New Post-pandemic World’ at AIMA’s 42nd LeaderSpeak programme. The session was moderated by Mr Harsh Pati Singhania – President AIMA and Director, J K Organisation and Vice Chairman & Managing Director, JK Paper Ltd and anchored by Ms Rekha Sethi, Director General, AIMA.

Mr Singhania raised the issue of the need for reviewing the existing assumptions and practices in business and governance following the experience of covid crisis. “The crisis has revealed the need for more government, not less, to build public health systems and to strengthen social security for all citizens. It has also revealed the vital role that the private sector and innovation can play, as shown in the development of the new vaccine to fight the virus,” he said.

Mr Maira said that covid has not only been a crisis of health and the economy but also of governance, of organizing people. “We require our leaders to build a system so that we don’t have the same crisis again,” he said. He cited Albert Einstein who had argued against trying to solve problems with the same methods that had created those problems in the first place.

Mr Maira said that the world needs to learn from the virus which has made impact on a huge scale without anybody controlling it from the top. “Solutions have to be found locally and laterally and we need system leaders, not system controllers,” he said.

Arguing against top down approach to governance, Mr Maira said that different experts had recommended government action during covid based only based on their narrow domain view, without understanding the impact of their recommendation on the larger system. That is why lockdown and vaccination have produced unintended side-effects, he said.

Most of the countries that have managed both the covid and the economically have bottom-up policy making and most of them are headed by women, Mr Maira pointed out. He gave the example of New Zealand, Finland, Bangladesh, Taiwan and Denmark - all led by women - as the success stories of the covid crisis.

Talking about the need for restructuring the economy for sustainable growth, Mr Maira said that society has created companies with full rights as citizens but with the legal obligation to serve only their owners. The people who work companies create wealth which is meant to be used exclusively by the owners as they see it fit, and that needs to change because wealth is getting choked in one part of the system, he said.

Trickle down of wealth via tax, CSR and philanthropy is not working, Mr Maira argued. He pointed out that the wealthy tell the the government not to tax more, as it would prevent them from creating wealth while the 2% CSR obligation was fulfilled after creating 100% of the revenue by damaging environment and health. He also questioned philanthropy’s utility, as the beneficiaries had no say in what it should be used for and how. “Just give money to the people to build their capacity,” he recommended.

GDP alone, according to Mr Maira, is a poor measure of economic success. He argued that a single number can never capture the health of an economy and suggested use of broader parameters to measure economic success. He complimented SEBI for asking the top 1000 listed companies to file Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) on voluntary basis. “We need real business responsibility, not 2% CSR,” Mr Maira said.

The session was also streamed live on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, and it was attended by about 850 business leaders, executives and students.

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