'Emerging Trends & Open Spaces in Agritech': The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation presents riveting discussion on farmer-centric innovation - The Daily Guardian
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‘Emerging Trends & Open Spaces in Agritech’: The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation presents riveting discussion on farmer-centric innovation

The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation presented an unmissable discussion on ‘Emerging Trends & Open Spaces in Agritech’ with an aim to spark farmer-centric innovation that improves the economic, social, and environmental outcomes and increase incomes of small and marginal farmers in Indian Agriculture.

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The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation presented an unmissable discussion on ‘Emerging Trends & Open Spaces in Agritech’ with an aim to spark farmer-centric innovation that improves the economic, social, and environmental outcomes and increase income of small and marginal farmers  in Indian Agriculture. NewsX was joined by the expert panel which included Anil Kumar SG, Founder & CEO, Samunnati, Mark Kahn, Managing Partner, Omnivore and Sudha Srinivasan, CEO, The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation. The event was moderated by Priya Sahgal, Senior Executive Editor at ITV Network.

In an attempt to build a better future for our farmers and focusing on especially the small, marginal and women farmer, Sudha Srinivasan, CEO, The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation kickstarted the conversation and said “We started off with the mission to launch and nurture India’s top talent to solve our most critical developmental challenges. There are so many social problems that technology can disrupt in particular, standing out as that space where more than half of India’s poor are engaged in some form of agriculture. The pathways out of poverty see roadblocks in the form of social norms and technology has the potential to disrupt this. Technology can reduce the volume of inputs that go into the soil, which in turn, later translates to the ability of the farmer to sell, while meeting the standards of fuel density of pesticides, or whatever, that’s preventing them from accessing, the range of possibilities was very, very wide. But unfortunately, as you look at active investments in the last few years, a lot of it is customer and consumer proximity. This is almost a void in the farmer-centric space, that puts the farmer at the centre, making their livelihood important.”

Mark Kahn, Managing Partner, Omnivore expressed his views on trends in agri-tech both India and globally. “The amount of investment coming into agriculture annually, tech startups annually in India was $15 million a year. This past 12 month period, we’ve probably crossed $600 million. So it’s been up into the right over the course of the last decade, it is definitely better than it was earlier. When we talk about kind of the trends that we’re seeing globally and in India. What I would say is that the global agri-tech is very different from for an Indian agri-tech. I actually think Indian Agri tech is in some ways better positioned. The defining characteristic of Indian agriculture is the fact that you have 130 million farmers farming in an average landholding up just slightly more. No other nation in the world really has that. If you think about all the debates we’re having from a policy perspective, about our Mandi system, our dairy economy which instead of working with large dairy farms, like everywhere else in the world. The biggest trend that we see in Indian agriculture is digital outreach. We now have the ability to build a base layer to reach all of these disparate groups and that is not to say that every farmer has a smartphone they don’t. If we take one of our portfolio companies they have as an example and is reaching now about six lakh farmer. We at Omnivore say Profitability, sustainability and resilience are the three big challenges faced by Indian agriculture.”

Talking about how agri-tech is helping the small and marginal farmers and addressing the access to technology for the small farmers, Anil Kumar SG, Founder & CEO, Samunnati said “The moment one get into agriculture and talk about smallholder farmers the number one dimension is the smallholder which is where the rubber meets the road. The second dimension is the sector as a whole to the expanse of what agriculture is, as a sector. Now, making the horizontal and vertical is where the entire benefit to the smallholder farmer would have to operate. Before getting into how technology is going to help the farmer I’ll digress a little bit and also share what is declining. I completely agree with both Sudha and Mark and saying that things have changed significantly in the last few years, especially in the last five years. In addition to the capital inflows that Mark mentioned, the entire agriculture ecosystem is seeing the buoyancy: an ecosystem level, not only the entrepreneurial side that we are seeing but also the kind of enablers that the ecosystem is seeing has not been absorbed, because I have spent about 21 years of my professional experience in banking in the rural area. Things have changed significantly in the last five years in addition to the capital inflows. There is a lot of energy in the ecosystem. The moment you see this energy in the ecosystem, there are two dimensions. One is each one of us is several of the entities that are operating in this space and are looking at addressing one or two critical parts of this ecosystem agriculture. On the vertical capital, somebody is looking at satellite imagery in terms of monitoring and there are also entities which are looking at horizontally. How can we be aggregators of all of these individual interactions? The collaboration of this horizontal and vertical is what will bring technology on its way. You take the benefit of technology, the attribution and the result of the technology contributing 200 rupees in their pocket is an important message. How can technology translate into an upliftment in the livelihood is the single largest factor that will determine the adoption rates? The beauty of an ecosystem being active would also mean the smallholder farmer could adopt these technologies. There are players who can also play the role of making these technologies.”

Throwing light on funding and the early stages of the incubation and how they prove over the years, Anil Kumar SG said “The other way of looking at it is the number of integrations that have mushroomed. If you see the lifecycle of an entity, reaching up to a stage of being able to get seed funding, there is incubation and plan to touch the incubators. There is proof of concept and there is production capability and demonstrating a reasonable scale is when you get into the equity space. And the same thing CAG report also talks about more than 2000 startups in agriculture in various forms and shapes. From a banker point of view when there is some distance to cover and there is a significant gap that is actually not in the equity funding at the seed stage but it isn’t working capital. There are many entities which don’t need equity but need working capital to be able to deploy their solution product or technology to the intended users. Some of these entities really struggle because the way a debt fund that looks at is still very traditional and still very rudimentary. They would basically look at the percentage of the activity, financial returns and profitability, so on and so forth. But the technology and agriculture space itself is very young. You cannot expect a technology company in agriculture to have demonstrated a vintage of deploying their operations and showing sustainable financial records that’s not available yet.”

“Through our platform, Samaarambh launched on 15 Aug 2020 Samunnati helps Agri startups and Agtech enterprises boost and scale operations with the expertise of industry experts and mentors across the agricultural ecosystem,” added Anil. 

Mark Kahn added to this and said “My general reaction to all of this one should see what 2012 looked like, or 2016, or 2018. It is far, far easier today for an agrotech startup to get funded than it has ever been in the history of funding Agri tech startups. A lot of the money that is going into space is for the ones but that by definition, right, given the sort of logarithmic nature of funding is going to be how that plays out right when your typical seed check is $2 million. t I still think that means not just the volume of funding it’s also the count the number of teams.”

Sudha who comes from the field of socio-entrepreneur said “One thing to note is the changing demographic of rural India. There’s a generational shift, far more farmers today are digitally illiterate have aspirations beyond doing what their parents did. The pandemic also showed us the exodus from the urban centres back to the villages, I think, although a lot of them might come back. We still need to look at India’s development in a more distributed manner that reduces the dependence on the urban centres and revitalizes rural economies. Agriculture already is the labour of the sector. Right. For me, the single biggest whitespace is the opportunity in near farm industries, something that goes beyond the activity of sowing tilling reaping harvesting and kind of get beyond that to expand additional revenue streams for the farming communities. Being agency in a manner where the transfer of ownership from the farmer to the next player in the value chain can happen at a later stage and that’s how you capture the value that one saves by eliminating the middle layers between farm and consumer. And a lot of that is about building capacity building skills, particularly entrepreneurial skills on the government side of things, a lot of rural livelihood missions have put in place structure but then also village-level organizations and institutional structures beyond that roll up all the way to the SRLM, which is a wonderful vehicle to build this capacity. Transformation overall beyond a change in agriculture as a sector is poised for some very radical shifts and innovations, I think, active entrepreneurs have an amazing role to play, to bring to fructify that and make this whole thing, respond to the calls of a triple bottom line, where one, of course, see huge economic returns but also see positive social outcomes and long term environmental outcomes.”

Responding to what else can be done to encourage farmer-centric startups financially, Anil Kumar said “Before getting into how we can encourage financially I also we want to bring in the demand now the transitory role that technology can bring to it is changing the visual of what agriculture would mean.  The moment you say a farmer, and agriculture, we get the visual that of drudgery and impoverished farming family, not making much end, not getting a fair deal of what they’re producing and at the receiving end of everything. How can we make technology drive the youngsters into agriculture and can we transition this visual to young generation working with the gadgets? In his farm, happy children running around, they know, life around and mechanization happening, and making a productive yield out of agriculture. And the bridge to these two worlds is technology, and this technology would also be the incentive and could also be the catalyst for youngsters to move from a physical directory which is what agriculture is in an actual sense to a high tech farming, which is where our country is moving on.”

In terms of the labour, there is the looming fear of layoffs with the coming of more technology and in the rural area is a much more viable concern. Sudha addressing said “Drudgery reduction should not be seen as layoffs. For the simple reason that one wouldn’t say that if we were talking about manual scavenging. Mass entrepreneurship across the country in every sector and particularly in the agricultural sector is really promising to be the ground up stimulus that one needs.”

On a concluding note the three experts mentioned their priotity list and the role that they see different stakeholders playing in order to make agriculture more innovative get a better ecosystem in place.  Mark Kahn said ” I would like the government to create a standard set of rules that they stick with inorder to stabilize and allow an enabling environment that lets people make long term investments and decisions. I would like Indian agri corporates to behave as partnersand  not predators and actually work with startups, rather than trying to get them or copy them. I would like universities to recognize that agriculture is not just say, 15% of the GDP but when we take all of the agribusiness associated with agriculture or we take all of the food processing, the logistics, the financing, the insurance, everything that goes along with it, we’re talking about a quarter of our economy and half our population and appropriately focus on that, with respect to the directions that they’re pushing young people because honestly, if we don’t get this right, India doesn’t have the future. Also I would like venture capitals which I increasingly believe is happening to see the opportunity in this space and support it.”

Anil Kumar focusing on innovation and tech said “I would say, many more integrative approaches and models that integrate wonderful work that is happening. I would also see some shining examples of farmer collectives if one or more can inspire this country for the good. The potential in this particular form of farmer collectives represents is a significant opportunity that we have on how do we harness this opportunity, how do we harvest this opportunity is important. Well functioning cooperatives, is an important dimension, and a lot of policy focus would also mean many support structures coming in. How do we as private sector players participate, and how do we as private sector players get the equal opportunity from the policymakers to participate to be an important dimension, because we have to appreciate that. Now, it’s just not that the state or the public sector, the private sector also can play a significant role in making these services reach the smallholder farmer.”

Focusing on the betterment of lives and equality, Sudha said  “The principles of free markets have helped every other sector. And agriculture almost feels like a sector that has been kept away from. And I’m hoping you know that will change soon and enable a certain vibrancy to come from large numbers of players committing to look at the livelihood of farming and enhancing it. The second thing I have on my wish list is for entrepreneurs to peel the onion in agriculture a lot more. I think intuitively sitting in a relatively privileged cosy urban environments where a lot of flattened innovation particularly happens with entrepreneurs that have solved problems in other sectors and are starting to look at agriculture. You intuitively think it’s about market linkages or just getting a better price for the farmer, removing the middleman right and you kind of start peeling the onion a little bit and hit very foundational bottlenecks in terms of land use patterns. Mark mentioned the small land holding itself being a barrier tenancy and the problems that come with it, the dependence on informal loans. That in turn later downstream you to the informal money lender, in terms of where your produce goes, access to other markets being cut out because of that. Gender issues as well come into play as so much of farming is done by women. but so little ownership of property and land is with them. Foundational issues that keep the cycle of poverty perpetuating even though opportunities open up are important to solve as well. In the medium term at least if not in the immediate future I hope some of the innovation could be directed to these. And that could kind of script a very equitable pathway to prosperity and kind of reduce the inequalities we are seeing across the country.”

Watch the entire telecast here:

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NCPCR going to check beggars’ kids for substance abuse in Chandigarh

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The National Commission For Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is going to check beggars’ kids for substance abuse. On 26 July 2021, NCPCR is going to instruct Chandigarh Administration to utilise all mediums to check beggars’ kids for substance abuse using medical tests in case required. This whole program would be managed under the recently launched Joint Action Plan (JAP), in which the Narcotics Control Bureau, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Education are actively involved as stakeholders. NCPCR is going to start such initiatives under JAP across India.

NCPCR has identified 272 such vulnerable districts across the nation where State stakeholders would extensively work on Children who are substance abused and would wean away drugs from their lives while adopting various mediums. A recent study by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment identified 4.6 lakh children in the country who are addicted to inhalants, the only category of substance in which the prevalence was higher among children than among adults. The five states with the highest prevalence of inhalant abuse among children were Uttar Pradesh (94,000 children), Madhya Pradesh (50,000 children), Maharashtra (40,000 children), Delhi (38,000 children), and Haryana (35,000 children).

Priyank Kanoongo, Chairperson of NCPCR told The Daily Guardian, “We introduced to have exclusive De-addiction and Rehabilitation Facilities for Children in 272 Vulnerable Districts. The MoSJE shall expedite the process to establish exclusive de-addiction facilities meant for children. However, if there are any constraints or lack of space, a separate portion in the existing facility has to be identified and partitioned for the children. Also, there has to be a provision of separate toilets; and safety and security of children have to be ensured.”

“The action plan mandates that ‘Prahari Clubs’’ be set up in schools in collaboration with Gandhi Smriti Darshan Samiti, in which children will discuss issues related to drug abuse and become monitors of the abuse,” he added.

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TECHNOLOGY WILL BE A KEY PART OF FASHION INDUSTRY’S GROWTH: SUNAINA KWATRA

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Fashion & lifestyle leader Sunaina Kwatra spoke to NewsX India A-List about doing business during the pandemic, the impact of technology in the fashion industry and more. Sunaina has proven expertise in international retail management, brand positioning, and turnaround execution. She has almost 20 years of work experience, the majority of which has been leading fashion brands at the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesey (LVMH) group in the Asia Pacific. Sunaina began her career as an entrepreneur in the homeware and lifestyle industry working with retailers in the United States including Barneys New York and Pottery Barn. She pivoted into luxury fashion brand management after completing her MBA and has held strategic positions to expand and reposition brands within LVMH’s Asia Pacific portfolio.

In her most recent role, Sunaina was the country head of Louis Vuitton in India and legal director for all operations in the country. She was responsible for developing and expanding Louis Vuitton’s omnichannel retail operations, people and brand equity in this high growth market. She successfully led her team to achieve the highest sales, client experience and brand growth that had ever been achieved for the brand.

Excerpts:

Q. Tell us more about your background and how your Indian roots brought you back to India?

A. I’m from Thailand. I am ethnically Indian but fourth generation, born and brought up in Thailand. I was very blessed to have an international upbringing. I have worked in five continents, travelled extensively. My last few roles have been within the LVMH group based out of Hong Kong.

My first role within the group was as the Regional Head of Asia Pacific for Emilio Pucci. In this role, I managed the entire scope of the brand’s direct retail business in Hong Kong and China as well as franchise, department store and multi-brand distribution in the Asia Pacific. My next role within the LVMH group was as the Commercial Director for Givenchy to identify and execute growth strategies to maximise brand development and repositioning. In my tenure, I oversaw 61 locations, opened 24 stores in line with the brand vision and improved productivity across the network. When they offered me the position to come back to India to amplify the Louis Vuitton business in India, I was thrilled at the opportunity and I am very proud of all we did to build the business and our team in India.

Q. What are the tools that have allowed you to succeed?

A. While growing up my father always said that travel is the best form of education. I had a very international education in Asia, Australia, and Europe and have worked in five continents. This allows me to be sensitive to people and cultures while executing different strategies to grow businesses. I am a commercially driven leader and am passionate about people and delivering excellence. My general management and end-to-end experience overseeing teams, networks, finance, logistics, merchandising, client development, and marketing allow me to be detail-oriented yet see and set the big picture.

Q. What have we learned in retail during the Covid-19 pandemic?

A. The biggest learning is that we have to embrace e-commerce and the online experience. The word ‘omnichannel’ was a buzzword a decade ago. I think successful businesses during the pandemic had to integrate different methods of shopping available to consumers. You have had to expand the supply chain through localities, fulfilment centres or direct consumers. E-commerce has been a key to successful businesses in the pandemic. Businesses had to be agile and responsive to different means of reaching consumers. The lockdown has also led to less physical interaction with consumers. Brands have had to re-think the consumer experience and how they engage with clients. The big thing is how we engage with clients in a number of different ways.

Q. How do you think technology will impact the fashion industry in the future?

A. Technology will be a key part of the growth of the fashion industry. Coming out of the pandemic, sustainable materials are important and a key focus for a lot of brands. Opting for materials that are good for the environment as well as good for us: non-toxic and more breathable. We know that there are now going to be ways to bridge e-commerce and the successful physical presence of stores. We can have VRs, augmented reality to help you try out clothing; jewellery, fashion and many brands have done it successfully. Just the engagement of technology and digitisation is the key to the success and supply chain management. This is an exciting time for us and technology will enable future growth in retail.

Q. What advice would you give to business owners in India as we come out of second Covid-19 wave?

A. I am sitting in the US right now and we are starting to see lines in retail stores again. People really want to embrace human connection. I would just like to say that there is hope and light. I hope that businesses now use this time to strategise and further activate their omnichannels, integrate, and improve their e-commerce presence, engage with their communities on social media platforms and really use technology to enhance the supply chain and logistics to better prepare them for the future.

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Time out: Yoga asanas amid busy work meetings

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Work from home means longer working hours, with more emails and even more work meetings. Attending those long back to back video calls can be boring, hectic, and it definitely makes your body stiff and sore due to long sitting hours at the work desk. It also affects your focus and productivity. Obviously, how can one properly concentrate while in pain? However, a little movement and stretching in between busy work meetings can save you from unwanted mind and body stress.

On International Self-Care Day, let’s decide to prioritise a healthy lifestyle amid busy schedules. 

Try these simple yoga asanas that you can do while sitting on your chair or while standing in between breaks:

1. GARUDASANA

This asana can be done while sitting on a chair or while standing. It is a great shoulder and upper back opener. It also works towards removing stiffness from the lower body as well. Remember to repeat this asana on both sides.

STEPS

· Sit up tall on the chair with your spine erect and feet flat on the floor 

· Bring both your hands together, elbows touching each other. Take the right arm around the left and bring it around so both palms are facing each other

· Lift your right leg and place it over your left thigh, tucking your right toes around the left calf

· Gaze straight and breathe normally. Remove the bind to come out of the pose

· Repeat on the other side 

2. SITTING SIDE BENDS 

Sitting at the desk for a long time can make the upper body very stiff. Hence, it is important to engage in some simple movements like side bends.

This pose can also be performed while sitting on a chair or hile standing.

STEPS

· Sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight and feet flat on the ground

· Inhale, raise both your arms up in the air and palms facing each other 

· As you exhale, take your right arm over your head, stretching it over to the left

· Simultaneously, bring your left arm down to the right side

· Breathe normally, feeling the stretch in your right-hand side of the body

· Hold this pose for 30 seconds

· Repeat on the other side 

3. TADASANA 

This is one of the most simple and effective poses. It is beneficial for overall health. It helps with aligning body posture, relieves back pain, increases focus, and balance.

STEPS

· Stand straight on the floor and keep a small gap between your feet

· Inhale and raise both your arms

· Interlock your fingers and stretch your arms upwards

· Now come on your toes, raising your heels 

· Feel the stretch in the sides of your body and be in this pose for a few seconds

· Release your arms and come down on your heels

4.  SHOULDER OPENER

This is an excellent stretch for the shoulders as well as the upper back. This stretch not only helps with stiff shoulders but also calms the mind as you fold forward.

STEPS

· Sit comfortably on the chair with your feet flat on the floor

· Take your arms behind your back, interlacing your fingers 

· Bend your torso forward, bringing your hands over your head, straightening it as much as possible

· You can place your head on your lap if that’s comfortable or else, just gaze towards the floor 

· Be gentle and know your limit 

Remember to do deep breathing during these asanas. It will help you relax and destress. Take out at least a few minutes every day to rejuvenate and recharge yourself.

The writer is a Yoga Instructor at SARVA.

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WORLD ORDER AND INDIA: NEGOTIATING THUCYDIDES TRAP & GREAT CONVERGENCE

Standing as a gateway between Western hegemony and Chinese authoritarianism, India holds a global promise that is much more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, and economic growth-centric.

Rudra P. Pradhan

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Harvard Professor Graham Alison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’ and Geneva School of Economics Professor Richard Baldwin’s ‘Great Convergence’ are two dominant geopolitical perspectives today that guide and capture current global geopolitical transitions and turbulence of our times. Thucydides Trap and Great Convergence are recent propositions. There is, however, a very interesting third perspective too that was prophesied back in 1940s by former Director of London School of Economics, Sir Halford John Mackinder. 

Mackinder’s perspective centred around the imagination and theoretical construct of China and India rising to world centre stage. Back in 1943, Mackinder, writing the last article of his life, prophesied that “the Monsoon Lands of India and China holding a thousand million people of ancient oriental civilisation will grow to prosperity and balance the remaining great geographical regions.” Mackinder further added, “They will then balance the other thousand million who live between the Missouri (River in the USA) and the Yenisei (Russian River).  A balanced globe of human beings, and happy, because balanced and thus free.” In the midst of the World War II, Mackinder wrote this piece at the request of Foreign Policy magazine and imagined a great geopolitical turning point emerging from the Asian highlands where China and India shall hold and define the thread of international geopolitical balance. 

After over 75 years of Mackinder’s hypothesis, while China’s rise has greatly ruptured the global power balance and distorted world order today, the rise of India into the world stage offers an alternative narrative. Away from the communist jingoism and carefully balanced from Western political prescriptions, India, as Mackinder imagined, has indeed emerged as the largest democratic polity in the world with a world view that is entirely native of India and flows from the civilisational values of the subcontinent while being organic in character and symbiotic with larger aspirations of the world.

RISING MULTIPLEX WORLD ORDER

Bretton Woods system is under great stress today symbolising a visible decline of American eminence in international affairs. The United Nations — the largest organ of Bretton Woods — is unable to respond to conflict situations in Syria, Afghanistan, Crimea, South China Sea dispute, terrorism, and radicalism issues. Demand for UN reform is quite rightfully growing. Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) emerging as new frontiers of conflict, newer security alignments and counter alignments like QUAD, joint military exercises like Malabar and MILAN, Sea Guardian et al are new strategic security experimentations. Given Chinese infrastructure investments in several Island Chain countries, long-neglected Island nations have suddenly emerged as critical investment destinations and phenomena of Island shopping by big powers. 

Bretton Woods financial architecture is also under stress. BRICS Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are seen as alternatives to World Bank. While the dollarised world economy is threatened by the Eurozone, cryptocurrencies, and the Chinese digital Yuan, the international trade regime is vacillating between trade liberalism and aspiration for protectionism. New players and economic clusters demanding and competing for power and influence, it’s new world order of pluralism and multipolarity which Professor Amitav Acharya captures as phenomena of multiplex world order. While the political analysts from Robert Keohane to Joseph Nye, and Kishore Mahbubani et al are largely in agreement with the multiplex world order hypothesis, economists have far too matured explanations of this change and the change drivers. 

GREAT CONVERGENCE HYPOTHESIS

‘Thucydides Trap’ sensitises all of us of a visible war. Baldwin’s ‘Great Convergence’ hypothesis on the other hand squarely simplifies this puzzle. Baldwin argues that a fundamental shift in the world’s mode of production has occurred leading to the emergence of wealth in many parts of the world — a critical structural shift. Baldwin calls it as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ where North American and Western European capital has integrated with cheap labour in China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Vietnam et al. The net result — the erstwhile capitalist block is rendered de-industrialised and at their cost and expense, several countries of the world have become wealthier and correspondingly aspirational too. Knowledge economy and its critical arsenals like AI, algorithm, big data, digital currency, and decision tree et al have become new factors of production. 

While China took great advantage of this shifting mode of production to build the Chinese economic power and its corresponding geopolitical influence and ambition, several other countries like India, East Asian countries, Brazil, and Mexico et al also prospered as growing economic powers. Goldman Sachs former Chairman Jim O’Neill spotted this transition and coined the BRIC acronym in 2001. Baldwin called this a phenomenon of ‘Great Convergence’ that led to the pluralisation of the wealth of the world which was earlier limited to industrialised G-7 countries only. Several cluster economies like BRICS, ASEAN, and EU et al also emerged as sovereign country clubs to share the benefit of this change and better negotiate their fortune and influence.   

INDIA AS A SWING STATE

Meanwhile, Richard Fontaine and Daniel Kliman’s hypothesis of ‘Global Swing States’ is yet another explanation that captures countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey as the possible Swing States of the world and its transition. Global Swing States, as Fontaine and Kliman would see, are those nations that possess large and growing economies, occupy central positions in a region or stand at the hinge or gateways of multiple regions, and embrace democratic governments at home. They are increasingly active, aspirational, and desire changes in the existing international order. They greatly represent the aspirations of the developing countries that were systematically marginalised in the Bretton Woods arrangement.

DOES INDIA OFFER THE WAY?

India, in many ways, offers a very proactive and positive way forward towards a smooth transition of international order. In spite of being a nuclear power, India traditionally has downplayed military adventurism or musclemanship in foreign policy practice and choices. As a country of civilisational value order, India champions participatory and inclusive international governance order. While India’s democratic polity is an assured global value, as a critical representative of developing countries’ aspirations, India symbolises consensus than conflict. Since 1947, India has always advocated respect for territorial sovereignty for all nations and demanded strategic autonomy for itself in foreign policy choices. As the second-largest global market, India boasts of a huge labour force and attracts much more global interest than all other Swing States put together. In the Indo-Pacific Sea lanes, India talks of rule-based governance and ‘security and growth for all’ — a cooperative development module than predatory hegemony. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, India acted as a benevolent vaccines supplier than monopolising or profiting out of the crisis. 

India characteristically holds a ‘goodwill value’ which is beneficial to the world at large. While Mackinder imaginatively predicted the rise of China, he was equally apprehensive of the rise of ‘Yellow Barbarian’ and anticipated that the rise of India shall beneficially balance the world order. Standing as a gateway between Western hegemony and Chinese authoritarianism, India, undoubtedly, holds a global promise that is much more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, and economic growth-centric.

Rudra P. Pradhan is an Associate Professor at the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, BITS Pilani, KK Birla Goa Campus and serves as a Distinguished Fellow, Political Economy at Centre for Public Policy (CPPR), Kerala.

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Fashion & lifestyle leader Sunaina Kwatra advises on changing modes of doing business in pandemic

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Sunaina Kwatra

Fashion & lifestyle leader Sunaina Kwatra speaks exclusively to NewsX India A-List on a host of issues including doing business during the pandemic, impact of technology in fashion industry and the future of luxury inc.

Sunaina has proven expertise in international retail management, brand positioning, and turnaround execution. She has almost 20 years work experience, the majority of which has been leading fashion brands at the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesey (LVMH) group in Asia Pacific. Sunaina began her career as an entrepreneur in the homeware and lifestyle industry working with retailers in the United States including Barneys New York and Pottery Barn. She pivoted into luxury fashion brand management after completing her MBA and has held strategic positions to expand and reposition brands within LVMH’s Asia Pacific portfolio.

In her most recent role, Sunaina was the country head of Louis Vuitton in India and legal director for all operations in the country. She was responsible for developing and expanding Louis Vuitton’s omni-channel retail operations, people and brand equity in this high growth market. She successfully led her team to achieve the highest sales, client experience and brand growth that had ever been achieved for Louis Vuitton in India.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Congratulations on all you have achieved. Could you tell me more about your background and how your Indian roots brought you back to India?

A. I’m from Thailand. I am ethnically Indian but fourth generation, born and brought up in Thailand. I was very blessed to have an International upbringing. I have worked in five continents, travelled extensively. My last few roles have been within the LVMH group based out of Hong Kong.

My first role within the group was as the Regional Head of Asia Pacific for Emilio Pucci. In this role, I managed the entire scope of the brand’s direct retail business in Hong Kong and China as well as franchise, department store and multi-brand distribution in Asia Pacific. My next role within the LVMH group was as the Commercial Director for Givenchy to identify and execute growth strategies to maximise brand development and repositioning. In my tenure, I oversaw 61 locations, opened 24 stores in-line with brand vision and improved productivity across the network.

When they offered me the position to come back to India to amplify the Louis Vuitton business in India, I was thrilled at the opportunity and I am very proud of all we did to build the business and our team in India.

Q. What are the tools that have allowed you to succeed?

A. Growing up my father always said that travel was the best form of education. I had a very international education in Asia, Australia, and Europe and have worked in 5 continents. This allows me to sensitive to people and cultures while executing different strategies to grow businesses. I am a commercially driven leader and am passionate about people and delivering excellence. My general management and end-to-end experience overseeing teams, networks, finance, logistics, merchandising, client development and marketing allow me to be detail oriented yet see and set the big picture.

Q. What have we learned in retail during the pandemic?

A. The biggest learning is that we have to embrace e-commerce and the online experience. The word ‘omni-channel’ was a buzzword a decade ago. I think successful businesses during Covid had to integrate different methods of shopping available to consumers. You have had to expand the supply chain through localites, fulfillment centers or direct consumers. E-commerce has obviously a key to successful businesses in Covid. Businesses had to agile and responsive to different means of reaching the consumers. The lockdown has also led to less physical interaction with consumers. Brands have had to re-think the consumer experience and how they engage with clients. The big thing is how do we engage with clients in a number of different ways.

Q. How do you think technology will impact the fashion industry in the future?

A. Technology will be a key part of the growth of the fashion industry. Coming out of Covid, sustainable materials are important and a key focus for a lot of brands. Materials, that are not only good for the environment, but good for us being non-toxic and more breathable. We know that there are now going to be ways to bridge e-commerce and successful physical presence of stores. We can have VRs, augmented reality to help you try out clothing; jewelry, fashion and many brands have done it successfully. Just the engagement of technology and digitization is key to the success and the supply chain management. This is an exciting time for us and technology will enable future growth in retail.

Q. What advice would you give business owners in India as we come out of our second Covid wave?

A. I am sitting in the US right now and we are starting to see lines in retail stores again. People really want to embrace human connection. I would just like to say that there is hope and light. I hope that businesses now use this time to strategize and further activate their omni-channels, integrate and improve their e-commerce presence, engage with their communities on social media platforms and really use technology to enhance the supply chain and logistics to better prepare themselves for the future.

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Wanted to explore something other than film music: Sunidhi Chauhan

Singer Sunidhi Chauhan recently joined NewsX for a candid conversation wherein she talked about her new single ‘Ye Ranjishein’, besides sharing her incredible journey.

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Singer Sunidhi Chauhan recently joined NewsX for a conversation as part of NewsX India’s special A-List series. She talked about her new single ‘Ye Ranjishein’ and also shared insights from her incredible singing journey. 

Sunidhi Chauhan began by telling her side of the story, answering why it took 20 years to launch her new single and said, “Yeah, I know it sounds weird, right? I didn’t want it to be that way. But actually film music just generally kept me busy. So I didn’t have the time to think about what I wanted to do other than film music. During this lockdown, I happen to sit down and think about, what is it that I want to say in my own song? Because film music will keep happening and I am a product of the film music and I love it but on the side, I did want to explore something different and I just met the right people at the right time. Which was during the lockdown and I’m happy that something productive has come out of it.”

When asked about her new song, she began by praising the music video’s director, Ranju Varghese and said, “The credit for the music video is totally our director. We shot in a barren land, there was nothing that you could see too far. I don’t know how he put all of that together on the table of the Edit and it just looks so brilliant right now. None of those things were there while we were shooting, except for some properties. There was nothing and he’s really brought it to life and done a fab job. I met Shruti Rane, who’s this amazing young composer and sings very well, through Gaurav Dasgupta, a friend of mine who I’ve worked with. He himself is a music composer and I have really liked singing for him. So I thought maybe he’s meeting me for a song that he has composed and Shruti is one of the singers he is introducing me to but when I got to know that it’s her song written by her as she’s a songwriter. I was blown away, she’s a very sweet cute little girl and I didn’t think a serious song was coming out of her. I was really taken aback and I complimented her and I was like, let’s do this song.”

She urged people to be more responsible in these difficult times and said, “Through the song, I’m sending all the good vibes, positivity, love and prayers. Of course, we are losing a lot of people and these are crazy times. I urge everyone to be more responsible, you’ve been doing great, but I think we need more because it has hit us for the second time now and this wave is even more dangerous. It’s almost airborne now, you have to be more responsible and take care of each other. And it just takes to wear a mask properly. That’s all.”

Speaking about how she managed with the obstacles she encountered last year, she said, “We were just grooming, mopping, and dishes at home, and nothing else. And a few songs here and there. Which were recorded from home for the movies. Because even movies were shut, nobody was really working, but whatever little was happening was this and then after that, when I started getting used to the new norm, which was staying at home and doing nothing and days would just pass by just OTT and housework and that’s all and of course, a kid to look after. Then finally I got some space for myself where I could think about the fact that I have to do something different other than music. I am a product of film music, of course, and I love it.”

“Thanks to the lockdown it did give me a little place where I could think about who I want to work with. Like I did a single with Shalmali recently, it’s an English song called here is beautiful. I did one song, One non-film song with Daboo Malik and he was the first one to actually approach me during that time for me to sing a non film song and I did that and that was such a humble attempt. We couldn’t even make a nice video out of it. We just shot some portions at home and just made a video but we received such great response so that kind of gave me a boost to keep walking in that direction. And now here I am with three songs out already and I’m very excited. I plan to do a lot more songs not from songs because that’s like a little different side of me which is coming solely from completely from heart,” She added.

She also shared her defining moments from her career and said, “I’ve been lucky to receive a lot of love and a trophy, of course, because I won that competition, which was produced by Lata ji. And I had participated in that show, because I wanted to see her once in my entire life and I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen. But luckily, I won the competition. And she was the one who gave me that trophy. So that was one moment which I can never forget. Of course, then my child who completely changed my life. Now I’m very happy about this new, independent space. So I think it’s a rebirth. I actually feel that.”

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