Omar Wani
This month’s National Geographic magazine will give you the picture of a new born baby on one of its pages with a caption:“… Afghan babies are kept tightly swaddled for a year. Local tradition holds that the practice promotes good posture.”

While the reprint of the picture here is irrelevant, on deeper examination of what the caption really says… puts things in perspective. Especially, for social entrepreneurs who really want to make a dent and promote the ‘economic empowerment of future business leaders’.

During a recent workshop organized to educate business leaders, bureaucrats, policemen and students on how to negotiate better, I had the opportunity to meet and hear several young and middle aged business leaders and understand their position on the future of entrepreneurship.

Our conversations led me to learn of three key yardsticks, around the Need Assessment, Fulfillment and Governance perspectives.

While seemingly, the bureaucrats may not own up as stakeholders in business, they are the root of information – the imperative link to identifying on ground needs. I club politicians with them. ‘Good’ public office bearers have a clear pulse of their people and are constantly aware of immediate and medium term challenges their constituents face.

The private stakeholders- businessmen, entrepreneurs, NGOs and the civil society associations are those that have the potential to fill these gaps. With infrastructure, knowledge, investment, innovation, little intervention by government policy and a lot of stake in the development of the state would lead to the play a pioneering role in plugging the gaps identified by the public sector. And simply, that’s all their role is.

So it’s a matter of approaching our public offices and asking – ‘what is it that we can do for you?’ instead of what they ‘can grant us’.

To tie the two, there is the whole governance issue (which is not the same as government). For the public and private players both, a constant challenge that blankets every new initiative is a heavy past. The past that includes everything from tax at Lakhanpur to the months of ‘political unrest’ every year is over simplified with counter ‘strategies’ such as public-private partnership models ranging from government should provide jobs at one end and every PSU should be privatized at the other extreme.

While it is in our nature to break large complex issues into smaller bits to reach a solution, it is not always possible to resolve complex issues using just two extreme strategies. The impetus must be to create an ongoing process of ‘incubation’ on the new and upcoming industries versus ensuring the more mature ones are able to enlarge their market going forward. And in many cases, several businesses in the automobile industry, handicrafts, horti-flori-agriculture have been able to survive these difficulties.

As a strategy going forward, like the Afghan baby, the regulatory or government bodies such as the EDI may well keep a close watch on the new and emerging enterprises in terms of resource utilization, production and service delivery and come in wherever help is required.

But post a fixed term, it is essential for the enterprise to grow and flourish on its own freeing the government from ‘bailing out’ a sick unit each time something doesn’t go right. This is also a way to limit the overbearing intervention of government bodies on day to day operations of a private enterprise… which is more suffocating to many, than helpful.

The other essential context in which the term governance has been used here is to highlight the control of a private enterprise – with the example of the Khidmat Centres, jointly run by a central team and the J&K Bank.

The initiative has been commendable in the way it has been executed in the state and its growth plans are sure to contribute to employment and initiatives on rural service delivery. However, a lot of entrepreneurs don’t see beyond a deal with these centres. It is almost a fad that the way forward for any creative work in rural education or IT development will only happen through these centres.

Remember, this initiative in itself has not fully matured and remains in a nascent stage. There is a thin line between adding services to the Khidmat Bundle and over-burdening it with small to mature service levels that may well be beyond the knowledge scope of the person who runs the centre! Here, governance for private stakeholders is about the control on the services they provide – and the message is clear – rely on the government and central initiatives to identify needs of the markets you serve – and then get out there and deliver yourself- either individually – or collectively as an industry.

For any new idea to grow, not only does it have to be well thought, it has also to be well swaddled right to the point of delivery, to prevent any early perception building… that ‘local is not nice’!

The writer is a business strategist.


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