During his recent trip to California India’s ambassador to the United States, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, met with Chancellor Carol Christ and Dean Ann Harrison of University of California, Berkeley. He also met with Prof Solomon Darwin, director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation and the executive director of the Center for Growth Markets at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
Dr Christ’s office told indica, “Ambassador Sandhu had a brief meeting with the chancellor on India’s educational policy, internationalization of higher education, and academic exchange between India and the US.”
Later, Sandhu met with the faculty and leadership of the Haas School of Business to learn about their India-focused initiatives.
Prof Darwin, who hosted the ambassador, told indica, “We have signed a memorandum of understanding with the NITI Aayog in 2020, and the discussion was based on three main things they are doing in India.”
The NITI Aayog is the Indian government’s top think tank and is the chief advisor to the Prime Minister on policy matters.
Prof Darwin and Ambassador Sandhu discussed strategies to help make India a manufacturing hub on par with China. The second project is to educate 600 million young people on digital devices and bringing India online for last mile connectivity to provide access to global markets.
“We also talked about the Smart village movement and building a scalable model so that they can sustain themselves,” said Prof. Darwin.
He said the Smart Village project is an ongoing effort with over 40 companies collaborating. In 2020 and also this year, Prof Darwin said, three-day meetings in New Delhi were attended by 28 companies. These interactions were held at Rashtrapati Bhawan and Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi.
“Forty US-based companies have signed up to help make India a manufacturing hub,” he said. “You can’t manufacture in India unless the entire ecosystem comes together. For example, if you need a chip company in India you also need Dell to assemble and build a laptop. You need companies that make minerals. In short, you need an ecosystem. Our meeting at Rashtrapati Bhawan was about this.”
One of India’s biggest IT projects is to educate more than half a million youths to code in order to help them get meaningful jobs in the sector. Prof. Darwin said a whole system is available on the Cloud. “If you want to learn to code, opportunities with Khan academy, Salesforce, Dell, Amazon and similar companies exist. They not only teach, but also give a certificate if students pass the exam. It’s free.”
He added, “Many Indian kids can’t afford to pay fees to learn coding, but if they can learn to code from these outlets, they can work for Silicon Valley companies.”
Prof Darwin indicated that role of Haas Business School will be like an orchestra conductor. “We will bring resources together. We are non-political and non-commercial. UC Berkeley is a not-for-profit institution, and we are focused on societal, environmental, and people problems. This the reason that The NTI Aayog decided to work with us.”
When indica asked him about his experience of working with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, Prof Darwin indicated that he is not get anyone’s personal philosophy, but “in terms of action the government is good.” He said the Modi government is doing to right thing working with UC Berkeley. “We are only concerned with moving things forward.”
He gave an example of how India wants to build a chip manufacturing ecosystem and that this will take anywhere between five to 10 years. “To attract capital, India needs to have the right policy. And you can only attract capital when there is trust in the system.”
Trust is a major topic Prof Darwin has touched upon in his book, ‘Resetting the Jewel in the Crown: A Roadmap for Rebuilding India’. “If you don’t have trust, no one is going to invest in your country. For example, the 40 companies that Haas is working with have said they are willing to trust but India needs to demonstrate that.”
To be sure, according to data provided by India’s ministry of commerce and industry, Singapore (27.01%) and the US (17.94%) have emerged as top two nations with FDI equity flows into India in FY2021-22, followed by Mauritius (15.98%), the Netherlands (7.86%) and Switzerland (7.31%). FDI equity inflow in the manufacturing sectors increased 76% in FY 2021-22 ($21.34 billion) as compared to FY2020-21 ($12.09 billion).
“If Modi government can protect foreign investment in India, companies will come,” Prof. Solomon said. “It is about establishing trust and facilitating the ease of doing business. Since 2016, six automakers have left India. The country needs to learn from that to reduce barriers to entry and improve ease of doing business in India.”