If I were asked to rank the 10 things I most love about India, very close to the top of my list would come the food: not only one of this country’s priceless exports to Europe, but a constant source of fascination, discovery and delight to me.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has kept me busy, but never too busy to enjoy some superb cuisine. Today started early with idli-sambar for breakfast. Perfect fuel for a day packed with new ideas, new challenges and new people.
It is the endless variety of Indian food that intrigues me. Which of course reflects the extraordinary complexity of this great country.
Harish Bijoor, the marketing consultant, told me today that his company conducted research in Boston, US that identified seven distinct types of consumer. He repeated the exercise back here in India and found more that two hundred categories in Delhi alone!
The rich diversity of Indian life strikes me forcefully whenever I visit. More than 2,000 newspapers show how vibrant the public debate is in India, while 250,000 elected decision-making bodies demonstrate how strong and deep democracy runs.
I have seen this in action at the World Economic Forum where debate has ranged far and wide—always energetic and consistently inspiring. Once people came to the WEF just to be seen. I get a very real sense that the participants at this event are here to enlist their energies in the forum’s high ambition to improve the condition of the world.
This cacophony of ideas and enthusiasm drives innovation and propels the Indian economy. It is the fertile ground in which the entrepreneur can flourish and grow. But the kaleidoscope of passions and opinions also presents India with a challenge. Diversity is a tremendous strength. But it is a truly daunting task to unite such a range of stakeholders behind one common agenda and then to act on it.
A great deal of the discussion at the WEF has focused upon how to spread India’s new wealth more widely, and how best to prepare society for the future growth we all believe will come. These challenges will require immediate and effective management.
In India there is a fabulous range and richness of talent and ideas. But that brings with it a challenge for the leadership to harness all that anarchic energy and convert it into urgent and effective action.
Ben Verwaayen is CEO of BT Group Plc. He will be writing an exclusive column for Mint on the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit, which started on Sunday in New Delhi. Readers can send their comments and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. To read his walk-up to WEF go to http://www.livemint.com/verwaayen.htm