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In recent times, self-reliance has become a mantra with various labels, from Make in India and Vocal for Local to Atmanirbhar Bharat, sounding off as a clarion call urging business owners as well as entrepreneurs to arise and embrace the possibilities of new horizons.

The signalling of a new indigenous payment platform by mobile wallet companies, and the growing realization that everything that this nation needs can and must be built in India itself is welcome. However, that won’t happen without the Triple E Highway: a set of pathways comprising education, entrepreneurship and employment, all of which are themselves seeing tectonic shifts.

While education is the obvious precursor to creating a new set of skilled labour, the number of jobs required for new employment will be nothing short of daunting. The traditional order of things may have worked like this: build companies, institutions and new technology, and the rest will come automatically. But today, the economic landscape is shifting in a manner that demands non-linear thinking to predict where the seeds of growth will sprout from.

Recent reports by the International Monetary Fund reflect how India’s GDP will degrow by over 10%, even lagging behind nations such as Bangladesh, whose per capita GDP is actually growing. Swadeshi 2.0 Atmanirbhar Bharat is a necessary and positive concept and it’s also in its second avatar. Swadeshi, the original initiative of self-reliance, which kicked off in 1905 and led up to independence, was similar but the stakes are much higher today.

The supply chains of the world are now more deeply interconnected, making true economic independence possible but upward—and yet at the same time our economic future depends on making more in India in an era where China is controlling the making of everything, from most of the phones we use, the vitamins we consume, even the fire-crackers we light up during the festive season.

Apple’s new range of iPhone 12 phones come with 5G network compatibility and are getting attention for their new capabilities. While economic pundits predict how these superfast cellular networks will bring telemedicine to rural areas, and drones may boost the productivity of crops, the trick to making new businesses fly won’t just be in using the classic approach of handing out sops and tax breaks. It’s going to take a radical overhaul.

It will take a brand new approach that starts with the training of legions of new workforce, to recasting how the financial system measures entrepreneurs and how they, in turn, drive employment.

As a country moving quickly to the tune of digital adoption, India has, according to McKinsey & Co., over 700 million internet subscribers and 425 million smartphone users, and so can capitalize on rapid tech-enabled innovation but will also need to focus on training, not just for new entrants to the labour market but to address the large-scale displacement and redeployment that automation will bring about over the next decade and beyond.

There is, however, no historical indication that new automation-driven jobs will replace humans altogether as the past has sometimes revealed. In fact, new technology means a requirement for new skill sets. Remember a decade ago when people would say that the “hot jobs of the future" hadn’t been invented or even been given names yet? That time has come and capturing the full potential of self-reliance means a reset from the ground up, brick by brick.

If the great new digital revolution for this country will finally catapult it from being an emerging nation to one that is leading the rest of the world, it must ensure its inhabitants have the tools, the training and the entrepreneurial leaders needed to get there.

This is no longer hyperbole. It means three different things at three different levels: opening up companies and markets to be able to employ gig workers and contract employees with relevant qualifications for short “snackable" durations that may last just for a few hours.

Second is incorporating required skilling and training regularly by companies for its employees so that they can pivot to perform and operate in different functional areas as and when needed.

Third, for a socially conscious approach to private equity and capital placing bets on underserved but emerging areas of business.

There will be risks. There may even be blow-ups and failure. But it would mean a new opportunity at making this nation economically great through a truly virtuous cycle of socio-economic evolution. The returns harvested by stitching together the Triple E Highway will be exponential. That’s a small risk and price to pay for being self-reliant.

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