A busy street in India

+ How ready is India for an urban future?

Back in January, I was on a panel for an InDialogues session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Part of the session addressed the question: “How ready is India for an urban future?” A great question considering the state of play of the urban infrastructure of the nation. My view, from the outside in, was that India’s urban future hinged on four words: infrastructure, entrepreneurship, ‘thrival’ and leadership.

Infrastructure is the backbone of economic development. A robust infrastructure allows a nation to coast through lean times and presents huge opportunities. But it’s also a huge challenge. Developing an infrastructure that is appropriate to the Indian culture that will survive the test of time is something that takes time. I've [sort of] been to India twice; I was picked up at the airport, got stuck in traffic, went to a conference centre, did some work, got back into a car, got stuck in traffic and flew off again. I was there, but not really. Yet, in that short time, the pressing need of a more robust mobility structure was all too clear.

India has so many interesting, fascinating, passionate, and very quiet entrepreneurs. I say quiet because they’re not the brash ‘I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do before I’ve done anything’ entrepreneurs; they’re the humble ‘Oh yes, I’m just doing this’ entrepreneurs. They’re not about promises; they’re about actions. To me that’s been very impressive.

Following on from this, we have the growth of the middle class. This has been fundamental for most of the society to creep away from its focus on survival to a society that believes in thriving. This gradual move up Maslow’s pyramid is a mindset that’s key to being innovative. Innovators don’t just want to survive; they want to thrive.

This brings us to the final point: leadership. To feel like you’re thriving, you need to have leadership that’s empowering, encouraging, visible and vocal. One good example is Andhra Pradesh’s former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who really turned Hyderabad around. His strong leadership and vision fostered innovation – Hyderabad now has one of the best airports in the world. It’s vital for all strata of society to encourage, support and embrace this kind of leadership.

The panel focused on the emergence of this creative nation, but I have to believe that these four enablers are crucial not just for India, but for society at large.