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India Guru Of Globalization Tackles India’s ID Problem

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
June 02, 2011

Guru of globalization tackles India’s ID problem

June 02, 2011

Haroon Siddiqui - The Toronto Star


Nandan Nilekani was given a degree at U of T's Rotman School of Management.

We are burdened with many pieces of identity — birth certificate, social insurance number, driver’s licence, passport and health, hospital, debit and credit cards. The curse of the developing world is the reverse: too many people have no identity papers.

Perhaps a third of India’s 1.3 billion people have no birth certificate, no school diploma, nothing, especially in villages. Their date of birth is what their parents recall from memory. Officially, these people do not exist. They cannot open a bank account, get a loan or tap into subsidies for wheat or rice or fuel.

That has allowed fraud artists to cast ballots and claim benefits under fictitious names or in the name of real people. In one state, there are more ration cards than the entire population.

The Bill Gates of India is on to the problem, and on Tuesday he received an honorary doctorate from the U of T’s Rotman School of Management, whose students he has employed in India and in his company’s operations in Canada.

Nandan Nilekani, 56, is a billionaire who co-founded Infosys, India’s second largest high-tech company (annual revenue, $5.6 billion; employees, 100,000).

He coined the slogan, “the world is flat” — meaning, technology lets anyone anywhere do just about anything. Thus, transnational outsourcing. He has been listed among the top 100 thinkers of our time.

But what really sets him apart is that he’s an embodiment of the new India.

He does not come from a family-owned business empire, as most of India’s tycoons do. Son of a socialist, he was working as a low-paid junior engineer when he co-founded Infosys in 1981.

Like many in the software sector that helped transform India, he is a Brahmin, the upper-crust priestly class that traditionally regarded commerce with disdain.

This guru of globalization also represents a new paradigm: instead of ideas and money going from the West to the East, the flow is reversing. The ID project is an indigenous invention that’s drawing interest internationally, just as India’s ability to conduct elections for 700 million voters more smoothly than the U.S. has been found to be eminently exportable.

Nilekani is not a brown British sahib or a wannabe American. He’s very Indian — indeed, very south Indian — true to the cliché for them, he’s brilliant but modest. Thus his best-seller, Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century, is not a self-aggrandizing memoir of a CEO. It’s a synthesis of the ideas of 100 thinkers he talked to.

It’s a sweeping public policy manual of big ideas — ideas that enjoy national consensus but remain unimplemented (wretched public schools, crumbling infrastructure, neglected cities, etc); ideas that people are arguing over in the world’s largest democracy (how quickly to lift restrictions on foreign firms and institutions in banking, media, higher education, etc.); and ideas to anticipate (how to use high-tech to leapfrog stages of development; how to parlay India’s advantage as a young country in an aging world; how to avoid environmental degradation with the economy growing at 9 per cent a year, population growth dropping to 1.5 per cent and per capita incomes doubling every nine years.).

In 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh phoned to ask him to head the Unique Identification Authority of India.

It’s “an endeavour that simply has no precedent,” as the U of T’s citation for Nilekani noted.

He wanted no big bureaucracy. Transferring his corporate governance to the public sector, he found partners — provincial governments, banks and other businesses. He hired private operators to do the enumeration for $1 per person.

The name, date of birth, address and gender of every man, woman and child is being recorded, along with fingerprints and an iris scan — at the rate of one million people a day.

The federal government will maintain that basic data and let others build their apps on top. People would access products or services online. If they don’t have a computer, which most don’t, they would have vouchers downloaded to their mobile phones (of which eight million new ones are being sold every month).

“It’s a real game-changer,” Nilekani told an admiring audience of about 300 Monday night, hosted by the Rotman School and the MaRS Discovery District. “For the people on the margins, this new ID is the key that’ll open many doors.”

In the Q and A that followed, someone told Nilekani that Canada should have had him do our gun registry.


source: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/edit...u-of-globalization-tackles-india-s-id-problem



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