In the final installment of this four-part series, David Robinson wraps up his team's experiences in India—with a core philosophical look to the future.
We all know what it takes to validate a medical product, to test it with your customers and ensure it can be reliably deployed into the resource settings in which it will be used. In our case we’re working to develop a new class of Point of Care (POC) sensors for the screening and, ultimately, for the diagnosis of Tuberculosis (TB) beginning in India. In this final installment of our 4-part series, I wrap up our experiences in India with a core philosophical look to the future.
India has long been on my life's “bucket list”. It’s exotic, alluring, and about as far away from Utah as I can get. As India's role on the global stage continues to grow, I'm pleased to have been to India for the first time. Here are the top five reasons that made me want to visit this intriguing country:
Tourism, textiles, automotive, software development, and health sciences are all booming in India. I went to explore opportunities in Point of Care (POC) Diagnostics and infectious disease mapping using POC results.
POC tests have the potential to improve the management of infectious diseases, especially in resource-limited settings where health care infrastructure is weak and access to quality and timely medical care is a challenge. These tests can offer rapid results, allowing for timely initiation of appropriate therapy, and/or the facilitation of linkages to care and referral.
Most importantly, POC tests can be simple enough to be used at the primary care level and in remote settings with no laboratory infrastructure. POC tests can potentially empower patients to self-test in the privacy of their homes, especially for widespread infectious diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB)—which we hope to help combat.
Nowhere is India’s opportunity more evident than in the big cities that are gilded with every big name Fortune 50 international company I’ve ever seen, and many I hadn't heard of—but should have. Skyscrapers dominate the landscape and, if the pace of construction is any indication, the world has already recognized and started to capitalize on the same opportunities that brought us to India.
2. India’s hopes and dreams
A younger Mahatma Gandhi famously authored India of My Dreams, a collection of his writings in which he began:
Everything in India attracts me. It has everything that a human being with the highest possible aspirations can want.
In August 1947, India became a sovereign nation and has since grown over the last 65 years, attaining world leadership in space exploration, education, software/IT, and healthcare. India has big dreams, and being here meeting with business, academia, and clinical researchers, it’s hard not to believe they can accomplish them.
It has been less than a year since the election of Prime Minister Modi, but he has already made strides toward addressing some of India’s most insidious problems—nepotism, corruption and black money. From what almost everyone in India said to us—from the rural and city poor to the community leaders we met—Modi may finally be the leader India has needed: a strong leader who can steer the country toward a path of growth and bring in renewed hope and optimism to a crumbling economy.
With the NDA coming to power, it seems that after 30 years India has finally voted for a strong and effective government, and Modi has been striving to succeed both economically and on the world stage. In our time here we’ve heard from business leaders, educators, farmers, and casual laborers that they feel more optimistic—and from some, that changes are already evident.
India is restless for change as well—and the new generation coming of age in modern India may not give Modi much time for reform.
Less than a year after he won a historic victory to become India’s prime minister, a political earthquake struck the capital, Delhi, in February of this year—as a young political organization led by an anticorruption crusader trounced Mr. Modi’s governing party in local elections.
The Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man Party, won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly, far more than polls or even the most enthusiastic of the party’s supporters had predicted. Aam Aadmi is led by Arvind Kejriwal, a former tax examiner who rose to fame as a campaigner against graft, and refashioned himself into a defender of this city’s lowest social strata and leader of India’s young, energized and more egalitarian generation.
3. Climate Leadership
While much of the world has yet to recognize it, India has become a leader in the global effort to confront climate change. As I traveled through a small part of western India I saw solar energy installed everywhere—from the skyscrapers of Mumbai to poor rural villages.
India’s stated goal is to create 100 Mw in solar power generation—or about five times the current world average—by 2022. It's an ambitious goal, to say the least. In addition, the goal will be to generate 20 Mw in wind power. Every major company we met with has solar in their business mix somehow and it appears that leaders in India are making a serious effort to meet their stated goals.
I hope at least a small part of this initiative involves helping the poor use solar to eliminate kerosene use—which is widely used in rural villages across India, and causes 1.5 million deaths per year the world over. We even have a colleague who is staying here to do just that in neighboring Nepal, with his project called Recharge Labs. Recharge Labs is a social venture that uses solar to recharge batteries that are “rented” out to power clean indoor lighting. They’re starting in Nepal, but India is the obvious next step.
Traffic, and the resulting pollution, is another of India’s climate challenges. With traffic already at a standstill in most major cities and more cars forecasted to be sold in India than in the United States by 2030, India must find a way to integrate better public transit and find ways to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions as they grow. In fact, one recent study indicated that air pollution in Delhi was so bad that a person’s life expectancy could be shortened by as much as 3-5 years.
4. Smart Cities
India is undergoing urbanization at an astonishing rate. By 2030, nearly 600 million Indians will live in cities, and from what I see in Mumbai they may even be ahead of that blistering pace of urban growth. In Mumbai, this growth is incredibly apparent in both the old city and the new forest of skyscrapers that have grown so quickly. In fact, I can see 17 new buildings just from my hotel room window.
Surprisingly, more than twice the population of the entire United States is set to be living in cities by 2030. And just two decades beyond 2030, forecasts for almost all growth measures will be driven by cities—population growth 90%, wealth creation 80% and total energy creation 60%—all from cities.
While the ideal of urban renewal and growth is appealing, the challenges India faces are immense. Smart growth requires both the renewal of existing urban centers and the creation of new cities—or satellites around existing ones.
Problems like traffic congestion, energy waste, water requirements, conservation, and security are already significant issues in India’s largest cities and are likely to get much worse before they get better. As these cities grow, they will continue to swallow and impact existing small communities that now seem so far away. The resulting dynamic of conjoining communities will challenge cultural norms and force India to redefine the new “soul of community”.
India will also have to rely on technologies to improve and create cities that can actually function. India’s cities of the future will ultimately be more livable because of how they nurture and encourage a sense of community and how well they can integrate land use considerations. In addition, the use of technology to help minimize the impact of high-volume traffic and help create efficient energy and water delivery will play a major role.
Communities must be integrated in ways that will continue to create opportunities for economic growth—while allowing them to retain a sense of local culture.
We started and ended our visit to India in Mumbai—India’s Silicon Valley and Manhattan rolled into one. From the beaches, to skyscrapers full of technology startups and entrepreneurs, to the countless numbers of poor and homeless in the streets, Mumbai captures all the energy and glamour—as well as the grit and grinding hungers of the nation.
The promise of “new” Mumbai is as clear as the great challenges that India faces in closing the gap between the rich and poor—and between the desires and realities India faces in the next 50 years.
5. India's Youth
India is one of the youngest countries in the world—about half of its population is under the age of 25. This generation is coming of age at a time when India's economy has recently become the fastest growing and most entrepreneurial in the world, which can help lift many of India’s people out of poverty.
The future looks bright for India, and as the owner of a business who hopes to capitalize on India’s growth—and a philanthropist committed to improving lives around the planet—I am hopeful that India will continue to rein in the corruption that has historically plagued the country for millennia, so everyone there can benefit from growth across the economic spectrum.
We also saw this motivation in the many students we engaged with in India. From rural village schools in Pandharpur, to University students in Pune, India’s youth are committed to becoming educated to play a role in India’s future. There is a very real cultural bias toward education in India, with daily news articles about education, and signs everywhere promoting education as a way out of poverty.
Education is big business here, and India is producing graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at a fast clip—but the entrepreneurial culture has not yet extended significantly into areas beyond software and IT. Overall, India’s entrepreneurial future is still rooted in education rather than invention, and these students will help to fuel India’s future as a hub for other businesses that can take advantage of a skilled, low cost work force.
But to be successful, India must take the “Made in India” slogan to a whole new level—producing entrepreneurs who invent and create disruptive and innovative new businesses, and not just make products.
In the last two weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to visit more of India than most Americans get to see—from rural villages to city slums, from elementary schools to college and medical training academic institutions.
We were lucky enough to also meet with just a few of India’s remarkable leaders—people like Dr. Anil Kakodkar and academics inside and outside of government who are committed to capitalizing on India's opportunities to improve the conditions and health of their poor and create opportunities for all of India.
With continued political leadership and reform, India’s future seems bright. When it comes to the defining issues of our world’s future, I believe that India has earned a seat at the table. For our part, I hope my team and I will be able to play some small part in that future.
The nuviun industry network is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.