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Bridgital Nation | ‘A Country That Cannot Wait’

Book review by LetsVenture's Chaitaanya Pravin

India — ‘a country that cannot wait’. This line from the book best describes every Indian’s feeling in 2020. This book belongs to a rare genre of reading which gives a penetrating and rooted analysis of the Indian economy in 2020 in a way that’s easy to comprehend and relate to. 

Authored by N Chandrasekaran, Chairman of TATA Sons and Roopa Purushothaman, Chief Economist & Head of Policy Advocacy at the Tata Group, this is a fascinating read where the authors have put forth their innovative and creative thoughts of using technology as a bridge to overcome India’s mammoth contemporary economic challenges. The authors have based their idea of a ‘bridigital nation’ on two main challenges — jobs and access. We read headlines such as — ‘India to be the largest economic powerhouse by 2050’ in the media. The authors argue that such reports do not mean much if the Indian middle class continues to struggle for access to bare essentials. 

‘Bridgital Nation’ — As a concept

Bridigital basically addresses the access challenge by reimagining the tasks/processes of a job and augmenting this with technology to enhance and support the worker. It speaks about 3 elements: 

  • Bridgital processes — reconstruct the delivery of a service/solution to prioritize the challenges of those without access. 
  • Bridgital technology — to make optimum use of valuable assets such as physical infrastructure, time of high skilled workers through low-cost service delivery models using digital technology. 
  • Bridgital workers — digital literacy and technology-enabled workers can perform tasks currently done by high skilled workers hence improve the service quality and standardization of the service delivery.

The authors argue that when essential services in sectors such as healthcare and education are reimagined and deconstructed, technology will be configured and adapted to the situational demands and hence bring a new layer of workers into the formal economy.

As an idea, ‘bridgital’, works in a world where workers augmented by technology can take up tasks previously only done by specialists and experts. This would free up time for the specialized workers who then can cater to more vital tasks and increase their productivity. The authors believe if the idea is strategically realized it will have a positive impact of 30 million jobs by 2025 and lead to a 10–20% increase in wages for workers, while also giving over 200 million citizens access to quality services.

The authors talk about two strategies that stand out — ‘bringing women into the workforce’ and ‘everywhere entrepreneurship’. Some interesting statistical comparisons to note — there are nearly 120 million Indian women (which is double the population of South Korea) who have at least secondary education BUT do not participate in the Indian workforce. The need for smart policies to encourage these women to enter the workforce is very essential for India to switch on its growth engines. The next strategy of ‘everywhere entrepreneurship’ speaks about the lack of SMEs in India and this impacts the job creations that are essential at the local level. Everywhere entrepreneurship will also need to be enabled through bridigital cluster services which will help move 45 million workers into more productive and formal employment.

Bridgital Characters

The authors first dive deep into the conundrum, i.e the Indian healthcare system. Did you know every year 49 million Indians are pushed into poverty due to medical expenses? This is the main reason for the spiral of the debt. Take the story of Nikhil, a driver who parks his car beside Highway 37 at night in Silchar, Assam with his hazard lights on waiting for villagers who are looking for medical assistance but do not know where to go or who to consult. Nikhil had no medical qualifications but handles the basic medical facilitator duties which are a non-existent layer in India’s health care system. The story of Dr. Das is one where we see how the specialist’s productivity is negatively impacted due to his unavoidable involvement in clerical work at healthcare centers.

Jasleen — a women’s cell officer at a police station in Bathinda shows how the participation of one woman in paid-work motivated her whole village to send their daughters to school and overcome the social stigma of women working in rural India. The authors argue that only women with either very low or very high levels of education tend to participate in the workforce in India and there is a huge middle gap for women with intermediate education to enter the workforce. The authors then go on to describe the journey of millions of Indians migrating from rural areas to urban landscapes through the lives of father-daughter duo Rajappa & Bhoomi. The journey of Rajappa from being a farmer in northern Karnataka to a construction laborer in Pune shows us the life-changing challenges faced by rural households to overcome the debt trap. Bhoomi’s story is a classic example of how low-income rural families trade-off education for additional household income to service their debts.

Through Amit Singh’s story, the authors have spoken about the harsh ground realities that entrepreneurs face in India. An average firm in India employs just over 2 people. Hence we get to see that 70% of employees in the private sector work in micro firms and only 10% work in SMEs. Amit’s journey shows the reasons why entrepreneurs tend to stay in the informal sector due to the complex legal and regulatory structure of formalization. The authors throw light on the lack of ‘actual’ ease of doing business in India, though India has moved up 53 places in the ease of doing business rankings. Some numbers to substantiate this — 116 days is the average time taken to register a commercial property in developed states (Maharashtra, Gujarat) and 136 days on average to register in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha. In comparison in high-income OECD countries where it takes 20 days.

In Conclusion

This book is unique in its essence of looking at India through data and real-life situations. The vision with which the authors have written this book propagates a sense of urgency for India to relook, reimagine and restructure the core sectors of its economy with humans and technology acting bridges interchangeably. If India’s leadership is wondering what should India do to switch on her growth engines, then they must read this book. The authors choose to use technologies to carve out a new path for engaging India’s demographic dividend while providing access to services. The book lays importance to smart policy measures that need to be taken by governments, authorities, and communities as well. 

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You can read the full synopsis here: https://bit.ly/3cTCAad 

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