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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

THE FUTURE OF NOW: Experiences of interactions with aspiring youth

Roughly around half a century back, Alvin Toffler was thinking and writing on how jobs, people, relationships and society shall change in the 21st century. Jack Ma might have barely started going to school by that time. During the World Economic Forum 2018 session, Jack Ma was talking about the future trend of work and sounding quite relevant when he was warning that automation would eat the kind of jobs that humans are doing today, so we need to have thinking shift and develop different kind of mindset. Ardent follower of Jack Ma, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the man behind Paytm, is the richest billionaire under the age of 40 in 2018 according to a recent report. These people reflect on the call of time as they could think much ahead of times when it comes to market.

In this backdrop when we look at the environment today, we find existence of impermanence, dominance of technology, transient social values, changing work schedules, emergence of multitasking, generic work portfolios and many such trends. Few weeks back, I had the opportunity to interact with few hundred graduates of all kinds (technology, commerce, literature, economics, chemistry, physics, mathematics, zoology, medical, etc), sizes (graduates and post graduates as well) and from all geographies in India, aspiring to pursue MBA and lead a career in management. It was a kind of an eye opener as to what most of these young graduates are looking for in their career and life. I thought of sharing the learning that I got from them.

It seems there is something utterly wrong in the way we are grooming our children and the way their aspirations are getting designed. This breed has lot of information but its understanding of issues is vague and superficial. Many of them seem to operate in plug and play mode and their direction is phony. This generation perhaps has no local role model and lack ideation and idolation. They are affected by the glamour attached to the lives of achievers but they seem to be unaware of their troubled journeys.

These young graduates consider Jack Ma, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Deepinder Kohli, Bhavesh Agrawal etc as their role models but many of them are not aware of the troubled journeys these people had. None of them pursued MBA or obtained any management qualification yet they excelled after failures of many kinds. The kind of experimentation Jack Ma did before and during Alibaba, the kind of determination Bill Gates had, the kind of education (Physics & Economics major) and clarity Elon Musk had, the kind of difficult times Vijay Shekhar Sharma faced, the kind of experiences which drove Deepender to develop Zomato, and the kind of perseverance Bhavesh has shown, is remarkable.

It is important for these aspiring young graduates to go little deeper into the lives of people they idolise and to learn the role of strong values in their lives. I feel it is more important than the technical skills. The kind of exposure they are getting in their engineering colleges or graduating institutions is more for passing the degrees than learning the subjects both theory and practical. The context in which they are studying and growing and the kind of fiction that they are reading are poles apart which makes them uncomfortable as they are not able to relate with much of what they are reading. They feel proud in saying that they watch English series and follow some popular Youtube channels. This Dan Brown and John Green fan generation is in a very crucial state and if not handled properly might develop negative attitude towards their life and career. There is a sign of hope as I see some of these students are getting hooked to Amish Tripathi, Devdutt Patnaik and Ashwin Sanghi and the likes of their tribe.

Engineering is being considered as an ordinary under graduate degree. There is a thinking that if a student pursues engineering, it provides better career option as compared to their counterparts pursuing traditional degree courses in sciences, humanities or social sciences. And when it comes to their clarity on what they have studied during their engineering days, it is not upto mark. However one can easily distinguish them on the basis of the kind of institutions they have done their course from. Many second grade engineering institutes are not able to provide them with proper placements and they land up in the hands of some promising coaching institutes who guarantee them good CAT score. Some of the coaching institutes have driven these students to read some of the bestsellers. These coaching institutes which have pure commercial interest, are able to teach them tricks and trolls to clear the first milestone but whether they are able to develop a habit of learning in them is a question that only sustainable performance of these students can exhibit. It is a generally followed belief that engineering with MBA makes the best combination for better career and in a way guarantees a respectable white collar job.

Surprisingly we also see some doctors aspiring to pursue management course. Their honest motivation to opt for such courses is unknown yet what can be appreciated of them is their sense of experimentation and exploration. What I observed keenly was their lack of originality and a natural behaviour. This is how they have been groomed by the coaching institutes. They do not speak what they really want to speak but they speak what they think might get them admission. Their confidence level is high but some of them carry weak value system; as they feel being opportunist is not bad. On one hand they do not mind talking ill of an institute that they have come from, on the other hand they have huge expectation from their aspiring course and college. The aspirants coming from small towns display relatively better value system as compared to the ones who have grown in big cities. I wish I had some more time learning from them and may be to counsel them to focus on what really is their identified life goal, if any, as many of them are not very clear about their career goal, leave aside life goal.

Some of them, rather few of them, have clarity of their goals. They are really promising and prolific in content, their confidence is strong and communication is excellent, their interests are wide and wild; and they are resilient. The only irony is that their number is much smaller than their counterparts who are weak in their conviction and shallow in their approach. This young generation has a very high level of expectations from the place of their education, from their employers and from the system that they want to get in. We really have much greater a challenge in designing a program to suit their needs and the needs of the market. We need to think beyond our personal interest and look beyond our discipline bias in order to cater to the needs of this generation. We should not be surprised, feeling cursed by not meeting their expectations.

I believe that at the graduation level it should be made mandatory to gain credits in some of the courses in humanities or social sciences discipline. It would certainly make our youth better citizens and ready for the kind of jobs that are going to be created in the times to follow (as expected by Jack Ma). They need to have strong sense of integrity, honesty apart from ability to think creatively. They have to have excellent expression capacity. And that all can be gained through the study of literature, philosophy, psychology, sociology, history and the likes.

[The author is a Professor in the Department of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi and can be reached at vkshro@gmail.com]

also read:

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On International Day of Happiness 2018


[pc: https://www.livehappy.com/relationships/community/celebrate-international-day-happiness]


The size of an economy and level of development is predominantly measured in terms of GDP. Economic progress has been determining the speed of development through the eyes of Kuznets and Stone via production, income and output. It has its roots in Adam Smith and the invisible hand as described in The theory of moral sentiments and The wealth of nations. Paul Samuelson viewed GDP as one of the great inventions of the twentieth century. None of these economists would have imagined that the nations would get so obsessed with GDP that all their policies and practices would target growth indicators surrounding GDP and the progress of nations would be measured and compared based on this key coinage.
 
It is discussed at length by economists and psychologists that improvements in GDP have not translated in enhancing life satisfaction of people.  Though their physical standard of living has improved manifold, their perception towards their life has not improved pari passu.  Physical infrastructure has been transformed which is able to provide comforts of so called good life yet it has added to many more problems at community and social level. The disparities have increased leaps and bounds, all type of value (human) erosion is happening, consumerism has taken the lead, materialism has penetrated into the minds of people almost everywhere.  Individuals are judged on the basis of wealth they possess. Though the nations are becoming economically developed, richer and independent, yet the problems of work-life conflict, discrimination, crime, depression, environmental imbalance, social alienations, etc., are on the rise. Gregg Easterbrook portrays in The Progress Paradox very nicely with the data from America and Europe that though in last half century physical infrastructure and standard of living have improved, yet it has not enhanced life satisfaction or happiness of people.

The last decade of the twentieth century witnessed emergence and popularity of HDI as an alternative to compare the status of nations. As it takes care of economic as well as social development, it has been recognized as a better measure to focus on public policy through improving health and education infrastructure and delivery. However policy outcome required to be gauged through looking at the satisfaction of people with the initiatives as well as improvement in their subjective well-being. It was felt that the policy direction should be such which targets welfare of citizens through empowering them. The public policy has to concentrate on developing better social infrastructure so that it takes care of economic indicators instead of the other way round.

Bhutan which was a tiny Kingdom before it adopted democratic system, has been practicing a development philosophy based on the premise of well-being of people, which is termed as Gross National Happiness (GNH).  It was towards the early months of 2008 when this tiny Kingdom became the youngest member of the club of parliamentary democracies.  It is more than 40 years since Bhutan started sharing its concern for the welfare of people through its focus on GNH.  There have been constant efforts to popularize the concept and advocate on the importance of happiness in the policy framework.  Wikipedia included this term and defines it as an attempt to define quality of life in more holistic and psychological terms than Gross National Product As mentioned in one of its national human development reports, the pursuit of GNH calls for a multi-dimensional approach to development that seeks to maintain harmony and balance between economic forces, environmental preservation, cultural and spiritual values and good governance.  These four priorities are termed as 4 pillars of GNH.

The study done by Takayoshi on comparing GNH and material welfare in Japan and Bhutan, on behalf of the Centre for Bhutan Studies traces the insight into the commonalities and differences.  Health, finance and family are some of the common indicators of well-being as perceived by the people of both the countries.  Japan is way ahead of Bhutan so far as GDP and HDI are concerned however when it comes to Happy Planet Index (developed by New Economic Forum, UK) or happiness index (developed by Adrian White of Leicester University, UK) Bhutan is far ahead of many of the developed nations including Japan, and developing nations.  It is precisely the reason why the focus of GDP is getting reduced and the social progress or well-being is getting focused.

Few years back Joseph Stiglitz visited Bhutan and addressed the policy makers, bureaucrats and development agents.  The focus of his address was the shifting from GDP to Well-Being as critically argued in a Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress of which he was the chair.  This commission was initiated by the President of the French Republic, Nicholas Sarkozy in February 2008 when he felt unsatisfied with the state of statistical information about the economy and the society.  The mandate of the commission was to identify the limits of GDP as an indicator of economic performance and social progress, including the problems with its measurement; to consider what additional information might be required for the production of more relevant indicators of social progress; to assess the feasibility of alternative measurement tools, and to discuss how to present the statistical information in an appropriate way. The members conducted research on social capital, happiness, and health and mental well-being.

The report which is also named as Sarkozy Report, made a strong case that the time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being. Further it is also suggested that the measures of well-being should be put in a context of sustainability. The commission gave 5 recommendations apart from looking at the well-being spectrum. The five recommendations were: i. when evaluating material well-being, look at income and consumption rather than production, ii. emphasize the household perspective, iii. consider income and consumption jointly with wealth, iv. give more prominence to the distribution of income, consumption and wealth, and, v. broaden income measures to non-market activities.

It was July 19, 2011 when 68 nations joined Bhutan and supported its resolution on ‘Happiness: Towards a holistic approach to development’ for its adoption by the United Nations.  The UN General Assembly adopted this resolution which recognized happiness as a fundamental human goal and emphasized on a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes happiness and well-being of all. This resolution mandated member nations to take steps towards putting efforts and realizing the vision of a development paradigm integrating economic, social and environmental objectives going beyond GDP based development.

Taking the lead from this resolution, the UN hosted its first high level meeting on 2nd April 2012 on the theme of ‘Happiness and Well-being – defining a new economic paradigm’. Mr Jigme Y Thinley, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, was the main force behind inviting all concerned stakeholders for discussion in this meeting. This historical meeting was attended by select heads of State, ministers, Nobel laureates, eminent economists, scholars, spiritual and civil society leaders from developing and developed nations.  The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said - We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness. On June 28, 2012 all the 193 member states of the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted UN resolution 66/281 and decided to observe 20th March as International Day of Happiness or International Happiness Day.

In the follow up, the Earth Institute brought out the first World Happiness Report (WHR) in 2012 which was edited by renowned Canadian economist, John Helliwell and co-edited by the director of the institute, Jeffry Sachs.  All established happiness scientists got involved in this process which provided an alternate to GDP to compare nations and their progress.  Last week the sixth WHR was published with the support of Ernesto Illy Foundation and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Primarily all these reports have relied on Gallup’s data on happiness based on Gallup World Poll.

In the month of September 2017, the researchers gathered at the Innsbruck University (Management Center, Innsbruck) to disseminate their research on happiness, quality of life and wellbeing under the aegis of ISQOLS. John Helliwell, Richard Layard, Richard Wilkinson, Mariano Rojas, Valerie Moller, Richard Estes, Kenneth Land, Joseph Sirgy etc were all on one page for the cause of happiness and well-being. It was a great opportunity for me to interact with them.

In the era of dominance of market forces and enormous capital flows, focus on happiness and well-being in public policy, can be viewed as a transformational initiative.  Last two decades have produced voluminous literature on the different aspects of happiness and well-being through all kinds of academic and experiential research. Alternative approaches to GDP to measure progress and development are being studied and developed so that next generations are able to view societies from newer perspectives and parameters.

Richard Easterlin perhaps was the first economist who studied the relationship between happiness and economic outcome which culminated into a paradox known as Easterlin Paradox. It states that rise in income does not result in similar rise in happiness. Easterlin paradox came much before Sarkozy report. Similarly in the UK, the New Economic Foundation (which was awarded ISQOLS Award for Betterment of the Human Condition, a decade back, in recognition of their work on development of the Happy Planet Index), started developing HPI looking at life satisfaction, life expectancy and ecological footprints.  Apart from the HPI the NEF also develops national accounts of well-being (as advocated by Daniel Kahneman) which includes the measures of personal, social and emotional well-being. 

Princeton University Press, published ‘The Politics of Happiness - what government can learn from the new research on well-being’ by Derek Bok in 2010.  On the basis of the researches done all across the world, this book makes a strong case for getting the policy makers to prioritize well-being over excessive focus on the market economy. Alex Michalos (known for Canadian index of well-being), categorically mentions ‘The economists messed everything up, the main barrier to getting progress has been that statistical agencies around the world are run by economists and statisticians and they are not people who are comfortable with human beings. The fundamental national measure they employ tells us a good deal about the economy but almost nothing about the specific things in our lives that really matter’. Are we ready for shifting our focus towards well-being from every sense of the term rather than trying it out through the window of economic parameters? This is a major challenge before the state and policy makers.

In 2011, Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman concluded through the study of Americans based on Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that happiness is result of fulfillment of two psychological states viz., emotional well-being and life evaluation. Purdue University scholars, Andrew Jebb and Loius Tay continued that research and expanded the work on the world data set (1.7 million individuals worldwide) and concluded that globally, satiation occurs at $95,000 for life evaluation and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being. Nature Human Behavior published this work in January 2018.

Growth that is merely objective, development that is lopsided, progress that is based on just quantification, may not take us to a better future. It is overdue that happiness is given priority over generally quantifiable measures. Though this noble thought has come from a very small nation, yet it is able to address big issues of mighty nations. It shall be a true tribute on the occasion of International Happiness Day that nations commit themselves for improving quality of life of people and prioritize it over concentration on GDP measures. Human happiness and well-being should be the target of public policy. Around the beginning of this century Polly Toynbee wrote in The Guardian – When God died, GDP took over and economists became the new high priests. That has been the story of the last century. The twenty first century should be the century which should go in the history as an era targeting human well-being and happiness over economic development.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Bhopal Manifesto - Happiness Index for MP

[PC: http://www.mpnewsflash.com/anand-activities-to-be-introduced-on-experimental-basis]

Around a decade back while interacting with Professor Suresh Tendulkar I suggested that we should have some question to track happiness level of people at national level by having a question or two in the National Sample Survey conducted, as it is done in the US through General Social Survey. My suggestion was driven by the fact that we lack data on happiness from India and the world depends on some unorganized data collected through a very small sample size. He showed concern for the issue and replied that it is not proper time for India to go for this as there are sizable amount of people living below poverty line and not just this, people are dying out of miseries and the size of such population is not small.

Around the same time Adrian White of University of Leicester developed World Map of Happiness compiling secondary data of 178 nations in which Bhutan had 8th rank and India had 125th. This map was much the same as HDI except that it had a variable on life satisfaction while preparing the composite index.

We have come a long way. The world is moving towards developing alternatives for GDP so that policy direction can lead to have better quality of life assuring human well-being viz-a-viz, happiness. The developed economies are shifting their focus and making cautious choices while designing their future action plan for building better societal standards through many initiatives for trust building and social inclusion. Technology is being used to make life better and enhance community experiences.

Eighteen months back, the state of Madhya Pradesh, decided to embark on the journey that many others might feel irrelevant and precarious, to start a Department of Happiness to lead the process of developing Happiness Index for the state. Also to assure better human wellbeing, in one or the other way through engaging with its citizens at a wider level. Some senior officers of the Government were given the task of organizing the nitty-gritty and to proceed further. That is how ‘Rajya Anand Sansthan’ (RAS) came into being.

In the onward journey to devise a way to measure happiness through developing an index, the RAS signed an MOU with the IIT Kharagpur to study the state in depth and develop an index so that they are able to find out the level of happiness of the citizens of the state which should ideally lead towards appropriate policy direction. The IIT Kharagpur which had established Rekhi Centre of Excellence for the Science of Happiness through a philanthropic initiative of their NRI alumnus, Satinder Singh Rekhi, went to the field with an open mind to seek and search the variables which might cause happiness or unhappiness to the citizens so that they can understand the nerve of the people and develop an appropriate and practical tool to gauge happiness.

The state government under the aegis of RAS, organized an international workshop to brainstorm and reach to some plausible conclusions as to how do we go ahead to develop happiness index for the state. This two day (22-23 Feb 2018) workshop brought some hundred participants and experts on happiness, well-being, quality of life and related streams to Bhopal, the capital city of the state, (known for infamous gas tragedy that took place in 1984) to deliberate on the issues involved and to suggest measures to improve the methodology to develop and design an index of happiness or Anand Soochkank. The multidisciplinary congregation allowed the enthusiasts to gather and tighten the nuts and bolts of measuring happiness. I call it congregation because I am convinced that these are volunteers for the noble cause of spreading the message of happiness all across. These are ambassadors who do not just believe in ‘becoming’ happy, but these are the souls believing in its ‘being’ state.

From psychologists to sociologists, economists to statisticians, academicians to practitioners, technocrats to administrators, communication experts to consultants, all were on one page that happiness and well-being is important and should become the focus of public policy. Everyone seem to appreciate the efforts of the state government in showing its concern through this humble endeavor to develop an index, so that their policy direction is guided for improving the quality of life of its citizens whereby assuring human well-being.

The experts and the team members from the IIT Kharagpur interacted with around a thousand persons, from both rural and urban setting across ten districts of the state in the last six odd months which led them to reach to some 14 domains of happiness, as they call it. These domains as identified tried to include almost every sphere of individual feeling and policy dimension. They include safety and security, income, health, education, governance, environment, infrastructure, culture, religious life, public amenities, time use, relationships, transportation, subjective well-being and meaningful engagement.

These domains were discussed by the participants in formal setting as well as during informal interactions. The issues involved as to how we measure these domains and how do we control the spread of each domain using appropriate methodology, so that the index reflects the most correct picture, was a crucial task before the experts. The whole exercise was to put efforts that culminate into a practical template (a toolkit) so that the final pilot testing and then after final collection of data can take place.

The development of these domains came through translating the transcripts from the responses of the citizens which was in their own language, viz., hindi. Their responses were translated and brought forward before the participants during the workshop. The activities which could contribute to measure a particular domain were explained and the suggestions were offered to be more focused rather than more elaborative. Overlapping questions could be combined so that the size of the tool does not look lengthy causing inconvenience to the respondent. Though it was mentioned that it is going to take around thirty minutes for one survey, I felt it would take not less than forty five minutes, and if that so, it would affect the responses.

Though happiness is viewed as a psychological construct, the domains had more flavor of physical existence of conditions contributing to one’s happiness. Whether we are measuring happiness or its conditions; whether we are measuring internal feelings or external influence, were some interested areas of discussion among the participants who in their own wisdom were contemplating the possibility of measuring happiness. It is believed that when the source of happiness is external, it has a short life. It is more to do with one’s state of mind. The Kingdom of God is within you as Leo Tolstoy would call it.

There was curiosity among the participants, who were quite new to the whole idea of happiness being driven as an initiative of the government, as to the very conception of happiness as Anand. Aanand as in Sanskrit – ‘aa’ means from all sides and ‘nand’ means bliss or happiness as it is used in this context. The conceptualization of happiness by RAS is apparently explicit as they use Anand as proxy to happiness, yet there was lot of scepticism among the participants on the use of the term. The sublime expression Sat-chit-anand (or Sacchidanand) imbibes the combination of Truth, Consciousness and Bliss. Happiness as a notion of anand is visualised as bliss or the sense of joy, which is much different from how it is conceptualised in the western world. Prosperity and Pleasure are different notions as compared to happiness or anand.

The feeling of bliss is what I tend to learn that the state of MP considers happiness or Anand and that is perhaps the reason they have called the department of happiness as Anand Vibhag. In this context there seems to be clarity in the minds of people at the helm of affairs.

The issues concerning the size of the sample to make it representative of the state and the criterion for its selection was brought forward and as suggested, it was to be like a household survey of around twenty thousand households situated in all the fifty three districts of the state covering rural as well as urban population. Appropriate stratification was suggested to make it as representative as possible taking proper care avoiding biases. Some experts were of the opinion that the nature of heterogeneity in the population should be kept in mind while choosing statistical technique. Except that the survey population stays in the state of MP, there were not many defenses which consider the population homogeneous. This would be a challenge before the statisticians to use caution to gauge the opinion of people keeping in mind the error causing by differences across regional variations.

The enumerators have to be trained in such a way that they are able to interact with the respondents in most friendly manner and are able to deal with social desirability bias. Though there were queries and suggestions for assigning appropriate weights to the domains, I feel at this level of work, it would be better if the exercise of assigning weights is avoided and the enumerators go to the field without any preconceived weight to a domain.

Though the growth indicators like that of GDP has been quite positive and have performed better than the national average in last few years, improving social indicators has been much greater a challenge for the state. The whole idea of developing an index of happiness might have been driven by this reality. And to that cause the index shall certainly provide a base for policy direction whereby improving social infrastructure. The political will shown by the state is remarkable. Gandhi said, True democracy is what promotes welfare of the people, the state seems to thrive on this philosophy. Having involved in this exercise and having had interactions with the people involved in the process at different levels, I understand this as a noble purpose towards seeing the citizens satisfied and happy.

Last one decade, after my interactions with Prof Tendulkar, has witnessed lot of experiments with measuring happiness across geographies. Academic writings from the discipline of economics and psychology have drawn ample attention towards research in this domain. Alternatives are being explored to measure progress and the governments are taking lead in understanding their citizens better through asking their satisfaction level on policy as well as on their psychological wellbeing.

On June 28, 2012 all the 193 member states of the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted UN resolution 66/281 and decided to observe 20th March as International Day of Happiness or International Happiness Day. I wish Prof Tendulkar was alive today to witness what the state of MP is spearheading in the direction of asking its citizens about how happy are they. The state of MP needs appreciation for this modest yet important beginning as we celebrate International Happiness Day on coming 20th March, 2018.

Anand Calender as available from their website (https://www.anandsansthanmp.in/web_components/pdf/Calender2017-English.pdf), issued by the RAS marks the month of February, dedicated to learning. I get reminded of what Alvin Toffler had said – the illiterates of the 21st century shall not be those who have never been to schools, but they are going to be those who have stopped learning, unlearning and relearning. Attending this international workshop in Bhopal has added a lot to my learning experience. I call it Bhopal Manifesto as it is going to be an important public policy initiative and in the times to come, I wish Bhopal is remembered for this positive intervention. As a student of science of happiness and a believer in what Toffler said, I think there is more to do with unlearning that the world has to do in this connection and to learn more about happiness and embrace it for people and policy.

[The author is a Professor in the Department of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi and can be reached at vkshro@gmail.com]

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Livable Cities and Human Well-Being

One of my friends was looking for a house and a broker was taking him to different places and was helping him choose the best. Most of the explanations of the broker were on the proximity of the houses with the hospitals, schools, bus-stand, banks, airports, national highway, etc. The argument of my friend was that these are not the places that I would like to visit every day, rather I need to look at the proximity to my workplace where I have to go every day. This is a real concern apart from the utilities one looks for in the nearby vicinity.

[PC: https://roselawgroupreporter.com/2014/09/money-ranks-gilbert-among-livable-cities-phoenix-among-best-bargains/]

While attending a conference on Livable Cities, I got to learn that there are three important components to assure livability, that are: place of stay, place of work, and ease of commuting between the two, i.e., facility of transportation and commuting time. For urban planning and for assuring better human well-being, I feel there are important interventions to be made by urban planners, state, architects, and civil society in that direction. In the time when around ten percent of world population resides in Indian urban cities, it becomes all the more important and challenging to discuss, design and develop cities with the kind of infrastructural support that can ease living and provide comfortable stay with easy accessibility for amenities of the kind that are going to lead our way to future.

The use of technology and artificial intelligence can help designers to propose a system which is future ready and is compatible with the climate change conditions. Green and clean technologies should find appropriate place in the cities of the future. In the times of digital assistants like Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Google Now, the houses and cities are to be made compatible so that the users of
tomorrow find it convenient.

In 2013, Charles Montgomery wrote a book entitled ‘Happy Cities – Transforming our lives through urban design’ which restarted the debate on building cities where happiness of residents is assured. This book has strong narratives on experiences of happiness and defends the science of happiness and its relationship with urban planning. Urban planners in India can learn lessons from this book.

Rural urban migration which is considered to be a sign of development has to be managed through providing urban amenities to rural areas as visualised and proposed by former Indian President Abdul Kalam in the name of PURA. It needs to be given serious thought so that the burden on urban cities is reduced. Better education facilities and health infrastructure has to be prioritised so that the villages are livable and primary conditions of living are improved. Road connectivity, electricity and water, sanitation and sewerage are some such areas which have to fall in place much before free wifi and the internet connectivity provision. The initiatives of the government in this regard are praiseworthy when it is focusing on housing provision for the poor, toilet provision, cleanliness, health schemes, green energy options, pollution friendly and effective fuel systems, etc.

India which still lives in villages has a long way to transition into a country which boasts of ideal villages and happy cities. Though we had two planned cities in the name of Bhubaneswar and Chandigarh which were conceptualised as model cities, we have seen their respective development in terms of infrastructure as well as administration. Chandigarh has surpassed Bhubaneswar by huge margin. Similarly adjoining Delhi we had two cities, Faridabad and Gurugram (erstwhile known as Gurgaon) which were initiated with allotment, allocation and approvals around same time, however Gurugram surpassed Faridabad in almost all parameters. The prime reason is their administration and state’s intervention. The experiences of these models needs to be revisited and the lessons learnt from them should be used to make better and practical plans for the future.

Physical infrastructure is an important bottleneck but what is more challenging is to revive better mental infrastructure and community living across geographies. The rat race for better material living has left the villages with poor thinking on community living and sense of togetherness. The fall in human values which is major cause of social problems, has to be looked into through provision of better primary education which teaches our young children of our rich past and rebuilds their value system, which teaches them to respect all faiths and learn good virtues from all corners.

Helping others in times of need and non-materialistic aspirations have to be nurtured in youth through sharing success stories of great people. The role of teachers in this regard is very important as they play a pivotal role in shaping the future of this great nation. There have to be role models for young children in all the fields whether it is medical profession, teaching or administration, whether it is technocrats, business leaders or politicians. They need to have people around them who can become their role models. In this environment the role of parents, elders, teachers is of greater importance as it is not through teaching that our young generation is going to be affected but by seeing good people around them and following their path.

Cities that provide better amenities and access, have to also ensure better governance and less control over day to day functioning. This is major learning from the development story of Gurgram and Faridabad or Bhubaneswar and Chandigarh. The role of the state should be reduced to be of watchdogs and regulators. India has to aspire to have honest and conscious leaders for whom nation and its citizens fall first. Political leaders have to set examples through their unbiased work towards governance. The message of less government, more governance has to be followed by all and it should not merely be left as a slogan.

The concept of The City Beautiful is as old as a motorable car on road originated through reforming North American architecture and effective urban planning adding to the monumental beauty of the city. Chandigarh followed it and tried to develop it in that way. We have example of a satellite city being developed as New Town surrounding Kolkata. New Raipur in Chattisgarh is being developed as a model city with all modern amenities and provisions. And there could be many more in the offing.

I think if we are able to reduce on the commutable time between the place of stay and the place of work, it shall be a great respite to all stakeholders and it shall allow us to breathe better. Residents would have more time with the family, fuel consumption shall be low, stress level will reduce drastically and work performance shall get a positive boost.

Livable Cities needs to be transformed into Happy Cities assuring better Human Well-Being.

[The author is a Professor in the Department of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, Delhi 110009 and can be reached at vkshro@gmail.com]

<published in March 2018 issue of SME World>

Sunday, January 14, 2018

An Otherwise Flat World

Sitting in the Vivekananda Hall at the Delhi School of Economics on the day of his birth anniversary while witnessing the discussions on Digital Revolution and the future ahead, I get reminded of the worldview Swami Vivekanand portrayed through his preaching and practices. The inscription in the hall reads - May I be born again and again, and suffer thousands of miseries so that I may worship the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all souls – and above all, my God the wicked, my God the miserable, my God the poor of all races, is the special object of my worship.

The farsightedness of his thinking and the depth in his beliefs brilliantly blended the universal conception that science and technology is trying to bring together by making the world look like a village and the flattening is proving to be a temptation for an entrepreneur and enterprise. Yes we are all beholding digital journey into the new world and as Nandan Nilekani had told Thomas Friedman sometime in the beginning of the 21st century – the playing field is being leveled, India is responding to that challenge with its demographic advantage and timely aspirations. 

More than a decade has lapsed since Thomas Friedman argued that the world is getting flatter through the ten forces that flattened the world. All these forces have their own stories of experimentation and expansion in the last decade. Though the premise of fruition by the small and middle enterprises spread across emerging economies and the expanse of opportunities it was to provide was countered by Pankaj Ghemavat through his arguments on prominence of consolidations and back and forth movement between World 2.0 and 1.0, yet when it comes to reaching out to the peripheral demographics, it is quite evident that we are getting flatter. Joseph Stiglitz, who we heard last month at the same venue, i.e., the Vivekananda Hall, Delhi School of Economics, had also argued that world is not getting flat rather with more capital flows the inequalities are rising, especially in the developing economies. Though groupings and un-groupings might vouch for deglobalisation, but whether that would hold water for long term sustainability, shall be proved only by time that is uncertain and unpredictable.

Academic arguments of Pankaj win him over Friedman but if one looks back and gets deeper into the  development paradigm that we have witnessed in India, one could believe that technological advances have made major interventions into broadening the markets and building speedy transition when it comes to supply chain at both ends. Technology is playing a key role in leveling the field and providing learning opportunities to the remotely deciphered population. It is also allowing the open mind to explore markets through the use of different platforms that are available across physical boundaries. It is the time for neo-liberals to explore, expand and experiment with an enterprising mind to develop, design and deliver in most frugal manner. The time is all for the experimenting mind, multichannel marketer, digital geek and a social media strategist to demonstrate such value proposition which can contribute to hit at meaningful engagement with customer at one end and the employee on the other end. 

The companies selling technology solutions are becoming most valuable companies much faster than the ones that operated in traditional ecosystem. Digital marketing for them has come as a boon to capitalize on available opportunity and sell satisfaction at a competitive price. There are visible signs of proliferation of markets and mediums to design and deliver better experiences and solutions not just product and services. Economies of scale and speed are in full bloom through new age enterprises. The services that are perceived to be free are able to generate and collate data to engage with the customer on one end and to customize their product and delivery on the other end. Social networking, gaming, and entertainment is being redefined and integrated with associated products and services to assure seamless experiences which is generating data at the back end to articulate demand. Retailing, banking, insurance, customer service etc is being automated to reduce cost and response time. It is posing challenge to HR as they are facing the brunt of dealing with the employees on the exit side of the bell curve. Managing and retaining talent is proving to be much more difficult a task than acquiring the right person.

In India, the interplay between public policy (politicians) and wealth maximization (profit seekers) is leading towards assuring economic growth which is putting pressure on the businessmen to abide by norms prescribed by the existing regime which is open for experimentation and taking steps that is helping deal with crony capitalism. International agencies are showing positive signs of cooperation and sounding positive signals through their ranking statistics and optimistic reporting. Drucker said – Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility. Only time would prove whether this translates into improvement in the better human well-being or not. 

It is more than a century that work-motion study and Fordism were conceptualized and practiced where human beings were considered as machine. Now we are moving towards a milieu that is going to be dominated by Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. We are transcending to a time where data is a new oil and analytics is a new refinery. We are entering a phase where more than human beings, machines are going to be respected and rewarded. Are we heading towards completing that cycle? I wish otherwise.

Alexa took birth in San Francisco for tracking web traffic and doing analytics more than two decades back but the way it became a brand owned by Amazon indicates the culmination of audio, data, and analytics which might redefine the future of business. While Amazon shall celebrate a quarter of the century of its existence in coming two years, it shall perhaps surpass all its competitors which might have existed on this earth for more than a century. Like the companies, individuals and machines born in last twenty five years would become brands of the future.

Adam Smith advocated entrepreneurship for wealth maximization as a proponent of capitalist thinking; Schumpeter thought otherwise of entrepreneurship and believed that capitalism shall decay with the entrepreneurial mindset and practices. The call for conscious capitalism might be a step towards balancing business and well-being. Entrepreneurs’ role in taking the lead towards making the world flat and distributing the benefits to the masses shall certainly pave our path towards the Vedantic truth of sameness as propounded by Swami Vivekananda and as inscribed in this hall. What would be a better tribute to this great young leader on his birthday than committing to the cause of greater happiness for all beings?