JLF | Samaaj, Sarkaar, Bazaar – A Citizen First Approach | In Conversation with Vir Sanghvi

Feb 02, 2023



0:00:00.0 Speaker 1: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. A few declarations of interest before we start. Rohini and I have known each other since 1980. We worked together in what, three magazines?

0:00:13.1 Rohini: Yeah.

0:00:14.0 Speaker 1: Yeah, long before she was married, long before she became, a word she hates, a millionaire. So I have seen the journey. I have seen the journey. I’ve seen the way it goes. So Rohini, I’m going to ask you a bit about yourself. Yeah. Is it fair to say, and I remember this myself, that you were born into the kind of family that didn’t care that much about money. It was sort of family that prided education, culture over money. Is that accurate?

0:00:40.3 Rohini: Yes. But first of all, let me say namaste to this marvelous samaaj of JLF. I feel very, very honored to be sitting here with you and thank you so much Veer for doing this. Yeah, I was brought up like in a very ordinary middle class Mumbai family. I think the advantage, as you would agree, being in Mumbai means you already had privileges because Mumbai is an amazing city as I was growing up in the ’60s, ’70s. We had clean running water. We had safe public transport. We had electricity. We never knew blackouts. And this is not just the rich, it was ordinary people everywhere. So we were very lucky that even though we were middle class, we don’t realize how much the benefit of good public infrastructure helped us to be very comfortable and our great educational institutions. But mainly in my family, definitely education was a priority. But there was this very idealized sense of simple living and high thinking because of my grandfather, especially being a Gandhian who joined the 1917 Champaran time agitation to set up the first Ashram in Bhitiharwa and that was held as the highest ideal. Volunteering your time for society was held as the biggest ideal. So that’s the kind of situation in which we grew up.

0:02:00.8 Speaker 1: Is it fair to say that when you met your husband and you married him, he was a young engineer, very brilliant, but by no means was it clear that he would become a billionaire?

0:02:10.3 Rohini: Oh yeah, absolutely not. I can give you pictures of Nandan in 1979. And just what attracted me to him was his incredible brain, he used to be called Mr. Brain or something at that time. And just very down to earth, Hawaii chapels kind of person, but with a very sparking mind and a great sense of humor, two very important things to have in a life partner.

0:02:34.9 Speaker 1: Okay, so now you get married, you move to Bangalore, your husband starts a company we’ve all heard of along with a few other co-founders, and they need money. They don’t have enough money to put in as an investment. And you have a savings, which is what your little journalistic salary, whatever, and you empty your account, and you buy shares in this new company in your own name. That’s roughly correct?

0:02:58.4 Rohini: Yeah, well, they asked… I was asked to put in some money, I had 10,000 rupees of my savings. [laughter] And I must admit 5000 was given at by my parents, so technically, I had only 5000 rupees of savings, 5000 from my parents. And I put it into Infosys because we were young and we really didn’t know anything better. We could take any risks in life and yeah, put it in, I didn’t expect it to sort of do so well.

0:03:25.5 Speaker 1: And then of course, Infosys does well, it does better than anybody expected. And suddenly your shares multiply, multiply, multiply. In the early part of the century, when Infosys is listed abroad, you make in the American depository, the first lot of serious money, which I think about 100 crores.

0:03:45.7 Rohini: In the ’90s, yeah. It was in the ’90s.

0:03:48.0 Speaker 1: Yeah ’90s. 100 crores?

0:03:49.3 Rohini: Yeah, I first came into that 100 crores and at that time, it seemed like a unbelievable sum of money that one could possibly not need.

0:03:56.7 Speaker 1: It still does to most of us. [laughter] It still does.

0:04:00.7 Rohini: Yeah, yeah I don’t want to sound like oh, poor little rich girl at all, sorry. No, but that time, it seemed like a billion, it seemed like crazy, why would you need that?

0:04:10.2 Speaker 1: But I knew Nandan and you during that period, and when the money came in, the thing that struck me was how you treated the money, not as a reward for good investment success, but almost as an obligation that you had to do something with it. That was not just for yourself. That was for society. Is that fair?

0:04:30.9 Rohini: Yeah, no, Veer, I struggled with the idea, you know, in that time, India was very socialist in the thinking. And we always thought, even growing up in Bombay, we thought wealthy people meant some gadbad was going on.

0:04:43.1 Speaker 1: Yeah.

0:04:43.4 Rohini: And then I suddenly find myself wealthy, and I know there’s no gadbad going on. So I have to completely rethink and position what I mean by what is wealth, what is the responsibility of wealth, it took me a few years, I struggled with it. But then I saw it, why can’t it be an opportunity to do what you claim to have wanted, since you’re a teenage, a better samaaj, a better society that you could contribute to. So that was the switch I made. And when we came into that money, I put it all into my foundation, Arghyam. Yeah.

0:05:13.6 Speaker 1: Yeah, you did, right?

0:05:14.9 Rohini: Yeah.

0:05:15.6 Speaker 1: So let’s just go through your journey with philanthropy. You started out by doing smallish projects that didn’t necessarily work, right? Even before the big money came in. So tell us about those.

0:05:26.9 Rohini: So started in 1992, exactly 30 years ago, at that time, just after a few couple of years after a very dear friend had died in a needless car accident. And it really bothered me that how can all of us tolerate the lack of safety on Indian roads. And some of us got together some well meaning citizens in Bangalore, including Kiran Mazumdar, Jagdish Raja and others, and said, let’s do something about the safety of Bangalore’s roads. There was a lot of goodwill and action, but it didn’t amount to much. And actually, we should all worry about this because 150,000 to 160,000 people die on Indian roads every year. Most are preventable deaths. But we didn’t know how to do it. So it failed. But I learned very quickly that what was missing in nagaarik were probably the nagaariks, the citizens. And then unless you include citizens, and they must feel the demand, they must feel part of the problem, they must want to be part of the solution, otherwise it won’t work. But that was a huge lesson. And then later, I was able to work in Akshara Foundation, Pratham Books, Arghyam, EkStep, etcetera, etcetera.

0:06:30.2 Speaker 1: I remember talking to Nandan and you when all of this started and both of you said and it was a novel point of view. You said that we’ve made this money not because we’re necessarily better than anybody else. It’s because as you said I was lucky to have invested in a company that did so well. Nandan said he was lucky to be in a sector that was a go-ahead sector. He made it because of India. He made it because of society and there was an obligation therefore to give back to society, to do more for society. That still remains your view.

0:07:03.4 Rohini: Oh absolutely. I tell you no matter how brilliant anybody is in the world, nothing can justify the kind of wealth that is being accumulated in the hands of very few. First of all luck plays a huge role and social policy, economic policy, political policy plays a huge role in allowing the accumulation of wealth and I’m sure many of us are concerned with the way this accumulation is happening. I believe that no society will tolerate for too long the accumulation of wealth in few private hands unless that wealth is used to create the better society for everybody and so far in India.


0:07:43.0 Rohini: Just in India, Indians are still very optimistic I believe that there is still opportunity for the young people of this country and so they are tolerating some of this. But that’s why the responsibility of wealth, I genuinely believe that wealth has to show, people who are wealthy have to show that they’re going to commit to create a more equal society. Otherwise, no society can tolerate… No government, no society can tolerate this for too long.

0:08:08.5 Speaker 1: You think so? I mean just seems to be… Forgive me for saying this, seems to be getting worse and worse in India. We’ve seen the emergence of our oligarchs, of people who control everything, often with political help. And society seems happy tolerating it.


0:08:23.7 Rohini: But this is why the book, this is why the work, this is why my book Samaaj Sarkaar Bazaar and the premise of my book for those of you would, I would love some of you to read it and continue the conversation. The book is a invitation to continue the discourse on samaaj. Why is samaaj the foundational sector. And unless samaaj picks up these issues in perpetual discourse, power will accumulate in markets and the state. It will, that’s the nature of power. But it’s up to all of us as citizens to first see ourselves as citizens, not as consumers, not just as subjects of the state. When we do that, and I have hundreds of instances when I’ve seen that happen, I think that’s when these questions get asked more sharply and no political establishment can ever resist a strong public demand. It’s impossible. So it’s up to all of us really to expand that discourse.


0:09:21.7 Speaker 1: Rohini and I have discussed this often that, and her view is that yes, there are concerns about oligarchs, concerns about concentration of wealth, concerns about the way government seems to be helping certain individuals, not others. But she still believes that there is a perception in India among ordinary people that the route to wealth, the route to the top is not blocked off. Say in America, if you were to talk to people now, they’re all very pessimistic about the future, but she believes that in India there is still in our hearts optimism about the future, optimism about the country. This is a question Rohini asks always, so I’m gonna ask it first. How many of you are optimistic about India of the future? Put your hands up. Okay, how many are pessimistic? Okay, you win the point again. [laughter]

0:10:15.5 Rohini: No, it’s just so marvelous. Of course, if you read the newspapers or if you’re on social media, you can get pretty depressed. You can feel miserable about the state of the world and humanity. But the minute you go outside and meet other people, most people are not busy polarizing each other in every conversation. We all want to make human connections, and I really believe and I hope all of you will support me that we’ve reached peak polarization and can only get better from here, and it’s up to all of us, honestly. I really believe that with all my heart.


0:10:49.1 Rohini: So when I go out into the field, there are 90 organizations we are currently supporting, and Nandan’s are separate, and when I go and meet young people, especially young people. We have a portfolio called Active Citizenship. I can name dozens of organizations like Reap Benefit, Civicus. They’re trying to engage other young people to say, get involved in making your own society and your futures better. Who else is going to do it for you? See, we cannot sit back and hope to have good governance. You can’t be consumers of good governance. You can be consumers of market products and services, but we can’t be a passive consumers of good governance. We have to co-create the good governance we all want, and I believe that no matter who you are and where you are, you have to, have to, have to participate.

0:11:41.7 Rohini: Even if it is in your own building, okay, to make sure that the lifts work or everybody has a voice in which pain should be pri… It could be as small as that, or your neighborhood park, or whether your street lights work, or whether your area is safe for women, whether you can get the vote out, whether you can ask your legislators. By the way, it’s fine if most legislators… Most people I found, Veer, in the campaign that Nandan had when he ran unsuccessfully for the MP in the Lok Sabha elections in, two elections ago. Most people were very keen, naturally, because they feel helpless, hapless, hopeless. All of us sometimes feel so helpless against the system. They wanted the MP to fix their taps and the road outside their house. But what if instead they asked Nandan, if we vote for you, will you help create the better laws that will automatically allow the implementation of good governance? We forget that our legislators are lawmakers. Ask them, are our laws good enough to support a robust society, to support inclusion, justice, access? Sometimes if you look at some of our laws, we really need to think. We don’t think about it often because we, none of us expect to go to jail, at least I hope not. And you know we don’t think…

0:12:52.3 Speaker 1: These days nobody’s sure. But still…


0:12:55.5 Rohini: Well, which is why all of us need to think about our justice system. Are our laws… Good laws, I believe create a good society. And all of us need to read the laws. We need to ask our legislators, many elections coming up. Let’s speak to our legislators about making laws better for all of us.

0:13:13.2 Speaker 1: Okay. Rohini’s referred to the book and I’ve read it, so I wanna heartily recommend it. It’s not a sort of preachy treaties, it’s a collection of articles about the connection between society, the market and government. And it’s got an interesting perspective, but the overwhelming message, I think is that society is how people organize themselves and everything else, the market, the government flows from the people, and yet people don’t seem to realize that. Is that a fair summary?

0:13:45.3 Rohini: Yes. Thank you. Because it’s become so easy. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I bet like all of you, I pick up my phone and it’s so easy for us to just become consumers. Passive consumers are what the state gives us. And today in our country, in many countries, the state is so powerful, but so capable of delivering good services to us. Which is a great thing, today more people in India are getting access to more public services than ever before. But we shouldn’t allow that to dull us into just accepting things. I think remaining active because change is happening constantly. The biggest change we are going to face is climate change. And it’s already upon us. So what are we going to do? The state can’t solve for it alone. We have to solve for it together.

0:14:32.4 Rohini: And so it’s easy to be just a consumer. It’s easy to be just a subject of a benefactor state, but that’s not going to solve the problems of the future for the generations to come. So that’s why I feel that we have to see ourselves as samaaj first. After all…

[foreign language]

0:14:54.5 Rohini: You can be a chief minister, okay in the daytime, but when you go home, you’re still a citizen. You can be a CEO, but when you go home, you’re still a citizen. And so the more we strengthen civil society institutions, the more we all see ourselves as citizens first, that the pool from which government and bazaar people come out will be better and better and better. So those who keep this idea key ki samaaj is the foundation, is the neenv. It’s on top of that, that sarkaar and bazaar came centuries ago so that samaaj could be better because samaaj is not a monolith.

0:15:30.2 Rohini: Veer, how much we fight between ourselves. And that’s why you need the state to establish the rule of law. And you need the markets to create value to help us understand value of exchange, to help us get goods and services from pure innovation. We absolutely need those bazaar and the sarkaar. But we must understand that it comes out, that the bazaar and the sarkaar are there to serve the samaaj. We’re not there to serve the bazaar and sarkaar, the sarkaar and the bazaar are there to serve we the people of India and we the people of the world.


0:16:09.9 Speaker 1: Let me tell you what many, if not most people in the audience are thinking. They’re thinking this is great. You are so, so, right. But listen, I’m at the mercy of my local MLA, I’m at the mercy of my local cop who doesn’t even bother to do anything. I’m at the mercy of people who create hatred between communities. It’s all very well to say it’s up to me to seize the initiative, but what can I do?

0:16:33.2 Rohini: Oh, everybody can do something. And I think we all know it deep inside our hearts.

0:16:37.1 Speaker 1: So explain that.

0:16:37.7 Rohini: Sorry?

0:16:37.7 Speaker 1: Explain what we can do.

0:16:39.5 Rohini: Right. So I mean, take anything, any issue, and I’ve seen many people do that right? In your own, as I mentioned, you’re building association, since we are in Jaipur, there may be many resident welfare associations you can get involved with. I can guarantee you here in Rajasthan, there are thousands of NGOs that you can get involved with. Rajasthan has among the most amazing NGOs. And once you get involved with the smallest thing, you take back agency, you take back agency to not just be a recipient of some injustice or just a witness or a sufferer. You take back agency, you take back what is known as the locus of control to change something. And how many of you have taken part in some kind of small social change activity? There you go. Have you felt empowered by doing so?

0:17:30.0 S3: Yes.

0:17:31.1 Rohini: Yes. As soon as we get involved, we realize that things are more solvable than we thought. We are all in this human story together, we are so dependent on each other, and we saw that so much in the pandemic. I’m not just saying this, I’m not some… What is it? Some idealistic person who doesn’t understand reality. Going across India with some of the marvelous institutions that we support, we realize there is enough space for hope, optimism and really coming together to solve the bigger challenges between us. But we have to commit ourselves to it. It’s not going to happen automatically. Doesn’t matter what is the smallest thing each of you can do, I swear it’ll be the best and most interesting journey of your life if you haven’t already embarked on it.

0:18:17.4 Rohini: So any problem, Veer, legislators actually are desperate for us to… All our lawmakers, the panchayat people, the municipality or bureaucrats, I have met hundreds of bureaucrats who are so happy once they understand the power of our intent, that we are not there for the wrong reasons. They are so happy to collaborate. Everybody can create access. But there’s one thing, it’s much harder for individuals to do it. It’s very hard for an individual to just walk into a government office or somewhere and say, I demand my rights, or I want to help you. But collective action, collective action, going as a group of like-minded people with the right intent, it is impossible to stop that in society. It is impossible to stop a few good people doing something right. I have experienced it a thousand times.

0:19:07.0 Speaker 1: How many of you are members of any NGO? Any group that organizes does things?

0:19:14.5 Rohini: Yeah, several doesn’t.

0:19:14.6 Speaker 1: So about 20%, 25%?

0:19:17.6 Rohini: Yeah.

0:19:18.2 Speaker 1: Do you think the figure should be what? Ideally 100%?

0:19:21.3 Rohini: You need not even be… Many of you may have just clicked on change.org. I’m sure many of you have felt, oh, I care about this course. How many of you care about something in society? It could be anything at all. Almost everybody, I don’t in India today. All of us want to change something in the world. Well, honestly, India is one of the places in the world today where you really can do that. And it is going to be the samaaj of India, starting from the samaaj of JLF, which is so alert and aware that is gonna create the change that we all want. India is ripe for positive change, but not if we don’t create it. Not without that, impossible, but we can, and I think we should.

0:20:04.3 Speaker 1: Okay. The bit I think people are slightly skeptical about is your claim that when you went around India, you spoke to bureaucrats and politicians and they welcomed the initiative. I think most people would argue that politicians are happy to get elected after that. They lose interest in so much added people and get on with their lives. What you’re saying is counterintuitive.

0:20:25.8 Rohini: No, I’m very sorry. Of course, there will be some politicians that get elected and forget us. But I have met many politicians, and I urge all of you to meet your local politicians. What my experience of politicians has been, and especially during the campaign, we underestimate just how hard they work. They may not work as strategically as we want them to. That partly because we don’t let them, the demands we make on our politicians in India is relentless. It’s a 24/7 job where somebody or the other wants something for you every minute. Okay. It could be… And because we have such an identity based demand system, every group wants something out of the politician, and it’s very hard for the politician to juggle that. So while I’m not saying all politicians are trying their best for us, I have seen many of them really struggling to do so.

0:21:17.2 Rohini: And we have to find, if we want our democracy to thrive, if we want our democracy to really survive some of the onslaughts that democracies are having worldwide today, then we as citizens need to get more engaged with the people whom we are going to vote in, or even the people who want us to vote them in and just understand how we can be better voters, how we can be better constituents, so that they can be better politicians. I have seen really hardworking politicians and the system we have to help change the political system for the better.

0:21:52.6 Speaker 1: Okay. Let me ask, how many of you have dealt with an MP, your MLA and asked for changes? Okay. So do you think not enough of us do that?

0:22:04.1 Rohini: It’s very few of us because we feel there’s so much distance between us and this politician. There’s so much distance. So that’s why supporting intermediary organizations that can make your voice heard, like your RWA, it could be other… Your civil society organizations that are putting pressure on the politician to deliver back for society. I think just a little bit rethinking that as citizens help, if we change something, not asking you to put five hours a day, nobody can do that.

0:22:33.5 Rohini: But an hour a week to just think through all these things collectively together. Let’s just begin by opening the discourse at the dinner table. Everybody switch off your iPads and mobiles. Talk to each other about how do we foster a better democracy. I think it’ll be fun. There’ll be some good fights at the table that always are nowadays, but at the end of it, if we can have a more awakened citizenry that is willing to participate in keeping our democracy alive, at least that’s what makes me optimistic about young people.

0:23:04.6 Speaker 1: Okay. One of your observations is that people are optimistic. Yet as we’ve seen people feel distanced from the political system. Your prescription is yes. As an individual, you may well feel distanced and it’s probably in the interest of people around the MP or the minister to keep you distant. But once you organize, once you are part of an organization, it’s much more difficult for them to ignore you.

0:23:30.1 Rohini: Yeah. It is hard, especially when they can see that the cause is just, and the intent is right. I have not seen a politician or a bureaucrat being able to resist that. They will engage. Now, everything doesn’t work all the time with government, when we have worked with government on policy change, you take two steps forward, you do take one step back. But nobody can resist… As I said before, nobody can resist the power of a few good people coming together to ask for positive change. Not just for themselves, but for others as well. It’s not possible to resist that. And you may not succeed the first time, but we can’t afford to give up. We can’t afford to give up. Otherwise what? Otherwise what will happen if all of us don’t participate? We have 1.4 billion people whose destinies are tied to each one of us, so.

0:24:21.5 Speaker 1: We have to. Okay, let me give you another view, which is that we shouldn’t have to do this. Politicians should be doing this for us anyway. We elect these guys. We have expectations of them. Why should we figure out ways of getting to them, whatever. So is what you are suggesting an alternative to a failing political system, which is not responsive to the needs of people?

0:24:43.8 Rohini: The sarkaar can never respond to everything that every citizen wants, it’s impossible. People call it the last mile, we prefer to call it the first mile. Okay? For the state to reach the first mile, where the vulnerable citizens especially are. All civic failures are happening is very hard. Which is why I believe in a thriving civil society that acts as an intermediary to represent the interests of the people at the first mile. And I really believe that we need to support that civil society, to support the institutions today. There’s a lot of distrust.

[foreign language]

0:25:22.1 Rohini: Who knows what the big business people are doing? So there’s been a dissolving of some trust between us and all the institutions. But we have to get involved. We have to create bridges across our differences, which basically means without too much judgment, can we create safe spaces in the summer to talk to each other? That is the first thing. Then can we collectively organized? Now we’ve seen this in so many [0:25:46.6] ____ in Rajasthan for centuries. Okay. People have worked together. Samaaj, sarkaar, bazaar to conserve every drop of water. Only in some places only 150mm falls in one shower in this state, and they make it last for the whole year. Without samaaj being involved, this is impossible. Whereas I’ve seen in other places. Cherrapunji is getting less rainfall. Places in Bihar, the rain is falling on their heads and they’re not able to conserve water. So sometimes making sure that you are able to turn crisis into an opportunity requires the innovation of the samaaj. And God knows we have N number of crises today to turn into opportunities.

0:26:30.1 Speaker 1: Yes. There’s no shortage of those. Let’s talk a bit about philanthropy. I think many people don’t understand the difference between philanthropy and charity.

0:26:39.7 Rohini: Yeah. We all need charity because we are human to human. We have to understand if somebody is suffering in front of me, can I lend out a hand that is good old charity. That is the real meaning of philanthropy also the love of humankind. All of us reached out in the pandemic to those who are less fortunate than us. And actually in India, we are much more than even the richy richy gave, more than 350 crores was collected from ordinary people across the country to help those who are suffering in the pandemic. And retail giving in India is very much alive. So that is really a fantastic thing. But, so that’s the kind of charity that we all need to do, and Indians do it extremely well. But philanthropy, when you come into a lot of money, how are you going to use that money to create strategic change? How can you work at a systems level? How can you work to change policy which impacts millions of people? That more strategic investment in systemic change is hopefully where philanthropy is headed. At least that’s what we try to do through EkStep Foundation and other efforts.

0:27:45.7 Speaker 1: One view, and my view is that Indian industry, forget about the Tatas and what Jamsetji did centuries ago. Is okay with charity. There’s no shortage of guys building temples or whatever, but we haven’t really understood philanthropy. Is that a fair observation?

0:28:03.2 Rohini: I think Indian philanthropy is at a very exciting stage right now, especially young people…

0:28:08.1 Speaker 1: That’s not an answer.

0:28:08.9 Rohini: Sorry?

0:28:09.1 Speaker 1: This is not an answer. [chuckle]

0:28:10.7 Rohini: So I’m telling you why.

0:28:12.0 Speaker 1: Okay. So you’re agreeing with the point.

0:28:13.8 Rohini: I’m saying that the Tatas and the Birlas and many, many Parsi families.

0:28:18.6 Speaker 1: Yeah.

0:28:19.4 Rohini: Many Parsi families actually in Mumbai, etcetera, would build public infrastructure. Very quietly. Didn’t even have their names on the bridges.

0:28:26.3 Speaker 1: Yeah. Absolutely.

0:28:26.7 Rohini: So there was a lot of very strategic work already in the last…

0:28:28.4 Speaker 1: , But this was a while ago, to be fair. This was a while.

0:28:31.6 Rohini: Sorry. This was last century. The last century. [chuckle] No, even the century before that.


0:28:51.1 Speaker 1: But I would say post ’91. By about 2000, even our wealthy, industrial families had become a little more comfortable that their wealth will not be snatched away in taxes or through bad competition. So they started to give back more. And the younger generation of wealthy people who became, they don’t even remember the age before globalization and liberalization. So they have a different kind of attachment to money. Money comes, money goes. And they kind of have a… They feel that even if they lose money, so they’re more willing to take more risk in philanthropy than are old industrial families who needed to pass it down from generation to generation.

0:29:19.5 Speaker 1: And worst case, they would lose.

0:29:20.7 Rohini: Especially in Bengaluru. I see our tech entrepreneurs, Nithin Kamath has committed $100 million to climate change. Now, who knows what his net worth will be Mr. Sam Bankman-Fried can tell you the story…

0:29:33.1 Speaker 1: That’s right.

0:29:34.4 Rohini: Or two, like that.

0:29:35.8 Speaker 1: Yeah.

0:29:36.6 Rohini: But still they’re more ready to commit.

0:29:37.6 Speaker 1: Yeah. So here’s my question. You talk about ’91 being a watershed in which of course it was for India, but a lot of the wealth that’s been created post 1991 has been created from people outside the traditional, I don’t use word Baniya, outside the traditional merchant class. These are professionals, young people, people from middle class backgrounds whose parents were not entrepreneurs. Do you think their attitudes are different?

0:30:03.9 Rohini: I really think so because for whatever reason, and I don’t want to make this a critique of some licensed Raj or chronic capitalism, though there is that critique and it’s in, they’re out in the domain, but opportunities became more flat. More people with few investments, access to bank loans, access to brilliant ideas, access to global thinking and capital. Were able to exercise their innovation in a economy that was willing to, encourage it. And so you got this whole new breed of middle class and upper middle class and wealthy people. So there’s a whole different narrative to wealth creation now. And I hope it sustains because in the world of technology, and this is why, we have to think in the digital technology world, you can have a winner takes all situation arising. But again, for that, I really feel as I say in the book, that just like we’ve had a physical civil society, we need a digital civil society to spring up so that we can keep tabs and create the checks and balances in the technology domain in the digital age that is already upon us.

0:31:13.9 Speaker 1: Okay.

0:31:15.7 Rohini: But otherwise, yes, I do think there is a broadening of opportunity for innovation. Like Nandan keeps saying earlier, just a few years ago there were just 15,000, 16,000, startups. Today there are almost one lakh in such a short period. People are brimming with ideas. Where I live in [0:31:31.5] ____ Bangalore, you bump into entrepreneurs literally every three steps of the way.

0:31:36.8 Speaker 1: Okay. We’ve asked questions of the audience. I’m gonna ask you some questions. If the answer is yes, put your hand up. Are you optimistic about India?

0:31:45.0 Rohini: Yes. I am.

0:31:45.5 Speaker 1: Hand up. [laughter]

0:31:47.6 Rohini: Oh, sorry. I didn’t hear that hand up.

0:31:49.3 Speaker 1: Are you more optimistic now than you were say 10 years ago?

0:31:53.0 Rohini: Yes.

0:31:53.3 Speaker 1: Yeah. Do you believe that the future is going to be better because of the young people in this audience?

0:32:00.4 Rohini: Thousand percent.

0:32:01.6 Speaker 1: Alright.

0:32:02.3 Rohini: Because of the young people and it’s not a burden on you. Okay. It’s a joyful responsibility.

0:32:08.8 Speaker 1: So ultimately we’ve left behind many years of varied experiences, but the reason for your optimism is that the young people are more idealistic. The new generational entrepreneurs are more idealistic and much more than that. Weve seen, particularly with the organ the hundred organizations. You support that when people come together and they make demands for what things that should be their rights, things do change.

0:32:35.7 Rohini: Yeah. I think young people do want to create a better society for themselves. They can see the possibilities. If they don’t participate, things can go very wrong. I’m not saying things that are not bad wins that we will confront, but I think because India is so young, we have a 30, 40 year window, to turn those crises into opportunities. And I didn’t use the word democratic dividend.

0:33:02.1 Speaker 1: Yeah.

0:33:02.6 Rohini: I don’t want to be glib about it, but I think people do care about freedoms. I think there is a ongoing worldwide debate and divide about individual freedoms and public order. And I think because we are so young, Indians are quite hyper libertarian. They say, why should I drive on only one side of the road? I mean, honestly, why?

0:33:22.6 Speaker 1: Yeah, we don’t like rules.

0:33:23.9 Rohini: So we like our freedoms. We like our, and I think we will fight for those liberties and so long as we can collectively do that, and collectively push for a better common future, not just for ourselves. India is more, I think better placed. I just came back from Davos where… We also heard there about how eventually people in Ukraine, people in Afghanistan, people in Iran are fighting for their freedoms. Because when you get to lose your freedoms, you realize they’re more precious than every diamond and piece of gold you can find on this planet. So I feel that our Indian people have desire and will nurture freedom.

0:34:05.7 Speaker 1: Okay. That’s a night optimistic note to end this part of the session.



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