Why winning in India will help us to win in the world


Due to a financial crisis in 1991, India was forced to reinvent its growth model. Its old model of state-led, closed growth had run out of steam and the country was on the brink of collapse.  Since the 1991 reforms India has made remarkable progress, reducing poverty and improving living standards for many of its citizens, tripling GDP per capita, and contributing significantly to global economic growth. It is now the world’s largest democracy and seventh largest economy, projected to be the world’s most populous country by 2030. India’s growing human and financial resources are powering significant economic development.

But now India, like the rest of the world, faces challenges above and beyond those faced in the last two decades, and we must recognise that the window to sustainable prosperity for humanity won’t remain open indefinitely.

It is time to build the foundations for future-fit growth –  and it is imperative to start this now, in India. Growth that benefits many, and not just the few; growth which does not place humanity on a collision course with nature, and that balances short-term dynamism with long-term value creation.

Recognising the imperative for action, the Government of India has announced ambitious goals for India’s economic, social and environmental trajectory. Its targets include 100 million new manufacturing jobs, 100 smart cities, broadband for 600,000 villages, universal access to 24/7 power, 175 GW of renewable energy generation capacity, 100 million toilets and solid waste management facilities, and vocational training for 500 million people. These goals are well aligned with the Global Goals for Sustainable Development (Global Goals), which the Government of India played an important role in shaping.

Government can lay a path to the Global Goals, but business and financial markets drive the economic engine to take us there. Business investments, technological development, innovation and managerial skills will play a vital role in powering growth – and the decisions made by business leaders will be pivotal in shaping economic activity to meet the Global Goals.

As a coalition of global and Indian businesses, we are aiming to contribute to future-fit economic growth in India. We are doing this through a series of initiatives aligned with the Government of India’s own ambitious growth programme, as well as the Global Goals.

India’s path to prosperity will be critical in determining the success or failure of the Global Goals. For example, one-third of the world’s stunted children suffering from malnutrition, live in India. More preventable child deaths occur in India than anywhere else in the world[1]. Later in life the challenges continue: 500 million people lack secondary education or skills training, and 10 million new jobs are needed each year to provide for young people entering the workforce. Nearly 50% of the population lacks access to sanitation.

These formidable development challenges are interdependent. Take access to electricity and health: roughly 300 million people lack electricity, and 38 million households depend on primary healthcare centres that lack electricity[2] – preventing India’s promising low-cost health diagnostics industry from serving a significant population. Or take gender equality and economic growth: if the workforce participation rate for women in India was the same as for men, roughly 217 million women would join the labour force, and GDP would expand by 27%. These challenges emerge from complex systems and require multiple interventions from a range of stakeholders to unlock change and create new value.

We believe that driving future-fit growth in India requires a systemic approach. That is to say, one that seeks transformative rather than incremental change; looks across value chains rather than simply at the level of individual actors; and mobilises new investment to achieve impact at the scale of India’s economy. It also requires leadership: a commitment not just to succeed in India’s future, but to help shape it.

As India finds innovative ways to address its challenges it is becoming a crucible for reinventing growth, generating pioneer businesses and leaders that inspire followers all over the world. India is a world leader when it comes to creating social enterprises, with an estimated two million companies currently operating, serving hundreds of millions of beneficiaries, according to a recent British Council survey[3]. However, most are young and small – operating for under five years, with an average of 19 employees. Though many have ambitious growth plans, they face barriers in accessing capital and maintaining cash flow. They also struggle with managerial capacity. Funding for impact is typically focussed on scalable business models, leaving many social enterprises with high impact but limited scalability,[4] struggling to access capital.

For enterprises that can demonstrate scalable models for fulfilling human needs while delivering commercial returns, there is a growing pool of capital.[5] India attracted US $5.2 billion of impact investment between 2010 and 2016, and will continue to draw investment due to the combination of a young, growing population with rising incomes and significant unmet social needs[6]. The average impact investment deal size has grown from US $7.6 million in 2010 to US $17.6 million in 2016.[7] Impact investors are increasingly taking a commercial approach over a purely social approach[8], encouraged by the strong exits in recent years. A McKinsey analysis of 48 exits between 2010-2015 found a median internal rate of return (IRR) of 10 percent, with the top 30 percent of deals yielding an impressive 34 percent IRR –  strong evidence that profitable exits from social enterprises are possible[9]. As a growing number of impact enterprises establish their business models, there may be attractive pathways to scale through partnerships with leading Indian and global companies.

Leading businesses in India have demonstrated their willingness and capacity to innovate and serve the unmet needs of millions. Hindustan Unilever has trained some 70,000 women entrepreneurs and 48,000 male entrepreneurs to sell consumer products in rural villages across India[10]. Bharti Airtel’s Green Sim Card provides voice-based agricultural information to help three million rural farmers to improve their farming practices[11]. Add to this the pioneering approach to funding for impact led by groups such as Tata Sons, who in collaboration with the Tata Trusts are adopting an innovative approach to the deployment of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds, demonstrating return through social and environmental impact and impact investing.  Organisations like these are natural partners to take promising models to national scale and beyond.

Many laudable business initiatives exist, but have often have been held back by isolation, fragmentation, a narrow CSR lens and lack of design for scale. They do not provide an adequate response to the systemic nature of the challenge they seek to overcome; they lack the commercial strength to grow or even sustain without grants or other outside support. We need to raise our ambition levels beyond corporate social responsibility. What is required is transformational change, including the way we deploy capital for social impact.

Transformational change requires us to move beyond philanthropy, to apply the enormous human, financial and built capital of business to drive future-fit growth in India. We need leaders to aim for transformational innovation – disruptive breakthroughs that will change society for the better and enable innovators to harvest the rewards for years. Such breakthroughs cannot survive in a large corporate environment without protection from standard success metrics. As a result, many companies now recognise the need to practice transformational innovation outside existing corporate silos. The India2022 Coalition provides a unique platform for this. Through collaborative working we can inject diversity into each organisations’ thinking via a diverse tribe: global and Indian, from cities and regions spanning the Nordics and India, representing business, government and civil society.

The Coalition acts as a cross-sector accelerator, combining business talent with appropriate capital, to scale existing projects or build new interventions. The coalition provides the vehicle to experiment, collaborate across sectors, and accelerate new growth models. These new models can lean on the power of partnerships to succeed and then scale – including timely access to the right blend of finance. We are building an ecosystem of providers of capital to meet emerging needs. For example, early-stage and disruptive models may require risk-tolerant philanthropic capital to fund the journey from experimentation, growth to commercial viability – to finally achieve the scale required for acquisition by a corporate partner or be ready for further capital injections from investors seeking commercial rates of return.

We are bringing together experts from each of our partner organisations on four impact tracks, to collaboratively develop projects in the energy, waste, sanitation, healthcare, and the mining sectors. For example, the coalition’s work on the energy track, led by Shell, and supported by TechnipFMC and GE, is focusing on energy access, bio-fuels, rural electrification, waste to energy and hybrid systems, aiming to develop and accelerate cleaner and more efficient commercial energy solutions towards India’s cleaner energy transition. Within the waste and sanitation track, we are working with Hindustan Unilever towards realizing the lost value of plastic packaging, which is a US $80-120 billion a year opportunity globally. We are developing collaborative approaches and innovative solutions which can help recover value from India’s 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated daily. Within healthcare, our work with Cyient aims to advance medical diagnostics – a disruptive and affordable technology – which should be accessible to a wide range of demographic groups in India.

Our mission requires exceptional leadership: a commitment not just to succeed in India’s future, but to help shape it. Leaders who align their organisations’ purpose, strategy and business models with the Global Goals and future-fit growth for India, based on a full understanding of their impacts and dependencies on society. Leaders who focus senior executives’ attention and motivate talent through a compelling vision and narrative. Leaders who ensure their people are empowered to deliver on a new growth agenda. Most importantly, our mission requires leaders who collaborate and advocate change beyond their organisation and sector.

Such leaders need a platform to strengthen a shared agenda for change through a shared narrative. We believe we need a new approach to leadership from within India. Many leaders have the right vision; however, they find it difficult to gather support and partners from within their network. Given the systemic nature of the challenges we are facing in India and globally, working alone limits leaders’ effectiveness, dissipates their energy and ultimately undermines impact at scale. Working together, committed leaders can drive transformational change. We believe we will realise our mission by building a diverse tribe of like-minded leaders from across sectors, both within and from outside India – leaders in their respective industries driven by a common purpose.

We need leaders capable of reinventing their personal growth, their organisation’s growth, and the growth of the societies in which they operate. We are building a tribe of emerging and current leaders, aligned around a shared narrative. This April, over 200 leaders from businesses, start-ups, academia, research institutions and Government are coming together at the Xynteo Exchange/India2022, hosted by TechnipFMC, in Mumbai. The proactive, collaborative approach demonstrated by such leaders is a means for global businesses to win in India, and an opportunity for Indian business leaders to plant a flag and rally others around a progressive vision for India’s future.

[1] https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1861/India%20Profile%202016.pdf

[2] Powering Primary Healthcare through Solar in India: Lessons from Chhattisgarh: Research Summary by Power for All and CEEW http://www.sun-connect-news.org/fileadmin/DATEIEN/Dateien/New/PFA-Research-Summary-Electricity-Access-and-Health-Care-finaldraft.pdf

[3] https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/bc-report-ch4-india-digital_0.pdf

[4] These barriers relate to the challenges of establishing business model viability or the unit economics that underpins them. In order to scale they may require the market environment to be enhanced: creating demand, securing supply, supporting regulatory frameworks and value chain infrastructure. These enterprises also need capacity – they lack the human capital of large corporations, and particularly the access to managerial skills.

[5] There is a growing pool of for-profit capital searching for impact. According to GIIN’s 7th Annual Impact Investor Survey, the total impact capital invested globally so far stands at US $181 billion and the total planned investment for 2017 is expected to be US $25.9 billion – a 17% rise.


[7] https://nextbillion.net/the-end-of-a-debate-india-highlights-the-dominance-of-for-profit-capital-in-impact-investing/

[8] Witness the Indian microfinance sector, for example – see analysis by Disha Gandhi, Aavishkaar Venture Management Services: https://nextbillion.net/the-end-of-a-debate-india-highlights-the-dominance-of-for-profit-capital-in-impact-investing/


[10] https://www.hul.co.in/sustainable-living/case-studies/enhancing-livelihoods-through-project-shakti.html

[11] https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/programme/magri/case-study-airtel-green-sim/

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James Beresford's main area of responsibility is the Leadership Vanguard, a partnership which brings together organisations such as Unilever, MasterCard, DNV GL, EDP and ICRC in an initiative aiming to build future-fit leadership - in the partner organisations and beyond. He joined XYNTEO from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), where he designed and lead a range of senior executive programmes for large organisations in the UK, South Africa, Colombia and Australia, as well as leading the development of CISL's capability to deliver online education. Prior to this, he advised clients on carbon and energy management strategies as an analyst at Verdantix. Earlier he conducted research for a UN initiative and major report on 'The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity' (TEEB) and modelled the global economic value of nature tourism for the Natural Capital Project. James holds an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London and a BA in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge.