TED2009: Nandan Nilekani


Software entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani is on stage at TED2009. He's the author of the forthcoming Imagining India, "a radical re-thinking of one of the world’s great economies."

He lists six factors that have contributed to why India is growing at rates never seen before:

1. India is going to have a demographic dividend - it will be the only young country in an aging world. If you don't invest in human capital it can become a demographic disaster.

2. Role of entrepreneurs in India, once thought of as exploiters, but now they are role models

3. English was seen as language of imperialists, but now the language is a huge strategic asset.

4. Computers were once seen as reducing jobs, but now technology is considered empowering.

5. Indians are comfortable with globalization.

6. India has had deepening of its democracy. 60 years ago it was an elite concept. But now it is a bottom up process. It has become embedded.

He presents four ideas that have been accepted but not implemented:

1. Education -- oral culture, religion. Bit gov't schools don't function. Even in slums 50% of kids go to private schools.

2. Infrastructure -- now becoming accepted, needs to be implemented.

3. Cities -- Gandhi believed in villages, Empire believed in cities, so India ignored cities. But cities are being accepted as engines of growth an innovation.

4. India as a single market. Before every province had it own market for things.

He gives three ideas in conflict, which are creating gridlock:

1. Ideology of caste

2. Labor policies making it difficult for entrepreneurs to allow people into workforce with a new set of labor laws that create jobs for millions

3. Higher education -- hard to start new universities

And three ideas India needs to anticipate:

1. E-governance

2. Health -- bad heart problems, diabetes, obesity

3. Problem of entitlements - social security, medical. Need

4. Environmental concerns. How to keep the country and world clean while India grows.


  1. Fascinating, Mark, thanks for posting this. Re the list of conflicts, in particular the ideology of caste and the health care problem, here’s a neat development that has successfully tackled both problems in parts of rural India: training women from the Untouchables caste to become self-supporting rural health care workers, monitoring maternal health, hypertension and diabetes, teaching about hygiene, rehydration and safer farming practices. It’s called the Comprehensive Rural Health Project (Jamkhed), it began in 1970 with an Indian husband and wife doctor team educated at Johns Hopkins, and it has successfully trained hundreds of women who go to the poorest of the poor, where doctors won’t go, at a tiny fraction of the cost of training doctors. National Geographic ran a story about the organization in December: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/12/community-doctors/rosenberg-text

  2. Going back to about 1960, a former teacher of mine was on sabbatical in India. What he found to be discouaging then was the degree of fatalism amongst the Indians. I find it amazling that in the interval from then until now India has developed very creative entrepreneurs.
    A conversation I often had with an Indian professor was about the totally intractable Indian bureaucracy that stopped progress cold. He said the only reason IT was doing well there was that it sprung up before a bureaucracy could be assembled to strangle it.

  3. Are we sure this guy doesn’t work for the IMF/World Bank? ‘Cause everything written here reads like it came right out of a giddily pro-globalization report on why India should abolish minimum wage and give medical care only to those who can pay for it.

    It’s funny how in order to become first world countries, developing nations are expected to embrace the free market more than the first world ever has. Of course, poverty and reduced economic freedom results.

  4. The same issue of “ideology of caste” affects all developing countries trying to rebrand themselves. In my country, it is called “tribalism” and it is now reinforced by religious stereotyping…

    Interesting read.

Comments are closed.