Small enterprises as big businesses

Thu 25 Dec 2014

The lion of Gujarat roars as I switch on the television in a small village of Southern Europe. Bold, the tricolour sweeps across a silhouette revealing a beast that looks more African than a mangy survivor of Gir. Ashoka’s chakra rolls in, turning wheel within wheel, geared up to make anything happen and deliver a well synchronised Indian machine. This is expensive prime time advertising blitzkrieg and is being aired internationally. Good times are here even as ‘incredible’ and ‘shining’ predecessors of the past regimes reincarnate.

‘Make in India,’ launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with signature flourish, has come 60 years after a post-war Japan bounced back, 30 years after China opened up, and 15 years after Abu Dhabi declared itself as the centre of a flat world. Perhaps more than a millennium after, India is once again going to kick-start its economy with the manufacturing boom. ‘Made in India,’ now mostly considered — even to Indians — tacky and unacceptable, will hopefully get a boost after file after file opens factory after factory for foreign capital to flow in.

Role of micro enterprises

Undoubtedly, India is firmly on the growth trajectory. But despite oscillating predictions, the Indian economy still struggles to generate sustainable employment to match rising graphs. Without a road map, the country could still be left groping for a foothold. This is also because economic and financial institutions continue to offer no barometer to gauge the role of ‘softer’ small and micro enterprises as a big business. These silent components of the nation’s growth story, supported reticently at best, and suffered quietly as a sunset industry by the erstwhile mandarins in the ‘Yojna Bhavan,’ continue to constitute 5.77 crore enterprises, contributing 45 per cent to the national GDP versus the 15 per cent of the corporate sector, so widely celebrated in pink pages.

More significantly, micro small and medium enterprises provide 90 per cent of employment to a decentralised mode of production, and service and trading practices. Derogatorily known as ‘unorganised,’ this sector is owned by the tenacious self-employed, empowering a majority of women and artisans. With more than 60 per cent of units owned by the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, it constitutes the hidden base of a pyramid. These people’s unmapped skills can generate national value and create millions of livelihoods in the non-farm sector, if they are recognised and positioned with imaginative demand-savvy intervention.

It is also hoped that ‘Create in India’ or ‘Design in India,’ which are also crying out to be promoted, will soon follow ‘Make in India,’ giving India its own original edge.

With the ‘content industry’ as the corner stone of contemporary knowledge economy across the globe, the subcontinent alone is in a stark vantage point even with its fast eroding legacy of traditional competencies and cultural industry sector. Its heritage, with all its creative potential linked intrinsically with the promise of tourism, can boost an unprecedented reskilling enterprise, bigger and more inspirational than any brand looming on the horizon.

Shift of mindset

A just methodology announcing this sunrise will require a radical shift of mindset combined with broad-based pedagogic programmes — both formal and non-formal. The Smriti Iranis of India’s human resource have to transgress beyond Sanskrit or German. How is India preparing to define the future of work? How will robotic and automation, destined to rule, negotiate or deter the shrinking of our senses…of our creative spaces… our capacity for the inter personal and versatile making with our hands?

Critical for arresting the problem of India deskilling itself, people themselves will have to do a lot more than receive ubiquitous hand-me-down degrees or employment guarantees. Goodwill for Gandhi ji will need more than digging holes in the sand to banish poverty or sweeping litter off streets for a clean India. What we require is innovative design-led capacity building among the talented and struggling communities, backed with appropriate legal safeguards of Intellectual Property Rights regimes. Perceiving a sense of pride and repositioning privileges associated with time-honoured occupations is essential.

Proactive connoisseurship, fostering awareness and collective ownership of traditional knowledge systems as national heritage, particularly among young consumers, is critical. The indigenous must surely mean more to us than ersatz festivals, the pride of museums or the exotic merchandise of niche brands. Many mehakmas and ministries need to work together to bring about a culture-centric agenda of grassroot programmes, instead of being pushed or pulled in different directions while placating egos. India’s past has to be fast-forwarded and synergised with creative thinking, to reconfigure and tap into emerging markets.

I was moved by the Prime Minister’s gesture before he took oath of office. The resonant tenor of his speech thereafter sounded real. But it is about making, doing and being — all together. May be we are who we are only while becoming. Slowly but surely, coherent and concerted action alone can deliver. This country has witnessed some of the most profound transformations. Both in the public and individual domain, the seminal act of reimagining a vision has made India famous worldwide, long before the advent of electronic media.

At the threshold of this third millennium, we stand at crossroads watching a man making promises while everyone is crying fair or foul. The times ahead hold all the magic associated with cusps and moments of transition. Where do we go from here? Can brand India give a new agenda to the concept of inclusive growth… a talisman to measure development that doesn’t make people more pastless, voiceless, jobless, ruthless and futureless?

(Rajeev Sethi is Chairman of the Asian Heritage Foundation.)


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