In his plenary address to the audience of Charcha2020 in May this year, Nobel laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus urged citizens, corporates and governments of the world to seize the “tabula rasa” opportunity gifted to us by the pandemic. Wipe the slate clean—he said, because the past is not what you want to revert to when the pandemic is over.
We now have an unprecedented opportunity to create a future that works for everyone, with nobody left behind. Now six months later, as normalcy starts to take shape, it is apparent that the systems of the pre-COVID era will no longer suffice. Any efforts to restore, or revive the past as we know it will be woefully inadequate for the needs of the future.
From education, to healthcare, sanitation to urban housing, there is a need for ab initio solutions that are designed to reach hitherto underserved segments of the population, and for resilience against future shocks.
Social entrepreneurs rising to the occasion
Social entrepreneurs have long been the bridge between government and its citizens. Edtech, agritech, fintech, healthcare, digitized infrastructure, clean energy, climate change and reworking of citizen-state relationships have seen unprecedented innovation, led by social entrepreneurs. As the former education secretary Anil Swarup noted in his NexusofGood blog: “Public-private partnership is the way forward in improving the quality of public (education) systems.
Non-profits like Leadership for Equity, Room to read, Right Walk, etc., demonstrate that yet again as they go on to scale their good work after initial experiments through government partnerships.” Innovation is the forte of startups while governments hold the key to scale. The handshake of government and civil society organizations with the DNA of innovation has accelerated the pace of solutions at this critical time.
Nudging Corporate Talent Into Public Sector
While the pandemic has pushed the envelope on innovation, it has also demanded a sense of urgency for large-scale overhaul of public systems. At a time when governments have been on an overdrive managing the demands on the health, economic and humanitarian fronts, the added onus of systems redesign and rapid transformation starts to overwhelm on several fronts. Meanwhile India’s top professionals who have driven our economic growth in diverse sectors are increasingly looking to apply their talent and capabilities to public good.
Having built muscles for agility at scale, senior leaders from multinational corporations can bring strategic acumen and a results-oriented work ethic to bear, in helping visionary civil servants to leverage the tabula rasa opportunity to create systems that effectively serve the citizens of the country. For example, The/Nudge recently launched the Indian Administrative Fellowship, to bring C-suite technology leaders into an 18 month fellowship with state secretaries to work on strategic programs of state-wide importance.
Corporate India’s enthusiastic response to the call for applications—over 1,000 signups in three days—is proof that beyond material success lies the pursuit of purpose.