To manage change and transform economies, affluent countries need to experiment fast and roll out new models that enable them to grow in a more innovative way, Amit Bajaj told EURACTIV.com in an interview, stressing the need for social innovation.
Amit Bajaj is the head of Europe for Tata Consultancy Services. Bajaj spoke to EURACTIV.com’s Editor-in-Chief Daniela Vincenti.
After the economic and migration crises, and then Brexit, Europe is at a crossroads. As a CEO of one of India’s biggest companies that firmly believes that digital technologies have the power to generate economic growth and jobs, do you see hope for this continent?
Absolutely. Europe has had its share of uncertainties. But at the same time one has to commend Europe for its resilience. Maybe there is lack of glamour, but it keeps its strength. The McKinsey report that came out this week shows that one in five companies expect more than 5% growth and on average we are expecting 2% over the coming years.
Is that enough to offset global competition?
Certainly not enough. But at the same time everything is connected. While there is a lot of technological innovation, we are lacking social innovation. The concept of innovation in governance at the country level and on how we structure education, benefits, healthcare. We will not find a magic silver bullet. There will need to be much more experimentation. Universal basic income, for example, could be one of the tools to encourage people to try new jobs because of the way technology will displace people and encourage workers to become a lifelong learner.
I think it would perhaps serve Europe right if there was more social innovation. Some of the countries like the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark are experimenting.
You are talking about innovation. Does India have something to teach with The Jugaad Innovation, which is this way of finding a low-cost solution to any problem in an intelligent way. Do we need to import Jugaad innovation in Europe considering public budgets are under tremendous strain?
The concept of Jugaad is about having the hunger to do things. It is a mindset. It is a mindset that you are like water: if you block it, it will find another way to go because it has to flow. That mindset comes from hunger, it enables you to get things done. If you are blocked by bureaucracy or lack of capital, how do you find a solution? I think that kind of mindset comes from hunger.
So how do you bring back hunger in a society that has gone through a very affluent period of the industrial age and has got used to a set-up that used to work in stable environment? When things are changing it does not work anymore.
This is the other side of populism. Some people find it difficult to cope with change. People do things in India, China in a different way because they have not gone through these affluent periods.
Even in Europe, previous generations, those that experienced wars, were much different than the current generations.
But I am also impressed with the creativity and start-ups in Europe – in Holland for example.
Are you saying there is creativity but it has not been unleashed yet?
Absolutely. How do you incentivise people to have this Jugaad mindset? This is why I link it back to social innovation. It’s not going to happen by itself.
So what is your message to EU policy-makers?
There are some policies that need to be pushed forward at the national level. It is not a matter for the Commission. Especially social policies. The Commission has other issues to deal with: think infrastructure, security, defence. That is where the common power comes from.
There are countries, like Finland and the Netherlands, that have the courage to experiment and change mindsets, perhaps because they are going through tough times as well.
So when you think of social innovation, what comes to mind?
Take for example what Finland is doing both in education and universal income. One of big issues is obviously job displacement because of technology. So, if jobs get displaced, how do you motivate a person to make the effort of retraining himself/herself and go back into the workforce.
The universal basic income encourages that. It gives security and takes care of the social aspects. But just does it enough that you can survive but not enough to live a good life.
It is also a matter of education. From what I understand Finland wants to eliminate single subjects by 2020 and rather go to education models that are more multidisciplinary combinations of sciences and maths together.
Would that be enough to counter the development of AI?
True, the development of Artificial Intelligence today is in its early stages. Experts I talk to say that on a scale of 0 to 100, the development of AI is at 10, so we still a long way to go.
Entrepreneurs in the private sectors have taken a lead on that. Europe has zoomed in on AI and is spending the most on AI compared to other regions. That makes sense. If you think of the industrial age and robotic movement and automation, Europe has been quite far ahead. For example, German factories are at the forefront of automation. So, it is no-brainer that AI is the consequence of what we have seen happening in the industrial age.
I think Europe has a great opportunity now to take a lead on AI. I hope that entrepreneurs can drive this expansion. Existing companies have business models that bring them money, profit. They have a monetisation model that is difficult to disrupt. But I am a believer that radical change comes from outside industry.
There is a thriving start-up scene in European hubs, especially in Berlin, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Stockholm. These are buzzing with a lot amazing new concepts.
For example, we worked with a Norwegian bank, DNB, that came up with peer-to-peer payments. This in itself is not new. But what was new was the Norwegian context. The concept there was unknown. What was also new was they used it as a social platform, not just as a money platform. They also did it within six months and it was a huge success. Norway has around 5 million people and in a short period of time this was the most downloaded app, competing with other brands like Apple.
It allowed 3.5 out of 5 million people to not only transfer money but also chat. It’s a social platform.
Now they have set it up as a separate company, a Fintech company and have invited other banks to join as minority shareholders. Together they are building a new ecosystem. Technology is providing the fuel.
Let me ask you about EU-India relations. The negotiations for an FTA have been moving very slowly recently. What do you think is needed to regain the drive to accelerate talks?
India and Europe are very natural partners – in terms of human values and democracy. But external forces – the US, China – which are a challenge for both the EU and India will bring us closer together. Hopefully we will find a renewed partnership because of the alignment of our priorities, values and mindset.
A big problem in moving forward is intellectual property. Isn’t it?
At the policy level, India has been quite affirmative in protecting intellectual property. I don’t think there is a disconnect there. Maybe the problem can occur when it comes to implementation but not on the intent. Indian companies too invest massively in R&D and we need very strong intellectual property regimes to make a good business. But I am also very positive about the digitalisation of India, which will bring this traceability and transparency to other sectors.
What you take for granted in Europe, we are just starting to implement in India – like universal identification. But we are getting there.