India’s “Demographic Dividend” is the current focus (and “Most Read” article) of Booz & Co’s Strategy + Business magazine.

The article is a recap of a panel discussion in which I took part a few months ago in New Delhi, hosted by Thomas A. Stewart Booz & Co’s Chief Marketing and Knowledge Officer.

The basis of the “demographic dividend” is that in 2020, the average age in India will be only 29 years, compared with 37 in China and the United States, 45 in western Europe, and 48 in Japan. Moreover, 70 percent of Indians will be of working age in 2025, up from 61 percent now. Also by 2025, the proportion of children younger than 15 will fall to 23 percent of India’s total population, from 34 percent today, while the share of people older than 65 will remain around just 5 percent.

The panelists were a fascinating mixture of perspectives and included CK Prahalad the famed co-author of The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (Wharton School Publishing, 2005), The New Age of Innovation (McGraw-Hill, 2008) and professor of strategy at the University of Michigan’s business school. Sadly, CK, whom I had the pleasure of meeting half a dozen times over the years died in mid-April.

Also taking part was Shobana Kamineni, executive director of new initiatives for the Apollo Hospitals Group, which operates 46 hospitals in India and overseas that do medical procedures – including open heart surgery – at a fraction the cost of hospitals in developed nations. Their outcomes rival the Mayo Clinic and other major hospitals.

My role was to speak about the digital opportunities that will come out of India’s rising young demography. (Clearly my answers were slanted to my role. Broadband is not THE priority for developing an economy, I just wanted to emphasize its role.)

Excerpts of my thoughts:

On building skills and training India’s young workforce:

The problem I see in trying to develop skills is a new form of discrimination: age discrimination. Few people are willing to tap the true potential of the digital world, in which teenagers live, as a teaching platform.

Take a video game such as Counterstrike, which pits two teams of three players against each other in a commando-style raid. Communicating via chat and voice channels, these players learn to coordinate complex maneuvers under high pressure in teams that are often composed of teenagers from different continents and cultures.

First of all, a game like Counterstrike helps build intercultural communication and leadership skills that will be key as India and other emerging economies look to export high-value-added services. Second, contrast the experience a teenager has moving from the highly compelling and rich online environment of an immersive video game to a book-based system built on rote learning. If schools could learn to make mathematics and composition as compelling as online games, the generation would enthusiastically educate itself.

The impact of India’s urbanization:

Urbanization will bring about tremendous transformations because suddenly you have hundreds of millions of people with access to broadband and mobile Internet. You have people who are able to use all these platforms for the first time. It brings them into a whole new way of being able to interact with others.

Suddenly they start doing things in very different ways, and you get these very disruptive models appearing out of nowhere. For example, in China a group of people known as Gold Farmers earn a living from winning points in the video game World of Warcraft that they sell to people in the West who want to build up their point levels.

The one thing to remember, though, is that India is not like China. China has an incredible broadband infrastructure. India does not. But India is moving ahead in a big way into mobile-based Internet. It will be interesting to compare the progress and innovation of India’s mobile phone culture with Indonesia’s at the less-developed end and Japan’s at the more-developed end.

What developmental priority would you set the government?

I’d put connectivity as the top priority. With connectivity, you’re going to suddenly find all these scalable solutions that were never available before. The difference between somebody who can get online only a little and someone who cannot get online at all is massive. If you can make it an objective to provide people with connectivity, they will find ways to solve problems before they become big. Solutions will arise that would otherwise have been totally unavailable. Some skill problems may start to solve themselves, as Professor Sugata Mitra of NIIT [an Indian IT training company] in Delhi found after placing a computer in the wall of the institute. Children from the adjoining impoverished neighborhood began teaching themselves how to use computers, and unsupervised computer learning was born. You’ll also find online universities growing to fill a huge portion of the training agenda.

I would appreciate reactions/thoughts!

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9 comments

  1. Sve

    I think educating and providing well paid jobs to India's youth is an issue that the government should think carefully and start working on ASAP, unless they want to face the crisis of ever -growing uneducated and unemployed mass. They should really think of providing the broadband and mobile network infrastructure, even to remote rural areas. It will require great focus and substantial investment probably, but the ROI will be good – imagine how much a team of digitally-savvy young professionals could contribute to the development of their local communities.

  2. Its happening – The broadband penetration slowly but steadily.It may take some more time to bridge the Digital Divide.What we need is transparent and affordable High speed broadband with no strings attached.

    While IT still remains the focus of young Indians,I did see what they can do in other areas like advertising and Digital Marketing while interning at Ogilvy.

  3. Broadband penetration need not increase if same bandwidth can be offered by wireless solutions.

  4. Thomas Crampton

    Yes, exactly.

  5. Thomas Crampton

    Yes, exactly.

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  8. If schools could learn to make mathematics and composition as
    compelling as online games, the generation would enthusiastically
    educate itself.

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