India’s role in the world is not just a recent phenomenon. India has long been a trading partner in both intellectual, and material capital for over 2,000 years. Geographically, India is prized in that its diverse in its cultural units. The Indian constitution itself recognises twenty-two official languages, with Hindi being the most important spoken by more than 400 million people. It’s undeniable that India is a country that’s own existence is a phenomenal story in history involving the Mughals, French, Portuguese, and of course infamously British.

In visiting India in February, I was intrigued that many of the connections that are discussed in history connecting India to Europe are still very much in play today. India still holds a lot of resources (although more so in intellectual capital now) that Europe desires, and the Indian diaspora travelling in the reverse direction. I reflected back on an experience visiting the United Arab Emirates for another study tour involving the various theme parks. I noticed that overwhelmingly many of the resources in both labour, and human capital originated from India, and modern day Pakistan. Trips to the spice souk found many products originating from the sub-continent or nearby Sri Lanka. Trade moving through the Gulf into Europe and vice-versa is still very much in action today.

India’s greatest asset is that it comes with varying degrees of diversity. It’s a country of extremes, where extreme wealth, and extreme poverty coexist; and a nation where urban and regional India are immensely different in access to resources. The west has its problems, be it pollution, urbanisation, or poverty. But India has been dealing with these issues for a longer period of time, and has started to develop solutions for their unique situation.

In my both my study of Business, and in past employment in the start-up world; India’s own tech boom can only be described as somewhat inspirational. China may have their Alibaba, and Tencent, but India is full of businesses that transcend the ‘back office of the world’ stereotype. One such example was visiting Infosys, a technology consultancy company that operates in the business-to-business space. With Australian clients in both the public and private sector, Infosys goes beyond just providing the technology; actively mobilising business problems with technology solutions.

Australia still has one of the lowest rates of start-up formation, and venture capital investment in the world. Often what we saw with Indian start-ups, even through Manipal University was that there was a drive to get started with a business idea; even if the likelihood of success was low. Universities, governments, and international businesses were heavily interested in India as a launch pad for innovation.

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Coworking spaces are popping up all over Australia. Multi-use spaces are part of the Indian normality, and have been incredibly successful. We visited Rise Mumbai, a FinTech coworking space operated by the UK bank Barclays.

Copy-cat innovation is the general stereotype that many jump to when it comes to Indian entrepreneurship, but in many cases such as Ola v Uber it’s become more a matter of frugal innovation. Ola, unlike Uber was quick to recognise the quirks of the Indian market offering features such as offering the option to book cabs via SMS, and cash payment. Both features that Uber was slow to implement in the Indian market, leading to their speculated shift away. Now launching in Australia, Ola is now taking its similar, yet different business model abroad to developed nations. After choosing Ola for many errands in India, I will be an early adopter of Ola when it launches here in Australia.

In Australia, the adoption of cashless payment has been strong mirroring that of most of the developed world. Although India is still very much a cash economy, the general distrust of the financial system has lead many tech-conscious Indians towards mobile-to-mobile payment solutions such as Paytm and WhatsApp. These are becoming incredibly popular post de-monitisation. It is predicted that digital payments within India will reach $1 trillion by 2023, largely driven by the decentralised nature of the technology.

Many Australians haven’t even heard of mobile-to-mobile payments, with adoption less than 2% of the nation. A large part of this comes from the regulatory framework that’s been in place for Australian banks, and an oligopoly they share in payment.

Technology has been the key mobiliser for India with mobile phones, cheap data and access to verification through services such as the AADHAR card. In Australia we don’t have a centralised identity card, and for the most part are still very reliant on our national, and often criticised operator Telstra. Although the AADHAR card has been plagued with various security and implementation issues, the ability to capture the sheer number of citizens in such a short period is inspiring. The pseudo equivalent in Australia is the MyGov identity, and to a lesser extent our digital census; both of which have been plagued with similar issues. The different here is that India was able to achieve similar outcomes with a significantly larger population.

The most eye-opening moments on the trip was visiting Dharavi. In the west we see order as being the cause of the day, without order there is chaos. Before departing for India, I enjoyed reading Weinstein’s The Durable Slum – a book for which investigated the commanding redevelopment project looming for the slum. Whilst the first few minutes in the slum demanded quite a lot of attention to senses, the mind quickly pivoted to the communities living in the area. I kept thinking back to this book, the history, and the continued arrivals into the slum. Very quickly, aspects of the slum became second-place.

From a Westerner’s perspective, you are immediately drawn to the lack of amenities. The first image in my experience with Dharavi was that of a small girl playing in the puddles of effluent on the streets. That image to this day still sticks to me, but I think of Dharavi in a different way. Seeing the people living in such circumstances, but being truly being content and happy is something that struck me.

While a casual observer may see the Indian way as being nothing but chaotic, spending time in India made it clear that it was quite the opposite. It’s just a different way of operating. Here in the cultural West we focus on ‘single-use’ spaces, India has never had this option. With 18% of the world’s population living in one nation, neatly organising cities into Industrial, Residential, and Commercial was not going to be an easy feat. While parts of New Delhi, and even mega-developments like Mahindra’s World City (where Infosys Jaipur is based) have planning to them, India is truth that emergent order can work.

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People may say India is chaotic, but I can assure you it’s quite the opposite. There’s order to the madness.

This experience has most certainly changed my view on the world. I’ve grown interested in how services can be delivered in a more efficient way through using technology. Having worked in the start-up world for many years, I saw first-hand the solutions India found and have been intrigued how they can be applied to issues within Australia.

I’m very fortunate to be returning to India in November, this time participating in a programme with KM Music Conservatory. In doing so, I hope to see further the complexities that exist as a result of the various cultural and socio-economic differences throughout the country. Applying for this second experience was to investigate many of the questions that I still have about India, and that remain unanswered. While I am sure many of them will still remain unanswered, experiencing the south of the country will undoubtedly provide further clarity.