As part of the health project Observer Research Foundation is doing with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), a panel discussion on ‘Human Capital, Growth and Public Policy’ was organised in New Delhi on November 17. It was organised by ORF, BMGF and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
The key speaker at the discussion was Bill Gates, the Co-Chairman of the BGMF. The other panellists were Mr. Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Advisor to the Government of India and Ms Ireena Vittal, strategy consultant on agriculture, urban development and consumer brands. The discussion was moderated by Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the Vice Chancellor of the Ashoka University.
Bill Gates, one of the richest persons in the world, stressed the need for investing more and more in the human capital to help India maintain a steady 7 percent growth in its GDP for at least a decade. “As India charts its course for the future, the productivity and skill level of its workforce is becoming even more critical,” he said.
He said the example of China reinforced this argument as research showed that investments in fundamentals like health and nutrition accounted for almost 40 percent of China’s phenomenal growth since the 1970s.
Gates pointed out that the models that developing economies had relied upon so far, like export-oriented, low-skill, large scale manufacturing jobs, are on the decline around the world as automation is reducing the amount of low-skill work the manufacturing sector requires.
Saying lost productivity is lost potential in future, he said the fact that malnourished Indian children perform two-to-three times worse than their adequately nourished peers underlines the need for investing more and more in the health, sanitation and skilling of Indian workers and children.
Gates said that he is optimistic of the States’ capability to perform to achieve this goal, provided enough investment is done on these areas.
One of the world’s richest man also stressed on the importance of achieving “equitable growth” while trying to produce the miracle of over seven percent GDP growth for over a decade.
Mr Sanjeev Sanyal said while he was for much bigger allocations for sectors like health, education and sanitation, the problem for the government was that there are other sectors that required more finances.
He hoped that tax reforms the GST would make the government economically much stronger and then it would be able to find more finances for health and education.
He also underlined the need for improving our municipal services which in turn will help improve the life of the people. “We need to work very hard on this,” he said.
Saying in the next decade India will witness the world’s biggest urbanisation, Sanyal revealed that the Government would be bringing out a new urban policy early next year which will factor in all aspects making it a comprehensive document.
Responding to Sanyal’s observations, Gates described the GST fantastic.
Explaining how different places in India experience floods and draught many times at the same time, Ms. Ireena Vittal emphasised on the need for proper and effective management of water. She pointed out how important is this for the human capital which is the basis for improvement of life.
Delivering the opening remarks, Sunjoy Joshi, Chairman, ORF, said the discussion was part of a series of programmes ORF is curating with its partner the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the implementation of sustainable development goals in India.
“We live in a world that is obsessed by security – and the security it invests in so heavily is more and more defined in increasingly narrow terms. But the embarrassing truth is that completely avoidable mortality and morbidity; disease, malnutrition, pose the largest as well as uncounted and unaccounted for drain on human lives,” he said.
The ORF Chairman said any discussion on human security, therefore, must include the important questions of health, nutrition, education and gender that remain the fundamental impediments to sustained growth. To do that, Human capital, as a fundamental building block of society, of community, must move to the core in any imagination of human security.
That also makes these parts of an economic agenda because maternal and early-life nutrition programmes offer every nation the highest possible returns on investment. And coming to India, “in a country obsessed with double digit growth, these are clear double digit returns,” he said.
“For in a polity confined to policy making in a disaggregated sectors, we believe that health and nutrition is not a social sector agenda. It is a national security agenda. It is an economic agenda,” the ORF Chairman said.
ORF Vice President Samir Saran, giving vote of thanks, impressed the need for institutions like ORF and BMGF to work on health and education on a much bigger scale.