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Colaba Conversation Rapporteurs’ Report


The second iteration of Colaba Conversation—Mumbai’s signature forum for discussing international policy issues affecting the city, the nation, and the world, co-hosted by ORF and the Government of Maharashtra—was held on 1-3 December 2021. The conference included 30 sessions, hosted over 100 speakers from 20 countries. Nearly 2,50,000 viewers followed the sessions online.

This year’s dialogue saw significant interventions by Subhash Desai (Minister for Industries and Mining, Government of Maharashtra, India); Aaditya Thackeray (Minister for Tourism, Environment & Climate Change and Protocol, Government of Maharashtra, India); James Sangma (Environment Minister, Government of Meghalaya, India); Frances Adamson (Governor of South Australia, Australia); Florian Stegmann (State Minister and Head of the State Chancellery, Baden-Württemberg, Germany); Almut Moller (State Secretary, Hamburg, Germany); Jo Johnson (Chairman TES Global and former Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, UK); Jayant Sinha (Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, India); Priyanka Chaturvedi (Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, India); Amar Patnaik (Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, India); Dian Triansyah Djani (G20 Sherpa, Indonesia); Ambassador Robert Blake (Senior Advisor to US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, US); Kamal Kishore (Member Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority, India); Tajinder Singh (Deputy Secretary General, International Organization of Securities Commissions); Ajoy Mehta (Chairman, MahaRera, India); Manisha Mhaiskar (Principal Secretary, Environment and Climate Change, Government of Maharashtra, India); and Lakshmi Puri (Former UN Assistant Secretary-General).

The conversations at this year’s dialogue reflected on the long-term implications of the pandemic and explored the policy measures that we need to design and execute to address the systemic fault lines that are now becoming visible.

Therefore, the theme for this year’s dialogue was Navigating Faultlines of Recovery. Specifically, the conversation was guided by five pillars:

  1. Capacity Conundrum: Building institutional strength for crisis response and recovery
  2. Inequity Pandemic: Reconciling the duality of response and recovery
  3. Multistakeholder Multilateralism: Rise of small nations, private enterprise, civil society in global governance
  4. Corporations beyond Borders: Extraterritorial regulation and responsibility of multinationals
  5. The Blue Imperative: Economic, political and security roadmap for leveraging the oceans

The pandemic has made it clear that the state’s capacity to respond is key for immediate response and long-term recovery. There is a clear ‘capacity conundrum’ at all levels of government—city, state, national and multilateral. India’s experience with the first and second wave of the pandemic revealed the conundrums and fault lines between its federal governance architecture.

Despite the focus on the pandemic, the dialogue confirmed that climate change is the single most important policy imperative today and the single biggest opportunity for business, enterprise, and entrepreneurship. Mumbai’s leadership in leading the green revolution can galvanise the nation towards a trillion-dollar green economy.

A new long-term concern has been the pandemic’s grim implications and collateral damage on the world’s poorest. The ‘inequity pandemic,’ as it is being increasingly called, reflects the duality of response and recovery. The rich have easier access to vaccines, online education, technology jobs, and economic recovery stimulus, whereas the poor still seek access to necessities such as food and healthcare.

The discussions revealed that an equitable recovery requires policies for financial inclusion and financial integration led by banks and the financial services industry that ensures that the products and services are designed for those marginalised. Also, a new generation of micro-entrepreneurs, individual experts, and independent artists that are purely digital have been the drivers of the economy and livelihoods during the pandemic, which desperately need support.

Meanwhile, fractured global governance is increasingly shaped by powerful cities, smaller nations, private enterprises, and civil society. Private enterprise is already a key stakeholder in climate governance, private consortiums are designing global regulations, and cities are emerging as primary voices in international coordination. The emergence of new stakeholders in global governance—cities, enterprises, non-government institutions—is providing a new impetus for international cooperation, which is needed to solve policy issues at all levels—global, national or local.

As the world prepares for recovery, India is finding itself in this unique moment in global governance. India’s presidency of BRICS in 2021, membership of the United Nations Security Council in 2021/22, chairship of the World Health Organization executive board in 2021, and upcoming presidency of the G20 in 2023 provide the nation an opportunity to design ‘multistakeholder multilateralism’ during a critical phase in international cooperation.

The pandemic has also highlighted the strength of corporations, which have been able to deliver and benefit due to scale when many other startups and small enterprises failed or folded. Many corporations have reconfigured their supply chains to align with emerging geopolitical trends. Those focused on digital, healthcare, and green energy businesses have particularly benefited. But with big power also comes big responsibility, particularly on regulation, taxation, and sustainability.

In line with their scale, the imperative for regulating multinational corporations—‘corporations beyond borders’—is now the primary agenda on national and multilateral forums. The business participants reaffirmed that multinationals have become increasingly cognisant of their corporate responsibility and global influence, and proactively participating in designing, developing, and implementing regulations.

Burnt by supply chain disruptions and threatened by the rise of an antagonistic China, the strategic developments in the Indo-Pacific and the Arabian Sea are shaping the security priorities across the region. Many littoral states now have their own infrastructure and economic development plans to address strategic, development and sustainability needs. India also needs its own blue imperative for coastal cities, marine resources, and blue economy, which puts coastal cities as the primary stakeholder in regional geopolitics and geoeconomics.

This rapporteurs’ report captures the deliberations on these contentious issues and challenges confronting the world as it navigates the fault lines of recovery.

The next iteration of Colaba Conversation in 2022 will hopefully transition to the ‘live physical format,’ including panel sessions, roundtables and other interesting forms of deliberation. India’s acceptance of the G20 presidency in December 2022, progress on its net-zero commitments made at COP26, and integration into global value chains supported by the government’s ‘Atmanirbhar’ initiative are likely to be on the agenda for the next dialogue.

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