India's 'Innovation Evangelist' on Creating Digitally Connected, Empowered Citizens

Arvind Gupta on why the outcome and not the technology should be the focus


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Arvind Gupta on stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) 2017.

Lebogang Tsele

Arvind Gupta believes that India and many African countries stand to benefit from investing, not only in a digital economy, but in technologies such as blockchain.

Gupta shared this with the attendees of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC), during his talk 'The Future of Blockchain.'

Gupta is often referred to as an innovation evangelist. He has over 20 years of experience in leadership, policy and entrepreneurship, both in Silicon Valley and in India and is the founder of Digital India Foundation, a think-tank aiming to foster digital inclusion and adoption and the use of the Internet and related technologies for the developmental process. He is also an Eisenhower fellow for innovation.

Gupta spearheaded the digital and social media campaign for Prime Minister Modi during the elections in 2014 for which he was awarded the digital leader of the year and PathBreaker awards.

The future of blockchain

Gupta believes that blockchain is a transformative innovation that has the potential to accelerate development on the continent. 

Blockchain refers to a type of database that doesn't allow re-write or update or deletion of data that has been committed to the series of data/records stored in it (referred to as blocks), Joseph Pham, entrepreneur and blockchain enthusiast, says in a blog post.

"This means it's a write once, read only distributed database technology," Pham says.

This, Pham says, ensures that once the data is communicated, stored and distributed within a blockchain network, it is consistent, secured and very difficult to modify.

The decentralised, distributed nature of blockchains brings a number of benefits such as stronger security and reliability and is one of the cornerstones of India's digital revolution, says Gupta.

Some forward-thinking businesses are already getting a head start - Distributed ID is a startup that aims to help banking and insurance companies become fully digital by using blockchain to develop a customer's digital identity in a way that enhances security, reliability, user satisfaction and reduce fraud.

Another startup, Ubby, has developed a mobile app that transforms your social media posts into methods of purchase. Anytime that you endorse a product or experience via social media, you'll earn commissions whenever you or your friends engage or buy. The startup uses blockchain to track such messages (or "endorsements") and, in turn, compensates you in bitcoin.

India paving the way

India is focused strongly on building a digitally connected country, Gupta says.

"Digital economy and digital infrastructure is the basis of the new India and what we're trying to do is to give every citizen of India a digital identity, a digital connection and digital empowerment so they can do all their tasks, consume services including financial services, health and education also digitally and transform their lives," he said.

"They can do their businesses digitally, they can sell globally digitally. So that is the whole vision of the digital empowerment that the Prime Minister of India has in mind."

Blockchain offers a means of working with the vast information securely and accurately.

According to Michael Bowren, CEO and co-founder of FinCheck, an online financial product comparison portal for South African consumers and SMEs, India is one of the world's fastest growing emerging economies, nearly 2.7 times the area of South Africa, but faces the same issues of vast gaps between rich and poor.

"India is embracing young companies that will develop the relevant technology. I was attending the Fintech Startupbootcamp in Mumbai in January this year. Ten startups in areas such as digital identities, blockchain, personal finance management, compliance and alternative data-based credit scoring, among others were identified and are now receiving support, mentoring and access to leading Indian financial corporates," he says.

Gupta speaks to SME South Africa on why blockchain is 'a world waiting to be discovered' and shares the 5 things you will need to know if you want to make use of the technology in your business. 

1. Think solutions - think blockchain - "Technologies such as blockchain are very important and I think entrepreneurs can find solutions and build businesses on the back of blockchain.

In the context of land for example, [Africa and India] which are equal in terms of population, Africa is much larger in terms of size, some 70-80% of legal disputes come around land title. Can blockchain solve that? Possibly. And that's what entrepreneurs should look at.

Can the property tax collections in urban centres become better? Can you have better land titling and therefore, less legal disputes, so the whole world can monetise the assets (land) much better?

And I think that blockchain is one of the technologies which could deliver.

I think it's important to look at blockchain to solve some problems in health, asset ownership [for example] in a way that has not been imagined before. It's a world waiting to be discovered."


See also: Inspirational advice for building a wildly successful business from the #GEC2017 speakers


2. Begin with the end in mind - "The biggest thing that people have to [do] is not look only at the technology. Technology is important, but what that technology can produce as an output is the most important thing. I will say the most important thing is what is the outcome, what is the desired result that you're looking at?

That is the aim of every entrepreneur. What is it that you are going to change? What process are you going to make better? What business are you going to make more efficient? And only then look at how blockchain can help you do that. If you do that, I think you're going to find a lasting solution.

Are you solving a problem of the society? Are you dissolving intermediaries in between? That is the problem to be solved."

3. Think locally, act globally - "Every local entrepreneur has a market in and around their neighbourhood, their cities and districts and their country, but they should never think about only solving those problems. Once you have solved those problems locally, think about scaling globally. And that's the worldview. Entrepreneurship and innovation can happen in any corner of the world.

Blockchain is one of those technologies that will be able to connect people and businesses all across the globe."

4. Mind the law - "Be aware of the legal and regulatory requirements of wherever you want to do business, but don't let that halt your business or idea. What is a regulation today, will not [neccessarily] be a regulation tomorrow."

5. Build strong networks - "[This is a] fundamental in any business. Events such as GEC provide a great platform for networking. This is a great mentorship network and great learning network and we should all use this opportunity to network, find new mentors, find new markets, find new money if possible, which is essential for any entrepreneur."

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