Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, said telecom was the first of his big bet, and he will now use his resources to solve problems in three other difficult areas — agriculture, education and healthcare.
Speaking at the HT Leadership Summit, Ambani said his primary motivation was not to make money.
“Money has never meant much to me,” he said, adding that his passion is to solve large problems and “create societal value”.
At the same time, he said, it is money that enables him to take risks on solving such problems.
“It gives you a bit of flexibility,” he said.
He said he likes the challenges posed by large, difficult problems, problems that require scale and resources to solve.
If you are able to solve the problems, you also make money, he pointed out.
“One thing we were taught at Reliance is that as a business, you must solve problems. The economic value is a byproduct of that,” he said, when asked what money meant for him.
The first problem Ambani took upon himself to solve was India’s terribly low levels of broadband penetration.
Until about two years ago, India used to be at the bottom of the world as far as access to high-speed Internet was concerned.
Today, the country consumes more data than any other country — thanks largely to Ambani’s efforts to roll-out a pan-India 4G network.
Ambani linked his decision to embark on project Jio to his belief in the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ theory.
Without data connectivity, he said, India risked missing out on this revolution as it had in the previous industrial revolutions.
THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
Ambani spoke about the three industrial revolutions that have happened in the last 300 years, and said connectivity was essential for India to ensure that it was part of the fourth.
“Each industrial revolution completely rewrites the rules of the game and creates a new world order. It creates opportunities and projects the early adopters of the technology into positions of global leadership, power and influence.”
“Early adopters of each of these shifts will have the opportunity to leapfrog the competition and create unprecedented societal value. Those who do not will be outcompeted. They will become irrelevant,” he said.
He said each industrial revolution was linked to the emergence of a new source of energy and a shift in the technology of production.
“No country has ever emerged as a global power without embracing new technology and without using new energy sources widely,” Ambani said.
“The first industrial revolution used coal and steam power to mechanize physical activity… This shifted economic power from China and India to the West,” he said.
“The second industrial revolution used electricity and oil to mechanize and mobilize the industrial processes of production and distribution… This shifted the center of economic power to the US from Europe.
“The third industrial revolution, that began in the mid 70s, used electronics and information technology to increase productivity, automation and greater customization. The US was the key beneficiary of this, along with Japan.
“Among the developing nations, China benefited from this to emerge as the manufacturer of the world… Through the first two revolutions, India remained on the fringes. India started participating in the computer-driven third revolution.
THE NEXT REVOLUTION
Ambani said the fourth industrial revolution is now upon us, and societies that make the transition will see an era of abundance. This too will have a new source of energy — renewables — as well as new methods of production — such as artificial intelligence and 3G printing.
He said any society that undergoes the fourth industrial revolution could soon embark upon an era of abundance.
“The foundation of this revolution is data connectivity, computing and artificial intelligence,” Ambani said.
The upcoming revolution will require technologies in the physical, digital and biological areas, Ambani said, predicting that human civilization will collectively achieve more than what it has in the last 300.
When IT is “combined with the rapid strides we are making in renewable energy, life sciences, analytics, robotics, 3G printing and artificial intelligence, what we are looking at is the future possibility of abundance in the true sense of the word: abundant energy, abundant health, abundant knowledge, abundant agricultural output, abundant manufacturing capacity, abundant renewable materials, and unlike the past, this abundance will not be just for a privileged few, but for all.”
Ambani said his firm Reliance Industries will try to facilitate this revolution in India by bringing its considerable resources and planning ability to push the country forward in three key areas — education, agriculture and health care.
Having more or less solved the problem of connectivity, Ambani expressed confidence about solving the other challenges he has identified.
“We are willing to take on difficult problems.. I challenge my people to solve some difficult problems,” he said
At the same time, he said, these are bigger problems to solve that the problem of data connectivity.
“Agriculture is difficult, education is important. Healthcare is the most difficult. We will think about what we can do in each of these areas,” he said, adding that his company is currently in the planning stage as far these three areas are concerned.
“We are gathering the resources. All three are very much on our roadmap,” Ambani said.
INDIA VS CHINA
Ambani also echoed the sentiments of Chinese leaders when he predicted the shifting of economic power back to Asia from the West.
“This is civilizational rebirth of both India and China… the center of gravity of the world economy is shifting back to China and India.
But like many others from the democratic world, he said India is likely to provide a more sustainable growth model compared to China.
“I wish to make a prediction. By the middle of the 21st century, India’s rise will be higher than China’s rise, and more attractive to the world.
“India will provide a superior and better developmental model. A model that will create equitable and inclusive growth based on technology, democracy, good governance and a society-wide culture of empathy.”