Reimagining abundance in post-Covid-19 India – analysis
As people return to life and work after closing, some predictions point to a crazy rush to do even more than before. Travel more, buy more, meet more people, eat more, do more. The government is also expected to do more to restore economic growth and livelihoods. Much more is anticipated from the State. Some see it as an opportunity to overtake China.
To accomplish this, many states could reverse the labor laws that took decades of human rights movements to build, and set aside hard-won environmental protection.
If we succumb, will we return to the old normal or to an even older normal of the 19th century? Will the “more” being planned heal the economy or plunge us faster into the next disaster? Is there another imagination to achieve the common goals of opportunity and prosperity for all?
This crisis has shown that prosperous, healthy, and well-governed communities can cope well with public health emergencies. But how do we define prosperity and move towards such a society?
For centuries, prosperity has been easy to define in material terms. On a personal level, for how much is earned; how much does one have. At the social level, through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a calculation of all assets and interactions within an economy. GDP cannot discount products and services that are bad for society, such as the production of polluting industries or sweatshops. Several attempts to restructure GDP have made little progress.
However, during the pandemic, most people, including the elite, experienced different forms of frugality, simplicity, and dignity associated with personal work. After decades, urbanites also found purity – of air and water, and diversity – of flora and fauna. Simple things acquired new value for many. It may be time to restructure GDP. We now have a brighter vision of how things can be, and we can creatively converse with our future from an altered present.
One way is to move from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. Because there is abundance everywhere, if we only seek it. If this profusion of resources goes from being abundant to being effective, perhaps we could move away from economic options that seem inevitable, but destroy natural capital and human well-being.
Let’s make a list of some things that abound in India.
On a social level, India has the largest labor force in the world. With 13 million, it also has the most teachers. It has health professionals, from super specialized doctors to accredited social health activists (Asha).
On a physical level, India is blessed with a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. We have a predictable monsoon and a vast network of rivers and bodies of water. We have one of the longest coasts. We have enormous access to solar energy.
We also have one of the world’s most sophisticated digital infrastructures and a growing penetration of Internet and smartphone services.
On a spiritual level, we have a great deal of practice and leadership in all religions. And we enjoy the richness of voluntary energy, as recently evidenced. This is not just an inventory of our assets, but the solid foundation of what we want to achieve.
During the pandemic, food bloggers came up with a simple and powerful idea. They asked what was left in people’s refrigerators and helped them make wonderful new recipes with existing ingredients. They re-proposed what existed, and allowed people to experience much of scarcity.
This is a perfect analogy of what the nation could put into practice and with which it is already experimenting.
Using digital infrastructure, like Diksha, millions of teachers are creating and sharing better content and classroom practices, both physical and virtual. The creativity of parents and peer groups, both abundant resources, are also being engaged to help children learn better.
Using the Community Health Care Outcomes Extension (Echo) model, health workers receive virtual and guided tutoring. This moves knowledge rather than people, to build faster and more sustainable capacity across the chain.
At night, it can reverse an apparent shortage, the lack of good teachers or skilled health workers, into an abundance of distributed and empowered talent.
Opportunities are everywhere: in energy, mobility, agriculture and the generation of livelihoods. If we can use this inverted thinking, it can create more margin for those who really need resources: more carbon for the energy deficient; more land for the landless; more mobility for areas with transportation deficits and more potential for sustainable and meaningful livelihoods everywhere.
For example, India’s ubiquitous construction infrastructure can be redesigned to harness solar energy or for vertical and terraced agriculture. Working from home will alleviate pressure on urban infrastructure and land, which can be released for mass housing or public transportation, and critical space for the lungs.
Last but not least, let’s unlock our spiritual treasure. Most disciplines invite us to greater attention and more satisfaction. Not consuming more externally, but reaping more from the inside and sharing more outside. Neurosciences and behavioral sciences increasingly corroborate this ancient wisdom: joy can come from giving, and unlimited happiness from bonhomie.
Shifting to an abundance mindset is a creative but practical task for samaj (society) first, but also for the bazaarmarket) and sarkaar (State). Now we know that we must come out of this crisis together. Let’s boldly use stimulus to redefine prosperity and redirect resources to make abundance effective.
Rohini Nilekani is President, Arghyam
The opinions expressed are personal.