Ideas to Action:

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The audience in New Delhi, India clung to their seats well past the scheduled end of the program at the recent launch of CGD’s Understanding India Initiative. India’s minister for rural development (and former minister for the environment) Jairam Ramesh, presided over the event, which was organized and hosted by Pratap Mehta (president of the Center for Policy Research and non-resident CGD fellow CGD). Among participants was Nandan Nilekani, head of the Unique Identification Authority of India (who we look forward to welcoming to Washington when he delivers the 2013 Sabot Lecture); prominent academics, and the India-based representatives of foreign development assistance institutions.

CGD's Nancy Birdsall and Arvind Subramanian present at the Centre for Policy Research in New Dehli.

Minister Ramesh highlighted the challenges for India as it tries to engage internationally on a range of issues, including trade and climate change. Among his key ideas: style can be as important as substance; deals are mostly bilateral whereas the rhetoric tends to be multilateral; developing countries were not a homogenous group with common interests; and capacity to arrive at negotiating positions even within India is not abundant.

CGD president Nancy Birdsall began by introducing CGD and explaining its missions, activities and achievements over the last ten years.  I followed with an outline of the aims and purpose of CGD’s India Initiative. Among the questions we will pursue:

  • What lessons does India offer for other countries?
  • What is the appropriate role for outsiders in addressing continued poverty and widening inequality in a country with 7 percent annual growth and foreign reserves close to $300 billion?
  • What can the world expect such a nation, with ample financial resources but a huge poor population of its own, to contribute to solving global problems?

The highlight of the event were three presentations. CGD senior fellow Lant Pritchett spoke about how India should shape international thinking about development. Nancy discussed the likely rise of India’s struggling new middle class and attendant challenges and opportunities. Finally,  I gave a presentation on how India should engage internationally  in light of the shift in economic power from the West to the Rest.

The presentations were followed by thoughtful remarks by Minister Ramesh on the challenges for India’s international engagement and then by a lively Q&A with the audience. Check out the presentations to see why the audience did not want the evening to end!