Agile, innovative and responsible India – how one of the world’s biggest populations is proving the most responsive

Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest slum – and it is here that you will see just what big business recycling is in India. Every alleyway and doorway reveals people hard at work – not always in great conditions.  The slum has different areas specialising in the recycling of plastics, metals, textiles, paper or cardboard.

There is also social responsibility on an impressive scale – tour guides here work for a social enterprise called Reality Gives, which uses the revenue to fund education schemes for among others, 16 to 35s. This somewhat lost generation is given the chance to learn IT and English – the key skills, seen as the most valuable commodity for increasing earning power.

The attitude of waste not, want not is pervasive – take Retyrement Plan, a business that upcycles plastic wrappers and textiles into colourful furniture, rope and other household goods.  Creative director Anu Tanson Viera is on a mission to save traditional skills by hiring rattan artisans to produce her goods and paying everyone a more than decent wage.

Even the startup scene in Mumbai is often driven by socially responsible themes – Sari, a project run by Stefano Funari, helps Indian women through self-employment, a huge challenge in a male and family dominated culture.

For more than five years Stefano has battled the old ways to create a business that sees old saris transformed into clothing and fashion accessories.

These themes of social responsibility and recycling are everywhere in India, a country proving more agile and responsive than many a tenth of its size. It is fertile ground for startups of all sorts and those with skills in advertising, branding, design and UX production will consequently always find work.

Online is a big opportunity for business here – India has the second largest internet consumer base in the world. And mobile is huge – there are 1.03 billion mobile phone subscribers in India (83.1 million in the UK).

Smartphone penetration is far from saturation with only a third of subscribers – compared to 66% in the UK – so around 700 million people as yet don’t have a smartphone. No wonder the Indian telecoms market is super competitive and sub $12 phones (yes you read that correctly) are hitting the shelves.

India will transition to become a mobile economy – the next 18 months to two years will see mobile commerce explode – and there will be more opportunities for people to write their destinies on the go.

With this more open and agile approach, a new breed of schools is appearing – such as Ecole intuit.lab and Whyness – offering an integrated insights, creativity, design and technology.

Despite the vast scale of its numbers – 1.27 billion people, 122 major languages, 1,599 dialects – India is a great example of the unifying force of technology and progress.

Best of all, this is a country proving that progress doesn’t have to come at the cost of social responsibility or environmental concerns – and there are plenty of more ‘advanced’ nations who could do with learning a lesson like that.

Mark Terry-Lush