Big changes start with small and seemingly simple things
India has started on a forty-odd year journey of transformation from a largely rural and agrarian society to one that is predominantly urban. This will fundamentally change the lives and times of those who live through it – especially the bulk of us who are currently under 30 – often beyond the limits of conventional imagination.
In its first century as an independent Republic, India’s urban population will increase from about 350 million in 2011 to close to 800 million by 2050. This will involve an addition of about half a billion people to urban areas, making up more than half of the country’s population.
India will increasingly live in its cities and towns, just as more than two-thirds of its economic output will come from urban areas – something that policymakers, politicians and corporate leaders are waking up to.
Over this period, if current growth trends continue – India will be the largest or second largest integrated economy in the world. The size of the economy of many tens of cities will be larger than that of good size countries and large multinational firms – requiring a new cohort of professionals to help plan, develop and maintain them.
Hundreds of millions of new job opportunities will be created in both old and new cities in the services, manufacturing and construction sectors. This will result in the transformation of Indian society, its culture, its politics, and the country’s natural and built environment.
Through this, we also have the potential to end poverty, constrain inequality and develop sustainably and peacefully into a powerful stabilising force as the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy.
All of this is dependent on the health, inclusiveness and efficiency of our cities and their relationship with the 0.6 million villages that currently support and nourish them. Unlike Europe, North and South America and increasingly China, the potential synergy between city and village lies at the heart of a different development trajectory that South Asia is starting to explore.
Yet, the challenges are severe. India has the largest concentration of poor people in human history. The number of urban poor is increasing as is its severity. We are severely constrained by water and agricultural land availability, and non-coal based fossil fuels. Most of our cities and towns don’t work properly; actively exclude the poor and vulnerable; have dysfunctional land and labour markets, crumbling infrastructure and poor service and have experienced a steady decline in the quality of governance, in spite of attempts at active decentralisation.
Ironically, the fundamental challenge of making this all happen is neither money, not technology – it’s the lack of sufficient numbers of well educated professionals committed to the common good who can play the role of change-makers and entrepreneurs.
Unfortunately, India’s higher education system, like many others across the world, has no large-scale professional programme built around the interdisciplinary skills needed for the satisfactory planning, development and management of India’s cities, towns and villages.
The Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) was created by a number of India’s leading entrepreneurs, urban professionals and thought leaders to address this multi-dimensional and inter-disciplinary challenge – so that South Asia could respond with wise and timely solutions. It will create a new profession and new discipline focused on ‘urban practice’ to address the needs of working professionals and younger learners, practitioners and researchers.
The question that we asked was “What does a professional need to know and enable the transformation of India by the late 2020s?” We hope by then, a body of many tens of thousands of our alumni and partners will have the experience, competence and institutional credibility to help catalyse these changes. Changes that are critical to the future of India and South Asia, and hence to people across the world.
We’re exceedingly grateful to have received an overwhelmingly positive response to the IIHS from across India and many parts of the world. This ranges from the central, state and municipal governments; public and private enterprises; international institutions and foundations; universities and think tanks; civil society organisations and activists; professionals and educators to students and ordinary citizens. We have been touched by the responsiveness and the commitment of colleagues, partners, donors and learners from across the world who put so much of their time, energy, resources and experience to help make the IIHS a reality.
It’s a difficult and often tumultuous journey, full of new challenges and opportunities – especially to discover new depths in one’s own life and collective engagement with some of the most intractable challenges of our time.
We encourage all like-minded people and institutions, from across India, South Asia and the world to join us in building a 21st century knowledge institution that is committed to the democratisation of knowledge, inclusion of the vulnerable and realising our full human potential through collective action.