Schulich hosts Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani

The co-founder of Infosys Technologies Ltd. and the man who inspired Thomas L. Friedman’s bestselling book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century gave a special lecture May 5 at York’s Schulich School of Business. 

Nandan Nilekani came to the University to discuss his recent book, Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation, a comprehensive and inside look at the future of the emerging economic giant.

Left: Nandan Nilekani 

The author and businessman was introduced by Dezsö J. Horváth, dean of the Schulich School of Business. “Imagining India has informed readers and challenged them to take a closer look at India’s promise,” said Horváth. “I believe that it is not an exaggeration to say that Imagining India will one day be viewed as one of the most important books about India ever to be written.”

"There are many examples of great transformation happening in our society,” said Nilekani, whose own firm is often touted as an example of the transformation taking place in what he described as the "new India". Nilekani co-founded Infosys Technologies Ltd. in 1981 with six colleagues and US$250 in start-up capital. Today Infosys is a global leader in the next generation of information technology and consulting with revenues of over US$4.7 billion and more than 90,000 employees in 26 countries. “I come from an entrepreneurial background of looking for opportunities and also frequently being told that something is not possible,” said Nilekani.

He presented what he called an idea-based approach to meeting the present and future challenges facing the world’s largest and fastest-growing country. He categorized those ideas as ideas that have arrived, ideas in progress, ideas in battle and ideas to anticipate.

In the past, India’s large population has often been regarded as an overwhelming burden for the country. Today, India is reaping a demographic dividend, said Nilekani. Citing the age of 23 as the median age of the country’s population, said Nilekani, India has emerged as a vibrant source of workers and consumers – not only for the country, but also for the global economy. Within the Indian population, there is growing acceptance of innovation and entrepreneurship, while technology, globalization and the English language are being embraced as tools of “aspiration and empowerment,” he said.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of education in India, said Nilekani, and a demand for it that cuts across all income groups. “An educated and well-trained population is important to ensure continuous productivity in the future,” he noted, highlighting that according to the Financial Times of London, about 1,500 new universities will be needed over the next six years to help educate some of the 550 million Indian citizens under the age of 25.

Following the speech, Nilekani answered questions from the audience and autographed copies of his book.

Nilekani has received numerous honours over the years. In 2004, Fortune magazine named him one of “Asia’s Power 25 – The Most Powerful People in Business in Asia”. The next year, he was awarded the Joseph Schumpeter Prize for innovative services in economy, economic sciences and politics. In 2006, he was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by TIME magazine and “Business Leader of the Year” by Forbes Asia. And in 2006, he became one of the youngest entrepreneurs to join 20 global leaders on the World Economic Forum Foundation Board.

Submitted to YFile by Michelle Cholak, communications intern, Schulich School of Business