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What Did Big Tech Have to Say About Narendra Modi's 'Digital India' Plan?

By Rana Pritanjali - Sep 30, 2015 at 12:11PM

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India's prime minister's latest visit to the U.S. sounded promising to Silicon Valley leaders.

India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, was in the U.S. last week, and his pitch for Digital India -- an initiative to emphasize on e-governance and transform India into a digitally empowered society -- caught the attention of many prominent tech CEOs.

Every company in the U.S. that is playing a major role in shaping the digital face of the world would like to participate in the digital evolution of India, a country of 1.3 billion people with growing purchasing power. The only concern that has discouraged U.S. companies from being a part of the growth thus far is the slow progress of projects because India's interfering bureaucratic system. So, when Modi promised to offer an accountable governance, a transparent system, a more liberalized market, and infrastructure development, tech companies quickly extended their support to Modi's vision of creating a country with 4-D strengths: demographic dividend, democracy, demand, and deregulation. 

Why every company sees India as a land of abundant opportunities
Internet penetration is expected to double in the next four years, with more than 400 million people having access to the Internet. Retail e-commerce in India is expected to more than triple in the next four years. Right now, India's e-commerce market is just 1/80th of China's and 1/58th of the U.S.'s. Smartphones sales grew 54% in 2014 and are expected to grow around fivefold in the next four years. India's young working population is growing, too, and the education system is getting better. By 2030, 23% of the people age 25-34 in the world who have degrees will be from India.  

Needless to say, many tech companies want a piece of this growing pie; Modi's liberal vision has already encouraged an increase in foreign direct investment from the U.S. by 87% in the last 15 months. He met many tech stalwarts in San Jose during his trip and promised to offer an India friendly to foreign investments. Here's how those leaders responded.

Thumbs up from every Silicon Valley leader
Cisco Systems: John Chambers, CEO of Cisco (CSCO 2.92%), endorsed Digital India, saying, "it has the potential to bring about great changes in India. If you can change India, you can change the world." 

Qualcomm: Paul Jacobs, executive Chairman of Qualcomm (QCOM 0.79%) said, "We are extremely excited and motivated by the Prime Minister's Digital India initiative," and followed through by announcing the company's Design in India initiative and plans to set up labs for product innovation in the country. He shared Modi's view that mobile phones are a key instrument of governance and that embracing digital media is a step in right direction.

Microsoft: Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft (MSFT -0.23%), announced his company is going to make of cloud services available in the country, powered by data centers in India. He said, "We believe low cost broadband connectivity coupled with the scale of cloud computing and the intelligence that can be harnessed from data can help drive creativity, efficiency, and productivity across governments and businesses of all size. This, in turn, will create global opportunities for India."

Google: Google (GOOGL -1.34%) CEO Sundar Pichai described India as the fastest-growing start-up nation in the world, saying that the Big G wanted to play a part in the growth, and it would start by helping India provide free Wifi at 500 Indian railway stations.

Apple: Modi invited Apple (AAPL 0.17%) to start manufacturing in India, and Foxconn, Apple's largest manufacturers, has decided to take him up on the offer, setting up a manufacturing base in India. Given the promising future of smartphones in India, Apple has huge incentive to enter the market. Plus, the company's new initiatives like Apple Pay can be effective tools to deepen the reach of e-commerce in the country.  

Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg had a Q&A session in Facebook's (FB 1.18%) HQ in which Modi emphasized the significance of social media in good and transparent governance based on support, criticism, and feedback. Facebook's initiative to bring India online via Internet.org is not only good for the country, but for every company whose revenue is derived from people's participation online.  

The Foolish bottom line
While the Internet boom has already had its revolutionary effect in many countries, in India, it has just started. To completely eradicate the ill effects of bureaucracy from the system is an uphill task, but Modi is helping India take steps in the right direction. Once known as the easy-going jobs in the country, Indian governmental offices are working overtime to push reforms and ensure that plans are backed up by action.

No wonder Narendra Modi was able to gain the confidence of Silicon Valley during his visit. 

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