Inclusive Leadership: Closing the Digital Divide with Ajay Banga and Bhaskar Chakravorti

Published
Aug 30, 2021

This week on World Reimagined, we spoke with Ajay Banga and Bhaskar Chakravorti about the importance of and barriers to building a more digitally inclusive world. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.

Today’s increasingly digital world brings with it possibilities to create a more inclusive and accessible global economy. But, unless action is taken to enhance digital inclusion, the world may become more divided than ever before.

In this episode, Host Gautam Mukunda speaks with two leaders dedicated to digital inclusion who explain how to earn people’s trust and create a more inclusive world.

Ajay Banja is the Executive Chairman of Mastercard, after serving as President and CEO for almost 10 years. Under his tenure, Mastercard launched a program to bring 500 million people across 80 countries into the global financial system, and one billion by 2025. Bhaskar Chakravorti is the Dean of Global Business at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts, the author of The Slow Pace of Fast Change, and a former partner at McKinsey.

I think companies can set their examples and can lead by what they do...In totality, I think companies, corporations, need to start thinking about what role they play in the community they live in. And...to start putting real volume to the idea of doing well and doing good at the same time.
Ajay Banga
A combination of our inherent desire for stories, narratives, and personalities and the media's need to continue to reinforce that, our notion of trust has been intimately tied, not just by the functions and companies but by the leaders themselves.
Bhaskar Chakravorti

Follow @GMukunda on Twitter or email us at WorldReimagined@nasdaq.com

Guest Information for Inclusive Leadership:  

Ajay Banga is executive chairman of the board of directors of Mastercard. He moved into this role following 11 years as the company’s president and chief executive officer.

Ajay is also chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce and is an independent director of Exor, where he serves as chair of the company’s Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance committee. He has previously served on the boards of Kraft Foods and Dow Inc. Ajay is a member of the Trilateral Commission, a founding trustee of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, a former member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations and chairman emeritus of the American India Foundation.

He is a co-founder of The Cyber Readiness Institute, vice chair of the Economic Club of New York, a member of the World Economic Forum’s EDISON Alliance, and served as a member of President Obama’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity. He is a past member of the U.S. President’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations. 

Ajay is a member of the Weill Cornell Medicine board of fellows. He has also served on the board of governors of the American Red Cross, as well as the boards for the Asia Society, the New York Hall of Science and the National Urban League, among others.

He was awarded the Padma Shri Award by the President of India in 2016, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2019 and the Business Council for International Understanding’s Global Leadership Award. He is a fellow of the Foreign Policy Association and was awarded the Foreign Policy Association Medal in 2012.

Ajay began his career at Nestlé, India, where for 13 years he worked on assignments spanning sales, marketing and general management. He also spent two years with PepsiCo before joining Citigroup, where he rose to the role of chief executive officer of Citigroup Asia Pacific.

Bhaskar Chakravorti is the Dean of Global Business at The Fletcher School at Tufts University – America’s oldest exclusively graduate school of global affairs -- and the founding Executive Director of Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context. 

Bhaskar founded the Institute in 2011 with the mission of “connecting the world of business with the world,” exploring issues at the intersection of business and global context, including geopolitics, technology, security, development, the environment and the human condition. Bhaskar serves on the Fletcher faculty as Professor of the Practice of International Business and is the Chair of the IDEA Council: Imagining a Digital Economy for All. He also served on the Global Future Council on Innovation for the World Economic Forum and is Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Senior Advisor for Digital Inclusion at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Social and Economic Progress and on the Advisory Board of the UNDP’s Center for Private Sector in Development. Bhaskar has also founded and chairs the Digital Planet initiative at The Fletcher School, that follows the evolution of 90 countries as they transition from traditional to digitally intensive economies. Most recently, as part of this initiative, he has launched a multi-year initiative, Imagining a Digital Economy for All, IDEA 2030, which is investigating the role of data, digital technologies, artificial intelligence and applications as a force for inclusive growth, development and productivity. The first year of the research is entirely devoted to the study of the world operating by digital means during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also started the first all-digital degree program at Tufts and Fletcher.

Prior to joining Fletcher, Bhaskar was a Partner of McKinsey & Company, a Distinguished Scholar at MIT's Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship and on the faculty of Harvard Business School and Harvard University Center for the Environment. He was a leader of McKinsey’s Innovation and Global Forces practices, served on its Knowledge Services Committee and taught innovation and entrepreneurship at Harvard. In a 30 year career, he has been an advisor to CEOs, senior management and Boards of over 30 companies in the Fortune 500 and policymakers at national and international organizations and worked across the Americas, EU, Asia and Africa, and multiple industries. He is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, “The Slow Pace of Fast Change: Bringing Innovations to Market in a Connected World” (Harvard Business Press) and is the creator of the widely-used Digital Evolution Index. His papers and articles appear in top-tier academic journals, multiple books and in widely-read media, e.g., Harvard Business Review, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Washington Post, CNN, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Businessweek, Barron’s, The Hill, Salon, among many others. He was a former columnist on innovation for the Washington Post and Forbes and currently has regular columns in Harvard Business Review, the Indian Express, Foreign Policy and The Conversation; he is regularly interviewed by the press, and has appeared in a wide variety of leading media, including New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, National Public Radio, BBC, The Economist, New Yorker, CNBC, CBC, CCTV, Times of London, Al Jazeera, Economic Times, Times of India, among many others.

Bhaskar's prior appointments were as a Partner and Thought Leader at the Monitor Group, a game theorist at Bellcore (formerly Bell Labs), assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign and TAS (India’s Tata Group’s “talent pipeline for leaders”). His PhD in economics is from the University of Rochester, where he was a University Fellow. He is a graduate of the Delhi School of Economics and in economics with honors from Delhi University’s St. Stephen’s College.

Literature Referenced on World Reimagined Season 2, Episode 12:

The Slow Pace of Fast Change: Bringing Innovations to Market in a Connected World, by Bhaskar Chakravorti

For more information on this episode’s guests please visit:

Nasdaq.com/world-reimagined-podcast

Episode Transcript:

Gautam Mukunda:

Everyone talks about being inclusive, but two leaders in digital inclusion explain that to make it really happen you have to earn people's trust.

Speaker 2:

I think it is trying to create a new world. The kind of world that we perhaps have always wanted to live in.

Speaker 3:

Climate change is a systemic risk to the entire economy. You cannot diversify away from it.

Speaker 4:

To intervene when your country, your company, your family need you to do so, that's leadership character.

Speaker 5:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world. An original podcast from Nasdaq.

Speaker 6:

Why did leaders fail? Unwillingness to learn, a fear of showing their vulnerability and a fear of being themselves. Lack of authenticity.

Speaker 7:

Character of a corporation is not the personality. Character of corporation is the integrity and the morality for a company.

Speaker 8:

So, without truth and trust, there is no democracy.

Gautam Mukunda:

A few years ago, I lived in Beijing. More than 21 million people live there. That's more than the five largest cities in America combined. And the entire time I was there, I never met a single person who didn't use WeChat. WeChat, if you don't know it, might be the most impressive thing in China. It's a single program that combines most of what we use Facebook, texting and Venmo for along with a dozen other things.

Gautam Mukunda:

It's a way to identify yourself, communicate and move money all rolled into one. And everyone, and I mean, everyone has it. Old, young, rich, poor, even people who couldn't afford a place to live had a smartphone and that smartphone had WeChat. Seeing this drove home just how much our world is moving online. And that it's certainly possible to include everyone in this digital world.

Gautam Mukunda:

But despite the prevalence of WeChat and other apps like it, about 1.7 billion people on this planet remain un-banked. Without an account at any financial institution. 40% of the people on earth still have no access to the internet. And that's a big problem, because as the digital world surges ahead, particularly in the realm of finance, we need to make sure it's carrying everyone with it. Not just those of us in developed countries with decent credit scores. So, I wanted to talk to two of the people leading the charge for digital inclusion.

Gautam Mukunda:

Bhaskar Chakravorti is the Dean of Global Business at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy, the author of The Slow Pace of Fast Change and a former McKinsey partner. Ajay Banga is the executive chairman of MasterCard, after serving as president and CEO there for almost 10 years. Under his tenure MasterCard launched a program to bring 500 million people across 80 countries into the global financial system.

Gautam Mukunda:

And after they reached that milestone, they set their sights higher with a goal of 1 billion by 2025. One place where you've been really innovated and where you've worked with Bhaskar on that innovation is digital inclusion. An inclusion of people in the financial world. So, what does digital inclusion mean to you? When you think about that, what are you describing and why is it so important?

Ajay Banga:

Bhaskar, you go first, man.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

Well, I think of digital inclusion as the ability to access and use digital technologies in whatever form. Whether it's on a simple phone or on a computer and to be able to get information, and knowledge, and connect with other people, and communicate, and make payments, start a business, get resources using the pipelines that the technology offers. And inclusion really directs us to making that capability available to the maximum number of people possible in a society.

Ajay Banga:

Yes. The only thing I'd add to that is I think of this in three levels, access, affordability, and usability. So, that's pretty much what Bhaskar just said. The access is that, do you have the right kind of broadband and phones and instruments available in all parts of the country? Not just in densely populated urban areas or in well-to-do areas, because that's been exposed in the pandemic, even in New York City, people didn't have access.

Ajay Banga:

So it's not just urban-rural, it's also the availability within that. And then, there's affordability because a lot of people cannot afford plans or cannot afford the instruments like a phone or a computer. So, you're got to tackle access, you got to tackle affordability. And I think the usability is that, is there enough on available through digital that makes people want to interact through that?

Ajay Banga:

If you're opening a business, if you're interacting with society, if you're interacting with governments, are there enough government apps, education apps, business apps, payment apps, social apps, information apps, if you do that, you make people come through this platform to interact.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

It's interesting. I think you really expanded our notion of digital inclusion in a very meaningful direction. And I thought I'd just add one more, because just triggered by your suggestion. Which is the usability part of it, and we're living with it today in so many ways. Which is a part of usability is some degree of proficiency in processing all the information that comes through these digital pipes.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

And that leads to, "Am I vulnerable to misinformation? Do I double check and triple check any news or information that is forwarded to me on a social media post? And do I then reshare it without thinking twice about it?" And the ability to do that in a more sophisticated way varies depending on who you are, where you live and how long you've been using this technology. And I would say that given where we are today, I would expand the notion of digital inclusion to digital proficiency, as well.

Gautam Mukunda:

And so I'd say, for both of you, it sounds to me like you think of digital inclusion as a much broader category than the more narrow one of financial inclusion that we'd normally associate with companies like MasterCard.

Ajay Banga:

Oh, yes. I think financial inclusion is one aspect of inclusion. Inclusion as a whole has so many aspects from health, and education, and financial services. Digital inclusion is a way to deliver inclusion. I think what's changed with the advent of the way in which digital has grown and expanded across society is that you've lost a barrier, the barrier of the challenge of physical distribution to make a difference in health, in education, in financial services.

Ajay Banga:

I think digital is changing the way you think about that barrier. Digital is changing the way you think about being able to let people access things broadly. That's the idea. So, I think of digital inclusion as a way to deliver inclusion. As a very important way.

Gautam Mukunda:

If digital inclusion is so important, could you talk about what are the biggest barriers to it and how do you think leaders should address these problems?

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

Ajay, you want to go?

Ajay Banga:

Sure. So, I think back to those three aspects of digital inclusion, I think access, the availability of broadband, just the availability of internet access, I think it's a very high percentage of women around the world still do not have access to the internet for various reasons. Including the fact that they don't even own the devices, and therefore they rely on their husbands device to access the internet.

Ajay Banga:

And how do you deliver digital inclusion when you don't have access? And that's the starting point. And then the second point there is, we've got to work really hard on the affordability, which means, the pricing of these devices, as well as the pricing of the service, and then comes really the aspect of, "Can you deliver enough different use cases over the internet for them to use??

Ajay Banga:

And I think there's a lot of progress happening on the third part. And on the first two, I think we've got some progress in some countries, but others are still far behind.

Gautam Mukunda:

Digital, and even financial inclusion are hard problems because have no single choke point. Get people broadband, sure, that's important. But if they don't own smartphones or computers, it won't do them much good. If you can supply them with devices, they need to be able to afford them. And it's hard to earn a decent living in today's digital economy if you don't have access to the internet.

Gautam Mukunda:

So it takes a comprehensive effort, one that requires hard work from both the government and the private sector. There are lots of critical components. Maybe the most basic starts with something you probably have in your wallet right now. And no, I don't mean money.

Ajay Banga:

Bhaskar and his team have done some research over the years on the readiness of different countries and societies for digital and financial inclusion. Right Bhaskar? And China ranked very high on that because of infrastructure, and because of the fact that they've built all this over the years. Others are lured. Look, my view on financial inclusion, which as I said, is a delivered digitally is what you're discussing here. My view on financial inclusion is just a little more nuanced.

Ajay Banga:

I think, to really deliver good financial inclusion, you need to have people have an identity. If they don't have an identity, it could be a foundational identity issued by a government, or a derived identity issued by different aspects of your life, but you've got to get to a identity so that institutions of different types can open some form of an account with you. Not a traditional bank account, it could be an account in the sky, in the cloud, it could be through a fingerprint on a phone, it could be a card, whatever way, a way to receive, save money and record transactions.

Ajay Banga:

You do that. You create an identity, you create the ability to open accounts, then you start putting money into those accounts from government services, from pensions, from transfers of money, and all of a sudden you're example of the homeless guy, getting money on a WeChat, all of a sudden over time, you can start using that transaction floor, use AI to underwrite that person, to start giving them access to reasonable credit, reasonable insurance for the things that come their way in their life.

Ajay Banga:

All this together at the end of the day, constitutes financial inclusion. It's tempting to declare victory along the way saying, "Tick the box I've issued the identity. Ticks the box I've opened the account. Tick the box I've enabled money to move on a phone." The problem is by themselves, none of them do enough. You have to have the whole chain to really enable people to get access to insurance, and credit, and saving, and do all the right things that they need to do to be able to live a good life, a life that you and I take for granted.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

Yeah. I think, exactly as I just said, I think it goes beyond just giving people an affordable access. To enable any kind of a transaction you need to authenticate who's on both sides of the transaction so that I'm making a payment to the right person and receiving a service or a product from the right person and somebody who's authenticated in the right way.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

But as we get more and more people plugged into the digital ecosystem, as it were, whether they're on a smartphone, or on a laptop, or in some other means, you realize that we need to go beyond just access and beyond financial transactions and economic transactions eventually, so much of what is pushed at you, whether it's on social media, or through newsfeeds, or other forms of digitally delivered information is going to be coming to you in a variety of forms.

Gautam Mukunda:

So, what are the biggest challenges? If it's delivering the whole chain from beginning to end is necessary to make this work, that's always a hard problem. Are there particular rate limiting steps that you're looking at now that leaders need to address?

Ajay Banga:

Well, I think that the starting point is that identity. Some form of an identity that you can deliver and use in this case, in a digital world. And if you look at how many people around the world lack access to a foundational identity, that identity issued by their government, it is actually close to a billion people plus. And if you start thinking about derived identities, as in something we are doing, for example, for refugees in refugee camps out of Syria who come to Lebanon and Jordan, multiple refugee agencies that are all trying to help them have different ways of identifying this person from that person.

Ajay Banga:

Imagine if you're going to have one identity run across all of those and that identity doesn't have to be something that's issued by anybody other than your own thumbprint. So, I can keep the thumbprint in a tokenized form, therefore safe for privacy reasons. And so-and-so Bhaskar turns up at the one NGO uses his thumbprint and is eligible for X, Y, Z benefit, goes to another NGO, uses his thumbprint and we're able to say, "Same person, same entity has two children therefore here at this NGO is available for help with their children," and so on.

Ajay Banga:

Those kinds of basic identity methods are really important, because without them, it's really hard to take the next logical step without having a ton of leakage and fraud in the system. That's the first one. The second thing that connects to it is, imagine what I just described to you, think of the multi-level of cooperation you need, true public private cooperation, boy, this is in true fact. You need agencies to cooperate, governments to cooperate, NGOs to cooperate, private companies to bring their capability, and then you can find a way to make this work. So, it needs a fairly high level of multi-lateral thinking and cooperation across partnerships.

Gautam Mukunda:

The question that raised is what you might call a civil liberties concern. When governments have the ability to issue identities, that obviously, that there is some history of difficulties there. It sounds to me though that you're saying that there are technological solutions to that concern, is that right?

Ajay Banga:

Absolutely. I mean, as I explained to you, that refugee example, actually, it doesn't need you to know that this is Ajay Banga resident so-and-so. First of all, I'm a refugee, I'm probably a resident of some refugee camp and who's going to certify my name and my age and everything else. So, what we are trying to do there... What are we trying to achieve? We're trying to achieve that Ajay and his family get access to food, education, healthcare, vaccination, and so on for him and his family.

Ajay Banga:

That's all you're trying to ensure. You're trying to ensure there's no leakage, no duplication or loss in that. And with a simple thumbprint, you can do that. There's many ways to use the idea of identity without creating the specter of infringing on your privacy as a citizen.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

I think, paired with that is this additional phenomenon that is happening across every digital platform, that the moment you interact with the digital platform, or even take that physical platform, you stick it in your pocket and you walk around, you're generating this thing called data. And if that data is being used to then inform a machine or an algorithm, which is then going to make some decisions, those decisions could be to give you a loan or deny you a loan, or set you up for some kind of a service or send you an ad of a particular kind.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

So then you start worrying about whether that identity that Ajay was talking about is also being connected to your data. So, this additional issue, which is increasingly going to become the frontier of inclusion, complexity, or whatever you choose to call it, is how much agency do the users have on the data that goes into all these digital systems. And for now, most of the data is held in repositories, primarily owned by private companies or by governments.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

And I think this is a bit of an open question. They are figuring out, how do you give consumers and users the rights to basically take that data and go wherever they want without necessarily having to go through many hoops to secure their own information.

Ajay Banga:

I think privacy Bhaskar, as I sit at those ending, is exactly the point you're making. And I think combined with that a little bit inside what you're saying is the ethical use of that data, right?

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

Exactly.

Ajay Banga:

You're banking two separate points here, both of which are really important. And Bhaskar knows this, but I'll tell you about it, at MasterCard, we laid out certain data responsibility principles. They're very simple in as a consumer, it's your data and you deserve to benefit from it. That's principle one. Principle two, you should know what's being collected about you without having to be a rocket scientist. And it should be simple enough to understand.

Ajay Banga:

Principle three, if you want it to be deleted and not collected and forgotten, you should be able to do it in a simple enough way without having to write code for it, or make complicated maneuvers for it. And principle four is, you as a company or government should minimize the data you collect so that you can do what you promise the consumer you would do without collecting extra information.

Ajay Banga:

And principle five is, even that minimize data you should keep it safe for the consumer. These are not difficult to understand, they're basic principles. And I think to Bhaskar's point, they cover both privacy, but also the ethics of data. And I think he's making that point twice over for a very good reason. It's a really important issue.

Gautam Mukunda:

People need IDs in order to be part of the digital world. But that's the beginning, not the end of the process. Have you ever heard the phrase, "Richer than Croesus," it comes from Greek history. Croesus was a Greek king who was fabled for his wealth. The origin of that wealth is simple, Croesus invented money. More specifically, Croesus issued the first gold coins with a standardized purity. This meant that people could trust the value of the coins and use them to buy things freely.

Gautam Mukunda:

The result was quite possibly the first real boom economy in history. It made Croesus so rich that we remember him 2,600 years after his death. Everything in the financial system depends on trust, even when you don't realize that. When you give a dollar to the clerk at the store, you trust that they will accept it in exchange for a bottle of water, even though they can't drink it, or eat it, or live in it.

Gautam Mukunda:

And they in turn accept the dollar from you, trusting that they'll be able to turn around and spend it on something else later. Money used to be made of precious metals based on the idea that people would trust it more that way, than it was just backed by precious metals. So in theory, you could go to the government and get gold in exchange for your bills, but now it's not backed by anything at all except trust. So, how as a leader, do you build that kind of trust in the world of finance, or government, or anywhere?

Gautam Mukunda:

The foundation of what you're describing, it seems to me is trust, which is not just a classic leadership question, but the classic leadership question. And it's two-sided trusts. People need to trust institutions to issue these identities, to manage their data, but we also need to make sure that these institutions act in a trustworthy way, but even in the United States, we're pretty far from that and the way data is managed. How should the leaders of our institutions get us to a world where those principles are fulfilled, not just in the United States, but outside of it as well?

Ajay Banga:

I mean, you go out and you state them and you start living them. That's how you start. If you're going to wait for someone else to lay these rules down for you, we never get to where we got. We as a company committed to include 500 million people back in 2014, by 2020, we did. We didn't wait for a government or public pronouncement, we made our own.

Ajay Banga:

An obvious change that to a billion people, with 15 million micro SMEs, 25 million of which will be women owned or started. You make that pronounce. When you make this pronouncement of the data principles and you lead your business on those principles. I think the point is, and this is true of all leadership, leadership starts from you leading and setting an example. And I think if you wait for somebody else, that's not leadership.

Ajay Banga:

And so, that's my view. You can set an example as a company, as a person, as an individual and go out and do something about it. What do you think Bhaskar?

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

Yeah. I absolutely agree, Ajay. And I think, if you think about the question of trust in digitally ecosystems these days, I mean so much of this past year and a half, we have embraced digital more than we could ever have imagined. We have advanced in five years in our embrace of digital technology in the first eight weeks of the pandemic. And now of course we are going to keep going. And at the same time, our trust in the digital ecosystems has plummet, which is a contradiction, I mean, what's going on here?

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

So when you start asking the question, what's going on with trust in these digital ecosystems? You could point to certain functions like social media, or search, or ads, or e-commerce, or you could point to certain companies. Now as it turns out a combination of our inherent desire for stories, and narratives, and personalities, and the media's need to continue to reinforce that, our notion of trust has been intimately tied, not just by the functions and companies, but by the leaders themselves.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

And how the leaders act, how they behave, what they say, it needs to be consistent with being a trustworthy institution.

Gautam Mukunda:

So, this question of trust is pretty central. I'm a social scientist by training, and one distinction you make very noticeably between societies is between low trust and high trust societies. The United States, historically as a high trust society. Two generations ago, when Franklin Roosevelt gave a Christmas speech in the White House, people for security reasons, they couldn't bring gifts onto the grounds, so people just piled their Christmas gifts on the sidewalk, went in, listening to speech, came out and picked them up.

Gautam Mukunda:

The society was so trusting that they just assumed they would still be there. If you've spent time in Japan, Japan in many ways, it's still like that. But the US isn't any more. We have shifted over the last generation from a high trust to a much lower trust society. If we're really worried about this trust issue, how do you two, how do you want leaders to step up and say, "Okay. We as institutions need to repair these breaches," or even if they're not real, these perceived breaches, "And get people to trust us again."

Ajay Banga:

But my belief is that, again, you set an example by your actions in what you do. I was in California last week and saw the billboards all around an Apple advertising on what it's trying to do on privacy for you and the prevention of using certain kinds of cookies to track you and the like, and I think they're setting an example, just as the example I gave you of our data principles.

Ajay Banga:

So I think companies can set their examples and can lead by what they do. But I think there's a bigger question here, and in totality, I think companies/corporations need to start thinking about what role they play in the community they live in. And you need to start putting real volume to the idea of doing well and doing good at the same time. And I think these words have got to use, and some people feel they're hackneyed, but do you need to live by them.

Ajay Banga:

So, I have a very simple view of what the world faces and one of them, it's a three sides of a triangle. So, one side of the triangle is the trade-off between one and many. That's the inclusion conversation they are having. Health inclusion, education inclusion, financial inclusion delivered digitally or physically the issue of growing up in the wrong ethnicity, the wrong gender, the wrong sexual orientation, the wrong side of the tracks, why should that be a burden you carry as compared to just celebrating who you are. That's the one side of the triangle.

Ajay Banga:

The other side of the triangle is not a topic that's very popular these days, which is humanity versus nature. Green nature, climate change, fires, water, purified air, all that. The reason those two sides stay where they are is because society allows the third side to support them up. And that third side is the trade-off between long-term and short-term. And too many of us are incented to make decisions that go more towards the short-term, as compared to the long-term. These are difficult problems that need long-term solutions and if you applied short-term Band-Aid to them, you don't get a real solution.

Ajay Banga:

That by the way, is what this is all about. If companies have a slightly medium to longer term view, if politicians have a slightly medium to longer term view, if parents, if teachers, all of us, if we take a medium to long-term view on the things we face, I'm not saying you don't have to do things in the immediate, I'm just saying you need to find the right balance so that you can actually tackle inclusion and climate, which are real issues for our planet without private sector capital, without private sector ingenuity, without private sector technology, without private sector enthusiasm, these problems will not get solved.

Ajay Banga:

There is not enough government and philanthropic money in the world to solve these. So, we need to start trusting each other and get to the program together. And that's what I mean about doing well and doing good at the same time. It's possible. It's eminently possible.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

And just to build on that and building on the notion of digital inclusion and how we use technology, I think it's interesting to think about even what leadership means in this realm. I think there are some companies that have phenomenal CEOs who live what they say, and they lived the mission and current company absolutely included is number one on that list.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

But there are many CEOs who don't. And it's not just CEOs, it's leaders, recognize leaders of organizations. And we spend a lot of time obsessing with these leaders and obsessing about good and bad behavior of these leaders. However, I'd like to also point us in the direction of the anonymous leader. So, you should think about say the social justice protests that exploded again last summer during the depths of the pandemic. And if you ask, who is the leader?

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

Was there a Mandela? Was that a Gandhi? Was that a Martin Luther King in those movements? Not really. The leader was a hashtag. Whether it's Black Lives Matter or whatever it is, a hashtag brought people into the streets, and maybe it was a particular event. The death of George Floyd or Brianna Taylor, which lit the fire, but the leader was anonymous. It was basically a group that organized underneath an organizing mechanism enabled by widespread access to technology.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

So I think technology could potentially change the notion of leadership where you almost have a Mandela, less Gandhi, less Martin Luther King, less revolution. And one interesting dilemma that I struggled with is that these revolutions are very powerful in bringing people together and potentially raising awareness, potentially dismantling a status quo that we find unacceptable, but then the challenges, "How do you put something better in place?"

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

And that's where a real human intervention, a new Gandhi, a new Mandela, a new Martin Luther King is needed. And I'm not quite sure that we have that. So, that's one way in which I think leadership itself is changing in a world of digital inclusion.

Gautam Mukunda:

I want to hone in on the leaderless revolution and this question of trust and short-termism. Because I think one of the reasons that we saw these leaderless movements was precisely because we have reached a point in our societies where our institutions are so corrosively distrusted that you couldn't turn to a pastor or a government official. Nobody believed that they actually had their interests at heart.

Gautam Mukunda:

When I say that I trust my best friend, I don't mean that I trust him to calculate his interests and then do what's in his interest. I expect him to value my interests over his, because the relationship is more important to him in the short-term interest. They work, in other words, in the long-term not the short-term. Can you give us an example of a situation in your own leadership where you said. "I'm going to take a short-term hit in order to value the long-term societal benefit."

Ajay Banga:

We talked about financial inclusion and found a million people being included, that costs this company a lot of money. I could have not spent that money, and instead taken the view that that money could have flown to my bottom line and been even profitable than a relatively profitable company already is. But we took the view that it wasn't in our own self-interest to make a difference to the space because cash was what we were aiming at as a way of growing our business and cash was being generated.

Ajay Banga:

Principally and largely, in fact, a single larger gendered of cash in the world was governments distributing money to its own citizenry, either through pays, or salaries, or benefits, or the like. And so, to intervene in that was a way to remove some of the cash and start to get people used to the idea of being digitally included. And we therefore leaped into this with our eyes open. And it turned out to be a very fulfilling journey, but we spend a lot of money on it. But I'm a little less pessimistic about there not being institutions of people.

Ajay Banga:

I mean, if you go back in history, the darkest days in South Africa, when nobody thought anything would happen is when Nelson Mandela showed that one person can make a difference. The darkest days in India's independence struggle when nobody thought anything could change for the better, when Indians were third class citizens in their own country, a man called Mahatma Gandhi led a change. The darkest days in America, when no one thought that there could ever be suffrage or equality for African-Americans, and I would argue, we are still on that journey, I think Martin Luther King came.

Ajay Banga:

So I'm a little more optimistic about society's capability to find leaders who can make a difference because they don't wait for somebody else.

Gautam Mukunda:

Trust is the foundation of great leadership. And it has to be two way. When people accept you as their leader, they are trusting you with authority, with power, maybe even with their lives. The worst thing a leader can do is abuse that trust. And we see too many of them who do just that. But even in the worst situations, Ajay reminds us, people want to find leaders in whom they can have faith. Whether that's crusading for civil rights, eradicating deadly diseases, or providing financial lifelines for one and a half billion people.

Gautam Mukunda:

And when that faith is rewarded, it can reshape the world. So of course, I was eager to ask Ajay and Bhaskar, our final question. In your career you've met a large number of extraordinary people, is there one who most impressed you and why?

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

Yeah. As with several of us who have had the privilege of meeting, or running into, or seeing incredibly impressive well-known people in action, and I feel enormously privileged to have seen some at close quarters so, I wouldn't even know where to begin. But I do know where to begin when I think about somebody who really struck me, is somebody who taught me quite a bit about leadership, creativity, innovation, and essentially innovating in adversity.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

And this is not a famous person at all, it's actually a student. And this student who grew up as a carpet weaver in Afghanistan. And as a little boy, he basically was not in carpets. And because little boys hands are small, they can not carpet very tightly and those are more priced in carpet shops here in Boston. And you will see carpets woven by this person and people of his age back when he was that old in fine homes in Boston.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

And through a series of... He was a refugee, then escaped Afghanistan during the war, made it to a different part of Asia and then eventually made it on scholarship to the United States, and then finally showed up at the Fletcher School. And he's told me that, even though he was on scholarship, he didn't really have any money for the rest of his expenses. So he realized that those carpets that he used to weave back in Afghanistan could fetch enormous prices in homes in Newton, and Brookline, and Wellesley here in Boston.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

So he set up his little business, going back to the little boys and the people who command those little boys in Afghanistan to somehow get him some of those carpets and a few other handicrafts and then he would sell them over here. Not for the same exorbitant prices that carpet stores do, but he made enough of a profit and make a living for himself. The second thing that I found impressive was he didn't use any cash to sell his products. And this was the first time that I actually saw this piece of technology, Square, which many of us are familiar with, but this is the first time I've seen anybody use it. So this was a few years back.

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

And he was using a Square dongle on his phone to get paid for the carpets that he sold. So, the first time I've seen somebody use this piece of technology and this kid grew up as a carpet weaver in Afghanistan. And here I am pretending to know all about digital technology and this kid taught me all about technology, about entrepreneurship, about adversity and how to make it in the world.

Gautam Mukunda:

My goodness, that is a remarkable story. And then, our last question for you Ajay, in your extraordinary career, you've undoubtedly met a large number of extraordinary people, is there one who most impressed you and why?

Ajay Banga:

My father. My father, I will be asked as... At one level I would say it is, if people I haven't met, I haven't met Mahatma Gandhi, I met Nelson Mandela once in a crowd, not as though I had a lot of time with them, but these two people, because they showed me that one person can make a difference, like I just said a little while ago, in the deepest, darkest days, one person could make a difference.

Ajay Banga:

But my dad, for a different reason altogether, my dad is an officer in the Indian army. And I saw him connect with people across levels and ranks in a way that made everybody he was talking to know that he was genuinely curious about them and their situation. And I learned from him that curiosity and decency and relating to people across levels gives you more insights into the things you can do better and gives you more insights into appreciating what's around you than any other form of learning.

Ajay Banga:

And I think that's a lesson I have with me even today.

Gautam Mukunda:

Great leaders have the insight to see the right thing to do, the skill to do it, and the courage to do it, even when it's hard. You can find great leaders anywhere. They can be of any race, creed, nationality, or gender. But the one thing they have in common is they are leaders you can trust. And as more and more of our world goes online, it's going to be harder and harder to create that trust.

Gautam Mukunda:

Both because it's hard to trust someone through a screen, and because there will be more and more attacks on truth. As we're seeing today, when even in the midst of a pandemic, medical and scientific leaders are constantly under assault. Bhaskar and Ajay however, lay out a path for how leaders can create a digital world that inspires confidence and therefore a better real one too. When leaders act on their highest aspirations, when they sacrifice short-term interests in order to pursue the broader good, when they give their word and keep it, they can show they are worthy of trust and they can rekindle the ability to trust in all of us.

Gautam Mukunda:

Because just as leaders need to be reliable, we need to be willing to rely on them too. We can't blame leaders for being unworthy of our faith if we are too cynical to give it to them. The world faces problems on an unimaginable scale. From climate change to inequality, to their retreat of democracy, there is no guarantee that our children will inherit a better world than the one we did. But there's no guarantee they won't either.

Gautam Mukunda:

That will be determined by our choices, not our fate. If we can find great leaders who are worthy of our trust and find it in ourselves to give it to them, then we can truly make this a better world. A World Reimagined.

Speaker 5:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world. An original podcast from Nasdaq. Visit the World Reimagined website at nasdaq.com/world-reimagined-podcast. (silence)

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