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Dignitaries listening to Ananth Sankaranarayanan, Co-Founder & CEO, Mensa Brands Technologies, at the India Global Forum UAE 2021 at Taj Dubai, 13th December 2021. Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: Senior UAE and Indian diplomats, ministers, as well as founders and CEOs of companies in both countries have come together at the two-day India Global Forum which kicked off on Monday, at the Taj in Dubai. The full-day event on Tuesday focuses on innovation, disruption and new frontiers across various facets of the economy, and how India and the UAE can focus their combined strengths to reach new heights in terms of business and economic goals.

The forum comes at a time when UAE and Indian economies are in a position to write-off that COVID-19 infested 2020 as a lost year and refocus all energies on a breakthrough 2022.  Whether it is in manufacturing, the tech industry, the startup space, or at malls and shops dotting the country, the sentiment is turning positive in India.

Click here for all the highlights from Day 1

Adel Sajan, Global Managing Director, Danube Group, gives five key transformation tips for new-age startups.

“In 2014, when PM Modi was voted into power, we inherited an economy that was broken and the economic activity was concentrated around a few families and a few groups,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Skill Development, Entrepreneurship and Electronics, and Information Technology, Government of India.

"Now, we have an amazing phenomenon of two unicorns a month and that is in the middle of the pandemic," he said. "We are deeply pleased with where we are and it look a lot of hard work and a complete re-architecting of the economic landscape."

The $1 trillion digital economy is a statement to India’s entrepreneurs and global players who are looking at India as a reliable partner for technology products and services, the minister said.

“For the coming generation of young Indians, the education policy integrated with skilling (initiatives) along with newer ways of finding a livelihood is simply the most powerful reform since independence,” he said.

Speaking at a session titled ‘Approaching Half Time: Anticipating the Rest of Modi's 2nd Term’, Vijay Chauthaiwale, the chief of the foreign affairs department of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and an advisor to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, provided insights into the priorities for the rest of Modi's current term.

Recalling Modi's 2014 election victory, Chauthaiwale said: "After 10 years of the previous government, everyone was looking for a credible alternative that is not only free of corruption, malpractices, but also a leader who would deliver. And to a great extent in the last seven years, PM Modi has delivered it."

“Modi has always considered himself as a janata (people's servant). After the Gujarat election, he said I am always CM, which implied the chief minister as well as a common man.”

Chauthaiwale praised the Indian diaspora in the UAE for playing a phenomenal role during the pandemic. “Indians have shown how the global diaspora can come together and support the country of origin during the pandemic.”

A swayamsevak who trained and worked as a molecular biologist until he joined the BJP, Chauthaiwale also plays a key role in organising the Indian PM’s NRI outreach. Prior to attending the IGF, Chauthaiwale had an interaction with key volunteers of the Indian People's Forum in Dubai where he appreciated the community group for carrying out exemplary work to support distressed Indian expats during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On COVID-19, he said: Of course, we were not perfect. It was a devastating wave. But, we have given support to many people across the world through the supply of medicines and vaccines. On healthcare issues, it would be very crucial for the entire world with the new variant coming. In that respect also India's holistic healthcare system is likely to play an important role in the next two to three years globally.

“The pandemic has taught each vertical to survive independently – our diversified business has helped us create a dedicated team for each of our verticals,” said Varun Chaudhary, Managing Director, CG Corp Global.

“Danube Group was started by my father and uncle almost 28 years ago,” said Adel Sajan, Global Managing Director, Danube Group. “Today, we have a revenue of about $1.2 billion with three main businesses.”

"Today, Danube Home is one of the fastest growing home improvement retailers in the region and it's become a cash cow for the company," said Sajan.

“E-commerce is something we have always looked at. Our e-commerce sales during the COVID period spiked 400 per cent,” said Sajan. “Selling furniture online is a little harder compared to electronics and fashion.”

"In our generation, business is changing a lot faster and if you are not able to keep up or create something that's relevant, you are going to be left behind," said Sajan.

During the pandemic, there was a huge surge in demand for home products because everyone was working from home, but there wasn’t enough supply, said Sajan. “The last two years have been a complete roller coaster ride.”

“Pre-owned cars make a lot of sense in the Indian market,” said Vikram Chopra, co-founder and CEO of CARS24 at a session titled ‘Global Disruptors Series: Cars 24 – Globalising via the UAE’. “We are allowing a lot of first-time buyers in India to actually buy a pre-owned car without worrying.”

“The used car market in India and everywhere else is super fragmented, the ecosystem is very unorganised,” said Chopra.

“The UAE is the first market we went to outside India. It felt like adding another city in India – a lot of our colleagues in India were very happy to move to Dubai,” said Chopra.

"I believe that what happened with mobile phones is exactly the same thing that's going to happen with cars," said Chopra. "There will be a gradual shift to electric cars, but at the same time, the churn will continue to happen as people upgrade with new features."

"We will build our skills to handle multiple geographies and we will do more stuff in the value chain of cars and maybe even two-wheelers," said Chopra.

Eileen Pryer, Director of Marketing, Admissions & International Recruitment, University College Birmingham, UK, and Anoo Malhotra, director of industries and commerce, Jammu and Kashmir, signed a Memorandum of Understanding enabling UCB to open an office in J&K, thereby helping students get admission in its UK programmes at reduced fees and also provide upskilling opportunities for students and academicians, in the presence of Dr Aman Puri, Consul General of India in Dubai, at the India Global Forum in Dubai.

Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Adviser in the ministry of finance, Government of India; Oliver Phillips , Associate Director, Sustainable Finance, Standard Chartered Bank; Rudra Dalmia, General Partner, Green Frontier Capital; Srinivasa Rao, Global Vice-Chairman, Global Delivery Services, EY; and Sanjeev Gupta, Executive Director, Africa Finance Corporation, at a session titled ‘Accelerating Climate Finance Transformation – Reflections on COP26’.

Reflecting on the wider implications of the Abraham Accords for the region and India, Dr Aman Puri, Consul General of India in Dubai, said: "India looks at it as an opportunity. We have seen that since the signing of the historical Abraham Accords, there has been exponential growth of business engagement between the UAE and Israel. Of course, it is enabling India to look at this synergy between the three countries. We are quite focused on the UAE-Israel-India corridor, on the trilateral opportunities. India looks at Dubai as a very important springboard, as a gateway to this region. As you are aware, the UAE hosts the single largest group of Indian community anywhere in the world, 3.3million. So, when there is business between UAE and Israel, it is quite natural that a significant contribution of that will come from the Indian community here in the UAE.

Ilan Sztulman Starosta, Head of Mission, Israeli Consulate in Dubai, said: "For us, this (Abraham Accords) is a dream come true. Israel has been reaching out for peace in the region for decades. That is our ultimate goal."

He said he lives here in the UAE with his family amidst people of different faiths and nationalities and "it is a historical moment".

Speaking at a session titled ‘India-UAE-Israel: New Opportunities in a New Geopolitical Era’, Dr. Ahmed Abdulrahman Al Banna, the UAE Ambassador to India, reflected on the Abraham Accords and said: “The Abraham Accords was a major turning point for the overall political system in the UAE. The emphasis was on the UAE extending hands of friendship (and) cooperation, hands of a strong, new relationship and creating a new path putting behind us the old contradictions and moving ahead for creating a better lifestyle, better human interrelationship, a better economic relationship. When you talk accord, when you talk about opening up a new page, it is for the benefit of all. Not only for the UAE nationals and Israel nationals, but also for the benefit of the whole region.”

Sanjay Nayar, chairman, KKR India, and Jugeshinder Robbie Singh, group CFO, Adani Group, addressed the India Global Forum on Tuesday.

Talking about the boardroom ethics, the chairman of KKR says: "I think there are three very curious areas to focus right now. First and foremost, is a long-term strategic vision for the company and sticking with it despite temporary pressures of markets, and tactical things that one needs to do."

"But keeping a long-term vision behind is extremely critical. Because their No. 1 goal is to deliver sustainability for the shareholders benefit,” says Nayar.

"I think just overall risk management and oversight risk is the third most important function and the reason I'm highlighting these three things externally, it's not it takes away from the advisory role, but I think it just adds on to it."

"Long-term interest and social equity is key to address stakeholders’ interest," said Singh.

Talking about challenges for a board, Nayar said: "If you just look at the new challenges for these businesses, or even the traditional businesses, digital disruption is a big challenge."

Gender diversity, style of cooperation, climate change among others are also very critical to bring a board together, says Nayar.

Talking about the conflict of culture in a board due to age difference, Singh said: "We have a concept of competency hierarchy where we focus on competency of the person."

A goal-driven culture through the CEO, identifying high-profile candidates is the efficient way of creating a pipeline of young and high potential board members, says Nayar.

In a post-pandemic world, the board have to be a lot more proactive to develop a pipeline internally and externally, says Nayar.

The underlying issue is retaining work flexibility, Singh. "We need to create flexible work culture and need to cater to the new generations requirements and aspirations."

Both Nayar and Singh say pressure from investors for boards to constantly evolve and deliver is what keeps the boards on toes.

Swami Brahmavihari of BAPS Hindu Mindir, Abu Dhabi, addresses the India Global Forum, where he speaks about the importance of living in unity.

Talking about the importance of dynamic alliances, he said: “We have created a world where people have started to believe ‘my way is the only way’.”

“We have to accept that there are multiple ways about the same concept and we need to take off the blinkers. Look at the ancient tale of five blind men trying to describe an elephant only from their limited point of view. These were half-truths. My spiritual view of dynamic alliance is very strategic. Alliances are formed for transient and momentary goals. But dynamic alliance is deeper, lasting and for benefit of every person on this earth,” he said.

“From a spiritual point of view, dynamic alliance is sustainable alliance that outlives and outgrows everything.”

“We need the impetus or push to follow what is right. Dharma is actually a verb. To know dharma is not enough, you have to know what is good but you have to do good. The Hindu concept of dharma is knowing dharma, do good things and be dharma. It is to know, practice and develop the moral compass in life,” he added.

Talking about technology which broke geographical barriers but also triggered a great disconnect, he said “we can coexist with technology by being ourselves”.

“Technology is part of evolution. We cannot deny things whose time has come. If we stop evolving with technology, we will become extinct.”

“We started creating settlements, cities, clothes with our intellect. From nowhere we arrived somewhere. Then with the help of science, technology, electronics and communication we are everywhere,” he said.

Speaking about how COVID has impacted our lives, he said: “In COVID we are working from home. We have lost our homes to workspaces. With the overuse of technology we have created an elsewhere generation.”

“We see families sitting on the dinner table and everyone is on their mobile phones. We have created a generation of elsewhere people.”

“Through internet we have created multiple personalities. There is overuse and abuse of technology, which has created this dilemma,” he said.

“Spirituality gives you the anchor to be in the moment.”

Bhavin Turakhia, CEO, Zeta; Ashneer Grover, Founder and MD, BharatPe; and Angad Chadha of Wizz Financial at the session titled ‘New Frontiers in Financial Services’.

Miguel Rio Tinto, Group Chief Information Officer and Group Digital Officer, Emirates NBD, and Sriranga Sampathkumar, Vice President and General Manager, MEA, Infosys, address the session titled ‘Disruptive Outcomes in the Financial Sector’.

From a trade and logistics point of view, the pandemic showed us that it is not advisable to have all your eggs in one basket, said Karan Adani, CEO of the Adani Ports and Special Economic Zones (APSEZ).

“The pandemic also showed us innovation in the logistics sector when push comes to shove – shipping industry and port industry, we are some of the last adopters of technology, (and) as an industry we will only do it if we are pushed into a corner,” said Adani.

“We are a port company with 13 ports and we have covered the whole geography of India and the advantage we have is when we go to our customers, we have a pan-India solution,” said Adani. “The next step we are moving towards is integrating it with our logistics platform.”

"Climate change is a big disruptor and in my view it is going to be a big opportunity as well," said Adani. "Our renewable platforms started in 2014 and today I am happy to say it is larger than our thermal portfolio."

"We have had a set-up here (in UAE) since the last 25 years. Our whole shipping division runs from the UAE, (and) we look at UAE as a partner not just from a trade perspective, but also from a technology perspective," said Adani. "We keep evaluating the new options available to build that relationship – we are looking at multiple opportunities."

Faraz Khalid, CEO, Noon, at the India Global Forum UAE 2021: "The tenacity of this city and our region was was what at the end carried us through the pandemic and helped us overcome it."

Talking about the ever-changing digital ecommerce space, Khalid said, "We're in such a dynamic space that we need to we need to have a healthy skepticism for for long term planning. I know it's a dynamic multivariate problem, where things will change."

"You need to find a way to collaborate with partners to cater to millions of customers and 10s of 1000s of sellers on our platform," said Khalid when asked about the success of Noon.

Talking about the future of noon, Khalid said, "I think there'll be a lot of innovation and sort of like the way payments work, but also touch points around ecommerce sort of like creating those portals where people can come and return things."

Faraz Khalid, CEO of Noon speaks about revolutionising the digital e-commerce market and about fighting global giants and regional competition.

Talking about his passion, Khalid said, "A lot of it comes from growing up in Delhi in the 90s when the internet really [was a] luxury."

Faraz Khalid
Faraz Khalid, CEO, Noon, at the India Global Forum UAE 2021 at Taj Dubai, 14th December 2021. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

This is the start of something massive, said Khalid. "A revolution in retail is yet to come. E-commerce penetration is 5 per cent in this part of the world and have it take it forward."

Faraz Khalid, CEO, Noon at India Global Forum Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

"We're so lucky and so grateful to have a role to play in this sort of space," said Khalid. "We are building here for the long term. Retail is going through this massive revolution, and this is the best time to be in the business."

"We take so much pride in the fact that you know, there is an app on which millions of people from the region, come to us looking for things and they chose us over others. It is that choice they have and the power keeps you going," added Khalid,

Inspiring Journey

Inspiring Journey session with Arshi Ayub Mohamed Zaveri CEO, Trust with Trade Group and Bhaivari Jani, Executive Director, SCA Group Corp.

“It's not just your individual passion that drives entrepreneurial venture - you really need to have the mindset of a craftsman," said Arshi Ayub Zaveri, CEO, Trust with Trade Group. "One has to be realistic and one has to have the ability to fail."

UAE as a springboard for India’s global growth

Panel discussion with Navroz Udwadia, Co-founder of Alpha Wave Global, formerly Falcon Edge Capital, Ankur Gupta Head - Corporate Affairs & Growth, Tata Sons MENA, Rajesh Singhi, MD, Regional Head, M&A, Africa & ME & Head Sector Coverage, Middle East Africa & Pakistan, Standard Chartered

Paras Shahdadpuri, founder and Chairman of Nikai Group, UAE

In conversation with Navroz Udwadia, Co-founder of Alpha Wave Global, formerly Falcon Edge Capital

Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog
Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog, at the India Global Forum UAE 2021 at Taj Dubai, 14th December 2021. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Kant, speaking virtually on the second day of the event, added that technology is the basis of innovation. He also commented that technology would be the impetus to fit the dynamic alliance between the two countries.

Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Aayog commented: “UAE has 3.5 million people of Indian diaspora, 40 per cent of its population. UAE is poised to be come the Silicon Valley of Asia.”

Start of the 2nd day event of India Global Forum UAE 2021 session Boosting Innovation Opportunities in conversation with Amitabh Kant CEO, NITI Aayog

"UAE will serve as a great destination for investments."

He added that there is great potential for bilateral FDI investments between the two countries. A comprehensive economic partnership agreement will help in increasing trade between both countries and it would help in increasing the volume and diversifying trade, Kant said.

He also said that India has a great start-up ecosystem with about 50,000 startups up and running. 

Day two of India Global Forum kicked off to a smooth start with an early morning breakfast meeting with the Indian Health Minister, Dr Mansukh Mandhaviya. Dr Mandhaviya met leading Indian healthcare leaders in the UAE including Dr Azad Moopen, Founder Chairman and MD of Aster DM Health Care, and Dr Jamil Ahmed, MD of Prime Health Care Group.

Also read

The first day of the forum focused on unicorns and trade opportunities and deals between the UAE and India. You can check out the full coverage of the event here