Robert Filipp is Founder and President of Geneva-based Innovative Finance Foundation (IFF), a Swiss not-for-profit dedicated to financial innovation for social impact. He is also an entrepreneur and a former United Nations official. His ties with India are deep rooted – his spouse is Indian, also workingout of Geneva. The architect of the ‘Debt2Health’ programme, which swapped over US$ 300 m and generated US$ 170 m for the Global Fund in sovereign debt. Robert is also closely associated with the French ‘3Waystee’ environment friendly waste-management system, which aims at significantly reducing the need for landfills and protecting the environment. NRI Achievers spoke to him recently, and here are excerpts of that conversation in his own words ...
You have been staying in India for the past 23 years. How do you see the challenge for pollution in India, with reference to ‘Clean Ganga’ campaign initiated by the Indian Govt., and the adoption of appropriate technology?
India has undergone a lot of changes in terms of economic development, which has had a diverse impact on numerous people during the course of time. Despite that, poverty has proven to be a challenge, which needs to be alleviated as soon as possible. Pollution is a by-product of development that requires immediate attention. There is a need to alchemize waste into high quality products by applying the latest technology. Nowadays we have the technology to recycle over 90% of waste into inoffensive usable and recyclable products. After PM Modi’s visit to the US, the optimism could be felt among several countries who hope to see India as a fulcrum of the global economy. These developments could lead to higher employment opportunities if the Indian Government pitches in. Our aim is to provide a certain share of profit to all the small garbage collectors and manual scavengers. This would strengthen our economy at the grassroots level and ultimately bring prosperity to economically weaker sections of society.
With India emerging as a global economy, how do you rate the positioning of India globally?
BRICS has proven to be a positive factor and shown a greater sense of consistent paradigms of development. The PM has also indicated that the only possible solution is to inculcate the latest technologies in order to combat pollution. I can see India emerging as land of innovation, which has strength to support its economic needs. It would be beneficial for India to involve more NRIs as they have great expertise in various economic fields.
Would you like to talk a few words about your 23 years of experience in India?
When I visited India for the first time there were no flyovers; I could only see Ambassador Cars all over the place. Now I experience a much more developed India where prosperity is not limited to urban areas. The IT revolution has brought drastic changes that have uplifted many sections of society in terms of lifestyle, earnings and work culture. Despite challenges, India is inexorably gaining momentum in all fields, with transformative changes and a great appetite of the middle class to have quality lifestyles with quality education. The alignment of challenging jobs and changing demographic dividends into opportunities is highly impressive.
Which part of India impressed you? If you had a choice, where would you like to settle down in India?
India has a rich civilization and a heritage with a prosperous artistic tradition spanning several millennia from Indus Valley to the present. So, different parts of India fascinate me in different ways. However, I like Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. Settling down in one such place entails investment. I think it's better for me to remain in a migratory mode, because you get the nectar of wisdom through travel and human interaction according to Vedic Wisdom. But in a big country like India, you also require an enabling ecosystem and uniformity in all the states which may go forward with equal pace of development. Each state is at different levels of development in different fields.
You are a PIO card holder and you can own property and purchase land in India. What are your future plans?
Since my wife hails from Uttar Pradesh, I also get connected easily through relatives. However, currently there is no specific plan to own property because priority, preference, propensity of mind and life undergo a lot of changes in this globalised world.
Instead of ‘Intelligence Quotient’ and ‘Emotional Quotient’ the world is moving towards ‘Spiritual Quotient’ – in search of better harmony. How do you see this process in India?
Today in this fast changing world driven by technology and high expectations to achieve, perform and be awarded more in materialistic terms, youths and professionals are passing through challenging times. There is tremendous parental and societal pressure on children to perform. The biggest difficulty in the contemporary world including India is that performances are being compared with other iconic and successful achievers in almost every field, so there is no space left for complacency. No parents want their kids to become painters, poets, writers or artists because they are afraid that such careers may not provide a strong financial base for survival. So there is a need of convergent wisdom for both parents and children. But I see that youth in India have become more pragmatic. They have learnt ‘Yoga’ and adopted it as a rewarding career within and outside of India. Similarly, Ayurveda, medical Tourism, spirituality, Buddhist Circuit induced tourism have all created space for employment and youth are exploiting it prudently to better their lives.
What do you think about the cultural differences in India when compared with the West?
Married as I am to an Indian lady, I am connected by family ties and often get an opportunity to witness and enjoy the diversity and contrasts in different parts of India. One cannot remain isolated in India because society here is so well-knit and so inter-connected. All are in the sharing and caring mode which is in sa harp contrast to the West. So, I’ve been able to see the different geographical faces of India through so many friends, relatives and acquaintances, but I like Varanasi in UP.
Do you think that the Modi Government has created a new image branding within and outside India?
Modi’s Government has improved the global image of India and accelerated the pace of foreign investment into India. The new image branding of India has set in motion higher expectations of investors for more ‘ease of doing business’. India today has also become a hotbed of entrepreneurial activities, and that is transforming India rapidly from a predominantly agrarian economy into a more service oriented economy. The current Prime Minister’s various schemes such as Digital India, Swachh Bharat, and Make-in India, et al., have taken a step toward the provision of a firm base to ensure overall growth in various spheres. And his gold monetisation schemes, apropos, will contribute to the better and efficient working of the Indian economic system in the long run. But the expectations and aspirations of the general public are immense and the government is yet to do a lot. The public wants to see fundamental changes in governance. Time is passing by quickly and pressure to deliver fast remains a challenge. What with aspirational challenges becoming more and more important across the globe, India needs to be steered via focused efforts towards crafting a new enabling environment for fresh initiatives. But in a country as big as India, you require an enabling ecosystem in so many states. As regards the promotional strategy by Modi government about governance, it deserves A+ grading.