Ambani leaps into the online retail space as he transforms Reliance Industries Ltd

Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani (pictured) moved a step closer to creating an e-commerce giant for India, unveiling plans to set up a $24 billion digital services holding company that would become the main vehicle in his ambition to dominate the country’s internet shopping space.

This is really hotting up as Ambani takes on Amazon and Flipkart (owned by Walmart).

The board of Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. approved a proposal to place $15 billion into the fully owned subsidiary, which will in turn invest that amount in Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., the conglomerate’s telecommunications venture.

The move by Asia’s richest man is the latest sign of the oil-to-petrochemicals group’s pivot toward data and digital services for future growth. Ambani, 62, told shareholders in August that the new businesses, including retail, are likely to contribute half of Reliance’s earnings in a few years, versus about 32% now.

While former English teacher Jack Ma started Alibaba in 1999 from scratch, Ambani is using the heft of his empire to build something similar for India by connecting retailers and consumers.

Shares of Reliance Industries have rallied 28% this year, compared with an 8.8% gain in the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex index.

The tycoon, whose net worth is about $56 billion as per the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, has also revealed a plan to sell 20% of Reliance’s oil and chemicals business to Saudi Arabian Oil Co. at an enterprise value of $75 billion – he’s cleaning up the balance sheet and heading for a “debt free” target soon.

Watch this space!

India’s PM Modi facing economic slowdown and needs a growth trigger

Moody’s is the most pessimistic, predicting Indian GDP to grow at just 5.8% for Financial Year 2020.

But s the above chart shows, many others are predicting declines.

This is a challenge for Indian PM Narendra Modi who has pinned his future on sustaining growth and lifting more out of poverty.

Citigroup has been optimistic on India, predicting that by 2050 India would be the world’s biggest economy. That was based on an annual growth rate of 6.5% over 40 years.

But 2019 has seen a slowdown to around 5% growth.

The one constant in India is population growth – around 20% per decade.

While the services and manufacturing sectors are seeing good growth, more can be achieve and infrastructure across the board still needs surgery. Daily power outages are common in major cities, education outcomes disappoint and healthcare is lagging. Not to mention roads and so on.

PM Modi needs a trigger – something that can draw the business and investment communities together to regain the excitement of the India growth story.

It is a major challenge.

Karnataka could lead India into global academic collaborations

India’s state of Karnataka is currently looking at a proposal to establish a “Centre for International Strategic Academic Collaboration” which would actively generate linkages with international universities and students.

The proposal is the brainchild of Mr. Nanjundaiya Ramesh Kumar (pictured below), holder of two Masters’ degrees – Industrial Economics from Brussels University, Brussels, Belgium and in Business Administration from Boston University, Boston, US. He is an experienced international banker and advisor to Governments as well as a tireless promoter of Karnataka as a provider of quality university education – the state has 55 universities.

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INTO INDIA recently reported on an initiative of RMIT University in Melbourne to create a collaborative post graduate research model with India – universities and research institutes.

The Karnataka “Centre for International Strategic Academic Collaboration” would involve all 55 Universities (faculty, students and other stakeholders) in Karnataka and the professional community of learners internationally to achieve sharing of best and tested education practices via a mutually beneficial and collaborative international partnership.

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The Centre would ensure that arrangements are in place at the University level for the effective management of overseas strategic academic collaborations, including procedures for the maintenance of academic standards and the assurance and enhancement of the student learning experience.

It would reach out to International Deans, College International Leads and College International Business Development Managers and key overseas University Services on the development and management of academic collaborations.

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The Government of India since 2016 has been encouraging collaboration between Indian and overseas Universities.

Centrally this initiative has the full support of the Ministry of Human Resource Development and all States in India have been advised to look into this on priority basis.

Recommended areas of collaboration include Art and Design, Health, Higher Education, Creative writing & poetry, Literary criticism & English language, Sociology and Social Policy, Aviation, Transport and advanced Communication. Research Collaborations would be sought in Sensing & Imaging, Electrochemistry, graphene and carbon nanotubes, Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Sustainable Ecology and environment protection studies.

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One of the suggestion of the proposed Centre will be to Create ‘Education Hubs‘ or Centres of Excellences (CoEs) strategically in Bengaluru and allow reputable overseas institutions and universities to establish a presence in India, through joint initiatives (with any local university in Karnataka) in curriculum design and delivery, branch campuses, train the trainer initiatives and joint research and scholarly activities that could help build capacity, reduce the imbalance in student mobility and attract significant export earnings.

Karnataka is already strong in higher education – this proposal could see the state become a global higher education powerhouse and magnet.

This is definitely something the Australian Government and Australian universities should be actively looking at as pathways to collaboration in India become more open.

 

India way behind on the “study in India” goal of attracting foreign students

India’s higher education institutions hosted a total of 47,427 international students from 164 countries in the academic year 2018/19, newly-released figures reveal.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to increase the quality of university education in India but he has a long way to go.

About 64% of all international enrolments came from 10 countries, and the highest senders were India’s regional neighbours.

Nepal sent 27% of all international students, Afghanistan 10% and Bangladesh 4%. The other countries in the top 10 were Sudan, Bhutan, Nigeria, US, Yemen, Sri Lanka and Iran.

Almost two thirds of the international student cohort were enrolled at undergraduate level, while 16% were pursuing postgraduate qualifications

Last year, the Study in India initiative made headlines as the country announced plans to rebrand as a major study destination and host 1 million international students.

According to Sannam S4  executive director & head of education Lakshmi Iyer, the country is “a long way” from achieving its goal.

“[International students are] merely 0.13% of the total enrolments in higher education in the year 2018-19,” she explained.

“The number of foreign students enrolled in India has increased by 3% year-on-year. So, a long way to go especially considering that foreign students come from 164 different countries across the globe.”

“India has always recognised the importance of education as a soft diplomacy tool, however it is for the first time we have stitched together a credible initiative to really push this agenda forward in the face of China’s well-funded Belt and Road Initiative which is pushing into regions which India considers as her natural allies,” she added.

 

China, Japan and India – the new startup triangle

China is a major provider of funding and control of many Indian startups. In 2015, Alibaba invested in Paytm through its affiliate Ant Financial. In 2017, Tencent took major stakes in Flipkart and Ola.

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Japan is also a serious provider of funding in India. Japanese giant Softbank has invested over US$8B in startups in the country, with a goal of $10B by 2024 that now looks surprisingly conservative.

As a result of this “triangle”, India is currently home to 26 startups valued over US$1B.

Oyo Hotels and Homes is raising US$1.5 billion from founder Ritesh Agarwal, SoftBank Group Corp., and other investors as it expands into foreign markets such as the U.S. and Europe.

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Agarwal, 25, will spend $700 million to buy new shares in the company.

Indian edtech startup CollegeDekho, which helps students connect with prospective colleges and keep track of exams, has raised US$8 million in a Series B round.

Last October, Indian e-commerce startup Snapdeal raised US$627 million at a valuation of over $2 billion. In the same month, India’s Uber-style taxi service, Olaraised $210 million, while being valued at over $1 billion in under three years.

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India’s largest online retailer and version of Amazon is Flipkart which recently raised another US$700 million at over a $11 billion valuation.

India’s online restaurant guide, Zomato, recently bought US-based Urbanspoon for over $50 million—one of the largest acquisitions by an Indian startup.

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India’s Silicon Valley – Both Koramangala in Bangalore and Hiranandani Powai (pictured below) in Mumbai – are becoming thriving ecosystems to nurture startups in India.

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Things are changing in modern India – and the “triangle” of India, China and Japan is playing a big role in the change.

 Time to look again?

The world has been changed by Gandhi – celebrating 150 years since his birth

History recognizes Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) as India’s “Father of the Nation”.

But he has been the “Father of Change” throughout the world.

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Peaceful freedom campaigners such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Tibet’s Dalai Lama owe much to this great man.

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I am pictured visiting the Gandhi Ashram in Gujarat

In my own generation it was our opposition to the Vietnam War that led us to study Gandhi and his methods of non-violent protest. In this way he inspired young people in the 1960’s in Australia, USA, Canada and more.

I especially love his message encouraging tolerance: “As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, keep it”. He said: “The golden rule is to test everything in the light of reason and experience, no matter from where it comes.”

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Some more Gandhi messages for specific sectors:

Communities: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”.

Leadership: “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”

Careers: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Business: “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

Innovation: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

Education: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

In our ever-busy lives, Gandhi is a role model in taking time out for the simple things. I saw this in bustling Mumbai at Mani Bhavan (Gandhi House), a three storey home with shuttered windows, a residence that Mahatma Gandhi was able to use. His room is simply furnished, austere. He would sit and read, spin cotton or talk to friends. It was his quiet time.

This was indeed the man who said there was enough in the world for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.

No surprise then that Gandhi’s core approach to life was “You must be the change you want to see in the world”, a message very alive today as we seek to enhance our tolerant, multicultural communities.

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Indian middle-class consumers are spending big this festive season and online shopping is booming

India’s e-Commerce major Flipkart set record sales in the “Big Billion Days” launch of festival season online sales (Navrati and Diwali are in October).

Both e-commerce majors Flipkart and Amazon India had record transactions on their platforms on the first day of their annual festive sale, which started early on Sunday.

Flipkart is now owned by American retail major Walmart.

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Flipkart had demand in all major categories, including beauty, women’s ethnic wear, kidswear, sports, fast-moving consumer goods, baby care, private labels, and furniture on the first day of the sale.

High end phones are in demand – Amazon had big sales in premium smartphone brands OnePlus (pictured), Samsung, and Apple. Large appliances and televisions showed growth.

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The company said the largest number of new customers shopped for fashion, daily essentials, and consumables.

For Flipkart, travel was also the fastest-growing category which saw 12X growth over last year.

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Also, over 2.3 million consumers engaged with games on the platform. There were close to 10 million new app downloads in less than a month in the run-up to BBD 2019.

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Candles of the Diwali celebrations coming up on 27 October – a time of gift giving and family gatherings similar in scale to Christmas