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Entrepreneurship in the context of Meghalaya Basin Development  

By Aristotle Lyngdoh

Let us begin this year with retrospection on the mechanism that is ostensibly responsible for ushering in growth and development in the state. And for this let me remind what the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Dr Mukul Sangma had stated in the last assembly session. To defend his flagship programme (Meghalaya Basin Development Authority) the Chief Minister said that the employees under the Programme will become entrepreneurs by the end of one year’s internship. This could either be a revolutionary or a disastrous liability and the reason is that these expected entrepreneurs should at least employ on a minimum five workers for a project that costs below ten lakhs rupees and fifteen workers for projects that cost between five to ten crore rupees. Therefore, every year a variance of fifteen hundred jobs (from the three hundred plus employees of Basin) will be generated through this program which is indeed incredible.

Setting aside the nature of commodity and services they will introduce in the market, the question is, can these micro units absorb the growing unemployment rate in the state or should they sustain themselves as self-employed professionals in a labour-crunch society? It appears from this context of the Basin Development Program that it is employment that creates entrepreneurship. But on the contrary, entrepreneurs can create opportunity for employment and not the other way round. Moreover, entrepreneurs create enterprise that pass on from generation to generation and expand in resources and employment. Whereas, beneficiaries under internship who turned self-employed disappear upon retirement and this is equivalent to the death of a beneficiary along with all the resources invested therein.

As a matter of fact, Basin Development Authority is concentrating most of its operation in rural areas where basic infrastructures is not conducive for any enterprise and the primary objective of the programme is to promote livelihoods. And livelihood on the other hand is an agrarian concept primarily to sustain a family through integrated farming but not large scale cultivation or farming for mass consumption. So where is the concept of entrepreneurship here? Despite substantial monetary support that has been pumped into the rural segment through many schemes, nothing has changed so far and the migration of rural youth is still very high. They are seeking education and employment of minimal standard in urban areas. This reflects on the state of volatility of rural economy. If the programme’s emphasis is on water as a major factor for resources, then what we are doing with our rivers, streams and ponds requires proper introspection and innovative planning. Do we have technology and infrastructure to promote enterprises on pisciculture and fishing industries in an organized manner where a huge market already exists?     

By common sense, ‘labour’ means human capital in combination with skills, knowledge, commitment and willingness to lend and utilise their services for an economic activity. The characteristic is the same for both labour intensive or capital intensive enterprises. Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, implies adequate capital resources, knowledge (technical knowhow including marketing network) and willingness to take a risk based on the opportunity available as a return for the investment. These two factors (labour & entrepreneurship) essentially define the course for a healthy growth of the economy when they complement one another in tandem during the business operation. It is also an open fact that skills and sincere labour attracts entrepreneurs and make investors desirable to take a risk. In other words  labour is also like a backbone for entrepreneurship.

Let us not forget that the global economy has witnessed the growth of sophisticated knowledge and innovative business ideas which has necessitated the need for delicate and committed workers and not merely unemployed graduates. And this is the reason perhaps, why most of the multinational industries are outsourcing their manufacturing units to China, Indonesia and other countries that understand the relation between labour-cost and production-cost.

The Chief Minister’s statement seems just to aggrandize questioners within the house. It is quite clear that the Chief Minister is not fully aware about the type of relationship between labour and enterprise that prevails in the state and what class of entrepreneurs the programme will create. Because as of now, entrepreneurship and sizeable enterprises cannot take place due to the lack of skills, commitment, expertise and public support. However, time only will tell and if the achievement of the programme holds true then all the premier institutions of entrepreneurship in the country and abroad should either discard their contents or replicate this model from Meghalaya. The Chief Minister has easily managed to douse the debate on this issue inside the house because those in the opposition too are less concerned about the economic development of the state and the issues therein except for their own constituencies and voters. If this is the attitude then Meghalaya will still remain an undeveloped state for another decade or more despite the abundance of natural resources and many intervention programmes that have been injected by various governments.

I am afraid that few years from now, the entire initiative under Basin Development Programme will instead produce a handful of self-employed people rather than desirable enterprises that will change the economy of the state forever.

In a state where people are looking to the government and other major businesses for employment, any employment outside this sector is considered as temporary and secondary. Therefore, any attempt to venture in the present situation will end up in a defunct condition like the Crowborough Hotel despite the availability of resources of production. The need of the hour is to inculcate entrepreneurial concepts and labour skills in the society right from an early age and the establishment of entrepreneurship and skills academy. Only then will small, medium and large scale enterprises flourish.

Meghalaya in fact has a huge potential to become a developed state and this is what the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi had stated during his recent election campaign in the state. Modi himself comes from a community where entrepreneurship has been imbibed in the blood of the society; where people of the state consider entrepreneurship as religion and entrepreneurs as honourable class, he (Modi) perfectly sees the huge untapped opportunity of  this small state of ours enriched with natural resources. Meghalaya does not need any external model to replicate but should develop its own indigenous model suitable within the context of the region. This can only come if RD (Research and Development) are promoted seriously by the government. When entrepreneurship blooms, transformation can happen in a fortnight. But for entrepreneurs to take a risk in investing their time, energy and resources, the environment especially labour should be viable and favourable, then only an enterprise can be established.  

In the last few years the state has witnessed the rise of big business houses whose income and wealth are either from government contracts and schemes or from natural resources that they have exploited. They are the self-employed people who are totally different from entrepreneurs. Few people have embarked on the field by creating new products and services but could not fully penetrate into the market segment both national and international because there is still a huge gap between the business and the infrastructures available.

Most of the entrepreneurs or businessmen in the state are like one-man-army when it comes to business operation and if this is the case then how long can they sustain the business. Further, the challenges for entrepreneurship in the state are manifold, from administrative and bureaucratic predominance to limited and constrained infrastructural facilities which include low cost transportations, IT infrastructures, affordable technology, etc. If these hurdles are resolved, then the silver lining for entrepreneurship and large scale enterprises will begin to appear in the state. Meghalaya should not be seen as a liability or a dependent state but should gear up to become a self-reliant independent economy with global mindset. It should pitch itself at least as one of the major economies in South East Asia in the coming years. Then only the hope of our future generation can be realized somehow.    

                  

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