Industrial growth and grassroots development – a delicate balance for India

Following a campaign of ambitious promises aimed at propelling India into the ranks of developed nations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is poised to secure a third term in office. Central to Modi’s strategy for success is a suite of business-friendly measures designed to transform India into a global manufacturing powerhouse, building on the country’s rapid development in recent decades.

These initiatives, inspired by new incentives for semiconductor firms and electric vehicle manufacturers, notably include substantial subsidies to ramp up domestic production as well as a reduction in import taxes on critical inputs for locally-produced goods. Such policies will boost economic growth, and the benefits need to be equitably distributed across India.


India’s rural development conundrum

While industrial policy focuses on economic growth, the disparity in socio-economic development between India’s urban and rural areas poses a significant challenge. India’s rural areas continue to lag behind in numerous critical socio-economic metrics. Crucial for economic and social development, the quality of education in rural India has been a longstanding issue.

Moving forward, the key to squaring the circle of economic growth and equitable rural development could be found in a dual strategy: combining industrial policies and collaboration with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Indeed, NGOs have historically played a vital role in enhancing welfare and improving social indicators in rural or hard-to-reach areas—particularly in the Global South—making them particularly well-placed to help bridge the education, healthcare and infrastructure gaps separating the country’s urban and rural regions.

By partnering with NGOs, New Delhi could leverage innovative approaches from the civil society sector to fuel enhanced efficiency and effectiveness in public service delivery and infrastructure development, laying an inclusive and resilient foundation on which to build the country’s socioeconomic future.

How NGOs fill an important niche

With their novel methods for delivering public services and development projects, international service organisations like the Lions Clubs International (LCI) have already left a positive mark in India. Known for its comprehensive community-focused welfare projects, LCI has undertaken multiple initiatives in India’s Pune region in Maharashtra state, focusing on the enhanced treatment of eye-related maladies, hunger reduction through sustainable farming and environmental protection, and, naturally, robust educational improvement.

In fact, the Lions Clubs International leadership is already looking to expand its role in the Pune region specifically and India—as well as the wider Asian region—more generally. Case in point is Alexis Vincent Gomès, a candidate for the position of 3rd International Vice President of LCI in the organisation’s elections slated to kick off on 22 June. Over the course of his campaign, Gomès has been advocating for a greater focus on South Asia, particularly on youth activities aimed at improving education.

Bringing 40 years of business experience in the developing world and a slew of executive LCI positions to the table, Gomès envisions expanding LCI’s activities to more people in rural India. By harnessing the expertise, inclusive strategic vision and reach of LCI and similar organisations, Modi could work with civil society and business leaders like Gomès to enhance the effectiveness of rural education initiatives, ensuring more equitable development.

Another noteworthy NGO the next Modi administration could consider partnering with is the Universal Versatile Society (UVS), which focuses on farmers as well as  agriculture, the environment and women’s empowerment. What’s more, UVS also connects donors with community-based projects to promote sustainable development. Offering a wide-ranging programme, the organisation’s initiatives include basic educational provision, awareness-raising, professional skills training, infrastructure development and small enterprise support, all of which lead to sustainable income generation and employment opportunities.

The contributions of NGOs like UVS are invaluable, particularly in regions where government initiatives face logistical challenges. By collaborating with these organisations, the government could enhance the reach and impact of its development programs, ensuring that the rising tide of economic growth lifts boats across all strata of society.

The West shirks from providing state aid

In recent years, the importance of NGOs has been further underscored by the growing trend of major countries scaling down their development assistance efforts.

In 2023, for example, France’s Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced a significant cut of nearly €800 million—13%—in the country’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. Historically, ODA funding has been crucial for developing countries, aiding in areas including access to water, healthcare, education, biodiversity protection, and climate change mitigation, meaning that nothing short of a paradigm shift in international cooperation is needed in the years to come.

With foreign aid dwindling, the role of NGOs and international service organisations in India’s development is set to grow even more critical, as they can help fill the emerging void. Thus, as Modi looks ahead to a potential third term, a pragmatic approach that balances industrial policy with grassroots development will be essential to the success of his ambitious economic agenda. By empowering NGOs to lead rural development efforts, he can ensure that the benefits of growth are felt in every corner of the country.

More broadly, this two-pronged strategy could position India as a model developed nation, characterised not only by its economic prowess but also by its commitment to social equity. Modi’s leadership in embracing both top-level industrial development and grassroots NGO initiatives could ultimately pave the way for an ever stronger India, and, through the country’s leadership and influence, a stronger, more resilient Global South.

Image credit: Krishna Kant via unsplash