If India is in dire straits, then world is in dire straits, says USIBC president

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May 06, 2021 12:11 PM

If India is in dire straits, then the world is in dire straits, the head of a top business advocacy group has said, as the US corporate sector mounted an unprecedented effort to help India successfully fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nisha Desai Biswal, president of US India Business Council Nisha Desai Biswal, President of US India Business Council (Reuters Image)

If India is in dire straits, then the world is in dire straits, the head of a top business advocacy group has said, as the US corporate sector mounted an unprecedented effort to help India successfully fight the COVID-19 pandemic. “The speed with which the COVID crisis in India has escalated and ravaged the entire country, it has created a sense of urgency in the corporate community,” Nisha Desai Biswal, president of US India Business Council told PTI in an interview.

She said that the US companies were probably the first to realise that things were moving in a perilous direction, as they were hearing about it from their workforce in India. As a result, they started mobilising early on. It was about two weeks ago that the American business community started mobilising their resources.

A newly created Global Task Force on Pandemic Response, composed of CEOs of top 40 companies, announced an effort to provide massive immediate assistance to India including shipping 1,000 ventilators and 25,000 oxygen concentrators.
The Task Force, through its Steering Committee, is working closely with the White House, the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development to coordinate corporate donations and with the Indian Government as well.

Last week, it had a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and on Wednesday morning it had a meeting with Indian officials in particular from the Niti Aayog. “We have mobilised an outpouring of support from the corporate community from across sectors,” she said. The companies that mobilised on the ventilator initiative range from Facebook and Amazon to Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Amway, Qualcomm, VMware, Union Pacific, McCormick and Cardinal Health.

One of the driving forces has been Accenture and Microsoft, she said, adding that IBM has played a critical role in supporting this overall effort. She praised the efforts of the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum in mobilising resources towards oxygen cylinders and oxygen concentrators.

“We have not seen in any prior instance this kind of an effort to create a unified coordinated structure,” Biswal said.
“What is unfolding in India, we recognise is not going to stay with India. This is a pandemic that has been ravaging around the world,” she said.

“If we’re seeing a new phase unfold in India, then we know that that is something that we need to prepare to address in India because the country is so critically important. It’s a humanitarian driver. It is also a driver that recognises that a global pandemic response is not possible and not effective without India playing its critically important role,” she said.

“So, if India is in dire straits, then the world is in dire straits and we all need to band together to support India, and band together to figure out how we manage this next phase,” Biswal, who previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, said in response to a question.

Describing India as the critical component to the global economy, she said the service economy in India is critical to the functioning of the financial sector, the functioning of the insurance industry and even hospital and university administration in the United States has key elements of operations in India.

“It is also a vital part of the pharmaceutical supply chain, and the vaccine supply chain,” Biswal said, adding that they affect both India and the world. While the focus is on meeting the needs of the Indian people, they are also thinking about the needs of the global economy.

“Because we want to make sure that one, the economic wellbeing and livelihoods of the Indian people, but also their ability to engage with, and be a fundamental part of the global economy is also protected and preserved and sustained as best as possible,” Biswal said.

“We are bringing in so many key actors from the business community. We are also reaching out to some partners in the nonprofit community to make sure that we are sensitive to the communities and the people that are impacted by this crisis,” she said.

Punit Renjen, the Deloitte CEO, told PTI that it’s India’s hour of need and as such, it is time for the world to step up its efforts and help it address the COVID-19 crisis.

“This is India’s hour of need. India helped us out when we were going through it in the Western world. And it is up to us to step up, not only for the people that call India home but for all of us,” Renjen said. “This is a global crisis. If the virus is in one environment, and then mutates, it will impact everybody. No one is safe unless all of us are safe. So, we have to step up. This is the right thing to do. It is also the right thing to do for each of us as business leaders,” Renjen said.

“This is going to be a long fight,” said Renjen, whose mother based in Rohtak has tested positive with COVID-19 and several of his family members along with a large number of the estimated 50,000 Deloitte employees in India. To address the current situation, he said, Deloitte is encouraging its 300,000 professionals across the globe to give to three charities: GiveIndia, United Way India and the PM Cares Fund.

Deloitte as part of the global business Task Force is focused on getting immediate aid to India. The first set of 1,000 oxygen concentrators, courtesy of Deloitte was delivered over the last few days to India. “We have now commitments from a number of corporates, for 25,000, oxygen concentrators,” he said. “We are also focused on cryogenic containers for oxygen,” he said, adding that Deloitte is working with other companies to get other essential medical supplies to India.

“What we also need to do is, we have to stop the crunch at the hospital. We are close to announcing an innovative approach to expand the medical ward to address the crush on hospitals,” he said. Other multinationals, he observed, are stepping up and are doing the same things that Deloitte is doing.

Deloitte, he said, is directly supporting the US India Strategic Partnership Forum in their work with the government of India.
It is providing pro-bono services to help the USISPF. Responding to a question, Renjen said he is very impressed with the assistance the Biden administration has provided to India.

“I was very pleased to see that they were going to release the AstraZeneca shots. Further there, and they were going to release some raw materials so vaccines can be reduced. Vaccines, and getting those to India would be very important,” he said.

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