In the Mesopotamian civilizations, trade was a common practice throughout modern-day Iran, Asia, and Arabia.
By Syed Ali
Trade is a sub-component of enterprise and is a consequence of exploration and entrepreneurial adventurism, and this commercial disposition is formed by the pursuit of the creative longing. Enterprise has been a crucial feature in the evolution of modern-day society, dating back to as early as the Bronze Age.
In the Mesopotamian civilizations, trade was a common practice throughout modern-day Iran, Asia, and Arabia. This spirit is best elucidated by the adventurism of the legendary voyager Christopher Columbus, who in 1492 departed from Palos de la Frontera, to find a shorter route to India. While he was sailing through the unchartered territories of the Atlantic Ocean in his ship, the Santa Maria, the billowing winds and his drive for exploration led the Italian sailor to discover new lands.
Columbus’s adventurism fueled European growth for the coming centuries as it provided a new resource-rich land, established new colonies, changing the demography of an entire continent, subsequently altering the economic course of history forever. Despite all the criticism and the inhumane practices which followed this discovery, the factor that cannot be ignored is that the will to explore and the propensity for enterprise can alter the fate of civilizations. This lesson in history teaches about the value of exploration, exploitation, and enterprise. In a nutshell, in order to have a robust trading system and an entrepreneurial society, there needs to be focus on the pre-requisites; adventure and exploration.
India as a ‘region’ was not needed to be discovered due to its historic pre-eminence, therefore it was regularly visited by many great explorers, most noteworthy being Megasthenes from Greece, Marco Polo from Italy and Al samudi from Persia. However, there are no accounts of ancient Indian explorers trotting the globe to explore as merchants or traders. Although in all fairness, we have always been a very resource-rich and prosperous land, which may be the reason why we prioritized exploring spirituality, astronomy, and more metaphysical objects rather than embarking on physically arduous explorations. Nonetheless, there is a cost we have paid as a civilization due to this lethargy and lack of adventurism.
This can be seen in our social structures where families’ spoon-feed their children into their late adulthoods. Approximately 82 per cent of Indian millennial lives with their parents compared to Australia’s 35 per cent and China’s 61 per cent. The infectious need for handholding is demonstrated by the high demand for ‘Sarkari contracts’ from entrepreneurs and cushy government jobs from individuals. This demand for government-induced support is also visible during elections, where political parties promise tax reductions and hand-outs. In order to be a self-sufficient society, we need to remove the crutches and reward independence and innovation. Therefore, the question we need to ruminate over is to ‘how to build a society of ownership and individualism’. We need people who fearlessly take charge and explore new markets around the world for us to grow.
India has the third-largest startup ecosystem globally, in terms of the share of billion-dollar startups (unicorns) in the total startup ecosystem; India’s share is at 4.1 per cent preceded by China at 13.8 per cent and the USA at 64.7 per cent.
This share is increasing, but unfortunately India also has a low survival rate for startups. Almost 90 per cent of Indian startups fail within five years, which is double that the rate of the USA at 44 per cent. A report by the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics titled ‘Entrepreneurial India’ found that the reason for such failure is lack of innovation. 77 per cent of venture capitalists report that many Indian startups lack pioneering innovation based on new technologies or unique business models.
As per the Global Innovation Index (GII) by the WIPO (World Intellectual property organization), India stands at the 52nd spot despite the considerable progress in the last 5 years. In order to push this forward, we need to increase the budgetary allocation of the total GDP in science and technology from the current 0.7 per cent. This will help to create the necessary intellectual repository for startups to pick on and help reduce growing unemployment. In the past few years, the government has made sincere progress in this field by launching the National Innovation Fund (NIF) and the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) as the tugboats to drive innovation forward.
Most importantly, it’s time for us to go beyond ragtag frugal innovation and become torchbearers for the developing world in keeping the entrepreneurial adventurism and exploration at the heart of our enterprise. Like the Catholic Church funded and supported Columbus’s voyage, the government of India has earmarked funds to offer support entrepreneurship. During this period of lockdown, where the entire modern world has taken a hiatus, maybe we need to reflect as parents, entrepreneurs, young adults, and as a society, as to how we can help in shaping self-reliance and innovation across scales. It is time for entrepreneurs to deliver, and perhaps an ambitious start could be the development of a vaccine or other ground-breaking measures to thwart the COVID-19.
In conclusion, a quote from the greatest inventor of our times Albert Einstein, “A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it is built for.” It is time for Indians to embrace human ingenuity and create a prosperous future for themselves.
(The author is an Independent analyst on Latin American affairs, and has a keen interest in entrepreneurship. Views expressed are personal.)