When the World Economic Forum (WEF) holds one of its marquee events, the great and the good from industry and the government rarely resist attending. Or, when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) hosts its World Forum for the first time in a developing country, it’s hardly unusual to expect senior policymakers to be present.
Yet, both the WEF’s Gurgaon meeting in November, held for the first time after 27 years without the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) as a partner, and the OECD’s fourth World Forum in New Delhi last month, were tame affairs. So, does it always take a local partner, and a well-established one at that, to successfully put together large politico-economic events in India?
“Hosting a World Economic Forum meeting anywhere in the world is never easy but is certainly rewarding,” wrote Sushant Palakurthi Rao, Asia head of the Geneva-headquartered organisation, in reply to a Business Standard questionnaire. “Securing the participation of high-profile public figures is a long-term process of relationship building that can take months, or even years, to bring to fruition. And, this is true whether or not we work with a local partner such as CII, as we have in the past,” Rao added.
But the recent WEF meeting seemingly lacked the presence of the business and government brass, regular attendees in recent years. At the OECD World Forum in New Delhi, too, the political and industry heavy-hitters were missing, despite a partnership with the ministry of statistics & programme implementation.
Former CII chief mentor Tarun Das, among those who helped build the erstwhile partnership between the Indian industry lobby and WEF, says it isn’t a compulsion to join hands. “You don’t need to have a partner. But then, it’s a long haul. You have to build trust and confidence. People need to know you and relationships have to be built,” he says, adding, “On your own, it’s a long-term, step-by-step process.”
CII did not respond to an emailed questionnaire. When contacted, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) president R V Kanoria didn’t offer comments.
Few international organisations have spent the time and effort to invest in India. In domestic industry lobbies, as well as in the highest levels of India’s business and government, long-term relationships determine the availability and attendance of the leadership.
That possibly showed at the WEF and OECD events, though Rao asserts the presence of nine senior government ministers and business leaders, including Godrej group Chairman Adi Godrej, Bharti group Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal, Infosys Executive Co-chairman S Gopalakrishnan and Bajaj Auto Chairman Rahul Bajaj, at the WEF “speaks for itself”.
Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB), which holds its annual meetings in a different member-country each year, takes a more broad- based approach. For its annual meeting to be held in Delhi in May, it’s working with the government, as well as with CII, Ficci, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India and civil society groups. “These partnerships are expected to attract high-level participants from a range of sectors,” said Ann Quon, principal director at the ADB's department of external relations.
To be fair, the ADB benefits from having India’s finance minister on its board of governors but as a senior Ficci office bearer explained, the subcontinent’s “peculiarities” usually require a strong Indian partner. “There are local nuances. Even if I have to invite someone for my daughter’s wedding, I need to call them twice. It doesn’t work like this elsewhere….And, ultimately, it’s all based on the relationship. Priorities are made on the basis of that. I suppose it’s a question of the known devil versus the unknown devil,” he added.