Season 2 Episode 10: Rajesh Chandy – Edited Transcript

Conversations on Climate Season 2 Episode 10: Rajesh Chandy Edited transcript


Section one: left brain, right brain

Chris: Professor Chandy, thank you so much for speaking to us today. It’s a real privilege.

Rajesh: Absolutely, I like it. Thank you, Chris. 

Chris: So, you started out your career as an engineer, and then you transitioned into marketing. That’s a pretty unusual step to take. How did that come about? 

Rajesh: Well, I grew up in India where every aspiring middle class family’s hope was that their son or daughter would become either an engineer or a doctor. It was pretty clear pretty quickly that I was going to be a terrible doctor. I realize now I’d be especially bad because I’m married to a doctor, I know what it takes. So the only hope that we had was for me to be an engineer to fulfil the expectations. It turns out I was not as bad in engineering as in medicine, but I was not a great engineer either.

But I found people fascinating. I still find people endlessly fascinating, and especially people when they come together: the dynamics that happen, the uncertainty, the unpredictability, the nuances I find fascinating. Engineering did give me some training in abstraction, which is a useful thing when you’re an academic. But I’m afraid my departure from engineering was no loss for the engineering profession. 

Chris: It’s an interesting way of looking at the world. It’s a very nuts and bolts, practical way of looking at the world, while marketing is a bit more ethereal and creative, imaginative. How did you deal with the transition between the two? 

Rajesh: There are there are the poets, the creative, imaginative folks; and then there are the quants, who would also consider themselves creative and imaginative. But there’s the analytical side, which is increasingly huge in marketing, big data and AI and all of that technical stuff. So in many ways there’s a whole bunch of engineers in marketing as well. But yes, because we’re dealing with understanding human psychology and trying to predict and understand human behavior, that makes for a much less predictable and more exciting world.

There’s value to abstraction. There are patterns that one can detect as academics. But in the world of marketing more generally, the right brain and left brain combination is part of the fun. 

Section two: better marketing, better world?

Chris: If we dig a little bit into the marketing side: in 2021, you edited a journal, ‘Better Marketing for a Better World.’ Would you care to tell us a little bit about your view of better marketing for a better world? What it means to you? 

Rajesh: It was a special issue that I co-edited with colleagues from other universities: Chris Mormon, Gita Johar and John Roberts. It was the Journal of Marketing, which is our flagship journal in our academic field, and it was devoted to this topic of ‘better marketing for a better world.’

I will come to what that means in a second, but I will say that although we brought together this scholarly community for this special issue of the journal, this was a phenomenon that was bubbling bubbling in our community for a while. That special issue had the highest number of submissions ever for the journal, of all of the special issues the journal has published. So there’s something real happening in the community to understand the impact of marketing, beyond the commercial. 

Too often, and indeed predominantly, academic researchers and the public at large, have focused on marketing as something that is targeted to commercial returns for a business entity. Now there’s a significant part of that. And by the way, when they said business entity, typically it’s a large company, people in suits in a conference room coming up with ideas. But the reality of marketing is, a great deal of marketing (and more and more of it) is not only focused on commercial outcomes. Quite often it is, but there is the opportunity to actually make a difference in the world at large in a way that goes beyond commercial profits for firms. 

So this special issue was focused on the kinds of topics that would go beyond commercial benefits. Everything from: what is the impact of marketing on the health of salespeople, how does salesforce compensation affect the physical and mental health of salespeople; to how do you promote the adoption of new environmentally friendly fertilizers in rural China; to a whole bunch of others. So we were just pleased as editors to see this outpouring of interest and enthusiasm.

And now there are entire conferences. I just came back from a conference we organized on sustainability and climate change, to the theme of this podcast. So there’s a great deal of interest. 

Chris: One of the points that came out was a survey which said that a majority of marketers felt that these types of issues were important –ESG issues, climate issues were important – but 80% said we weren’t doing enough. What’s holding the industry back? 

Rajesh: Yes, it’s broadly institutional blindness, and the fact that things take time to change. There’s a famous Hemingway line: change happens slowly, then suddenly. It was coming along, and then it seems like things are happening rather quickly now. It is true that intellectually, philosophically, there was a strong emphasis on the primacy of shareholder value as the raison d’etre, the reason for being of businesses and indeed market activities more generally. And there’s a lot to be said for why the profit motive actually can be a good thing. But at this point, few people would argue. 20 years ago, people used to argue. At this point, even those in the city and beyond (except for a small minority) don’t argue that that’s the only thing my company should be concerned about. In part because there’s a recognition of long-term returns. Even if you purely focused on shareholder returns, you must be concerned about longer term returns. Many shareholders are, and that requires you to think about the impact you’re having, if nothing else, for purely cynical reasons. The impact on your brand, because you have backlash, etcetera.

But that would be a disservice to the many in marketing who see marketing as a noble cause, as a way of influencing people for the better and influencing the world in a manner that creates progress and betterment and prosperity. A ‘better world,’ as our journal put it.

Chris: To push back a little bit on that, if we look at marketing in the climate context, at least until relatively recent days the association hasn’t been very positive. It’s been greenwashing. It’s been climate denial. It’s been trying to influence mainstream media to get negative messaging. Even if you have a look at the ‘carbon footprint,’ that’s something that was a construct of BP to try and take the responsibility from BP and put it onto individuals, because it’s the individuals who are actually using the carbon. The whole idea came from BP.

Why do you think that marketing has been so effective, and was effective for an awful long time, at pushing these other interests? 

Rajesh: Great question. Large companies have large resources, and leaders in some large companies see it fit their objectives to try and influence the world that way. But again, it would be a mistake to see that as being marketing in its fullest sense. The mistake we make is in assuming that marketing comes from the big companies. So think about climate change and its effects. 

Chris: By the way, climate change is also a construct of a marketing department, that particular phraseology. Because it sounds relatively non offensive. So if you’re talking about the climate emergency, that’s something that you think I need to do something about. Climate change is gentle and that came from a notable think tank in the US.

Rajesh: There’s a marketer in you, Chris! You’re absolutely right. These words matter, framing matters, how we communicate things matter, what we’re selling matters. Absolutely. But the point I’m making is, think about the effects of what’s happening, let’s call it climate emergency, on the world. Some of it is farmers losing their crops. A farmer who then says, I need to think of drought resistant varieties of a crop, or change my crop entirely, is engaged in marketing in the sense that the product he or she is engaged in is changing. That farmer who sells to a new market, going from a certain crop to a different crop, is engaging in marketing, engaging with intermediaries who are engaged in marketing. 

Greta Thunberg and those huge genius campaigns to wake up the world, are another form of marketing. We have to recognize these many dimensions of marketing and we cannot let the large corporations necessarily monopolize that phrase. 

Chris: You mentioned financial asymmetry. In the climate space, there’s historically been a very strong imbalance between the people who don’t want climate action, who’ve been very well funded and then smaller pockets of individuals who do.

What strategies have you seen that might’ve been successful if you don’t have the same money as the other guy? 

Rajesh: If I had to summarize it, it would be that we have to think of ways in which to harness the winds of change. It’s not the resources we have. Now, those resources are huge. Many years ago I studied the role of incumbent companies in driving change and innovation. I am in awe of the resources they could bring to bear. Sometimes those resources are wasted, but very often they are applied to effective ends.

If you do the David versus Goliath story, David can go up against Goliath by perceiving and harnessing resources that are greater, forces that are greater than themselves. The social, political, environmental trends that are associated with climate change/emergency action are huge. They’re so diffused now that my belief is enough money will go in, and is going in. Now you see what the U.S. government is doing with all the green initiatives there. So harness those energies and resources that exist beyond you. 

Section three: innovation, top to bottom 

Chris: Another key part of your work is innovation. That is something that is going to be absolutely vital if we’re going to be working through the various issues in climate. But innovation is a big concept. Would you care to unpack the, the elements of it? 

Rajesh: I should distinguish between innovation with a capital ‘I,’ the radical innovations that change the world and which tend to be infrequent…there’s this wonderful phrase by Stephen Jay Gold about the nature of evolution along the lines of: the story of evolution is long periods of boredom punctuated by a few moments of sheer terror. That’s really how evolution works. That’s really how innovation works as well. Lots of incremental changes, many of which are only new in the innovative sense to an individual, a company, a context, followed by a few world-changing kinds of innovation. 

What is innovation? The classic definition is a novel idea applied to a useful end. So the novelty is important, but so is the application. It could be commercial application, social application, something else. So it’s not an idea per se. It’s not even an invention, some product that’s sitting on someone’s shelves. It’s an actual application. And if you think about climate and all of the innovations that have been part of it, if, as and when nuclear fusion eventually makes it to power us all, that might be a huge mega innovation. But the rapid reduction in costs of solar panels, and the business models that allow solar panels to be distributed to millions of homes all around the world and power entire cities in some cases; those innovations, some of which are in cost-reduction related innovations, some of which are in tiny incremental process and product innovations, are just as important and there’s a role for several forms of innovators therefore as well.

Chris: The power of compounding is just from little changes year on year, but it adds up to massive differences. What are the ingredients of successful innovation? Let’s just talk about the firm level first.

Rajesh: This is relevant as so many companies are trying to change how they approach their businesses and what they should be doing, what their purpose is and so on. 

Some colleagues and I studied this for close to 20 years, and of course we’re not the first to study innovation. There are many others who’ve done so. We looked we said, let’s review the literature on innovation, and look at all of the factors that have been hypothesized as being the drivers of innovation. 

Some of which have to do with where you’re located: in the context of global warming and so on there’s a belief that the colder parts of the world are more innovative. There’s a whole book on this. The farther you go from the equator, it’s not just linear, it’s a squared thing. The distance between Italy and Norway, the level of innovativeness that that leads to by going to Norway is even greater than the difference between Italy and Cairo or something like that.

Or some argue it’s about investment. Lately especially, there’s been a resurgence of belief in the power of governments to create this bonanza of innovation. Some argue it’s about company-level investments. So there’s been concern about, for instance, in Britain the percentage of sales that are spent on R&D among companies in this country versus in other countries.

 We looked at a whole bunch of such dimensions. There’s like 200 odd factors, everything from religion to everything else. By far the factor that mattered was one that existed within the company, and that is what we call the culture that exists within the company. Not national culture, not Norwegian culture versus British culture or Indian culture, but rather the culture that exists within companies; in some cases for decades, but certainly for moments.

These are driven by the people at the top. These are shaped by the people at the top. and these relate to the point about climate change because by far the top thing that mattered within culture had to do with the extent to which senior managers in the company focused on markets of the future relative to current and past markets. The more they focus on markets of the future relative to current and past markets, the more innovative their companies were. Associated with that were other dimensions, but culture seems to matter. So the enemy or the angel is within, rather than in the context you’re in. We may be worried about the state of British industry today, but honestly, we should be looking within companies rather than British industry as some aggregate concept.

Chris: So I don’t need to move to the North Pole, that’s good! 

That sounds like a top-down structure. If the leadership, the CEO is someone who is looking forward, that drives the rest of the organization forward. But where’s the role of bottom-up? Because there are, particularly on the climate side, a lot of mass resignation, all these kinds of social factors which are more important to people going into the workforce. ESG factors, environmental factors. How can that feed up to make a business innovative in the climate sense? 

Rajesh: That’s a great question, and certainly individuals other than those at the top matter. In our research we found people we call ‘champions of innovation.’ These are the people who are particularly passionate. I’m sure you’ve met these individuals – you may be one of them, Chris – who are passionate about a topic. Almost stubborn, many would say, deeply entrenched themselves and can see a vision of the future that too many up in the top or around them don’t see. 

Well, we found people who meet the personality dimensions of these champions in companies that were innovative and not innovative. These were people who were outgoing. These were persistent individuals. You found these people in both kinds of companies. The difference was, in the innovative companies there were incentives, and these champions had influence. Either because there were other kindred spirits within the organization they could come up with, or because top management supported these kinds of things, or because they were able to create and harness enough resources within. 

Sadly, those individuals existed in the non-innovative companies too. When we went and interviewed them, much of the time was spent as if we were psychotherapists for them! They were complaining about the very people who sent us to them, to talk to them because they were supposedly the champions. So the mass resignation at least partly includes those individuals who you as a company, in order for you to be innovative, desperately need to remain. But somehow you have not created the environment, the sense of purpose and direction and the set of incentives that would keep them with you. 

Section four: incumbency, IPOs and the future of green innovation

Chris: One of the contextual issues I was thinking about was the incumbent’s curse, and the difficulties that an incumbent will have in innovating. 

Rajesh: This was part of my PhD research many years ago. A paper that we published – one of my more cited papers – is called, ‘The incumbent’s curse in radical innovation.’ And it’s an incumbent’s curse? – question mark – because there’s this belief that major innovations tend to come from outside an industry. It’s the outsiders, the David versus Goliath story, the small outsider upstart being able to see what these giants were not able to see. 

What we find in industry after industry that we analyzed is that actually, if you look at the most radical innovations objectively defined a priori and look at the source not of the invention, not of the idea, but the commercial or the social application of the innovation, especially in recent years by far most of them came from the very large firms that we love to hate. 

Why? One is just money. Innovation increasingly, especially innovation with a capital I, is expensive. Money can buy you people, money can buy you equipment, and not only that but also large companies have the ability to borrow money at cheaper rates than many others. So resources are important, that incumbents and large firms have. The second is, and we saw a pattern over time, many incumbents have a paranoid streak to them because they have seen others like them fall, or indeed in some cases they were the cause of the demise of others who they have come to look like.

Chris: So if scale is such a benefit, how do you explain the IPO slump?

Rajesh: You’re referring to a paper we published recently, Chris. First of all, I’m so impressed! You’re probably the closest reader of my work that I’ve ever encountered, I must say. 

So, we published a paper recently about this idea that called the post-IPO innovation slump. What does this mean? There’s this tendency which has been documented again and again, that private companies, after they go public, see a pronounced slump in their innovation outcome. We said, why is that? Once again, related to our incumbency story, it’s useful to look at the exceptions. It turns out about two thirds involve the slump in innovation. So, if you just buy shares in an IPO, odds are that two thirds of those in a widely distributed portfolio will not be very innovative. But a third were. And we said, what’s different about these? 

We point to the early, what we call ‘imprinting’ that happened, long before they went public. That imprinting again owes itself to the leaders, and the processes and the systems that they created early on in the company. The direction, the role models, the incentives that they created early on that seems to persist even after the IPO. So if you have imprinted innovation into your DNA, if you will, early on, then the company remains innovative even after you IPO. But if you were wavering about it beforehand then odds are the pressures you will face for short term results will cause you to sacrifice the long-term investments you need to make in it. 

Chris: So where do you see the future of green innovation primarily coming from? Is it from the larger firms or from startups?

Rajesh: My short answer would be, let a thousand flowers bloom. Some of the larger firms will become irrelevant, others will become even more powerful than they are now. Some of the smaller firms of today will become giants. Most others will either die or in some cases be acquired. Any process of industry evolution involves this uncertain period where everybody’s sniffing opportunity and it feels that way these days. 

Every other alum I meet from our MBA seems to be involved in something called ground truth verification, where you’re verifying what is actually happening on the ground when it comes to climate initiatives.  Everybody’s sniffing opportunity here, and there’s an air of excitement in the environment. But over time many are called, but a few are chosen. A few will manage to bring together the resources that are necessary to achieve scale, and the others will disappear, shut up shop and go work for the large companies, the newly large or the existing large. Or others will be acquired and do their own thing and give lectures on entrepreneurship after. 

Chris: Yes, one thing I’ve noticed over recent years is the evolution of people who are in this industry. I’m sure you’ve seen it in your classroom and actually in doing these interviews with alumni, the older alumni I speak to tend to be people who got into the industry because they really, really believed in it. They thought it was really important. The younger people, the guys coming out of the Master of Management, Master of Master of Finance or whatever and going into entrepreneurship, they seem to be in it because they think it’s a great opportunity. And the climate stuff, that’s nice, it’s good; but they’re not the true believers from generations past. 

Personally, I think it’s a really good thing. It’s a very positive development when people see it as an opportunity, because we need as many people, as many troops on the ground as we can get. Whatever your motivations are, if you’re working with us that’s a good thing to my mind. Have you noticed that progression in your experience, in your classroom?

Rajesh: Yes, so I taught my first MBA class in 1995, 1996, so almost 30 years ago. I see parts of what you’re describing in that you did have to be a true believer in the past, almost by definition. You were going against the grain. You were seeing something that others failed to see or didn’t care about. That indifference is worse; active opposition at least energizes you. Indifference deflates you. So you have to be a true believer. 

What I do see that’s slightly different from what you described; it’s a sense of idealism that seems to pervade this current group. Our social impact club on campus was a niche club before, and now it’s one of the largest areas.

Section five: facing the dark side 

Chris: One really important thing to talk about on the subject of innovation is that not all innovation is necessarily positive. Going back to pre-financial crisis times, there were a lot of financial instruments that really, we shouldn’t have done because it caused an awful lot of pain.

In the climate sense, was it really a good idea to be figuring out how to be fracking shale gas? Arguably, certainly from a carbon point of view, no. How do you protect against the dark sides of innovation? 

Rajesh: It’s a great question. I will say on the, on fracking et cetera, I moved to the United States in 1990 and at that point, the great worry was the United States’ energy dependence on all kinds of nefarious actors around the world. In many parts of the world, of the United States, certainly that’s seen as on balance not a horrible thing. There are many dark sides, so it’s a complicated thing. 

The reason we don’t hear as much about the dark side is there’s an understandable reluctance to engage in moralizing without knowing enough about complex things. That’s where independent, objective, rigorous investigation, whether it’s through academic researchers, whether it’s through journalists, whether it’s through courts, whether it’s through regulators and law enforcement, is important. We have to define the dark side and call out those that are, in so many cases, unambiguously dark. 

It’s not just a matter of on the one hand, on the other hand. Too often it’s unambiguously dark and it’s still not dealt with. And so there is an aspect of self-policing, but we need healthy skeptics. We need objective researchers. I must say, one of the points we make in our editorial about ‘better business for a better world’ is too often as business school academics, we have shied away from calling out the dark side. It could be an employer, who knows? Or we feel like, ‘that’s too controversial.’ In fact, in our editorial there was a debate in our team: should we name names? In the end we said we must, because if we as independent academics can’t name names on topics where it’s objectively determined by practically everybody that this company, which is a well-known company, is doing bad things…we must name names.  

So I would say yes, companies themselves should recognize those dark sides, whether for the greater good of the world or for the greater good of their long term shareholders. But in the absence of that we need independent voices. We need objective voices and they can’t just be advocacy groups. We certainly as business schools cannot be advocacy groups for those engaging in those dark side practices, just because they happen to be wealthy or powerful or resource-rich at this time. 

Chris: That’s the point of tenure, isn’t it? You can say what you want.

Rajesh: Precisely. But the reality is too often we’re reluctant to. Why? Because oh, they have lawyers.  who’s going to pay for our lawyers? Do you want to get involved in this tricky business? We must have the courage, and our institutions should support researchers who have the courage, to stand up. Whether it’s as an academic institution with or without tenure, whether as a journalistic institution, whether as a legal institution, whether government and governmental institution. We must stand up to that. 

Section six: climate entrepreneurship in the Global South

Chris: moving along to the final segment of the conversation: your work on developing markets. We talked off camera briefly about the differences between entrepreneurship in developing markets and here. Now, one thing in the climate space we’re quite guilty of is that we do talk a lot about the developing world, but it’s generally in terms of climate justice and how unjust the situation is. We don’t really focus on the developing world as sources of hope and sources of innovation. And that’s something that you’ve considered quite a lot. Would you care to elaborate?

Rajesh: So I was recently in my hometown, Cochin, India. And when you land in Cochin, India, you see this giant wall that says, ‘the world’s first 100% solar powered airport.’ And when you look outside, it’s massive. All airports have large amounts of land for various reasons I suppose, but much of the land in Cochin International Airport is covered by solar farms. 

The greatest needs when it comes to these matters exist in developing countries. It’s one thing for us to be talking about climate change sitting here in freezing London. Whether or not it’ll snow tomorrow, or whether the summer will be hotter than usual, whether we’ll need to buy air conditioners or whatever. It’s another to be living, literally choking, in pollution, where your child’s life expectancy is going down literally every time he or she steps out of the door. These are not nice to have; or if we don’t do it today, bad things will happen 20 years or 50 years from now. These are present and very real issues that are being confronted there. 

We as humans deal with problems by trying to coming up with solutions. Some that require resources, and as developing countries have become wealthier they’ve managed to cobble together more resources. But some that require ingenious ways of using existing technology and resources to do new things. This is what we call leapfrogging, where you take solar panels that were not invented in Kenya, but apply those in an ingenious way that allows pay-as-you-go solar in a distributed manner. This is the stuff of dreams.

The biggest challenges facing the world when it comes to climate change actually exist today in developing countries. So it’s not surprising that some of the most exciting innovations are coming out of there as well. That includes innovations by large companies and government entities that are trying to solve those issues. The International Solar Association Federation, which is a grouping of well over a hundred odd countries, is headquartered in New Delhi. Why? These are the sunshine countries, who actually have sunshine. So I have great hope in the developing world, not just being an object of our sympathy, but the source of our inspiration. And that’s already happening. 

Chris: The concept of leapfrogging is related to the concept of compressed change…

Rajesh: The idea of compressed change is one that my colleague Om Narasimhan and I proposed a few years ago. Imagine you’re a consumer here in London, and you are banking in its current form. Formal banking arrived a hundred odd years ago or more. Electricity arrived a hundred odd years ago. telephones arrived fifty odd years ago.

Chris: Unless you’re waiting for a connection with BT, in which case it hasn’t arrived yet!

Rajesh: Now imagine the life of a Kenyan villager. Highways arrived in the last ten years. Electricity arrived in the last few years. Telephones arrived. All of these miraculous things, almost like magic things, arrived all in the space of one compressed period. So things that happen over a long period are actually happening in developing countries in a very short period. You alluded to the power of compounding. The integration of all of these things, the possibilities of what’s called in rather academic jargon, ‘recombinant innovation,’ which is combining all these trajectories together to create something new. That exists in a manner that has never been seen before, ever. This level of compressed change has never been seen, ever. This gives great hope for new businesses, new products, new business models and indeed new ways of living which we’re seeing. And it’s all driven by the fact that profoundly important needs remain unfulfilled in these places, and increasingly people are demanding through their wallets or through their voices, change that fulfills those needs. 

Chris: It’s also empowering massive amounts of people whose voices couldn’t have been heard not so long ago.

Rajesh: Correct. The Chinese electric car industry is powerful, and arguably the largest today for a bunch of reasons, including the fact that China was until recently, and in some ways still, suffering some of the worst effects of air pollution and water pollution in the world. They have the most intense needs. It’s not an abstract concept. The same applies in India, in Africa, and other places. But those needs are very palpable today. 

Section seven: micro-entrepreneurship and ‘data for good’

Chris: You’ve done a lot of work in South Africa; doing these international experiences as part of the part of the program here [at LBS]. And you do a lot of work with micro-entrepreneurs. What sets micro-entrepreneurs apart? 

Rajesh: Well the classic definition of a micro entrepreneur is any business with very few employees. So it could be self-employed, or less than five employees is a famous definition. The micro entrepreneur is the most common business person on earth. The archetypical business person is not someone sitting in a suit in a high-rise building. The archetypical business person is someone sitting in a market somewhere in a developing country, trying to eke out a living. Their lives are not glamorous. And most are doomed to life as permanent micro entrepreneurs. Growth is an elusive thing. 

Now, much of the world is involved in micro-entrepreneurship. And in many ways, large corporations that we tend to study in business schools are extraordinarily rare and remarkable creatures. It’s mind boggling to imagine. Every time I’m in a board meeting, I’m looking at P& L statements and an entire company coming together and analysing this and understanding the implications. That level of abstraction is genius. It’s also rare. 

Now, there exist opportunities for us. If we want to make a difference to the lives of many, and help fulfil the aspirations of so many around the world, one of the greatest things we could do is to improve their livelihoods, and in the process they will improve their lives. So micro-entrepreneurs have challenges with access to information, access to money, access to skills, access to the rule of law, for example, and norms. All of these could be improved, and that would lead to fewer firms. 

The United States has 6.5% self-employment. Tanzania has 85%, South Sudan even higher. The reality is that the poorest parts of the world also tend to be the most entrepreneurial. But also, entrepreneurial in a way that does not become more formal, they do not become employers. There exist opportunities to change that, and that change is happening. As countries get wealthier, they tend to have more medium-sized companies. The M of the SMEs goes up, and that’s a healthy thing. More communication, electricity, infrastructure, all of this will assist with the growth of organizations.

Chris: For a long time you’ve been a champion of the power of big data to try and understand developing markets, developing worlds. What does ‘big data for good,’ mean in this context? How can we be using it to be improving these issues? 

Rajesh: So, some colleagues and I wrote a paper on using big data to do good. We focused on emerging markets. We used this Woody Allen joke about these two women in upstate New York complaining about the food being served at the resort they were staying in: one says, ‘the food at this place is terrible;’ and the other says, ‘and such small portions!’

So the reality of data in emerging markets used to be that the quality of the data was terrible. And such small portions…we had so little data. And so we were making big decisions based on very poor data. The diffusion of telecommunications, the diffusion of mobile money, the diffusion indeed of identity systems around the world, for example, have led to a transformation in what is possible to do good.

So we use the examples of the earthquakes in various places nowadays where you can see movement of people migrating from those locations. In some cases in Haiti for instance, the last time they had an earthquake, [we could see] the movement of cholera through the movement of sim cards. 

One of the greatest things people can do for migration in particular is give people an identity. That data becomes crucial to what you’re able to do and what you’re not. The point that we make there is that we’re going from a period of emerging markets being the source of very little data, to being extraordinarily rich in data in a way that, for instance, the United States is very reluctant to provide ID in a unified database. Well, that’s happening around the world. The Indian national ID system is bringing a succession of policymakers from around the world trooping into India to see what they’re doing with their national I. D. system, because of the data possibilities. 

We thought this with Covid: how do you target aid and relief to affected communities during the lockdown, to those who are particularly in need. The more climate emergencies we have, the more relevant this becomes. Data allows us the possibility to do that. 

Section eight: hold on to your desire!

Chris: Great. We have just one last question, and it’s a common theme we ask at the end – good advice for the next generation.  

From someone who’s sitting in your chair, who advises entrepreneurs and people who wish to go into  marketing and entrepreneurship and innovation, you’re someone who has got a strong belief in wanting to improve the world. And particularly improve the fields that you work in and advise, and try and nudge them in the right direction. What advice would you give to young people either on the academic side or into entrepreneurship, about how they can be similarly moving the fields that they’re in, in the right direction? 

Rajesh: Great question. It’s a sure sign of age when you’re asked to provide advice to the next generation! 

Chris: Call it expertise. Wisdom! 

Rajesh: Wisdom, yes! I would say the change that we’re seeing in this world today is unprecedented in human history. I could go on for three hours on why. So we’re extraordinarily fortunate to be living in a time where our actions can make a real difference, because of the access we have to the knowledge of generations past, but also the power of compounding. This means that each of us has this extraordinarily, unprecedented opportunity to make a difference. 

The vision of the London Business School, one of the reasons I’m particularly drawn to this place, is to have a profound impact. That’s not unique as an aspiration to London Business School. We could each have a profound impact. Now, if you’re an academic, there are entire new fields opening up. Once we take the obsessive focus on shareholder wealth maximization away and look beyond, entire new fields are opening up. This did not exist for generations. 

Similarly, if you’re an entrepreneur or a business person, there are entirely new ways being conjured up now, in which we can make a difference. That is hugely satisfying. We have the ability, we have the opportunity, what we need is the motivation. So my advice is, keep that motivation. Don’t let obstacles make you a cynic or a pessimist. The good news is, you don’t have to be one of those lonely voices anymore. There are many more like you who also are equally motivated, who are also able to offer their abilities and point us to those opportunities. 

Explore. Look beyond your own context. You might see that suddenly things come together and all of us can make a difference. So that would be my advice; maintain that motivation and maintain that desire for a profound impact.

Chris: Great. Thank you very much. That was an absolute joy. 

Rajesh: Such a delight, Chris. Thank you. 


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