Arnab Mandal: “The dream of a green future”
Name: Arnab Mandal
Lives in: Delhi, India
Country of origin: India
Period in Germany: January to March 2012
Education and research institution: Freie Universität Berlin
Occupation: Expert on Development, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, mentor in Indian government's Start Up India programme, board member of the start-up Frugal Ventures Pvt Ltd.
At the age of 25, Indian Arnab Mandal presented his ideas for a “green economy” to the US Congress in Washington, DC. That same year, a DAAD programme brought him to FU Berlin to research sustainable development strategies – a subject that remains close to his heart.
In 2012 you became the then youngest Indian ever to speak before the US Congress. How did that come about?
Arnab Mandal: A year earlier I had outlined my “Dream for a Green Future” at MIT Climate CoLab. The MIT Sloan School of Management then invited me to present my ideas not only before the US Congress in Washington but also at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. That was an incredible opportunity, especially considering that I was only 25 years old at the time. My proposals for a green future
covered seven topics: sustainable development planning using information and communication technology; an index for corporate sustainability; systemic thinking; demand-supply synchronisation; green funds; planning including at the micro level; and green initiatives such as raising public awareness of environmental issues.
How do you think the global economy needs to change?
Arnab Mandal: Of course there are several things that must be done. But I am a great advocate of regenerative “cycle economies”. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) undoubtedly also provide an excellent framework for the shared prosperity of humanity and a progressive future for our planet. But that will require drastic changes to global governance as well as a range of corporate initiatives that support the SDGs. The target date for these goals is the year 2030; we don’t have much time. We need a fundamental change that includes revising the United Nations Charter: we should increase the influence of intellectuals and limit the power of corrupt, narrow-minded politicians.
Your book “Sustainable Development: Goals and Strategies” was published in 2015. What motivated you to write this book?
Arnab Mandal: My research topic during my time at FU Berlin was “Sustainable development strategy: lessons from the EU”. While I was there I was able to strengthen my research skills thanks to the experience and expertise of my professors. I decided that at an appropriate time I would offer my collected knowledge to a publisher in order to make it available to a wider audience. When the United Nations announced their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 I felt the time to publish the book had come. The book is intended to present relevant courses of action to people who have no experience of sustainable development issues. A central point are the monitoring mechanisms that the EU began applying to sustainability strategies early on. These are now also used with regard to the SDGs and are based on a wide range of indicators, from socio-economic development to good governance.
How important are global partnerships for implementing sustainable development strategies?
Arnab Mandal: Extremely important, both for developing countries and for industrialised countries. They create a win-win situation: such partnerships facilitate the exchange of financial, technical and personnel resources and open up new markets and trade cooperations, enabling us to pursue the SDGs together around the world.
At Tata Trusts you explore digital technologies and their effects on society. Can digitalisation contribute to a sustainable future?
Arnab Mandal: I am indeed fortunate enough to be one of the programme managers involved in drafting and implementing information and communication technology for development projects at Tata Trusts. Regarding the concept of digitalisation I consider it important to differentiate between two English words: while “digitisation” is limited to the approach of transforming analogue information into digital formats, the concept of “digitalisation” is much broader. It covers the use of digital tools, techniques and technologies, the process of gaining information, and ways to optimise decision-making and efficiently implement appropriate measures. Both “digitisation” and “digitalisation” are crucial to a sustainable future. Several initiatives have been launched by governments, international organisations and companies in these fields. I would like to specifically mention the World Bank’s 2016 World Development Report, which focused on the “digital dividend”. Its analysis of the current situation as well as the best practices and case studies described in the report allow an optimistic view of the future. Nonetheless some developing countries, especially in Africa and Latin America, will have to continue to work on implementing digital development programmes.
In 2012 you attended Freie Universität Berlin through the programme “A New Passage to India”; your main focus there was on “public policy”. How did your time in Germany affect you?
Arnab Mandal: My stay in Berlin really changed my life. The city is extraordinarily international: it offers a cosmopolitan environment and is definitely a boon to any foreign student. My time in Germany also enabled me to develop professionally. I learned the art of logical argument and adopted a critical way of thinking. The DAAD scholarship moreover greatly enhances my CV.
What are your plans for the future?
Arnab Mandal: In addition to working for Tata Trusts I also serve as a mentor in the Indian government’s “Start-up India” initiative, where I can support young entrepreneurs by advising them on their business ideas and the steps they need to take, and by helping them network. I am also a member of the board at Frugal Ventures Pvt Ltd., an Indian start-up company that works on the cycle economy. It uses design thinking, system thinking and blockchain to address the massive problem of waste management and recycling. I would like to grow the company in order to publicise it around the world.