Indra Nooyi: Population of Asia, Africa booming, key challenge massive global inequity

Population expansion in Asia and Africa; the resultant growth in consumption of proteins which translates to more animals and, hence, viruses and epidemics; climate change; an ageing population in much of the world; the “dizzying” pace of technological advancement: These are the five mega-trends the world is set to see, according to Indra Nooyi, former Chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo.

“So if the world is going to be over 9 billion people by 2030-2035 over 7 billion are going to be in Asia and Africa but if you look at the percentage of GDP it’s going to be mismatched. So we have to really worry about Asia and Africa not just growing in population but also…how are those regions going to increase their wealth because otherwise it will lead to massive global inequity,” Nooyi said at The Indian Express e-Adda Thursday.

She added that with the growing population, higher protein consumption and more rearing of animals could result in more epidemics and pandemics “as viruses jump from animals to human beings”, and called for public health systems to be ready.

“Women are wanting to rise up in the workforce and are being held back. But if you have an ageing population and you don’t create support structures for women to work you won’t be able to take care of the ageing population so we have a big mega trend that’s worrying me,” Nooyi said.

At the e-Adda, moderated by Shyamal Majumdar, Editor, The Financial Express, and Vandita Mishra, National Opinion Editor, The Indian Express,

Nooyi said that the five mega-trends raise two key issues: increasing “geo-political upheaval” and the need for a “grand re-skilling” on an unprecedented scale. She flagged three concerns emerging from these mega trends: the glaring gap between regulation and technology, whether capitalism needed a new look; and the challenge of putting the “human back in humanity” given how technology was reshaping all aspects of life.

Asked about her memoir My Life in Full and how she had struck a tone that had empathy and no bitterness, Nooyi said that 85% of the people she had interacted with had helped her, pulled her up, while 15% had “created issues,” and that she couldnt “define” her life in terms of that 15%. An important aspect of leadership, she said, was to be “under the radar” and do what you need to do.

Speaking on corporate social responsibility, Nooyi said the ESG (environmental, social, governance issues) approach has to be brought into the centre of companies.

“…every ESG metric should be looked at through the eyes of does it create shareholder value by de-risking the company, not adding cost to it in the future,” Nooyi said, citing the example of moves by PepsiCo to shift its product portfolio to include more “better-for-you” products and reduce plastic use. Nooyi noted that ESG efforts should be related to the operations of the company and to drive shareholder value and not be “a fringe project that somebody dreamed up just to feel good or do good.”

She also said that India has to decide which sectors it wants to open to Foreign Direct Investment and provide policy certainty as investors are frustrated with sudden changes in rules. In recent years, the Centre has tightened FDI rules in the e-commerce space, and also amended rules to require prior government approval for any FDI from countries sharing land borders with India.

“…like most countries, India has to worry about self-reliance of critical things for India and figure out which sectors are going to be open to FDI. What India cannot do is invite FDI and then overnight, change the rules and that in some ways, many investors I talked to get frustrated by that,” she said.

Previous guests at the e-Adda include Nykaa Founder & CEO Falguni Nayar, Infosys Non-Executive Chairman Nandan Nilekani, Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways and MSMEs Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Education Ramesh Pokhriyal, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria, former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian and Kotak Mahindra Bank MD & CEO Uday Kotak.

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