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Roots to government-private thought partnerships

On January 15, 2021, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) launched the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) 3.0. This is the third phase of the scheme which was launched in 2015 to give a boost to skilling in the country. In this third version, the government wants to focus on matching local skilling requirements with local job opportunities. The thrust of PMKVY 3.0 is on empowering States and districts to implement skilling schemes by making regional-level plans.

The scheme guidelines state that the scheme shall be implemented in two phases. The first is being implemented on a pilot basis during the 2020-21 fiscal year, while simultaneously initiating the creation of an implementation framework for the second phase (2021-2026).

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Growing partnership

The foresight and planning evident in the scheme’s guidelines signal the MSDE’s thoughtful approach towards revamping the skilling ecosystem in the years ahead. However, any plan of this scale is seldom the work of a few individuals , a department or even a ministry. It requires multiple rounds of consultations and co-working with different entities, including collaboration between the government and external partners.

Over the last few years, there has been increasing evidence of the government and external partners working together on complex policy problems. At the more senior level, the government has formalised the induction of private individuals into the system by opening up lateral entry. Lower down the hierarchy, several central government ministries and entities, such as NITI Aayog, routinely recruit private individuals as consultants, officers on special duty or young professionals. Most of the lateral recruitment in government happens at this level. The role of this category of staff is primarily supporting the existing bureaucracy and providing them research and logistical support as and when the need arises. Given the staggering vacancies in the central government, such support is critical since civil servants are generally over-burdened and under-resourced.

Lack of capacity also often becomes evident in suboptimal policy decisions and poor implementation of those policies. For the stage of development India is at, it is as critical as it is difficult for the government to take a step back and reflect on how to deliver on its mandate across sectors in the most effective manner. If capacity within the government is lacking, it is necessary to leverage the domain knowledge and resources of private individuals and entities to forge thought partnerships.

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A key difference

It is important here to emphasise that thought partnerships are different from the recruitment of consultants to provide government officials additional manpower to manage routine tasks. Thought partnerships are a structured mechanism for private entities to lend relevant strategic expertise to the government on policy design, evaluation and implementation.

Issue of funding

From the government perspective, a practical question to be resolved in any such exercise which involves external partners, is funding. Normally, the government would be rightly wary of accepting funding from agencies which come with caveats, associated obligations or other agendas, both implicit and explicit. It is also not always feasible for the government itself to fund projects involving private partners, more so when such projects are unconventional thought partnerships. It is not the quantum of money required to fund a thought partnership that becomes a roadblock (in most cases it would be a fraction of the department or Ministry’s budget), but the process of getting requisite approvals for funding external agencies.

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Given this context, it is ideal if a committed external partner funds the thought partnership expeditiously without strings attached. The good news is that several domestic and international philanthropies and impact investing firms are already investing billions of dollars into critical sectors in developing countries including India. The not-so-good news is that much of this funding goes into supporting projects or interventions that work in limited, contextual settings rather than systemic or sectoral transformation programmes. This is the difference between trying to improve learning levels in a district through direct classroom interventions versus rethinking how the government school system works in a State or the country. It is here that philanthropies and impact investing firms can make a huge difference.

Earlier programmes

In the past, systemic thought partnerships have been attempted sporadically across ministries.

In 2005, the Ashok Lahiri Committee, constituted by the Ministry of Finance, came out with a report which stated that there was not enough knowledge about external capital flows and controls in India. The committee’s recommendation resulted in the establishment of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Department of Economic Affairs research programme. The programme led to the creation of a rich body of world-class research on capital controls and flows in India, developed by Indian researchers, that was used to inform government policy on the matter.

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In 2015, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs constituted a research secretariat headed by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, to support the Companies Law Committee to make “informed decisions…on the principles involved as well as international practices in the areas of insolvency, raising of capital, penalties, related party transactions and other areas”.

The National Institute of Financial Management is working with the Department of Economic Affairs to provide legal research and technical assistance on Indian and foreign financial markets, policy analysis, formulation as well as conduct of impact assessment studies on decisions taken by the Securities and Exchange Board of India.

In late-2018, the MSDE itself started engaging with multiple private firms such as Dalberg Global Development Advisors and Samagra-Transforming Governance to conceptualise and design its vision for 2025.

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Pitfalls and solutions

These attempts at establishing thought partnerships between the government and private entities,while instructive, are largely disparate and episodic. They do not provide the definitive way forward on government-private collaboration. India faces a dearth of scholars and practitioners who are singularly focused on researching and solving India’s problems. As such, policy choices made in isolation from the rigorous debate, research and questioning which thought partnerships facilitate, can produce suboptimal results. It is therefore in the public interest that more such partnerships are forged and funded to channel external expertise and skills towards finding scalable solutions to the pressing policy challenges the country faces.

K.P. Krishnan, a former Secretary, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Government of India, is currently the IEPF Chair Professor in Regulatory Economics at the National Council of Applied Economic Research. Roopa Kudva is Managing Director, Omidyar Network India. The views expressed are personal

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 2:23:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/roots-to-government-private-thought-partnerships/article33669744.ece

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