Building trust with stakeholders

India’s public affairs and policy landscape has been gradually changing over the past two decades. Today, policy professionals have become an interface between business and government to facilitate policy making and the growth of the Indian economy.

Last week, the 9e The Public Affairs Forum of India (PAFI) Annual Forum witnessed this positive development in the spirit of transparent business and government engagement with a focus on the broader economic agenda. Governments, both central and state, are ready to engage with corporate policy makers. I have always emphasized that the public affairs function within the corporate setting is a crossroads of corporate affairs, corporate communications, corporate social responsibility, policy advocacy, regulatory issues and government relations with a long-term vision. It is therefore their responsibility to ensure a collaborative dialogue between government, industry, civil society and various stakeholders to build trust and a long-term partnership.

The unprecedented impact of the pandemic and our attempt to return to normal has realigned the prism of progress across the world as well as in India. The vision of growth and development has become more global. Inclusiveness, diversity, sustainability and innovation are the mantras for India to grow into a $40 trillion economy from a $3.2 trillion economy.

Having come through as a public affairs professional over the past four decades, I see this transformation happening and a palpable positivity surrounding it. Here are 12 key messages I noticed during the discussions held at 9e PAFI Annual Forum:

A, policy makers encourage ideas and industry stakeholder consultations are conducted consistently. LIP programs are explored through regular meetings with the business sector. The telecommunications bill was published on the eve of the annual PAFI Forum. During the Session, the ministry distributed copies of the bill!

Second, policymakers are now valued and viewed as professionals with sector-specific knowledge. Gone are the days of only CEOs meeting with ministers and senior officials to brief them on the industries perspective. These days, it’s common to have engaging discussions between policy professionals and bureaucrats that transcend the hierarchy. This is a very welcome change.

Third, the momentum in policy-making has gained credibility, regardless of the government in power, it does more to encourage investment. Even if the government changes, there is political continuity, especially at the state level.

Fourth, the government is all ears. Advocacy should be done by presenting both the pros and cons of proposed policy changes, various speakers argued. Autonomous speeches gave way to engaging conversations with ministers and secretaries, showing their openness and willingness to engage with industry. Questions from the enthusiastic audience ranging from women’s representation in politics, to government health policies for the middle class, to innovation or India’s position at the G20 were answered in a positive and collaborative spirit.

Fifth, there is renewed enthusiasm on the part of states to engage and collaborate with policy professionals. States want to partner together to champion their investment-friendly policies, skills development initiatives and sustainable practices. Tamil Nadu has joined the forum as an encouraging partner state.

Sixth, the role of policy professionals is shifting from mere lobbying to a more knowledge-based approach. From who you know to what you know. Nurturing the network, while it remains a stronghold, fostering thought leadership through in-depth research, developing industry white papers and preparing reports is key.

Seventh, transparency in interactions has accelerated. In addition, economic issues, sustainability, ESG gained ground during the conversations. Dialogues and debates between stakeholders have become more organic.

Eighth, believes this government, speed and simplification of regulations are the backbone of balanced scalability. We are seeing the reform of age-old laws, the decriminalization of archaic regulations introduced to promote the ease of doing business or, as we say in Pafi, the pleasure of doing business.

Ninththe path of female empowerment interspersed with financial inclusion, safe working environment, access to education and hygienic conditions is being seriously considered with a view to reforming the way gender is perceived in our country.

TenthIndia’s geopolitical pragmatism should be emphasized and strategic ties cultivated allowing for significant global influence even though India’s G20 Presidency comes at a time when there were multiple challenges in the world – Ukraine, supply chain disruptions. supplies, high global debt, inflationary pressures, etc.

Eleventh, young people and Gen Z have taken the country by storm. With its young population and supportive policies, India is able to nurture an ecosystem conducive to entrepreneurship. Start-ups are dynamic, innovative and positively disrupt the market. Gen Z is increasingly exploring new territory and reinventing the traditional toolbox.

The last and the most important is build trust. Deliberation and consultation between government and the business sector should instil ownership in the policy-making process

Going forward, debate-dialogue-discussion will accelerate advocacy and linkages with stakeholders. The will of government decision makers is visible. The time has come for professionals to engage in productive policy with a deep understanding of business, economics, and the path to sustainable growth. Interestingly, the range of policy professionals has widened considerably over the past decade.

The annual two-day Forum, which featured around 6 ministers, 10 secretaries and more than 60 panelists, clocked the 14 sessions despite the capital drenched in unrelenting and unprecedented rain. The outlook is indeed changing. Transformation is underway and the strategic accountability of policy professionals is increasing.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


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