Numbers are crucial, but you have to see beyond it


The common wisdom has it that the world around is complex and hard to understand. But, this is only partly true and is not the topic of this piece. As we feel the world around us is complete, it is in human nature to look for proxies and structures to classify and comprehend this complex, fast moving world in which we live. This is exactly why numbers are so useful, as they allow us to compare seemingly different phenomena, understand the magnitude of things and develop factual insights.

The play with numbers I conducted myself a few years back is the exact root cause of why I am so passionate about the African continent, as the size of opportunity there is simply incomparable with the size of opportunities available back home in Poland. My engagement with Africa quickly led me to an insight that if I do not understand both China and India and their role on the continent, I simply have no idea about Africa. This is exactly the reason I was attracted to the IDEX Fellowship and I am delighted to be able to pursue it as part of the January 2018 cohort with a wonderful group of Fellows.

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My logic is really simple: I can know everything about Poland (which is not possible, but let’s say I do) and that is approximately 40 million people. If at the same time I have no idea about India, China and Nigeria – the countries, which are predicted to be the most populous at the dusk of this century – I have virtually no idea about, at least, 40% of the world’s population. Therefore, what is my relevance in the world, where gravity centers will indeed be in India, China and Nigeria? The answer to the above question is inescapable and this is exactly the reason, why I am most eager to comprehend the three mentioned economies.

My first two months in India have largely been about dealing with numbers and trying to understand the country through numbers. A lot of insights have emerged since. First of all, one cannot stop at understanding India as a single country of 1.2 billion people. Of course, it is a country, but if that is all that one sees, you just do not get it. You have to see India as a country, as well as individual states, which are oftentimes more populous than the majority of countries in Europe. Furthermore, there are numerous peculiar connections between the central government and state governments, which takes time to grasp, but one has to grasp those if one wants to operate in India wisely.

Talking about business and the agricultural sector in particular, India is one of the three world’s largest agricultural producers. Yet, for example, only 17% of country’s milk production is formally processed (!), while the number is lower for some states, such as Uttar Pradesh, where it stands at 12%. This offers incomprehensibly huge business opportunities!

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However, there is a “however” in my story…

While numbers are extremely useful and should never be disregarded, numbers itself are meaningless. One has to always see through and beyond the numbers to see one thing only:
people.

I am delighted to report that looking back on my two months in India, I have interacted with plenty of smiling, courageous, open, positive, hard-working, kind, curious and above all beautiful people. I am looking forward to continuing those interactions for the months to come and telling you more about awesome individuals I have met here in one of my future blogs.