Capitalising on “rural-centric” business opportunities

Chandran Nair spoke at the EIU Corporate Network Breakfast on 20 November 2007.

At a recent Economist Intelligence Unit Corporate Network Breakfast Chandran Nair, founder and chief executive of GIFT was asked to share his thoughts on China’s urban-rural divide and to provide some practical ideas on finding solutions to rural issues plaguing China today.

Mr. Nair spoke about his experience with GIFT’s innovative Global Young Leaders Programme, a model which aims to converge funding, good intentions and robust business plans to create social enterprises in rural China and in countries around the region. He told business leaders that contrary to common belief, GIFT’s projects have found strong support among local government officials in China indicating that rural under-development may have more to do with a lack of funding than with incompetent governance. One path to alleviating inequality is then to seek non-traditional funding sources that are able to capitalise on profitable rural projects.

In addressing the broader question of whether businesses in Hong Kong should be worried about the urban-rural divide, Mr. Nair suggested that there is an inability for businesses to do anything about these issues even if they care because they cannot respond to the opportunities presented. Large businesses are generally governed by short term cycles, and profit incentives that leave them unable to engage in rural-centric models. To take advantage of the vast opportunities in rural areas, a long-term, unconventional strategy must be embraced. He stated that these opportunities had to be seized by investors and medium sized businesses. The real challenge is to connect businesses to the right opportunities.

Other speakers at the breakfast meeting including; Dr. Jean-François Huchet, Director, the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China; Alexandra Harney, Author, The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage and Dr Trini Wing Yue Leung, Executive Director, Responsible Competitiveness Roundtable focused on issues including trends within the migrant labor community and how to define business’ responsibility to poverty.

Mr. Nair is a frequent speaker at EIU briefings and other corporate events in the region.