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Guest Column

Published on: Dec. 19, 2023, 2:10 p.m.
The missing part of the jigsaw
  • Climate Corps Fellows: India needs more of its brightest to join the sustainability brigade

By Hisham Mundol. The author is chief advisor, India, Environment Defence Fund

Much has been written and said – justifiably so – about the need for finance and technology to support India’s green transition. These are both big imperatives and represent large and growing gaps between what is available and what is needed. There is a third one which is less prominent, but the strategic implications of which are equally consequential. This is the gap on talent. 

Climate change is the most complex and serious problem facing humanity. Addressing this scale and complexity is going to require an enormous growth in green talent. India does not have enough of this – either those who work exclusively on sustainability or those who use sustainability skills in their core jobs. The gap is large and growing.

The requirement is huge and can be bridged through three main routes. Firstly, it is to embed sustainability as a core part of executive education and skills development in India. On executive education, most corporates offer programmes on strategy, leadership, team building, communications and company-specific technical skills. While these are all important, few provide specific support on sustainability. In quite a few cases, it appears but as a bolt-on to other themes.

It needs to be central and needs to be widely subscribed within any enterprise. It is critical to keep in mind that sustainability skills are required across the board and not just with the corporate sustainability team. The finance and accounting teams need to understand carbon pricing. Manufacturing needs to be up-to-date. with the direction of emerging green technologies. The procurement function needs to be as much of a custodian of a Net Zero commitment as the Chief Sustainability Officer. 

Indeed, a catalyst for this spreading of sustainability knowledge will be when every single employee has sustainability on their objectives. That day is not far. Companies that undertake efforts are the ones who will not only survive, but indeed thrive. With regards to skills, as we train electricians, plumbers, carpenters, builders and couriers and delivery drivers among others, they need to learn sustainable practices, as that is where the demand will be from. 

The second aspect is to update – and keep constantly updated – the teaching of sustainability and dramatically scale up the student body that chooses to work in this space. Every subject taught on campuses and online should have a clear thread of sustainability running through the teaching plan. So much of the sustainability agenda is nascent and there is so much innovation and action that is happening that a syllabus designed for today will likely be redundant in five years’ time.

Engineering and skilling syllabuses also need to keep up with the rapidly changing practices in climate action. Familiarity with carbon markets was good-to-know a few years ago but is going to be mission-critical over the next five years. Environmental law and reporting requirements – including global changes in regulations – are going to need to be skillfully navigated by the business sector in India.

Business schools need to teach that sustainable shareholder value creation will be created by responsible business. Everyone learning to become an investment banker must learn to be a sustainable financing specialist, or else they will not be successful bankers for long.

  • The requirement of sustainability talent is huge and the ecosystem to enable the development of the requisite skillsets is slowly picking up but needs to accelerate

The last route is to fuel the funnel of talent. The requirement of sustainability talent is huge and the ecosystem to enable the development of the requisite skillsets is slowly picking up but needs to accelerate. 

There is also growing understanding about climate change, but only in young people. School and college students should be encouraged to take this up as it combines purpose with potential. Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps programme is a great example of creating change agents. It selects and trains passionate, talented, and ambitious Masters students and matches them for 12-week internships with host companies who are authentic, ambitious, and concerted about sustainability.

Climate Corps Fellows then join a thriving community of nearly 3,500 across the globe, who are the sustainability leaders of tomorrow and act as agents. We need programmes like this, and others, to scale up. We need more of India’s brightest to join the sustainability brigade. 

Going back to the numbers. They do appear daunting, but it is easier to appreciate it when one looks at the size of both the challenge and the opportunity. India has achieved this kind of scale before. We should take inspiration from how corporates, academia and governments collaborated to source and skill the nearly 4 million who are now part of India’s outsourcing economy. These should come together because climate change is both the crisis and the economic opportunity of the century.

Finance and technology are necessary but not sufficient. Talent is the missing part of the jigsaw. Without it, India’s response will be sub-optimal. With it, we can demonstrate a visionary new Indian pathway to shared sustainable prosperity that will be good for the economy and good for the environment.

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