Here’s the edited transcript of the interview.
What do you think will be the legacy of this pandemic in terms of global commerce? Has it fundamentally changed the way business is done?
Mukesh Ambani: I think Covid-19 is a once-in-a-century, humanitarian crisis. The world wasn’t prepared for it. The crisis tested the resilience of mankind. The world has suffered. Ultimately, what we’ll triumph is not the virus but the human spirit. We have seen unprecedented global solidarity, the unthinkable has become possible. No one could have imagined that world would produce a vaccine in less than a year and vaccinate the whole world in a couple of years. So, I think humanity in both trade commerce and global economics, we have a lot to learn and more and more of the unthinkable is going to be possible. Even if you take Qatar’s example, we in India will never forget Qatar’s friendship during this crisis where it moved much beyond commerce where they even used all their passenger aircraft to get medicine and supplies to India in time. What this has shown is that Qatar may be a small nation in size but it has a very big heart. I think trade along with purpose and compassion is the way forward and that is going to get all of us as humanity, together to integrate and make sure that collectively we can actually deal with global problems as one and help each other moving forward. To my mind, this for the global economy is a fork in the road and gives us an opportunity that together we can achieve a lot more.
Given that optimism though there are challenges. What do you view as the biggest challenge for industry chiefs at this point in time as we emerge from this pandemic?
Mukesh Ambani: I think that the challenge first is really to make sure that we get rid of the vaccination divide. It is critical that a bulk of the developed world will be vaccinated by the end of the year. I think we in India have taken a lot many steps and we expect that by the end of this year first quarter of next year, we will do very well but it’s the whole humanity that we have to make sure that we are all in it together. The second challenge for all of us is to make sure that we bring back the economies, particularly in the more developed countries, which have not had the benefit of stimulus, which have not had the benefit of government money by really supporting the whole global economy to come back and to grow, so that we are able to grow the whole world in a sustainable way and not only bring back the developed economies. Towards that all of us in the industry, governments and civil society will have to work as a coalition not only for our own company, not only for our own country, but for the global economy collectively.
The pandemic has shown how critical it is to close that digital divide. Do you see digital services, technology for that matter bridging the inequality gap? What’s India’s own experience in trying to close that gap? What are some of the key takeaways there?
Mukesh Ambani: Well I think the digital divide must be bridged, both among nations and within nations. This is because connectivity and communications have become the basic needs, and also fundamental rights of every human being on the planet—as basic as food, clothing, and shelter. We never realised this as acutely as we did in the corona pandemic. Even in India, our prime minister had given a call for Digital India, I was privileged with our digital services company called Jio to roll out a 4G network, and we were lucky that we rolled out the network across the lengths and breadths of India by 2018. We have always wondered what would we have done without a 4G network across India in facing the corona crisis. So yes, the digital infrastructure was very useful in work-from-home, in vaccinating all our people, in making sure that our children learn at home and learn online. I think that this trend of digital-physical will be the new normal and into the future we will deliver most of our health, education services also, in a digital-physical sense. So, to my mind it’s an absolute must for all economies to integrate and enhance this digital infrastructure which has been so very useful in the corona crisis.
You talked about how Jio has helped to bridge that inequality gap. How else do you see your company being able to address the issue of inequality?
Mukesh Ambani: I think that I would like to begin that by again learning from Qatar. What his highness, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has done is, he has used the hydrocarbon wealth with his vision, to have Qatar as an advanced society, with strong economic and social foundations. The investments in education and health care offer the people of Qatar, the most advanced infrastructure, an opportunity to grow. I think that across the world, and in India, we must invest in education so that there is equal opportunity for everybody and health care, what this crisis has taught us is that we need to urgently upgrade the health care infrastructure across the world to make sure that we are ready for any future crisis because I believe that this pandemic will not be the last health crisis that humanity has seen. It is important that we, within industries, again, within governments all work together to make sure that the opportunity that we have to really work towards giving equal opportunity and reduce inequality across all sections of our world.
The pandemic has also highlighted the issue of sustainability in businesses. Businesses are now increasingly under pressure to commit to sustainability. How do you view that as a business leader?
Mukesh Ambani: My view is that we have no option as a society, as business, to really adopt sustainable business models to ensure that we embrace the model of clean energy. It is a prerequisite for our growth, and we at Reliance have adopted this wholeheartedly and are transforming each one of our business lines to be sustainable, circular, recyclable and fully transparent environment, social and governance standards. I think that’s a prerequisite for every business to survive as we go forward.
Would that mean perhaps dialling back some of your businesses right now? Is that something that needs to be thought of?
Mukesh Ambani: Yes, it will mean transforming our businesses and integrating that with the future.
Mr. Ambani, many people may not know that you have a special link to the Middle East, you were born in Yemen when your father was working there before moving back to India. Talk to us about this connection to the Middle East and how you see it in the context of business?
Mukesh Ambani: Well, I think that I was born in Yemen because my father went there, as a young Indian to Yemen, and he always says I have Arabic blood, which I think we value. The relationship between all the Arabic countries and India, it is a centuries old relationship. I think that a lot of Indian population is there in Qatar and while Qatar has a lot of population, we have about 700,000 Indians and each one of them is a spokesperson for Qatar in India. I also think that within my own family, I’ve had the privilege of working with Sheikha Moza at the United Nations Millennium Development Goals group, but my wife is a big fan of her achievements in sports and culture and my daughter is a big fan of everything that the foundation is achieved in art. So, as a family we have great admiration for what the Qatar Foundation and the and the Qatari royal family has really achieved for the people of Qatar, and I only hope that we can learn, be inspired and build a very strong relationship between India and Qatar.