As the economic development community is stuck at home, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI-frontline who are facing the biggest global challenge in recent memory, if not of our lifetimes. India has just announced a nationwide lockdown, asking more than 1.3 billion people to stay home. In the midst of these exceptional circumstances, Deepak Bagla discusses how Invest India is helping to keep business immune to the coronavirus. 

Q. What has it been like for Invest India in the past days as the whole country goes into a national lockdown? 

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It’s been an amazing experience for us in the past 72 hours. Not one of our 179 employees flinched. We have been connected on the phone and WhatsApp non-stop. Each one of our young workforce has taken upon the mission upon themselves, everyone is completely driven at the moment. I cannot find words to explain the electric energy that moves them, it is like they feel that this is the time to make things happen. Each one of them is thinking out of the box. We have had companies whose trucks have been stranded while crossing states because of the lockdown, and they reached out to the government of the states involved to find ways to get these trucks to their destination. Or else, if they are looking for someone to produce face masks, they are reaching out to SMEs that are shutting down so that they can make components for masks, or gloves or soap. 

Q. What has the mission of Invest India become in the midst of this coronavirus emergency? 

Our mission at the moment is to make business immune to Covid-19. We are helping with existing business operations and shifting production lines to create the products the country needs at this moment. 

Q. What kind of support can businesses can find on the new “Business Immunity” portal? 

Steps have to be taken in a rapid manner., In times like these measures and execution have to happen at a much faster pace than normal. How do we ramp up existing capacity to meet the demand of things like face masks, hand wipes or ICU ventilators? Again, we have to think out of the box. We are currently reaching out to the automotive industry to see whether they are in a position to produce ventilators, or  to towel producers for face masks. Then we have some 50m SMEs in the country, a large part of them are in the medical supply chain. The challenge here is multiple. We need them to ramp up production, but they are facing financial financial constraints in these circumstances. Besides, we have to find ways to move their production across a country in lockdown. 

So the reason why we came up with the “Business Immunity” portal is to create a platform where existing businesses can share their business strategy, SMEs can come up with innovations, and public institutions can share their requirements and match them with the offer in the market. 

Q. As the head of Invest India, what are the leadership skills you believe will make a difference in these testing times? 

I told my team that each one of them matters, that we have the opportunity to give back to our communities and make things happen. Never in our lifetime have we had this kind of responsibility. This is what is driving us, and this passion runs through the whole organisation. Besides, India has a big unorganised workforce, and the team is working to create food supplies and other support for these large unorganised communities. It’s not only about business, but also getting the society back in place. The same foreign investors are calling up to share the ways in which they are contributing. It’s touching. 

Q. What do you see in the mid- to long-term? 

We need the next four to eight weeks to minimise the pain. The real work will start after that. We will have to rebuild the world economy step by step [...] using new sets of tools, people will probably be working more from home, strategies to minimise supply chain risk will come to the fore of the priority agenda of businesses. We will need new business models for this new world order to emerge.

Deepak Bagla is the CEO of Invest India. 

If you work in economic development or investment promotion and you want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.