Google creates $10bn 'digitisation fund' for India

Localisation and transformation plan wins prime ministerial approval, but as usual has as much upside for Google as for its generous hosts

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Google has unveiled a plan to invest $10bn in India over the next five to seven years.

The plan, which Google is calling its "India Digitisation Fund", will comprise "a mix of equity investments, partnerships, operations, infrastructure, and ecosystem investments" a Google post outlines.

The post also makes it plain the effort is not altruistic, as Google's first goal is "enabling affordable access to the internet and to information for every Indian, in their own language". Or in other words, making sure Indians can access Google services.

Next comes a promise to create "new products and services that are deeply relevant to India’s unique needs including consumer tech, education, health and agriculture." Which sounds like a cunning plan to build products customers want and need.

We're in cookie-cutter social justice stuff for goals three and four, which promise "empowering businesses of all sizes, especially SMBs, as they continue or embark on their digital transformation" and "leveraging technology and AI for social good, including digital literacy, outbreak predictions, and support for rural economies."

While the first two goals are clearly as beneficial to Google as they are to India, and the second two are anodyne, they are clearly welcomed at the highest levels because they were announced after Google CEO Sundar Pinhai spoke to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

Modi and Pichai even chatted about wider issues like data security and privacy, as well as the need to develop new remote working practices in a post-covid-19 world.

Left unsaid was that Google has strong competition in India, not least from Facebook which recently invested $5.7bn in fast-growing Indian mobile telco Jio Platforms and reportedly wants to use its stake to push WhatsApp as a payments tool to millions of subscribers.

India is justifiably famed for its IT services industry and has recently made attracting hardware manufacturing investments a priority to satisfy local demand, boost local industry and create exporting industries. That plan seems to have borne fruit as Foxconn and Samsung have invested billions into making more phones in the country, but mostly this involves assembling parts made elsewhere. Foxconn said yesterday it would invest a further $1bn into its Sriperumbur plant near Chennai, including adding 6,000 jobs, according to Reuters.

In recent weeks India has also tried to foster more local software businesses, creating one competition to find a home-grown Zoom clone and another for a range of apps including some of the agricultural services Google has promised to create.

That possible overlap seems to have escaped officials at the launch of Google's plan.

“Google is rising to the occasion by trying to invest a fairly substantial amount in India’s digital transformation,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s electronics and information technology minister. “I’m very happy that Google is recognising India’s digital innovation and the need to create further opportunity.” ®

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