Umesh Balwani, Local Pathways Fellow (Mumbai, India), UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network - Youth Initiative

Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra, the financial capital of India, and is a home to major corporate houses and financial institutions. Contributing nearly 15% to India’s GDP, Maharashtra is the most entrepreneurial state in India and is at the forefront of economic growth. For sustaining this growth, and creating an economy resilient to 21st-century global changes, there is an immense need to promote innovation-based entrepreneurship.

As a Local Pathways Fellow from Mumbai, India, I leveraged my presence within the Government of Maharashtra to conceptualize and draft the Maharashtra State Startup Policy 2018. The policy intends to catalyze the growth of an innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystem for socioeconomic development of the state and was approved by the state’s cabinet of ministers on 17th January 2018. It adopts a holistic approach that involves establishing a network of incubators, relaxing regulatory requirements for startups, cultivating entrepreneurial mindsets among school and college students, creating linkages between all concerned stakeholders and making strategic investments to foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the state.

Over the next five years, the policy is expected to lead to the creation of 10,000 startups, bring in investments to the tune of $800mn and generate direct and indirect employment opportunities for around half a million people in the state. This would help Maharashtra significantly progress on the SDG-8, which emphasizes the importance of meaningful employment and inclusive growth. The generation of livelihoods would further act as a foundation to achieve other SDG’s related to education, health, and quality of people’s lives. The innovative startups would also bring efficiencies in the way we produce and consume resources and thus reduce the trade-off between economic growth and environmental sustainability, making it possible to achieve both.

The Local Pathways Fellowship enhanced my understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals through a series of readings, courses, and webinars with experts, and brought in clarity on the relevance to startups to achieve the SDGs in my region. In fact, to convince the Hon’ Chief Minister of Maharashtra regarding the need of a dedicated policy for promoting startups, I painted a picture of the way different existing startups are already helping India progress on the SDGs. The Chief Minister’s Office subsequently provided me and my team a mandate to draft the state’s startup policy (click for details). The Local Pathways Fellowship strongly advocates involving relevant stakeholders before locking down any project roadmap, and we reached out to more than 100 stakeholders from the ecosystem like startups, incubators, investors, industry associations and think tanks to have their ideas and perspectives before finalizing the policy. It was wonderful to interact with fellows from other cities across the world around the year and understand the progress on SDG’s relevant to my area of interest in other regions of the world.

The most exciting part of the fellowship was getting an opportunity to present my work at the World Urban Forum at Kuala Lumpur, and to finally meet some of the fellows and the SDSN team in person and hear about their initiatives and experiences. Being an urban development and sustainability enthusiast, it was a unique experience to participate in worlds’ biggest conference on Sustainable Urban Development and to participate in an array of informative sessions, visit the exhibitions and develop meaningful professional networks with experts from UN-Habitat, WRI, Green Climate Fund and the likes. Last but not the least, it was one of an experience to visit the top of the Petronas Tower and have a panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur city.


Umesh Balwani

Umesh Balwani