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Asit Biswas

Interview with Asit K. Biswas

Asit K. Biswas answers A-Speakers’ questions on his favorite experiences, his speaking topics, and his biggest source of inspiration.

Messages people can take away from my presentations?

My presentations invariably look to the future, unless clients very specifically wish me to focus on the current problems and their possible solutions. The world population is increasing in developing countries but declining in many Western countries. What are the future problems that are likely to be faced by both developed and developing countries because of these changes? How can the world feed 9 billion people by 2050? Nearly 1.65 billion people will be from India, which around 2030 will overtake China as the most populous country. How do we ensure that people have access to adequate energy, food, water and other natural resources but simultaneously the environment is protected? What are the implications for the world because of globalization, information and communication revolutions, tremendous advances in scientific and technological developments, and migration within countries and between countries? How can we handle increasing urbanization and make sure that our cities are more attractive places to live than ever before in history?

As an advisor to some 19 governments, six heads of UN agencies, CEOs of several Fortune 500 companies and my extensive research interests, I have access to information which very few people, if any, have. Based on my work and research, I am constantly witnessing remarkable ways the problems are being solved in different parts of the world. For example, virtually no one knows that Phnom Penh, Cambodia, now has better performance indicators for water supply than London, Los Angeles or Paris, or that nearly 40 percent of food produced in developed and developing world are never eaten by people. In addition, nearly 1/3rd of electricity produced in India is never used by its people, or some 30 percent of water supplied to cities like London or in the US is lost through leakages. Yet, we have the knowledge, expertise and funds to solve such problems. If we can use the existing knowledge to solve them and replicate the best practices from both the developed and developing world, most of our current problems can be solved. We have every reason to be cautiously optimistic of the world’s future. The take away from my lectures often is that most of the current and foreseeable problems can be solved with existing knowledge and funds available. My lectures bring a message of hope based on facts, figures and objective analyses from different parts of the world.

 

How did you become a water, natural resources, environment and development speaker?

This has progressively evolved over five decades of work that I have conducted in most parts of the world. As a Professor in the world’s leading universities in four continents, I have first-hand experience from different parts of the world as to how countries and the people are solving, or not solving, their development problems and the reasons thereof.  When one becomes an Advisor to the Head of an UN Agency, Prime Minister of a country, or the CEO of a major multinational company, each problem becomes multi-sectoral, multi-dimensional and people-centric. They do not want theoretical discussions of the problems but rather how they can be solved cost-effectively in a timely manner. Thus, my lectures focus on solutions of what at first might appear to be intractable problems.

For example, if we want to solve a country’s food, energy, water or land use problems, we have to consider their interrelationships. Each of these issues affects the others and, in turn, is affected by the others. Sustainable solutions can only be found within a framework of these interrelationships. I learnt from one of my earlier mentors, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India that issues like water, food, energy or environment are not an end by themselves but rather each is an important means to an end which is to continually improve the quality of life of the people. I stared to frame national and global developments within this overall framework, and then show how most of the current national and global problems can be solved. Suddenly some three decades ago, I found that more and more organizations want me to speak at meetings. At present, I receive about one invitation each week to speak somewhere in the world. Unfortunately, I can only accept at most one speaking engagement every two months because of my academic research as well as my international advisory work with governments and multinational corporations.

 

How are your keynotes unique?

They are unique because they focus on complex global problems of the future and their solutions. I strongly believe that there is not harm in living in an ivory tower as long as it is not your only place of residence! My lectures thus invariably consider latest developments on the subject as well as knowledge to solve the problems of the real world. I never focus on theoretical solutions. With my extensive access to the corridors of power in national governments, corporate sector, and international organizations, I am privy to information which is seldom available to the public and even to the experts. My lectures thus invariably provide unique insights to the problems and their solutions, be it water, energy, food, environment, or their interrelationships.

 

Who or what is your biggest source of information?

I have always been a voracious reader of books and journals in all areas. In addition, I am a serious and objective observer of global problems and see how these problems are being solved. I get inspirations not only discussing problems with world leaders, Nobel Prize winners and leading thinkers but also with the people working in the field. Taken together, they become an impressive collection from which I continually receive inspiration and new ideas.

 

What type of audience would benefit from your keynotes?

My audience is extremely diverse, and comes from all sectors and disciplines. Each lecture I give is very specifically targeted to a specific audience, their interests and expectations. Thus, before accepting any specific speaking engagement, I request information on the likely composition of the audience, what are their backgrounds and interests and also their expectations. I then develop a specific framework for each talk. I have never given the same talk twice! Each lecture is carefully tailored for a very specific audience.

 

Have you had any unique experience as a keynote speaker?

The most satisfactory experience is that numerous times I have run into people who tell me how my talks have affected their lives. Many years later, they tell me that they changed their careers or work areas because of my talk. To me, this has been the most satisfactory experience.

 

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