Trust in India

The one frustration I have with our trust barometer is the length of time between fieldwork (November) and getting the results analyzed, tabulated and out there. Traditionally we launch the study at Davos in the 3rd week of January, but sometimes this means that events overtake us. That is definitely the case in India this year.

The big recent trust issue in India has to be ‘Radia-gate’, which saw taped and then leaked conversations between a top lobbyist and government officials appear to show that 2G mobile telecom licenses and even government appointments were, at the worst, up for sale and at best open to very direct influence. Eventually the media itself became embroiled in the allegations. And more recently we had 14 of India’s top business people pen an ‘Open Letter to our Leaders’ in which they pointed to corruption and to a “widespread GOVERNANCE DEFICIT almost in every sphere of national activity covering government, business and institutions” which they said was holding the country back.

All this on the back of a Commonwealth games that in the days leading up to the opening ceremony exposed many of these issues to a global audience perhaps not as used to the noisy cut and thrust of the way debate takes place in India. There is no way that open letter would have been written or published in, say, Singapore for exmple.

I have been visiting India for nearly 20 years now over which time there have been very many changes of course, but the expansion and therefore increasingly competitive nature of the media is one of the biggest. From one state broadcaster to 500 TV channels of which 125 are news based. And newspapers everywhere in all local languages and with vast circulations. And so the leaking of the Radia tapes was like dropping a match onto gasoline.

And into the middle of all this we started asking people who they trusted to ‘do what is right’! So with that very long prelude, here is what we found:

For a ‘developing’ economy India bucks the trend. Most developing economies with high GDP growth rates have very high levels of trust in the institutions (business, government, media and NGOs) that people seem to ascribe the credit for achieving that growth and the resulting rising living standards. Our composite trust scoring for all 23 markets we survey shows Brazil, Indonesia, China and Singapore among those leading the table. India, with similar economic success level is only on par with a global average that includes countries like Ireland where their institutions have overseen near national meltdown.
President Obama recently said that India was not emerging, it had emerged. In trust terms he has a point.

Business is the most trusted institution at 70% with NGOs second at 61%. Media scores 50% and government a low 44%. Government in India is the least trusted of the Asia Pac markets we study.

Media’s ‘modest’ 50% score may not be surprising to some (like the Tata group perhaps), but what is noticeable is that media has very high trust in markets where government has a strong role in editorial. Indonesia and China score highly and perhaps this is because in these markets the same pluralistic notions of media being separate and having a role of holding business and government to account is subsidiary to the idea of nation building. Either way, in India, media seems to garner little trust uplift for all the trouble it has caused business and government lately.

NGOs continued their recent trust trend with 61% trusting them to ‘do what is right’. Though they have some way to catch up with business yet, NGOs are an increasing force in India and business would do well to consider how they engage for competitive advantage for the long term.

On the business front, the bad news from the study for India’s export drive is that Indian headquartered businesses have a significant trust deficit in many markets. Only 39% of global opinion formers say they trust Indian headquartered businesses to do ‘what is right’.

India is not alone in this by any means, but Indian companies wishing to do deals or win contracts abroad need to recognize that they will often start off at a disadvantage unless they adequately explain who they are and how they operate. Business brand India could certainly do with a boost, something not helped by recent coverage of contractors being paid late for work done in connection with the Commonwealth games ( I-N-D-I-A meaning I’d Never Do It Again, according to some Australian businessmen lately).

Finally, some good news for banks and for Rattan Tata and other CEOs in India. You are well trusted.

In India 87% trust banks compared to Ireland where the score is 6%. And compare the trust in CEOs as credible source of information about their business in India at 78% (a whopping 20 point rise this year) to the poor US CEO who is only a credible source of information on his or her company to 34% of fellow Americans!

And the last bit of good news is for India’s huge and successful tech sector…trusted by 93% of Indian opinion formers.

Some great coverage on the Trust Baromter from the Mint and the Express.

The complete Edelman Trust Barometer for India via Slide Share (feel free to use the data but please be sure to quote the source).

The full release.

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