TOP TIMES OF INDIA ARTICLE:
"The next 10 years would be dedicated as a decade of innovation" were the words used by the president of India to conclude her address to
Parliament on June 4. On June 7, US president Barack Obama, in his Cairo address, said: "Education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century." Between June 3 and 5, the first Global Innovation Leaders' Summit (I-20), fashioned on G-20, was held in San Francisco
. I was invited to represent India. I-20 accepted Norway's suggestion of introducing a Nobel Prize for innovation. So from Delhi to Cairo to San Francisco, the 'buzz' was around innovation.
This buzz has been around for a while though. For instance, the names of the ministries of science and technology, in Argentina, Australia, Spain, South Africa, Malaysia, UK, etc, have been changed with the word 'innovation' explicitly included. So why is innovation suddenly gaining such currency? Innovation-led growth, innovation-led recovery, innovation-led competitiveness all these are not mere slogans; they are a hard reality.
Innovation is all about converting ideas into new or improved products, processes and services. India's world ranking on innovation is low. According to a survey, among 130 countries, India is ranked only 41 in the innovation index. Even Malaysia (25) and China (37) are ahead of India. Singapore and Korea are in the top 10.
Look beyond statistics now. Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT, Madras, develops the wireless local loop technology. It gets implemented first in Madagascar, Angola and Brazil before it does so in India! The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative gave the challenge and funding for the creation of a low-cost computer to entrepreneur Vinay Deshpande, who created a mobile personal computer. But the first such PC will be produced this year in Malaysia and Brazil and not in India. Due to the limitations in India's patent laws, the phytopharmaceutical breakthrough medicine on psoriasis by an Indian company will be commercialised first in the West, not in India. And one can go on.
Innovation converts knowledge into wealth. We need to recognise that Saraswati and Lakshmi should coexist. George Whitesides from Harvard is the highest cited scientist in the world and the market capitalisation of his research-based companies is over $20 billion! Such academic entrepreneurship is missing in India. Indian genes express themselves in Silicon Valley. But not in Indus Valley. Why?
Why do we fail in completing the journey from an Indian mind to an Indian marketplace? Because India lacks a robust national innovation ecosystem. The essential elements of a powerful ecosystem comprise physical, intellectual and cultural constructs. Beyond mere research labs it includes idea incubators, technology parks, a conducive intellectual property rights regime, enlightened regulatory systems, academics who believe in not just 'publish or perish', but 'patent, publish and prosper', potent inventor-investor engagement, adventure capital and passionate innovation leaders.
The unique genes of almost every Indian for innovation became evident to me while chairing the National Innovation Foundation and other bodies. Even an ordinary Indian in a remote village can innovate this has been demonstrated in rural areas by the pioneering Shodh Yatras of IIM Ahmedabad's Anil Gupta. Research in typically Indian innovation has brought out how some Indians can make the seemingly impossible possible.
'Gandhian engineering' is getting 'more from less for more and more people, and not for the exclusive few'. India uniquely excels in such innovations. Tata's Nano car ($2,000), low-cost, advanced hepatitis-B vaccine (18 cents), cheapest mobile phone call (1 cent), etc, are brilliant examples.
Paradigm shifts are occurring in the Indian innovation landscape. Earlier, Indians created products that were new only to India. Now Tata's Nano is a product that is new to the world! Our pharma industry is now creating new molecules, not just copying them. Reliance grew through scale, scope and cost. Now it has embarked on innovation-led growth.
Such and other recent path-breaking events compel me to make five suggestions to kickstart the 'Indian decade of innovation'. First, change the 'ministry of science & technology' to 'ministry of science & innovation', boldly bringing the innovation agenda upfront. Second, create an ambitious national innovation policy, going way beyond our science and technology policy (2003).
Third, set up a powerful mechanism to implement this policy by creating a National Innovation Council comprising world-class innovation leaders. Make the council autonomous, empowered and accountable. Give it the mandate of putting India among the top 10 innovative nations within this 'decade of innovation'. Fourth, drive inclusive growth by launching an 'Indian Inclusive Innovation Initiative' based on the tenets of Gandhian engineering. Fifth, launch a national innovation movement like our freedom movement, so that innovation becomes every Indian's obsession.
Then the dream of the 21st century being innovative India's century will certainly come true.
The writer is president, Global Research Alliance.