I was attending a meeting of the Third World Academy of Sciences in Trieste. Fredrico Mayor, the Director General of UNESCO made a interesting statement. He said ” Knowledge flows from north to south and wisdom flows from south to north”. I remember making a small correction; ‘knowledge’ may flow from north to south but ‘usable knowledge’ does not flow that easily from north to south, since usable knowledge has the potential to create wealth. No country, no corporation gives a competitive advantage to another, excepting at a price, India itself has realised this in the post liberalisation era.
When it come to technology or knowledge, in India we always considered the ‘mark’ or ‘buy’ options, which unfortunately got converted to ‘importing’ and ‘import substituting’ in the closed economy that we had. India will have to carefully consider not just the two options of ‘making’ or ‘buying’, but also ‘buying to make better’, ‘making to buy better’ and ‘making it together’. Let me explain what I mean. “Making’ has been a preferred course of action, but one cannot make everything. Also if one has to reach a high rate of economic growth, then other alternatives have to be sought. “Buying’ the knowledge embedded in a technology or a machinery is possible, when the owner is willing to part with it.
Smart countries like Japan opted for the third option of ‘buying to make better’ route. They acquired knowledge through licensing, absorbed it and developed superior products, which competed with the best in the world. We have also not followed the fourth option of ‘making to buy better’. Familiarity with a knowledge or a technology domain gives one an advantage in negotiation, strategic positioning and so on.
For a resource poor like India, ‘making it together’ is the preferred option in the long run. This means creating knowledge networks between all knowledge centres in the academic world, national laboratories, etc. and our productive sector. India need to put together a balanced strategy on these five options to become a technology leader.