Indian Decade of Innovation (2010-2020): Agenda and the Action

The Field Marshal S.H.E.J. Manekshaw Memorial Lecture
March 9, 2010
Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies

Saluting Sam Manekshaw

I feel greatly honoured that I have been invited to give a memorial lecture named after one of the greatest sons of India, Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Jamshedji Manekshaw.

When the President of India conferred upon Sam Manekshaw the rank of Field Marshal on 1 January, 1973, he became the first of the only two Indian Army Generals to receive this honour.

Sam Manekshaw was a great strategist and a motivator;  the historical Indo-Pak war of 1971, which led to the birth of Bangladesh was a testimony to it.  I was teaching in UK at the time of this war.  I remember how engaged I was in following the war, and how proud I felt as an Indian at the time, even at a distance of thousands of miles!

Sam Manekshaw was courage personified.  During the 1971 war, when he met an injured soldier in an army hospital, who was hit with three bullets, he said ‘You received these at this age; when I was your age, I received nine bullets and look today, I am the Commander in Chief of the Indian Army’.

But to me. Field Marshal Manekshaw was a great innovator too.  What is innovation?  It is all about doing things differently, which can make a huge difference.  Here is an example of Sam Manekshaw’s innovation.

During the 1962 War, he sent a box containing bangles and a letter saying, “If your men do not wish to fight, this is the best medal you can wear.” This was sent to the Commanding Officer of a battalion who did not want to fight the Chinese. However, in the coming weeks the Commanding Officer and his battalion battled valiantly conducted many successful operations against China. When Manekshaw learned about this, he sent a letter back to the Commanding Officer saying “Please send back the box containing bangles, as this is not for you and your men.”  This way of motivation is truly innovative.

Motivation for this address

Innovation is the theme of my lecture too today.  The motivation for this lecture on Innovation begins with the speech of our President in her address to the parliament on the 4th June 2009.  This speech ended with a statement that the next 10 years would be dedicated in India as a “Decade of Innovation”.

The Prime Minister championed this call and made a formal announcement.  In his speech at the Indian Science Congress on 3rd January 2010 in Trivandrum, he announced that the decade of 2010-2020 will be the decade of innovation.

So 2010-2020, ladies and gentlemen, is the Indian decade of innovation.

Persistent Appeal on Innovative India

I remember receiving the JRD Corporate Leadership Award on 21 February 1999 at the hands of the then Hon’ble Vice President of India.  In winning this award, I succeeded my friend Narayana Murthy (Infosys) and I was followed by Premji (WIPRO).  So this was an award meant for industrialists.  Giving it to a scientist was itself an innovation! But after all, innovation is all about doing things differently.

I had ended my award lecture by stating

“Finally, 1999 should be the year, where we should launch a powerful national innovation movement to propel us into the next millennium. It is only through the process of  innovation that knowledge can be converted into wealth and social good. Through this movement, every citizen, every constituent of India must become an innovator. The I in India, should not stand for imitation and inhibition, it must stand for innovation. The I in IIT must stand for innovation. The I in industry, the I in CSIR must stand for innovation. The I in every individual Indian must stand for innovation. It is only this innovative India that will signal to the rest of the world, that we are not a hesitant nation, unsure of our place in the new global order, but a confident one, that is raring to go and be a leader in the comity of nations”.

So I am personally delighted that the decade of innovation (2010-2020) has been formally announced.  There is no question now that the Indian innovation movement will just take on now.

But it is not India alone, it is the whole world that is buzzing with the word ‘innovation’.

Innovation : A Buzz Word

European Union (EU) had declared 2009 as the year of creativity and innovation.  On June 7th last year,  US President Obama, in his Cairo address, said ‘education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century’.  During 2-5 June, 2009 the first Global Innovation Leaders Summit (I-20), fashioned on G-20, was held in San Fransisco.  I was invited to represent India.  I-20 accepted Norway’s suggestion of introducing a Nobel Prize for innovation.  So ‘innovation’ dominated the agenda from New Delhi to Trivandrum and Cairo to San Fransisco. Why?

Integration of Innovation

Look at the way science, technology and innovation is getting integrated around the world.  The ministries in Denmark and Malaysia are named as ‘Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation’.  The ministry in Spain is ‘Ministry of Science & Innovation’
The Australians have brought innovation upfront too.  Their Ministry is ‘Ministry of Innovation, Industry, Science & Research’.  Some countries have further emphasized even ‘productive innovation’.  Thus Argentina’s ministry is ‘Ministry of Science, Technology & Productive Innovation’.

Look at the country that gave the world industrial revolution and over 50 Nobel Laureates,  namely United Kingdom (UK).  What has it done?  Rt Hon Lord Drayson is a State Minister of Science & Innovation in UK, not just ‘Science and Technology’.  So why do we see this urgency to bring innovation into the consciousness of scientists and technologists?

Why innovation?

Why is innovation suddenly gaining such a currency? Innovation Led Growth, Innovation Led Recovery, Innovation Led Competitiveness are not mere slogans, they are a hard reality.  The power of innovation to create social and economic  transformation has been well recognized.

Innovation is all about completing the journey from a ‘concept to commercialisation’ or ‘concept to social good’.  It is about making things happen in the field.

Innovations are required to develop new products, services, markets, reduce costs, improve efficiency, productivity, performance, quality, etc.  Innovations are the key to growth, prosperity  & problem solving world over.

In the last 50 years Innovations  have played significant role in improving our health, education, transport, communication, infrastructures, energy, governance.  Bill Gates, the richest man in the world is a shining example of wealth creation through innovation..

At the same time there are serious global challenges related to poverty, hunger, environment at degradation, violence, wars, security, etc. They can be solved by innovative solutions alone.

India has in multiple challenges in terms of female literacy infant  mortality, water & sanitation, food & nutrition, alternative  energy, droughts & floods, security & safety.  It is striving to get education for all and health for all.  All these require innovative solutions, not just incremental but sometimes even disruptive too considering the size and complexities of India.

But what is innovation?

The term ‘innovation’ itself has ambiguities and has wide variation in its use (Edquista, 1997, p.10). Nelson and Rosenbergb (1993) and Carlsson and Stankiewiczc (1995) adopt definition centered on technological innovations, while Lundvalld (1992a) includes non-technological innovations, including institutional innovations. In his analysis of the Japanese innovation system, Freemane (1988) emphasized role of social and educational innovations (pp. 339-41). Carlsson and Stankiewiczf (1995), extended Dosi’sg (1988) definition of innovation to include the development of new organizational set-ups (p.28).

A simple definition of innovation ascribed to Schumpeter is ‘Innovation is a successful exploitation of a new idea’.  A  more elaborate definition is ‘Innovation is a process that translates knowledge into economic growth and social well being.  It emphasizes a series of scientific, technological, organizational, financial and commercial activities’.

How is India doing in innovation?  Not very well, I am afraid as far as its ranking goes.

Innovation is all about converting ideas into new or improved products, processes and services. It is about taking inventions to marketplace. India’s world ranking on innovation is low.  WEF has produced an innovation capacity index for 134 countries in 2008.  The ranking is India (35), as against Brazil (27), China (25), UK (14), South Korea (9), USA (6) and Japan (2).

Why did India slip?

Centuries ago, countries like India, China were well advanced in technology and innovation with a significant share of world’s GDP.

For instance, in the case of India, since the Indus Valley Civilisation of about 5000 years ago,  innovation  has been the  part of the Indian culture, and the basis of its civilization. India’s prominent innovations included remarkable town planning, the use of standardized burnt bricks for dwelling houses and interlinked drainage system.  It included wheel-turned ceramics and solid-wheeled carts. The dockyard at Lothal is regarded as the largest maritime structure ever built by a bronze-age community.  The discovery of zero and the decimal-place value system by Indians dates back to the Vedic. Later pioneering work in algebra, trigonometry and geometry deserves a mention.

The Indian innovations in  medicine not only aimed at the cure of diseases but  more importantly, on  the preservation of health.  The system of Ayurveda as well as advanced innovations in surgery including laparotomy, lithotomy and plastic surgery deserve a mention. The iron pillar at Delhi, which has remained rust free to-date testifies to the achievements in metallurgy some 1500 years ago.

Thus that Indian civilization was characterized by scientific thought, capabilities and techniques, at levels  far more advanced than others. However, when the scientific and industrial revolutions took place in the west, as exemplified in the book,  there was a period of stagnation in India because of a highly feudalistic structure. Lack of development over this period was a result of a hierarchical approach, irrational subjective thinking, and build up of superstitions and superficial ritualism. The earlier great traditions were allowed to decay.  It was in this state of its society that India came under colonial domination.

And why and how did others advance?

Let us look at the way the other nations were doing.  Technological innovation was at the heart of the leadership of Britain in the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and middle of 19th century. This was due to ‘ecology’ of a number of factors. The technological and economic gap Britain opened up with other countries was based on the invention of the steam engine and a slew of related product and process innovations and institutional frameworks.

The development of factory system which hadn’t existed before this time couldn’t have developed without better transportation which couldn’t have existed without the growth of the iron industry, which couldn’t have grown without steam engines. These developments also coincided with decline of feudalism that freed farm labor for industrial jobs and the guild system that gave freedom to setting up new businesses. At the time, the social, political, and legal conditions were particularly favorable to change. Property rights, such as patents on mechanical improvements, were well established. The stable rule of law in Britain meant earnings were safer, the government’s free-market approach permitted ideas to flourish with little interference or regulation.

Let us move to recent times.  In the last 50 years several major scalable innovations originated in the US.  These included the transistor, laser, fiber optics, micro processor,    windows,  genetics.  Indeed US provided the ecosystem to breed ideas by leveraging large talent pool, providing risk capital, innovative government funding, providing autonomy, opening markets, promoting flexibility, rule of law, creating conducive IP framework etc. Silicon Valley has been the source of many innovations.

Five point agenda for Indian Decade of Innovation (2010-2020)

The five point agenda for the Indian Decade of Innovation should be:

1.    Create a 21st Century National Innovation Ecosystem
2.    Launch an Inclusive Innovation Initiative (I3(1) Challenge)
3.    Build Innovative Indian Institutions (I3(2) Challenge)
4.    Build Innovative Indian Industry (I3(3) Challenge)
5.    Build Innovative Indian Minds as well as Mindsets

Agenda 1 : Create a 21st Century Natinal Innovation Ecosystem

We lack a robust national innovation ecosystem.  Just look at these examples.  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! CSIR’s New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative gave the challenge and funding for the creation of a low cost computer to Vinay Deshpande of Encore.  He created Mobilis, a mobile personal computer.   But the first Mobilis 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 Piramal Life Sciences will be commercialized first in the west, not in India.  And one can go on.

Why do we fail in completing the journey from an Indian mind to an Indian market place?  Because India lacks a powerful national innovation ecosystem.  The essential elements of a powerful ecosystem comprises physical, intellectual and cultural constructs.  Beyond mere research labs it includes idea incubators, technology parks,  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,  and passionate innovation leaders.

The essential elements of ecosystems also involve organizational autonomy & flexibility, Institutional integrity, risk capital, web access, utility & tools, multi disciplinary collaborations, incentivized young talent engagement with , diaspora  & global – talent innovative media and outreach programs.

Innovation infrastructure in the form of powerful cyber connectivity has to be built.  It can link billions of minds together.  Web/Internet offers unprecedented  opportunities    related to openness, accessibility, networking  and  connectivity.  It promotes  democratization and decentralization wireless  adds  mobility & flexibility web  provides video presence & virtual reality search engines, OSP, OCW, Vlabs, etc. are new tools    to train & engage the young. Imagine the power of 1 billion connected people vs. 1 billion unconnected people.

The role of the Government will be to drive innovation through skills and education policy, create systems of innovation in public service delivery, create a roadmaps for  innovation, facilitate connections between universities, manufacturers, users and regulators, fund &  drive high quality research & business innovations, bring  appropriate strategic research to consumer market, promote innovative policies  & places, facilitate exchange of innovations between  public and private and finally,  initiate nation wide innovation movement.

First and foremost, for a robust national innovation ecosystem, we require researchers.  The researchers in R&D per million people in 2006 were – India (119),  China (715), South Korea (3723), US (4628) and Japan (5300).  We need to increase our numbers by an order of magnitude.   Both supply and demand need to increase.  The government is trying to increase the supply by creating new Indian Institutes of Sciences, Education and Research, new IITs, new Central Universities, etc., which is very laudable.  One million scholarships through DST’s INSPIRE programme for young students is an excellent beginning to get the best young minds to turn to science. We need to do even more.

A robust innovation ecosystem means knowledge partnership between industry and academia. WEF 2008 report shows that in terms of industry-academia interaction, the ranking is India (45), as against China (23), Japan (21), South Korea (12), UK (9) and USA (1).   India has a long way to go  in creating organic and vibrant linkages.

Agenda 2 : Launch an Inclusive Innovation Initiative (I3(1) Challenge)

The President, in the address to the parliament, has stated that the next 10 years would be dedicated as a “Decade of Innovation”.  The Government, has committed itself to “inclusive growth”.  These two directional thrusts should be combined to embark on “innovation led inclusive growth” or in short “inclusive innovation”.  The time is  opportune to announce an “Inclusive Innovation Initiative” (I3) initiative”.

Innovation led inclusive growth has to focus on “including” hundreds of millions of resource poor Indians, who are excluded from access to the essential necessities of life.  The challenge is to deliver high performance products, processes and services at a ultra low price for resource poor people, from housing to transport and from medicines to computers.

Inclusive innovation will mean `getting more from less for more and more people’  This means the design and development of products and services with more performance,  from less material, less cost, less time, less environmental pollution and for the benefit of not just a privileged few but for more and more people on this planet; in fact all 4 billion people, whose income levels are less than 2 dollars a day.

Corporates so far worked hard to get  more (productivity) from less resource (human, physical, financial capital) for more (profit, share holder value).  But now they must also embrace Inclusive innovation by getting more (performance) for less (cost) for more and more (people).

When it came to products and services, “high price – high performance” was reserved for the rich.  Low price – low performance was, of course, for the resource-poor.   Can we change this price-performance envelope to say that we will build “low price – high performance” for the resource poor?  Yes, we can.

An excellent example of inclusive innovation is the Indian car ‘Nano’.  Tata’s people’s car – Nano is the most inexpensive car ($ 2000) in the world with a exceptional fuel efficiency and emission standards  and yet a vehicle with amazing comfort.  This means ‘more from less’ – but its affordable price also means Nano is designed for ‘for more and more people’ and not exclusive few.

Such innovations should not just be `affordable’ but `extremely affordable’. For achieving this, one cannot rely on just `incremental innovation’ but `extreme innovation’ or `disruptive innovation’.  Then only can they be truly inclusive.

Here are some illustrations of truly inclusive innovations.

Can we make a laptop costing $ 2000 available at a price that is 20 times less? Can we make a Hepatitis-B vaccine costing $ 20 per dose available at 40 times less? Can we make a psoriasis treatment costing $ 20,000 available at 200 times less? Can we make a comfortable, safe and fuel efficient car available, not at $ 20,000, but at ten times less?  Can we make an artificial foot costing $ 10,000, made available at 300 times less?  Can we make a high quality cataract eye surgery made available, not at $ 3000 but at 100 times less?

All this looks impossible. But it has been made possible. And one is proud to say, all this has been done in India.

These developments, however, have been episodic, many times made possible  by individual initiatives. Can Government play a key role in institutionalizing this?

Furthermore, inclusive innovation is not only innovation done for the resource poor people but by the resource poor people also.

As we shall show later, the innovation done in `laboratories of life’ by people of India have been recognized by SRISTI and Honey Bee Network,  National Innovation Foundation, for a number of years now. But we have failed to use these on large scale due to lack of funding by the Government as well as ineffective innovation chain with a lack of end to end linkages.

The drivers of inclusive innovation motivated by the Government will be:
•    Targeted funding
•    Institutional mandates to drive the  `Indian inclusive innovation’ agenda
•    Suitably designed incentivisation (including fiscal) for all stake holders
•    Government procurement and price preference on products meeting the `inclusive innovation’ mandate
•    Conducive policy frameworks to promote `Indian inclusive innovation’.

The funding should be targeted for the following activities
– Grand challenges : Set ambitious targets in diverse areas and invite competitive bids from across the nation (e.g. ultra low cost rural refrigerator,
ultra low cost rural electrification, ultra low cost internet access, extremely affordable drugs, ultra low cost vaccines and diagnostics, etc.)
– Create special instruments to provide early stage financing to support innovative breakthroughs in `inclusive innovation’
– Prototyping, scaling up and wide scale deployment of proven technologies (including grass root innovations), belonging to the `inclusive innovation’
– High Technology Acquisition for Inclusion: acquiring a cluster of unencumbered patents or technology at an early state and developing these further
for `inclusive innovation’.
– Creation of Inclusive Innovation Zones (IIIs) on the lines of SEZs, where the Government will give special considerations for facilitating the “less” part
of the “more from less for more”.

Integrative Innovation as a part of Inclusive Innovation

All of us need to recognize that scientific knowledge generated in formal laboratories is not the only knowledge system.  There is knowledge generated in the ‘laboratories of life’ by people over centuries. Many societies in the developing world, like India, have nurtured and refined systems of knowledge of their own, relating to such diverse domains as geology, ecology, botany, agriculture, physiology and health.

We must build a bridge between the formal and informal systems of innovation including the traditional knowledge, which has been built over several centuries. How do we integrate the two?

To encourage communities, it is necessary to scout, support, spawn and scale up the green grass root innovation.  This is exactly what India’s National Innovation Foundation does, which I have the privilege to chair.  But the real driving force is the Vice Chair Prof. Anil Gupta of Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad), who pioneered the grassroot innovation movement in India.  His “shodhyatras” in villages, where he has covered thousands of kilometers have shown to us the power of the innovative minds in our villages.  But now we need to move forward to generate employment and use natural resources sustainably through linking of innovation, enterprise and investment.  This requires building up adequate linkages with modern science and technology and market research institutions.

We need to look at not national laboratories but ‘nation as a laboratory’.  India’s 1 billion people not only have 1 billion mouths but 1 billion minds, who are capable of innovating.

National Innovation Foundation (NIF) was set up to acknowledge the innovations done by  grass root innovators, be they farmers, slum dwellers, artisans, school dropouts and so on.  To begin with, in the first year, there were less than one thousand entries.    When our ex-President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam gave away the prizes many of them were illiterate or semi-literates. The winners included an eighth standard dropout, who developed a complex robot. The winners included a farmer, who developed a cardamom variety, which today has over 80% share of the market in Kerala.  The winners included again an illiterate individual, who had developed a disease resistant pigeon pea variety, which became a big winner.  My friends, these disadvantaged individuals had shown to us as to what they can do by working in laboratories of life by using their powers of observation, analysis and synthesis.  It is time that we sing a song for these heroes and salute this part of India, which is as vast as it is innovative.

The fifth national campaign of National Innovation Foundation last year created a new benchmark in the field of knowledge economy.  Nowhere in the world had any organization tried to map the mid of a civilizational society like India as had been attempted by National Innovation Foundation.  It crossed the mark of 100,000 ideas, innovations and traditional practices from over 545 districts.  It was an eloquent proof, if a proof indeed was needed, that masses in India are creative and communities and individuals possess tremendous knowledge that is worthy of being valorized.  On 18th of November, 2009, the present Hon’ble President of India gave away the awards to the winners in the fifth national campaign.  This shows the importance the first citizen of the country is giving to grass root innovators.

What is important is that the scientific community must recognize the importance of such knowledge systems.  I tried an experiment in Pune during the Indian Science Congress in January 2000.  As President of the Science Congress, I said let this Science Congress be ‘knowledge congress’.  Let it be ‘people’s congress’.  We will show that we value people’s knowledge.  We had several grass root innovators participate in our science exhibition.  They demonstrated their technologies.  None of them spoke English.  We had a session, where they made a presentation on their technologies in local languages to around 2000 scientists.  They stood on the same platform from which the Nobel Laureates spoke.  I must say that they got a bigger applause than even the Nobel Laureates.  I believe the scientists, for the first time, realised the power of innovation that takes place in the field.  They also saw the innovative and creative abilities of those, who did not have formal education.

Looking at nation as an innovation  laboratory itself, India is a land of ideas.  And ideas can get generated from anywhere at any age.  The young are particularly full of ideas.

Integrating Innovative Young Minds

Look at the following facts.  Six lakh technology students spend six months of the final year in working on technology projects.  This means over 3 million human months of our yuvashakti being spent on solving real life problems.  For the first time, we have an access to the magnificent outcome of this great endeavour.

The inspirational leadership of Prof. Anil Gupta was responsible for creating  This now has over 100,000 technology projects.  In just six months, the minds of over 3 lakh students have been mapped.  This impossible looking feat has been achieved due to the extraordinary energy of Hiranmay Mahanta and his team of volunteers of SVNIT Surat.  The challenge is to take this grand initiative forward.  What do we need to do?

First, it is not the power of ideas alone, but the power of execution that is going to matter.  Someone has designed a strategy for an active control of space launch vehicles in the presence of fuel slosh.  Should not Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) be looking at this?  Someone has designed a Black Box for vehicles, which may get involved in an accident.  Should not our auto manufacturers be looking at it?  So let us create such knowledge and information sharing networks.

Second, we have to concentrate this unique “yuvashakti” on Indian problems that “need” to be solved rather than those that “can” be solved.  We should ignite these young minds with India’s grand challenges.  How do we partner with the engineering colleges to make the youth focus on these grand challenges?

Third, we must link 100,000 MSME and the informal sector enterprises, who are in search of solutions to their problems with these databases.

Fourth, our national laboratory systems as well as agencies such as Department of Science & Technology (DST) and Department of Scientific & Industrial Research (DSIR), must put their weight behind these ideas.

Fifth, there are hundreds of eminent Fellows of our national academies of science and engineering.  They must all join in as mentors by registering on Their mentoring in their individual domains of expertise will raise the quality and be truly motivating for these young innovators.

The concept of ‘Nation as an Innovation Laboratory’ is not just a fanciful dream.  As I have shown in this convocation address, it is a grand reality.  Let us all come together in a real ‘Team India’ fashion.  Let us all make twenty first century as India’s century by truly exploring the power of the Indian mind to its full potential.

Agenda 3 : Create Innovative Indian Institutions (I3(2) Challenge)

55% of Indian population is less than 25 years old. That is a great news, because these Indians are either already born or about to be born. Youth represents the national strength, vitality and vigour. Yuvashakti is the real Shakti of the nation. If properly moulded, the youth can become the champion of our culture, custodian of our national pride and a trustee of the freedom of the country.   But, the process of such moulding requires the innovative education at an early age. Are our education systems geared to meet this challenge of creating a young innovative India today?  I am afraid, not.  As an illustration, let me specifically focus on science education.

The way science is taught in our schools will determine as to whether or not we will have a society, which is capable of developing and absorbing technological innovations creatively as well as giving a scientific foundation to our cultural, political and economic fabric.

There are three crises that we face today. The first is that young minds are not turning to science, to an extent that some science departments are getting closed down. The second is that those who turn to science to not stay in science. The third is in science education itself. We find that our education has not been child centred, it is centred around text books, rigid unimaginative curricula, ill designed class room teaching and an outdated examination system.  An Indian child is forced to learn by rote and its individuality and imaginativeness  is lost.

We have to remould the school science education to the mode of ‘learning by discovery’ and ‘learning by doing’ in contrast to the prevailing ‘learning by rote’ method. The child has to become an active participant in the process of learning science.  Rather than memorising the products of science, the child needs to understand and appreciate the beautiful process of science. The curricula must relate closely to science and technology experiences of everyday life. Our students must not only love science but they must live science. To achieve this, we must create of a local content in the education, through exposure to local flora and fauna, local water and soil, local socio-economic issues, local heritage, etc. This simple initiative can give a whole range of new dimension to the teaching of botany, chemistry, history, etc.

The IT revolution will impinge on all aspects of our life, including education. New paradigm shifts will take place in both teaching and learning. Teaching hitherto meant speaking and learning meant listening.  We were all confined in the four walls of a classroom, where the teacher taught and we as students listened. Internet has already made it possible to take education to the home of the learners, with self-learning programmes with the creative use of multi-media.

Education can be potentially brought to home, including to those, who have been unreached so far. The impact of creating a content in local languages will be phenomenal in increasing the spread. Customised content creation will open up new challenges for the content industry.

Innovative teaching and learning systems must also be backed up by innovative evaluation systems.  We have always had batch processing in our examinations. All of us appeared for the examination at the same time and assessed our capacity annually as a ritual. No more so, thanks to IT. Innovative evaluation systems, which are continuous and individually centred, will emerge. A child that acquires intellectual maturity several years earlier will stand apart and we will have the challenge of putting it on a faster career progression path.

Our scientific research itself must become more innovative.  For this, I perceive five grand challenges.

The Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman had famously said, ‘the difficulty with science is often not with the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones. A certain amount of irreverence is essential for creative pursuit in science.’

The first grand challenge before Indian science is that of building some irreverence. Our students are too reverent. Our existing hierarchical structures kill irreverence. Promoting irreverence means building the questioning attitude. It means education systems that do not have the rigid unimaginative curricula, it means replacing ‘learning by rote’ by ‘learning by doing’ and to do away with the examination systems with single correct answers.

More often than not, in our systems, paper becomes more important than people. Bureaucracy overrides meritocracy. Risk taking innovators are shot. Decision making time cycles are longer than the product life cycles. Therefore, the second grand challenge is that of creating an ‘innovation ecosystem’, in which questioning attitudes and healthy irreverence can grow.

The third grand challenge is of creating truly innovative scientists, who see what everyone else sees but think of what no one else thinks. The 2005 Nobel Prize winners for medicine, Warren and Marshall, for instance, were such innovators. Everyone had thought that the cause of gastritis inflammation and stomach ulceration is excessive acid secretion due to irregularities in diet and lifestyle. Warren & Marshall postulated that the causative agent was, a bacterium called Heliobacter pylori. They were ridiculed but they stuck to their guns. They saw what the others did not see. And they were proved right.

The fourth grand challenge is the ability to pose, rather than merely solve, big problems. For example, James Watson felt sure that it was going to be possible to discover the molecular nature of the gene and worked hard at it — even to such an extent that he was fired from the Rockefeller Fellowship that he had. Einstein, when he was 15 years old, asked himself what would the world look like if [he] were moving with the velocity of light. This big question led finally to his special theory of relativity.

The fifth grand challenge is to create new mechanisms by which out of the box thinking will be triggered in Indian science. In the early nineties, when I was the Director of the National Chemical Laboratory, we tried to promote this by creating a small “kite flying fund”, where an out of the box idea with even a one in one thousand chance of success of would be supported. Bold thinking was applauded and failure was not punished. The result was remarkable ‘free thinking’ that gave us a quite a few breakthroughs.

Agenda 4 : Create Innovative Indian Industry (I3(3) Challenge)

India’s first freedom came in 1947, as a political freedom. India’s second freedom, however, came only in 1991 when the Indian economy was liberated and opened up. Prior to that time, huge tariff barriers protected Indian industry. There was no incentive for R&D since there was no competition in the marketplace. It was not a buyer’s market; it was a seller’s market.  After 1991, however, the situation changed dramatically. Competition moved in and is now here to stay.

Its influence is dramatic and can be illustrated by the one example as being typical of the change, breakthrough by India’s leading industrial enterprise. In 1978, J.R.D. Tata, head of Tata Group, said ‘‘If I was allowed to make a car, I would have been as good at it as TELCO (a Tata company) was in trucks.’’ But he was not allowed to make a car. It was not until post-liberalized India (1993) that Tata was allowed to make cars. The first was Indica, a totally indigenous Indian car, which created its own niche in the world market.

On 10 January 2008, Ratan Tata launched ‘‘the people’s car,’’ a one lakh car named Nano. This is heralded as a game changer.  We were used to creating products that were first to India.  Nano is a product that is first to the world.  If the confidence inspired by the success of Indica had not been there,  Ratan Tata would not have followed with Nano.

The Indian drug and pharmaceutical industry has gone through a similar process. Indian IP laws were designed in such a way that only process patents were accepted, but product patents were not. In response, the Indian industry created a strong base by copying new molecules introduced in the Western world. This was perfectly legitimate, but it also meant  that there was no drive to create new molecules.

On 1 January 2005, in fulfillment of its TRIPS obligation, Indian IP laws were changed, and product patents became acceptable. In anticipation of the change, the drug/pharmaceutical industry began investing heavily in innovation. Research portfolios changed from innovative process chemistry to innovative product development, including developing new molecules and new drug delivery systems. Investment in R&D, which had hovered around 1–3% of sales turnover, began to climb, in some cases reaching 10–15%.

Indian industry is also demonstrating that it can move India into global leadership.  Take just one example.  In the prestigious SC007 conference held in 2007, the EKA supercomputer developed by Tata’s Computer Research Laboratory (CRL) was judged to be the fastest in Asia and fourth fastest in the world.

What is significant is that the development of supercomputers was driven by government laboratories in the spirit of techno-nationalism, whereas a private-sector player has now entered the race. Second, the entire CRL facility was set up for the relatively small cost of $30 million. An Indian enterprise took advantage of India’s high intellectual capital per dollar and gained a competitive advantage.

This success has given rise to India’s ambition to enter the petaflops competition. Twenty years ago, in 1987, the question was: ‘‘Can India develop a supercomputer?’’ The answer given then was an emphatic yes! Now the question is: ‘‘Can India build a petaflop supercomputer along with US and Japan?’’ The current positive mood augurs well for India taking a leadership position.

But we have to look beyond the Tatas, the Birlas and the Ambanis.  Can we not create future Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis by technoproneurs arising from our academic institutions as well as from the professionals from the societies?  Yes we can.  Just take the sector of biotech and pharma.  We have seen the rise of Anji Reddy, who created Reddy Laboratories, Kiran Mazumdar, who created Biocon, Varaprasad Reddy, who created Shantha Biotech, and so on.  Can we create the future Reedys, Mazumdars academia?  Can we create academic technopreneurs, just as they have done from the Stanfords, MITs, Caltechs and Harvards of this world. Yes, we can.

The first challenge is to recognize that Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge) and Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) should coexist. Let us learn from scientists like George  Whitesides of Harvard University.  He shows to us as to how to monetise work, while remaining a leader in science. For instance, Whitesides, who is the highest cited scientist in the world has co-founded over a dozen companies (including Genzyme, GelTex, Theravance, etc., which have a combined market capitalisation of over $30 billion!

Academic researchers in India should learn from Nobel Laureates such as Barry Sharpless, the 2001 Noble Laureate in chemistry too.  While doing world class science, he has to his credit   the highest number of patents.

I have analysed data through CSIR’s Unit for Research and  development of Information Products. I found that some Japanese companies had brought out patents based on the original work done by some leading Indian scientists after their papers had appeared.

Why should a poor country like India allow its scientists to publish those research papers, from which someone else creates patents?  We should make sure that the journey from mind to marketplace takes place in India.  Then our Saraswati will not create Lakshmi elsewhere.  It will do so here itself.

Agenda 5 : Build Innovative Indian Minds as well as Mindsets

The national innovation ecosystem gets hurt when there are  obstacles to innovation  due to bureaucratic hurdles, rigid rather than enlightened regulatory frameworks, non-competitive and monopolistic practices, etc.  Our research institutes lack autonomy, flexibility and freedom to operate today.  Their governance structures needs to change dramatically.  Government departments and ministries dealing with tax, customs, IP laws, standards, etc.  can play a major role in helping innovation ecosystem improve.  All this requires that we have to create conditions by which an innovative Indian mind always wins over an inhibitive Indian mindset.

Innovation is not all about the power of ideas.  Innovation is all about an executed idea.  This execution has been the weakness of the Indian innovation system.  Therefore, an innovative Indian mind can create a new technological innovation.  But an inhibiting Indian mindset can kill that innovation.  This is best exemplified by an anecdote.

India has a huge problem of adult illiteracy. With a few hundred million illiterates, it will take over 15 to 20 years to make the entire country literate. Can we do it in 5 years? Yes, only new technology can do it. Tata Consultancy Services, under the leadership of F.C. Kohli recognized as the grandfather of Indian IT industry, developed a tool called Computer Based Functional Literacy (CBFL) which could make an illiterate individual read in six to eight weeks. This tool has been well tested in terms of its effectiveness.

The cost of making an individual  literate through CBFL is only Rs 100, since its application  is based on  the use of  a discarded old computers, which are made available free. Kohli imported 10,000 computers that were a wellwisher of CBFL, who had also paid the shipping charges. When the computers landed in India, the issue of   customs duty came up. The government official dealing with the case saw the rule book and ruled that no customs duty exemption was possible. Why? Because the rule book showed that the customs duty exemption was available when old computers were imported for ‘education’  Since the word ‘literacy’ did not appear in the rule book and only the word ‘education’ appeared, no duty exemption was allowable for computers imported for the purpose of illiteracy removal!

So here is the battle of the Indian mind vs the Indian mindset. An Indian mind created an innovative technological tool by which India could become literate within five years. The Indian mindset did its best to see that we remained where we were.
The above is a small illustration of a problem of the development of innovative mind as well as innovative mindset. But the dimensions of the real problem are much bigger and it is best illustrated by looking at the issue of civil servants.

The report of the Civil Services Examination Review Committee (October 2001), which was set up by the UPSC observed as follows.

“It is very crucial to understand what happens to the values and integrity, motivation and other qualities assessed at the time of recruitment after 10 years and 20 years of service. It is said that initially many of the officers have positive values, but they change during the course of service. When they appear before the UPSC interview boards, most of the candidates are idealistic, bright, committed and sincere. However, once they join the service, within a period of time they seem to become cynical, negative and possibly even corrupt. Even the most outstanding officers feel frustrated after their idealism has been dimmed by the systemic realities. Some of them succumb to pressures easily. Therefore, a deeper insight into the systemic mechanism is required to ascertain the causes affecting this change and take remedial action”.

We should not expect that mere administrative changes will bring about the mindset changes as well. A prerequisite to the success of  any reforms is directly linked to the mindset changes (behavior and value perception) that must take place simultaneously, but which are far more complex to track. It is too simplistic to conclude that a well thought out plan for the institutional changes would automatically bring out mindset changes that would go well with the aspirations and the objectives of the system.

We should not expect that mere administrative changes will bring about the mindset changes as well. A prerequisite to the success of  any reforms is directly linked to the mindset changes (behavior and value perception) that must take place simultaneously, but which are far more complex to track. It is too simplistic to conclude that a well thought out plan for the institutional changes would automatically bring out mindset changes that would go well with the aspirations and the objectives of the system.

Concluding Remarks

The Indian decade of innovation (2010-2020) is a grand opportunity. It stems from the visionary declaration of our President and the passionate championing of our Prime Minister of this very concept of Decade of Innovation.

What should we see at the end of this decade of innovation if we follow the five point agenda set up in this memorial lecture?  As a starter, it will be great to see India achieve a place amongst the top ten of the innovative nations in the world.

But it is not about remaining alone. It is about a change in our culture, in our society.

It is about achieving innovation led inclusive development and growth.

It is about the Indian innovative mind winning over the inhibiting Indian mindset.
It is about innovation being a way of life for a billion plus Indians.

It is about a freedom of a billion plus minds from fear of risk taking and adventure.

And it is also about innovative India rapidly moving, through the innovation route, to becoming a truly inclusive society, where the distinction on the basis of income, caste, religion and language melts away.

It is about Indian Innovation, that is `Indovation’ becoming a model for the rest of the world to follow.


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