A walk down the memory lane back to the start of the decade when 2010-2020 was declared as the “Decade of Innovation” flashes images of drastic changes in India’s political, social, and scientific landscape. However, for a land that has Innovation at the heart of its culture right from the Indus Valley civilization, the string that ties together several government policies and agencies is the increased emphasis on innovation. The past few years have been no less than a roller coaster ride for India’s innovation ecosystem.
Reminiscing the journey:
Forming the national innovation council was among the first steps towards “mutually reinforcing policies, recommendations, and methodologies” to enhance innovation performance. India’s 12th Five Year Plan, and the Science Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy 2013 outlined major policy initiatives to strengthen India’s innovation ecosystem and boost innovation-led entrepreneurship. Other steps include setting up the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), National Innovation Foundation, CSIR Innovation Complexes, Technology Business Incubators, etc. Post-2014, India’s innovation ecosystem witnessed major pragmatic changes. Atal Innovation Mission (2016) focussed on fostering innovation in school education through hands-on experience in emerging technologies. Further, initiatives like AGNIi (Accelerating Growth of New India’s Innovations) to bolster tech commercialisation; ‘Startup India’ to handhold startups and ‘Stand Up India’ to finance entrepreneurs from vulnerable groups contributed to achieving the vision of ‘the decade of innovation’.
Reaping the fruits
Proactive programmes and policy interventions with a consistent focus on innovation bore fruit with significant improvements in global rankings. In the global innovation index (GII), India climbed from 81st position in 2015 to an impressive 48 in 2020 and continues to be the most innovative economy in central and southern Asia. The ease of doing business saw the country scaling from 134 in 2015 to 63 in 2019. Moreover, India holds the 9th rank globally for Resident Patent Filing activity. This growth trajectory is backed by trained human resource and robust R&D infrastructure through several national institutes and laboratories that engage in cutting-edge research across sectors. Enabling regulations, including the insolvency and bankruptcy code and liberalised FDI, labour code, and import-export regimes, paved the path for increased R&D expenditure, innovations, patents, FDI, startups, and unicorns. The pace of innovation has further accelerated during the current pandemic that necessitated several innovations to suit the new normal.
Even with these developments, India still has to go some distance before it becomes a knowledgebased-economy supported by strong industry-academia-society linkages. India needs to nurture the national innovation ecosystem at all stages of innovation through system-oriented policies. Understanding the State’s investment in the public production of knowledge (universities, research organizations) is essential. Encouraging more private-sector R&D through subsidies and strengthening the IPR regime is necessary. Building synergy between various STI departments and the MEA can avoid duplication of efforts and wastage of resources. Further, A mechanism is needed to link the national and subnational efforts better and maximize equitable FDI in innovation across states while leveraging their individual strengths.
Innovation: A tool for diplomacy
The global interconnectedness of innovation ecosystems, demonstrated by the ongoing pandemic makes innovation an important component of the diplomatic toolkits of nations. Innovation diplomacy can accelerate FDI inflow, internationalise the national innovation ecosystem, and build stronger ties between nations. India has been increasingly making innovation an important agenda point in its diplomatic engagements with over 80 bilateral and several multilateral STI agreements. The New and Emerging Strategic Technologies (NEST) division of the ministry of external affairs has been set up to assess emerging technologies’ implications on foreign policy and safeguard Indian interests. In this direction, the Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA), a public private partnership venture aims to catalyse India as a key innovator and technology provider. It has launched various bilateral programmes and joint industrial R&D funds key to the upcoming Industrial Revolution 4.0
Striving for a flat world
Scientists and innovators play a key role in creating what Tom Friedman calls “a flat world,” where technology enables equal opportunities and access to resources. The Global Inequality Crisis Report 2020 stated that India’s richest 1% population holds more than four-times the wealth held by the bottom 70%. The pandemic and its repercussions have highlighted the need to address the ‘digital divide.’ In this direction, there is a dire need for data quality improvement and targeting innovative indicators. The recently released draft national STI policy with innovation at its heart proposes the mainstreaming of grassroots Innovations, in addition to internationalisation of India’s STI ecosystem. It lays the path to augment India’s domestic capabilities and bolster the economy through innovation.
The perfect toast to the decade of innovation gone by would be, In the words of Dr R A Mashelkar, by working towards ensuring that the “I in every Individual Indian, does not stand for imitation and inhibition, but for innovation”. Let this innovative ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ exuberate her confidence as we begin another decade of India’s leadership in the new global order.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.