New Delhi, India
Jan 8, 2008
(Global Indian Diaspora Meet)
Theme: Knowledge Economy
Respected panel, ladies and gentlemen,
India has never lacked an economy agenda. The issue is one of implementation.
To improve, we need to increase our international competitiveness. We have a skilled workforce and a huge domestic market. But these seeming advantages have actually paralysed us. ‘Competing’ has not been in the Indian psyche for over the last 300 years, after colonization. This is our major challenge today.
We should not live in the dogma of an IT world. The role of IT is to enhance and we must recognize that IT is not the be all and end all, it is only a modality. Our company is an e-commerce company which harnesses the use of IT, but we are not an IT company.
China is successful today because it is not allowing its manufacturing sector or its agrarian sector to fall to neglect. These are the sectors that are fuelling China today. The value of ‘footwear’ exported annually by China to the US (worth about $9.2 billion) exceeds the total value of India’s annual IT exports. (Statistic from year 2000)
So, when we talk of Knowledge Economy in the context of IT, are we putting the cart before the horse? I think, yes.
Information Technology is not a panacea for India’s issues. It is an environment. Knowledge Economy existed in India without and before the ‘IT revolution’. India has been at the forefront of transferring technology, arts and culture for centuries. It was the world’s largest economy in the first millennium and had one third share in the GDP of the world. Therefore, The issue is therefore not to remember what we have forgotten.
What is needed now is:
- To strengthen the infrastructure core
- To enable better access to education
But, without creativity and innovation IT cannot do anything. Our culture does not truly support innovation, which inherently involves risk taking. The Indian psyche is averse to risk. “A culture that truly enhances innovation supports the view that to try hard and fail is perfectly fine. Yet, the Indian psyche has historically been averse to blessing the risky venture. In fact, education has been viewed as a way to avoid risky options, rather than as an enabler of intelligent risk-taking and entrepreneurship. Such a cultural mindset hinders innovation because meaningful innovation is almost never without significant risk.” (From a piece in the Frontline by Prabhudeva Konana and Sridhar Balasubramanian)
Innovation thrives only where the spirit of human enterprise is given free reign.
There is empirical evidence to support the view that governments must govern with a light touch. The government’s key role is in pacing and shaping, without trying to be better businessmen. It must sit back and allow. Creativity cannot be enforced. Entrepreneurship should be allowed to flourish.
Meaningful innovation has to transcend to the corporate arena. Ideas, unlike property, cannot be protected with walls. It needs synergy and innovation, which only comes with competition. Competition is what we need to evolve. Intellectual Property has cultural dimensions and this should be recognized. It is not just an economic issue.
Education is the fundamental enabler of the Knowledge Economy. The Knowledge Economy of today demands new sets of competencies—not just IT skills—it requires problem solving, analysis, group learning and working in teams. Increasing literacy by itself is not the answer.
There is a need for Education which focuses on learning rather than schooling; a need for Education which promotes creativity and not memory power. The gurukula system of learning which was entrenched in Vedic India in the first millennium, transferred knowledge not by rote but by questioning, seeking, challenging and analyzing. If a student could find a better angle on a particular philosophy or concept, that was included in the knowledge, because it was a learning system.
Innovation being a key, Knowledge Economy requires a climate that can acquire, create, disseminate and use knowledge – a climate favourable to entrepreneurship—one which is, as much as possible, free from bureaucratic, regulatory and other obstacles. We need a system fostering relationships between local and the outside business world.
From the diaspora point of view, we have to ask the right question of ourselves:
- What can we do to make India better?
- What can we do to bring India to you and you to India?
- Why we need to come back?
The diaspora needs India as much as India needs its diaspora. A billion people is a lot of strength!