Technology and Innovation

Science has played a key role in enhancing the growth and development of society and generating access to new and improved goods and services.  Science underpins most breakthrough initiatives, but beyond the domain of science, innovations play a critical role in enhancing delivery of services and enabling access to improved goods.  In view of this, India needs to stimulate and strengthen its entire eco-system—the formal scientific and industrial system, as well as the innovation eco-system—to develop solutions for the country.s agenda of faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth.
 
Innovation can fulfill needs, which are not met by conventional means and this is critical in view of the numerous challenges the country is facing in delivering services to the people, especially at the bottom of the pyramid.  In this context India needs more “frugal, distributed, affordable innovation” that produces more “frugal cost” products and services that are affordable by people at low levels of incomes without compromising the safety, efficiency, and utility of the products.  The country also needs innovation processes that are „frugal. in terms of resources required and these products and services must also have a “frugal” impact on the earth.s resources and must be designed to be environmentally sustainable.  Innovations in India hence need to cast a wider net to benefit more and more people who are currently marginalized by the system.
 
A holistic view of the science, technology, and innovation eco-system can ensure best points for intervention in the system.  Stimulating this eco-system requires enablers in the form of policies, strategies, novel ideas, and catalysts to effectively meet the challenges in the system.  Below are some strategy challenges that need to be addressed for strengthening the eco-system and the proposed approaches for the way forward: 
 
Enrichment of Knowledge base 
 
Basic research in India has generally followed global models during the last three decades.  Indian systems for supporting basic research has so far not adopted adequate measures for promoting joint research with active schools in the global scene in frontier areas of science.  The challenge however is how to spot, attract, nurture, and encourage sparks and talent in scientific research and identify areas of national interest and gaps for promotion of basic research and improving the quality of science education.   
 
Incentivizing R&D in Public and Private Sector  
 
A strong R&D sector is important not only for competitive growth but more importantly for addressing key strategic issues.  While public funded institutions are generating technology leads, their levels of utilization by commercial enterprises have been limited.  The present models of research funding in the country do not facilitate the funding of projects in the private sector, whereas several global models do so.  Current fiscal incentives for attraction of investments into R&D by way of tax benefits have led only to marginal results and the linkages between academia-research and industry remain under developed and weak.  The challenge is how to create a vibrant landscape of Public-Private Partnership and an enabling framework for attracting investment from the industrial sector into R&D system and incentivize the same for linking development with deployment in the innovation and technology sector.   
 
Improving Governance in S&T Institutions:  
 
Optimum utilization of appropriate institutional framework created to enhance India.s R&D capability need to undergo critical review to ensure that the much needed resources, both financial and human, are deployed in an optimal fashion.  It is critical to analyze how to leverage the industrial infrastructure and create appropriate institutional framework and organizational mechanisms cutting across departments to derive maximum benefits of the investments.  The challenge therefore is to bring in radical but participative transformation, which is multifaceted and multidirectional for structural changes in rebuilding and transforming existing institutions.   
 
University, industry, and Scientific Establishment Collaboration: 
 
India has the third largest education system in the world.  A conducive research sector requires cutting edge research universities, industrial R&D Centre.s and a network of Government Laboratories with well-maintained infrastructure and liberal funding, working together towards defined objectives.  Further, effective mechanisms of collaboration need to be created for universities and industry bodies so that research output and innovations can effectively be commercialized and transformed into marketable products and services for last mile benefits.  A cluster-based approach to spur innovations at universities could be adopted wherein a minimum critical mass of universities is identified and efforts are made to create or strengthen the innovation eco-system around them.  The innovation universities could also provide a platform for experimenting with new models of universities where the above mentioned integration could be realized.   
 
 
Promoting Collaborations through Clusters 
 
Collaborations can play a crucial role in stimulating innovations and fostering knowledge transfers which would foster interconnections that link intellectual, financial, human, and creative capital as well as unleash underutilized capital.  Such enterprises could take the shape of physical or virtual clusters, which bring together research, business, risk capital, and creativity to turn ideas into products, processes, and services.  In the Open Innovation Model, by using an “open source” and collaborative approach, organizations could expect to develop affordable products for the world which otherwise would not be a cost effective option for many organizations.  Many clusters and collaborative initiatives to foster innovation have begun to operate in the country.  These include SIEN—the Science and Entrepreneurship initiative hosted in IIT Powai; an automotive cluster in Pune; an initiative at the CMTI with involvement of ISRO to develop technologies for flexible manufacturing, and many others.
 
Government needs to take appropriate steps to promote the growth of such collaborative initiatives, both in the physical and virtual domains.  The National Innovation Council (NInC) is in the process of facilitating the setting up of industry and university based clusters to spur innovations. 
 
Supportive Financial System 
 
Innovation requires a financial system which is supportive and inclusive and which provides the necessary risk capital to spur innovations and enterprises.  Venture Funds are recognized globally as the most suitable form of providing risk capital for the growth of innovative technology and breakthrough ideas.  
 
While India is amongst the top recipients in Asia for Venture Funds and Private Equity Funds so far, these investments need to be focused on small early stage start-ups and not only into relatively large and „safer. investments.  To have a greater impact existing funding options, especially made available by the Government need to be increased.  India.s dependency on foreign VC/PE funds and almost no domestic venture capital needs to be addressed.  
 
Despite the growth in the VC industry in India and the complementary increase in government schemes, the seed funding stage continues to be severely hampered.  Also, it is especially crucial to provide funding for stimulating innovations that will produce socially useful outcomes for poorer people and enterprises which are focused on delivering this.  In light of this, the Indian innovation eco-system requires early stage funds acting as angel investors.  A dedicated fund, seeded by the Government, and targeted at promoting
innovative initiatives that focus on inclusive growth could play a crucial role.  The advantage of such a model will be patient capital investments coupled with professional mentoring and management. 
 
Platform for Best Practices and Innovations:  
 
Currently, there are many enterprises across the country which are delivering benefits to citizens and meeting the challenges of inclusion in areas such as health, education energy, low-cost housing, sanitation, and more through innovative solutions.  Often these go beyond the formal confines of R&D labs to include innovations in public service delivery or organisational innovations in local communities aimed at inclusion.  However, there is no aggregated platform or single repository to collate and disseminate these best practices and ideas.  Also, while some such innovations manage to garner attention on a national scale, most of these workable solutions remain confined to their local contexts and don.t achieve economies of scale because of the lack of a single platform for sharing these best practices among multiple stakeholders.  Strengthening the innovation eco-system requires a platform for information sharing and dissemination to ensure: (1) improved access to knowledge and (2) Support in the form of resources, linkages, mentoring and outreach.  Greater knowledge of innovations can stimulate their adoptions and adaptations on a large scale
 
This decentralized, open, and networked model would enable information sharing on innovations and collaboration among stakeholders on an unprecedented scale. 
 
Improving the Flow of Technology  
 
India is in a unique position to mount a strong initiative for affordable innovations for technologies for social and public good by taking advantages of a) low expertise costs, b) vast talent base and c) the residual idealism in the society.  However, engagement of multiple stakeholders and creating Public-Private-Partnership for promoting people-centric research is a challenge to address national goals with specific targets in a time bound manner.  While technologies for public, strategic, and social goods would require collaborative excellence, competitive excellence models for private good would come from industrial sector, as is the case in most developed countries.
 
Food security of India is closely related to development of technologies for increasing the agriculture outputs through process innovations for land saving and water use.  The question is how to develop and deploy new agro biotechnology tools and precision agriculture for increasing the output of agriculture sector in the country by synergizing the
strengths of institutions both under public and private sector and adopting a new approach for agriculture research and extension.
 
To achieve optimal health for its people, India has unique challenges due to its large population, demographic transition and vulnerability to all epidemics.  Biomedical devices and instrumentation forms an area of serious gap in the country.   Breakthrough innovations, with appropriate stress on translational research for affordable health care, are the need of the hour and would call for new models and mechanisms for evaluating technologies for improving healthcare at individual and public health level, fostering academia-industry linkage; and linking technology developers with industry for translation of lead products and processes.  
 
Water challenge is a major national issue in the country both in terms of quality and availability.  Sustainability of research led solutions depends on interface of technology with policy and societal behavior.  Water related technologies form an ideal theme for building state-centre partnerships.  The challenge therefore is to convert research outputs from the laboratories into revenue models based solutions in a coordinated manner among the relevant departments in both states and centre for innovative deployment under real field conditions.  
 
India is critically dependent upon import of energy supply sources.  Energy security demands integrated approaches and planning.  Decoupling energy demand from GDP growth is also essential for complying with responsibilities towards National Action Plan on Climate Change.  Therefore, the challenge is to increase the share of clean energy options in the total energy basket of India.   
 
MSME sector in India, which is a strong pillar of economic growth is characterized by low technology levels with some exceptions.  This acts as a major handicap in the growth of MSME sector in the emerging global market and is therefore, seen as the next frontier for infusion of technology, by increasing penetration in the MSMEs.  It is thus a challenge as to how the MSMEs embrace the new technologies to leap frog and contribute significantly in the inclusive growth process.   
 
Intellectual Property Rights 
 
Intellectual property rights (IPR) have become extremely important in the new knowledge economy due to global competition, high innovation risks, short product cycle, need for rapid changes in technology, high investments in research and development (R&D), production and marketing and need for highly skilled human resources.  Relative ranking of India as source of IPR has improved considerably over the years.  
 
While the focus should be on global leadership in S&T both at organizational and individual levels, we also need to follow Open Source Innovation Policy and promote IP acquisition by the government for non-exclusive licensing for public and social good sectors of research and development to achieve the objective of faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth and ensure that benefits must reach the poorer people thus utilizing India.s advantageous place to leverage not only its economic strength but also its Scientific and Technological capability by employing desired policy intervention and providing necessary resources.  The country thus has to emerge as a technology driven super economic power in globalized knowledge economy. 
 
Use of GIS for Development 
 
Geographical Information System (GIS) has assumed a critical role in the planning process and is the key to better decision-making.  GIS needs to be implemented in seamless manner to cover the whole nation and must reach where it is required along with continuous updating.  An institutional mechanism for GIS at the national level will be able to serve this purpose.