This perhaps leads to more questions than answers, particularly because the nature of the technological leap (as opposed to leap) that India is experiencing has yet to be documented in a way that can overturn the conventional wisdom of industrial revolutions in either the West or the East.
Unesco’s Science Report from 2021 suggests that in purchasing power parity terms, India now spends more on research than France, the UK and Italy. The same report said that there is apparent lethargy in these countries and in Japan. While China is converging with the US, Germany and South Korea continue to demonstrate a strong appetite for innovation.
The Government of India often touts achievements stemming from its initiatives that have scaled up technology adoption in India. I believe the sum is more compelling than the sum of the parts.
India records the highest number of real-time digital payments globally and has left China and advanced countries far behind. India activated Aaddhar based JAM
, followed by UPI and the digital health stack. The country is now exploring the highly ambitious Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) and Digital Ecosystem for Skilling and Livelihood – the DESH-Stack gateway – which have the potential to deliver services to citizens and businesses quickly and efficiently.
India’s technology efforts are increasingly embedded in broader capacity building that directly contributes to knowledge creation in the short term, offering viable economies for departments beyond science ministries to aggressively explore technology opportunities.
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None of this would have been possible without rekindling domestic capabilities in recent years with stronger public-private partnerships in knowledge creation. Creating space for individual ingenuity to flourish through start-ups and knowledge networks was supported by important reforms.
Citizens and small businesses are increasingly appreciating the benefits of digital technologies, which are becoming more accessible. India, as the pharmacy of the world, has been producing cheap generic drugs for decades and supplying them domestically and internationally.
Creating more value requires further resource mobilization and internal adjustments within the sectoral innovation ecosystem. India has developed and manufactured indigenous vaccines and ventilators to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than two billion doses.
As is well known, India is a major vaccine hub and draws international attention for the public policy, market and regulatory mechanisms that support vaccine research and commercialization.
The International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure are other valuable initiatives catalyzed by India.
What has been perhaps India’s most successful initiative in recent times is the ability to deploy large-scale digital technologies to address development challenges and enable investment in renewable energy paraphernalia, from green hydrogen to energy storage.
While industrialized countries seem to have resorted to industrial policies with great vigor of late, the careful implementation of subsidy programs tied to India’s own manufacturing—from semiconductors to electric vehicles to advanced cell chemistry—will facilitate its greater participation. private sector in R&D and will strengthen technological collaborations through joint ventures.
According to media reports, Ola Electric is investing $500 million in R&D and its focus on cell innovation indicates a growing appetite for R&D among industry players.
Complementing the government’s efforts, such private sector investments in R&D would offer significant opportunities for India if aligned with India’s long-term needs. It is increasingly recognized that India’s affordability-based technology solutions across sectors are creating positive externalities beyond its borders.
From the perspective of R&D and innovation pipelines, global partnerships for knowledge co-creation will remain relevant despite domestic efforts. The emerging challenges are all global in nature and the technological solutions are emerging from different sources.
The innovation systems of the earlier era, which were considered costly by many developing countries, are being replaced by more democratic structures that must be supported with appropriate incentives and regulations.
India can lead the way in this direction, with policy innovations shaped through multi-level engagements between different arms of government and a range of technology actors, including businesses, start-ups, social entrepreneurs, community institutions and, above all, all, citizens.
The author is an associate professor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs