India’s Innovation Karma

Today India’s 32-year-old Minister of State for the Technology and Communication Ministry, Mr. Sachin Pilot, was in town to tell an audience of Washington think-tankers and industry types that, with the (ahem) generous support and investment of U.S. businesses, India aims to bring broadband connections to every village in 3 years. This will, he said, ...

MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images

Today India's 32-year-old Minister of State for the Technology and Communication Ministry, Mr. Sachin Pilot, was in town to tell an audience of Washington think-tankers and industry types that, with the (ahem) generous support and investment of U.S. businesses, India aims to bring broadband connections to every village in 3 years. This will, he said, reduce inequality and enable e-governance. To which a skeptical Times of India reporter quipped during the Q & A: Exactly how technology-literate would you say India's above-50 ministerial class is? Pilot's response: No comment.

Yet, while such lofty government aspirations should be taken with several helpings of salt, Pilot's ability to pack a room with Washington consultants and potential investors was no mirage. Moreover, he mentioned a few current projects that are worth at least watching: Unlike China, which tends to focus on large projects and investments, India hopes that its small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will help propel future technology innovation. The government has created 51 technology parks, offering favorable tax and other incentives to lure and nurture domestic entrepreneurs. And India is drawing up plans to create what Pilot called 14 world-class "innovation universities."

He didn't offer much detail on those efforts, but it's clear that India, like China, is increasingly adopting the rhetoric, and perhaps one day the policies, of innovation and entrepreneurship. "We want to transition," he said, from an IT outsourcing and services economy "to a knowledge-based economy." 

Today India’s 32-year-old Minister of State for the Technology and Communication Ministry, Mr. Sachin Pilot, was in town to tell an audience of Washington think-tankers and industry types that, with the (ahem) generous support and investment of U.S. businesses, India aims to bring broadband connections to every village in 3 years. This will, he said, reduce inequality and enable e-governance. To which a skeptical Times of India reporter quipped during the Q & A: Exactly how technology-literate would you say India’s above-50 ministerial class is? Pilot’s response: No comment.

Yet, while such lofty government aspirations should be taken with several helpings of salt, Pilot’s ability to pack a room with Washington consultants and potential investors was no mirage. Moreover, he mentioned a few current projects that are worth at least watching: Unlike China, which tends to focus on large projects and investments, India hopes that its small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will help propel future technology innovation. The government has created 51 technology parks, offering favorable tax and other incentives to lure and nurture domestic entrepreneurs. And India is drawing up plans to create what Pilot called 14 world-class "innovation universities."

He didn’t offer much detail on those efforts, but it’s clear that India, like China, is increasingly adopting the rhetoric, and perhaps one day the policies, of innovation and entrepreneurship. "We want to transition," he said, from an IT outsourcing and services economy "to a knowledge-based economy." 

Christina Larson is an award-winning foreign correspondent and science journalist based in Beijing, and a former Foreign Policy editor. She has reported from nearly a dozen countries in Asia. Her features have appeared in the New York Times, Wired, Science, Scientific American, the Atlantic, and other publications. In 2016, she won the Overseas Press Club of America’s Morton Frank Award for international magazine writing. Twitter: @larsonchristina
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