Why Innovation is the Key to ‘Aatm Nirbhar Bharat’

Author: Himanshu Ranjan

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On May 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an economic package of INR 20 trillion that brought relief to many stressful faces. Many smiled with hope in the distressing times of COVID. The major theme of the announcement was to convert this crisis into an opportunity. To create a well-deserved place for India in the global supply chain. To build a self-reliant nation whose products are globally competitive. Of course, there was a second message to kickstart the economy but it had an intent to point out what direction that would be. Although the key details are yet to be announced, it signified a broader message.

The COVID crisis pushed some of our minds towards innovation. It proved that we have the potential to be innovative and to deliver, however, it requires a crisis event to push into that mode. Let us look at some of the innovations done during the COVID crisis.

Personal Protective Equipements include eye-shields, masks, shoe covers, gowns, and gloves. With the help of more than 100 government identified domestic PPE manufacturers, the PPE production was scaled to more than 2 lakhs a day. That’s a commendable feat. Once we thought we might have to depend on imports but now we have a buffer stock of PPEs and are in a position to export them.

Similarly companies like Mahindra, IITs worked on sanitizers and low-cost innovative ventilators. Now, if producing sanitizers and PPEs to scale was commendable, the development of ventilators that are low cost and to be able to serve more than one patients require innovation of the next higher level. For example, Nocca Robotics, an incubated startup at IIT Kanpur developed an affordable ventilator that is now ready to be scaled up.

The point is India has developed and strengthened many institutions such as the DRDO, ISRO, IISc, IITs, TIFR, and other research institutions in conjugation with companies like TATA, Mahindra, among others and as well as has a young pool of dynamic innovative minds working on startups. Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest producer of vaccines. There are numerous other examples if we focus on the subject. So, the ecosystem of innovation can be developed by strengthening them.

Another important message is about our mindset. In every problem lies a hidden opportunity. A challenge to innovate and find solutions. An opportunity to be a leader and gift the world a solution. A self-reliant India needs to build upon this mindset. Whether one is a teacher, a doctor, an entrepreneur, a bureaucrat, or a politician, or whatever profession it be, it is one’s duty to nurture this mindset. A fighting spirit is the first step to be innovative.

The ecosystem of innovation and the mindset is there, yet without inspiring leaders, it would be not enough. So, the next important and perhaps the most important step if India needs to be a self-reliant nation is to identify and groom leaders of innovation. We need to at least identify a thousand such leaders who can irrigate the ecosystem and young minds towards a goal both at the grassroots local level as well as the national level. The main job of the leader would be to identify the hurdles and find out the points of collaboration. One’s problem could be another’s opportunity and vice-versa. But these leaders need to be incentivized and recognized for the hard works they do. Then only we can maintain the drive and pace it requires.

The next important decision would be to identify gaps in the global supply chain. To look into our imports and exports expenditures, and study the changes that are taking place in the world trade. It would be key to identify an opportunity earlier than other nations who are our competitors. India has a huge market place owing to its large population and we need to project it as one of our strengths to leverage favourable deals.

So, once we have the ecosystem, mindset, the right leadership, and have identified the gaps all it requires is to fund the solutions and scale them up. Now, there are two situations in which we choose to work. The first is at a slower pace in a comfortable environment and the second is at a faster pace in a crisis like environment. For the years to come, India should choose the second mode as it has done in the COVID crisis. We must never forget that we live in a competitive world and other nations are also working for their interests. This would trigger the necessary land, labour, bureaucracy, governance, and industrial reforms and project India in a leadership position.

To conclude, it is a well known economic fact that innovation drives growth. Self-reliance for the 21st century means to be competitive. It requires us to work on the six parameters of the ecosystem – the infrastructure (including a top class of manpower), the mindset, the right leadership, recognition of gaps, reforms, and funding. I hope the INR 20 trillion package though takes care of the immediate crisis of kickstarting the economy and helping the needy but keeps enough room for the innovation required to build a self-reliant ‘Aatm Nirbhar Bharat’ of the 21st century. ‘Local to Global’ though a catchy phrase requires a lot more effort that’s competitive and innovative enough to be lucrative in the domestic as well as the world market.

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