Of systems, education and entrepreneurship

The two Steves revolutionized the PC industry, a certain Mark started on a quest to connect the world, and Ramesh aced the most competitive entrance exam there is.

All of the above mentioned individuals are brilliant in their own right. Comparing Ramesh to rest of the aforementioned visionaries might seem unfair. But he does possess something in common with them; a vision and zeal to make the world a better place. Unbeknownst to him, however, is the fact that once he enters his dream institute, he will be entrapped in a rat-race that engulfs the middle-class of almost every emerging economy.

The writer, hailing from the (other) exotic oriental land of the east, has personally been a witness to the phenomenon. One can argue that the rat-race is an unavoidable part of the 21st century. The writer dares to argue about the existence of a critical proportion between those in the race and those having broken free from it. This ratio needs to be maintained in order for a society to move forward; and it has been above the critical point for far too long in the supposed third-world countries.

During the past few years, the emergence of a number of Indian-origin individuals as top-guns in global brands has been covered extensively by the global media and hailed by the ones back home. Most of them left India during the pre-liberalization era, never to return back. That was perhaps the best bet for them, at that time, to seek rewards as per their skills and talent. Fast-forward to post-liberalization India; a quarter century has passed since the revolutionary reforms and brain-drain still remains an issue. Narayana Murthy, IT industrialist and Infosys’ co-founder, had recently remarked that there had been no earth-shattering and global invention by India “in the last 60 years.” Albeit critical, his comments do find merit.

Then again, can a country with one of the lowest per capita usable water and poorest health services globally dare choose to foster innovation and inventions? The writer thinks the answer to be a resounding yes. India, or any emerging economy for that matter, need not wait for its basic systems to improve before focusing on fostering R&D and innovation. Rather, it needs to integrate them to simultaneously improve them both. But making that a reality would require the decision-makers to innovate and think of policies unique to local landscapes. The ongoing efforts to copy the culture of Silicon Valley and the existing bureaucratic setup, the writer is afraid, simply won’t work. Neither would the Victorian-style education which flourishes across the country currently.

For a country which prides itself on its supposed world-class education and graduates, India’s research output is abysmal. As per a recent Economic survey, India’s capacity for innovation is the second-lowest among the BRICS countries. In contrast, China’s percentage R&D expenditure is on the rise and might even surpass that of the US in the near future. India needs to take a cue and get its act together. Higher-education must start focusing more on impactful research rather than the outdated lecture-centric system. Solutions to social and civic problems need to be correlated and integrated with the R&D work going on in the premier institutions, and vice-versa. Encouragement to foster the same must be provided in the form of grants and funding. Quoting Sir Ken Robinson, “What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education.”

An important one, but education is just a part of the solution. One of the other equally important part — more so in the current scenario — is entrepreneurship. With the population on the rise, there is a limit to the numbers which the existing setup can handle. Job-creation is essential. SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises), with simple reform changes, can innovate and create jobs keeping in mind the local sensibilities. The entrepreneurship culture in the country has been on a rise with some start-ups even achieving the much-coveted unicorn status (billion-dollar valuation). Still, proper institutional support system is required for the culture to thrive and to solve problems at a grassroots level. Bureaucratic roadblocks, in particular, need to be addressed.

If the policy-makers are able to tap in the right places, perhaps we might soon see many Rameshs and Sitas pulling off world-changing innovations without having to relocate across the seven seas.

This entry is part of Fair Observer’s YouLead 2015. – See more at: http://www.fairobserver.com/more/global_change/make-sense-of-the-world-in-youlead-94210/#sthash.uFzziVfz.dpuf

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