Diaspora key to success of India’s new Science, Technology, Innovation Policy




The 5th Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) was initiated last year.

By Rajesh Mehta and Badri Narayanan Gopalakrishnan

As India and the world reorient in the present context of the covid-19 crisis, a new Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP) was initiated at this crucial juncture during mid-2020. The emergence of disruptive and impactful technologies poses new challenges and simultaneously greater opportunities. The Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly to an extent provided a compelling opportunity for R&D institutions, academia and industry to work in unison for sharing of purpose, synergy, collaboration and cooperation.

It is almost impossible to have a well-rounded discussion about India’s growth story without pooling in the role of the Indian diaspora. Standing at 32 million and comprising NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) and PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin), India has one of the largest diasporas in the world. The role of Indian diaspora in the success of new STIP is important.

Unlike previous STI policies, which were largely top-driven in terms of their formulation, the 5th National STI policy revolved around its core principles of being decentralized, evidence-informed, bottom-up, experts-driven, and inclusive. According to Dr. Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary at the Department of Science & Technology, “The aim of draft STIP will create an end to end science, technology and innovation ecosystem, which is inclusive and brings equal benefits to all stakeholders in the process”.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Policy has been guided by the following broad vision:

(i) To achieve technological self-reliance and position India among the top three scientific superpowers in the decade to come;

(ii) To attract, nurture, strengthen and retain critical human capital through a “people centric” science, technology and innovation (STI) ecosystem;

(iii) To double the number of Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) researchers, Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D (GERD) and private sector contribution to the GERD every 5 years;

(iv) To build individual and institutional excellence in STI with the aspiration to achieve the highest level of global recognitions and awards in the coming decade.

According to Dr. Radhika Trikha, Senior Policy Fellow, at the Department of Science and Technology-Centre for Policy Research, “India’s 5th National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy [is] an inclusive participatory policy by the people for the people, fuelling India’s aspirations of self-reliance and technological competitiveness.”

India prides itself on having a diaspora empire on which the sun never sets. The Indian diaspora has been a source of remittances, technology and intellectual power. STIP acknowledges the huge untapped potential of the diaspora and aims at connecting them back to the Indian scientific and economic ecosystem through key policy directives. According to Dr. Akhilesh Gupta, Head STIP Secretariat, “The draft STIP, if implemented, can be a game changer to position India among the top global STI superpowers. Over 30 million [-strong] Indian diaspora across the world can contribute meaningfully to this success.”

STIP has a renewed focus on engaging national STI with diaspora by creating appropriate institutional mechanisms and suitable opportunities to engage with the Indian diaspora more effectively. It encourages the reverse brain drain (or brain gain) by creating suitable opportunities for the returning diaspora. The initiative focuses on expansion and promotion of the fellowship and internship opportunities to support active researchers/ scientists/engineers who want to return to India from abroad.

STIP also focuses on creation of appropriate facilitating channels for the non-returning diaspora to contribute back to the country. It stresses on creation of an exclusive portal for the Indian scientific diaspora. One of the game-changing recommendations is engaging the diaspora organizations and Science and Technology Counsellors to create a global academic and entrepreneurial network, by expanding the presence of these counsellors beyond the only four countries where they exist now. While the counsellors themselves may make some difference with their sheer presence, the role of diaspora is quite critical in both spreading the word about these opportunities and in contributing and participating collectively through various diaspora organizations.

India is a land of grassroots innovation. STIP provides a lot of emphasis on this, particularly to integrate it with the mainstream scientific research and lead to real-time product development or commercialization. Many of the grassroot innovators are less educated and may gain from rigorous scientific knowledge from the university professors to take their inventions to the next stage. In this context, the diaspora, scientists and investors may also collaborate both to expand these ideas and bring them to fruition.

Traditional knowledge systems in India can solve several ongoing problems. For example, AYUSH methods have proven quite useful in combating Covid. Several Indians living abroad are connected to these systems in different ways, through their heritage and family connections in India. However, they need to be tested and proven using modern scientific methods to be authentically used not only in India but also across the world. Several leading global universities have Indian studies and Indology departments, which can collaborate both with their science/technology counterparts in India and abroad, to take this to the next level, under the aegis of 2020 STIP.

STIP also focuses on developing the policy instruments, programs and schemes to attract the best global talent/skilled human resource, through Indian diaspora networks and connections. “The draft STIP policy demonstrates the integral nature of international engagements in India’s course to self-reliance,” said Dr. Chagun Basha, Senior Technical Specialist at the Office of PSA.

STIP charts pathways to a dynamic, evidence-informed and proactive international S&T engagement strategy. “S&T for Diplomacy” will be complemented with “Diplomacy for S&T.” International Knowledge Centres, preferably virtual, will be established to promote global knowledge and talent exchange.

The policy outlines key big ticket ideas that will play a significant role in strengthening India’s STI ecosystem and make it globally competitive. It has projected establishment of a National STI Observatory that will act as a central repository for all kinds of data related to and generated from the STI ecosystem; setting up of Open Science Framework will be built which will be largely community-driven and supported with necessary institutional mechanisms and operational modalities; expansion of the financial landscape of the STI ecosystem; government mediated R&D stimulation of private sector; mainstreaming of equity and inclusion within the STI ecosystem; advocating science through promotion of science communication and public engagement; decentralized institutional mechanism balancing top-down and bottom-up approaches for efficient STI governance and  creating institutional mechanism for STI policy governance along with the implementation strategy and roadmap and monitoring and evaluation framework for the policy and programs and their interlinkages.

Industry-academia collaborations in India current stay at the level of premier and specialized institutions like IITs, NITs and IISc. This needs to change to be more inclusive, and extend to all universities, many of which only serve now as centers of teaching excellence with little or no practically meaningful research. Innovation that is disruptive and practical must start from these universities which are connected to the people at large across the country. STIP discusses the need for this to happen, which is quite a bold and transparent initiative in itself, and further proposes solutions to tackle this.

The fifth STIP has been developed after detailed consideration of past STIPs both in India and abroad, identifying the gaps that led to their failures, if any, of meeting their objectives, and provisions that led to their successes. Although an explicit review of these considerations is not included in the policy document as it stands now, it appears that such a review has been implicitly done, as indicated by the unique methods involved in its preparation, by democratically involving people from a wide range of ages and professions, for consultations, as opposed to the previous STIPs, which were exclusively developed by scientists alone in a top-down approach. In a true sense, this is a STIP by the people, for the people and of the people at large. Also, unlike the previous STIPs, this one has some indications to implementation strategies.

Financing some of the most unique provisions of this document, such as the free access of all research across the world to the Indian citizens may be tricky and it needs enormous data analysis to benchmark where we stand now and what more is needed to reach the objective set herein. Having said that, the implementation stage would consider such details and perhaps involve some public private participation, without which the increase in GERD is not possible and even Corporate Social Responsibility provisions to ease the burden of the government alone in doing these things. One way to prioritize and bucket the numerous items in the STIP is to classify them into short-term, medium-term and long-term implementation items. Some of the changes require no money and just some changes in the system – and these could be short term. Others may need huge investment with no immediate returns – these can be taken up for longer term implementation.

The 5th STIP is a pathbreaking policy on several accounts. Interesting part of this policy is that this is the first time a policy of this magnitude is developed not just by scientists but by all stakeholders. It is a policy by the people, for the people and of the people, as Department of Science and Technology-Centre for Policy Research Senior Fellow Dr. Trikha put it.

Another striking aspect of the policy is the importance that has been given to women, the LGBT community, disabled and the Indian diaspora. STIP was developed in record 6 months by a group of 25 young professionals who consulted all key stakeholders, from a long list ran and came out with the fine document. “STIP’s extraordinary consultation process would be important in factoring their expertise for the future of India’s S&T,” Prof. K VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) to Government of India.

Though the intent of the policy is trustworthy, its success would depend on the implementation. Hope it helps in the “Ease of Doing Research.” The budget allocation, emphasis on quality rather than just access, the freedom and autonomy of the institutions, the analysis of data and the partnership between different stakeholders in the STI ecosystem would be key if it has to be successful. STIP is a step forward in the right direction and hopefully diaspora would play a key role in its success.

(Rajesh Mehta is a leading International Consultant and Columnist working on Market Entry, Innovation and Public Policy, and is a regular columnist for The American Bazaar. Badri Narayanan Gopalakrishnan is Founder Director, Infinite Sum Modelling, and affiliate faculty member at University of Washington Seattle. Views are personal.)

Read more columns by Rajesh Mehta:

Shekar Narasimhan: Biden is sane, sensible and understands India; he’s better for New Delhi (October 8, 2020)

Future of US-India relations: Role of diaspora and 2020 elections (September 25, 2020)

Uncertainty looming large on world trade: Can multilateralism be the savior? (September 14, 2020)

Water governance: India’s unsung success (September 2, 2020)

World War III is here, and we are asleep at the wheel (August 27, 2020)

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Trump hasn’t been great for India — Biden will be (August 19, 2020)

It is the best time for India and Canada to collaborate (August 1, 2020)

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