Monday, September 14, 2009

Author Interview

George Eby Mathew has just published his first book and one of the first accounts of how modern India is building itself as an Innovation Super Power. "India's Innovation Blueprint: How the world's largest democracy is becoming an Innovation Superpower", is an eye-opening 360 degree view of the opportunities and challenges India has to become a formidable force in Innovation. He makes distinct references to the disconnects between what is apparent and what is latent, for example, the disconnects between India's physical and mental infrastructure and the disparities between India's rich and the poor. He emphasises that the solutions lie in inclusive growth, rural entrepreneurship and innovation. Among other things, he establishes the inextricable link between Innovation and rural GDP, national GDP and global competitiveness. He offers recommendations on formalising Innovation through a National Innovation System. Here's the Full interview. 

What are some of the unique perspectives you bring in the book?
The book looks at India from a 100 years of sovereign history – 60 years in hindsight (India became an independant republic in 1950) and 40 years ahead. The book looks at econometric and development parameters and establishes that it is only through wealth creation and entrepreneurial attempts that India can develop from within to meet its developmental goals. The developmental issues are characterized by dichotomous gaps in the distribution of wealth, lack of rural infrastructure, low school enrollment, poor health infrastructure, lack of employment opportunities. It also takes into account of that fact that there is an uneven distribution of where bulk of the people live (in 650,000 villages), and where wealth is created (in some 2000 industrialised towns, and 150 cities). Of course there is the disproportional dependence on traditional Agriculture.

At the same time, the book also attempts to demonstrate how India already has a basic innovation and mental infrastructure in place - 300 + universities and institutions of higher learning that can churn out around 7000 PhDs, 300,000 engineers, and 700,000 science graduates per year. If it sustains focus on innovation as it has done since 2007 in the 11th five year plan – where India doubled R&D investments to 2 per cent of GDP, made significant investments in collaborative R&D and launched initiatives like the Innovation Act, India can achieve global dominance in innovation. In acknowledgement of these trends, over 500 new R&D labs both from within India and overseas were established in the last 10 years. The most notable recently being that of Xerox corporation. So the signs are good, but I don't think what we are doing is enough yet. So the book envisions realistic opportunities and offers a pragmatic call for action.

Why now?
I argue that like railroads, telegraph and the automotive revolution, for innovation to thrive. it takes time to build an ecosystem that fosters it. America is a classic example of an economy built on innovation. All of america's wealth came in the last 60 - 70 years. It built the infrastructure and ecosystem and attracted the best talent in the world to sustain innovation. India is the the reverse approach. It has the talent supply issue more or less sorted. It now needs the ecosystem for its innovators to succeed. America & Western economies have the ecosystems but are unable to raise the talent for innovation because of adverse demographics. In the book I also show how the epicentre of global innovation is already shifting to Asia and India and China in particular. The economic activity in this part of the world is catalysing the establishment of new innovation ecosystems that is characterised by funding mechanisms, new standard setting bodies, IP management frameworks and legislation. The new Indian government seems to be fixing fundamental issues in that direction whether it is the recent declaration of Education as a fundamental right or a new Innovation focus.

If we take a long term view, India has had two recent inflexion points at the intersects of three waves – the fall of the license raj, the rise of globalization, and the inconspicuous emergence of innovation. At the time of writing, India was at the second inflection point where the emergence of innovation led growth from within a FDI induced globalisation wave was clear - a vantage point in time like no other. The blueprint is therefore closer to base and tangible. I was told that they differed from those offered from the boardroom, a political rally or a laboratory in that its a big picture superimposed on the microcosm. For example, the book does not flatter capitalism that has exploited labour arbitararily in the industrial revolution (a disgruntled labour force bred communism earlier in the last century). In more recent times, while capitalisic governments fixed labour issues through reform, capitalism bred unsustainable development that took a toll on the environment. Prudent capitalism is good. Greed is not. I think India has an opportunity to demonstrate inclusive capitalism like no other time in history.

What is the role of innovation in all this?
Innovation is central to economic prosperity. Innovation endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth. Innovation is the specific instrument for rural entrepreneurship as well as global competitiveness – therefore India needs to look at innovation as a national priority. I believe poverty can be tackled universally through inclusive innovation within a generation. In the book I look at three levels of national innovation - at the grassroots level for enhancing rural GDP and quality of life, innovation for improving national GDP (e.g Nano, Desicrew, food processing industries) and innovation for global competitiveness (e.g smart materials, rDNA based vaccines etc).

At the first level, the innovation required is for solving grassroots level issues - these will not win a nobel prize for India but it will solve a problem. For example, there are hundreds of innovations from rural India that solves irrigation problems, power problems like a cell phone booth powered by solar power or a way to convert kerosene to gas so that India's rural kitchens can have LPG quality cooking experience. At another level, innovation could take the shape of social innovation or process innovation where a new process or framework can change the way people solve their own problems. For long, people have packaged solutions from Delhi and offloaded it in villages and they never worked. Its probably time for letting people innovate for themselves. For example, look at what Kiran Bir Sethi is doing with a simple innovative process of engaging school children to solve issues in society. Or take the example of NREGA, that program came out of a collaboration between academicians and government policy makers. The scope for innovation is endless.

While dealing with the issues India faces, you also bring in personal perspectives from your life and your father's experiences - how did you think that would add value to a serious book on innovation?
I think no one in India can detach himself or herself from the realities on the ground. My father was born in British India, when he entered the workforce he battled with the license raj to give us a better life. I have seen those struggles. I have experienced what life could have been had India been a developed nation, because I have been travelling overseas since I was three. Those experiences cannot be negated. Innovation is not a topic that should reserved to the boardroom or a conference, it needs to be filtered down to people's life in the way people think and look at life. It finally boils down to changing mindsets and solving problems.

Don't you think confering the super power status to india is premature?
I don't think so. No doubt, I battled with the idea of posturing India as a Super Power in the making – that too from the innovation point of view when much of the country’s infrastructure lie in ruins and people still die of preventable diseases. There are always skeptics who are unable to tide over the disconnects be it India’s physical infrastructure or widespread inequities. Others are genuinely ignorant. The issue is people rarely pause enough to ask why things are the way they are. It is not difficult to slip into pessimism that result from corruption, apathy, lack of will, helplessness, poverty, disease, social injustice and rampant inequity. Understandably the vigour with which an old India collides with the new India can have a telling impact on its citizen’s outlook. But if you look at the macro level indicators like for example the strides India is making in R&D investments, the number of utility patents awarded to India, the pipeline India has for highly qualified scientists and engineers, the network of R&D centers, the new found interest in the present administration to bolster innovation and the plethora of new products and services coming out of India more recently - India is definetely on the way to prominence, slowly. It may take 25 years, thats ok. America's wealth has only a history of 60 - 70 years. Most G7 countries have taken over a 100 years to develop. We sometimes forget that. Many people I talk to, especially those who are watching India as I have, agree that the emphasis on India's dominance should in fact be more than meets the eye.

You take a pro-poor approach. Why is that?
In a country with a billion people, with an equal number of affluent middle class, and poor, prosperity lasts only to be weighed down by the countries massive under privileged population. For 30 to 40 per cent of the population economic impact of reform is still only a trickle. The poor always are at the receiving end. I believe India's infrastructure issues is also a result of its inability to provide sustainable development for the poor causing massive migrations into ill equipped cities. It is imperative for India now to address the issues of the poor if India's wants to grow in its cities and spread the creation of wealth far and wide. And its not about getting the cities to be centers of wealth creation but also about rural India supporting itself.

You make the point that it is the young people who will bring the lasting change to India, did that mean that the current generation doesn't get it?
India’s future is its young people. 40 % of its people are below the age of 15. 50 % of its people are below the age of 25. No country in the world has that kind of advantage. It is both an opportunity and a huge challenge. One of the reasons I am optimistic is by 2012, a completely new generation of young Indians – all 21 year olds from the 1991 era - who cannot fathom an India without Pepsi, Nike, the internet, and cable television - would enter the workforce. This generation - globally connected, socially aware and conscious of its rights and possibilities - has the mindset to change India. Many of these youngsters are tired of corruption, apathy and social challenges like child labour. We see that in the Ruchika Girhotra's case, the way young people came out in Mumbai in the 27/11 attacks etc. On the other hand, it will be a disaster if we are unable to educate, empower and guide its young people appropriately. I think the current and previous generation (especially those who take decisions for the future generation) carries a lot of baggage. Working on them takes a lot of time. Is that worth investing time on? I think not.

You have had a checkered career, what aspect of you is behind this book?
I have been very privelleged to take different roles that gave me different perspectives. That is in part because I had to challenge myself to adapt and change to shape my career in roles as a researcher, analyst, consultant and journalist with an incongruent training in electrical engineering.. I have been a keen observer, an analyst of sorts and often found myself connecting the dots that make the big picture. In the book you will see a passion for adding up the numbers, linking up the stories, a fascination for new ideas, bridled optimism and ominous desire to lend an explanation to every phenomenon. There was a sort of cerebral itch to put together these perspectives, perceptions, ideas and checkered experiences from these unique vantage point and you will find that in the book.

How did the idea come about?
I was at Bangalore’s Leela Palace Hotel in June 2005 listening to a set of hair raising stories and efforts of a bunch of good people trying to make a social impact through innovation. I said to myself, this is wonderful! What if they worked together. What if there was a common platform because each of these innovators were being bogged down with setting up an ecosystem for themselves in order to be successful? What if there was a National Innovation System that offered ready resources to any innovator in the country. What if there is an ecosystem built deliberately to provide the scale and depth to these people who were doing things on their own with their own resources and entrepreneurial spirit. I was an R&D manager at Infosys at the time. Writing a book had always captivated me. But I didn’t envisage a book on national innovation ever becoming a gripping account of the change anyone can witness in a life time. Since that bright spark at the Leela, I had moved two roles and two countries. But from that time on, that idea has developed into a blueprint and here we are.

What was your purpose for writing the book?
My purpose was to attempt at unbundling the issues facing the world’s largest democracy and capture the glimpses of two Indias, colliding more often than collaborating to resolve its own deep rooted issues. Without losing sight of stubborn ground realities, my aim was to highlight an inconspicuous trend of innovation led growth. Other than a few speeches and some investments here and there in Innovation, I saw that a coordinated and planned effort in building up the scale was missing. I thought laying out a blueprint for Innovation as a solution for India's inequities could accelerate the process and would be a great contribution. Some people have described India's progress as a battle of mind versus mindsets - or a train chugging 5 steps forward and going back 2. The good news is that 3 forward steps have been reluctantly retained. The Innovation journey isn't going to be any different. I see that stubborness as a good thing because any progress that is made will be the right strides. But we need direction and a national plan.

How do you think your book will be different from other authors?
I began by looking at innovation from the eyes of a citizen and therefore the issues come to the fore from the lowest common denominator. I quickly realized that such a dispassionate yet personal account of a nation’s overt and covert strides in innovation and related development would be unique. It would look very different from how Clayton Christensen would look at Innovation, how Michael Porter would look at Competitiveness and how Jeffrey Sachs would look at poverty and development. Yet, it would relate to their ideas and give tremendous insights into how life in India would shape in the next 40 years, if India gets its act together.

What do you think makes the book a good read?
I think the book brings in a deep insider perspective. I guess that comes from my background of having lived in India for a large portion of my life. For over a decade I lived in the city that became synonymous with globalization and outsourcing – Bangalore. I worked for Infosys, the company that helped put Indian IT Industry on the world map, the same company that helped New York times columnist and best selling Author, Thomas L Friedman, shape the idea of a flat world. I lived the decade prior in semi-urban India. I was born in rural India in a hospital that had less than 20 beds. The doctor who delivered me was also my GP and my dentist.

In between these spells, I grew up in Africa proximal to challenges of development. I saw good and bad governance, feudalism, illiteracy, disease, poverty and gross neglect of fundamental human rights. I saw the very same challenges in India as I saw prosperity. The book has very pragmatic reflections of my own experiences, through the eras I cover. There is a good balance between good research, grounding in proven economic principles, analysis of key trends, case studies, and pragmatic treatment of ground realities that is under girded by experential insights. I think most people living or have lived in India can relate to every single example I have used to drive a point, a challenge or a solution.

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Posted first on  March 31, 2010 If you enjoyed reading this, consider buying India's Innovation Blueprint

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Book Information

India's Innovation Blueprint: How the Largest Democracy is Becoming an Innovation Super Power
George Eby Mathew

In 2010, India celebrated its 60th anniversary as an independent sovereign republic. Today, India is the fourth largest economy by gross domestic product – just behind the US, China and Japan. Economically, it is building itself as a formidable force and global influence. At the same time India has fundamental challenges. Its inequities are visible, its young population tread a thin line between opportunity and pitfall, its infrastructure has gaping holes and it’s a slow chaotic democracy. This book establishes that in spite of these challenges, a new India is emerging out of the old, colliding more often than collaborating with the old India. Much of the new India is built on economic momentum set 20 years ago and built by private entrepreneurs. The new economic climate together with talent and entrepreneurship is also making India a net supplier of Innovation. Going by current trends, India will become an innovation superpower by 2035. This book also establishes that India is not just leveraging Innovation for global competitiveness alone but it is also leveraging innovation as the specific instrument for inclusive growth. The book identifies gaps in the current innovation ecosystem and recommends a portfolio approach and calls for a National Innovation System to fix it. It suggests that if India succeeds in identifying, sustaining and funding a balanced innovation portfolio, India will also succeed in eliminating poverty, increase its rural GDP manifold, provide employment, education and health for all its citizens

Key Features
• Exhaustive literature survey to examine what makes and sustains modern India and how it compares with other nations with a similar tenure of independent history.
• Establishes and analyses the trends that support India’s global emergence as an Innovation Superpower:
• Identifies three levels of innovation namely grassroots innovation, national innovation and innovation for global competitiveness.
• Recommends that like railroads and telegraph revolution, innovation driven economies require an inclusive ecosystem to thrive.
• Recommends a portfolio approach for creation of a national innovation system.
• Offers a pragmatic call for action and recommends that a balanced innovation portfolio will also address rural GDP, poverty, employment, education and health for all.

The Author
George Eby Mathew is an electrical and electronics engineer by training and a former journalist with Indian Express in the early 1990s reporting on the emergence of liberalised Indian economy. Over the past 16 years, he has tracked globalisation, innovation and the emergence of India’s technology industries and has authored over 300 related articles, including advisory notes and book chapters. George is currently a Principal with Infosys Australia based in Sydney. Prior, he was Head of IT management Research at Infosys’ centre for innovation and R&D at SETLabs (Software Engineering & Technology Laboratory). He was also an analyst for Gartner.

• Policy makers & Governments
• Decision makers; leaders of both private and public sector
• Academics, Development Agencies & NGOs
• Corporate, Consulting executives, Investors, Banks & R&D experts
• Post graduate and Doctoral students, Anyone interested in India

• Introduction. The Tipping Point Eras; the Eras that shaped Modern India. India’s Place in the New World Order; How economic activity is shifting the epicentre of global innovation to Asia. Enviable Growth; India’s bottom up development model through private entrepreneurship is consistent with economies relying on innovation for growth. Groundbreaking Changes; Changes for the common man. Innovation Foundation; How India has built a sustainable capacity to produce scientific and technical manpower, a key asset for national innovation. Gargantuan Opportunities and Mindless Pitfalls; Three levels of national innovation; grassroots innovation, national level and innovation for global competitiveness. Enhancing Rural GDP through Inclusive Innovation; If India succeeds in identifying, sustaining and funding a balanced innovation portfolio, India will also succeed in eliminating poverty, increasing its rural GDP manifold, provide employment, education and health for all its citizens. Formalising Innovation through a National Innovation System: A pragmatic call for action.

Publication: September 2010 Pages: c280 Size: 234 x 156mm
Hardback (978-1-84334-229-8) (ISBN 1-84334-148-4): £65.00
Chandos Publishing is an imprint of Woodhead Publishing Limited, Abington Hall, Granta Park, Great Abington, Cambridge CB21 6AH, UK Tel: +44 (0) 1223 891358, fax: +44 (0) 1223 893694, email: If you enjoyed reading this, consider buying India's Innovation Blueprint