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R.A. Mashelkar says India is poised to become a global leader
With its outstanding record in innovation, India is poised to become a global leader.
How innovative is today's India?  The Global Innovation Index 2011 shows that India is ranked 69th among 125 nations.  These indices have to be taken with a pinch of salt, though.  Indices using a per capita basis create a problem for India.  Almost anything that is divided by a billion comes to zero!  Let us look at other signals.  Is India changing the vocabulary of innovation?  The answer is yes.

Inspired by India, we find the entry of frugal innovation, reverse innovation, nanovation, Gandhian innovation and even Indovation! Last year, the late C.K. Prahalad and I co-authored 'Innovation's Holy Grail' in Harvard Business Review, introducing 'Gandhian innovation' there.  We talked about getting more from less for more and more people - not just for more and more profit.  More from less for more (MLM) has caught the  imagination of the world.  The World Economic Forum had a half day session on MLM last year.

GE Medical team in India made the low-cost portable ECG machine, which inspired GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to propound the concept of  'reverse innovation',  predicting that countries like India will become the fountain heads of original innovations, which will migrate to the West.   A $2000 Tata Nano car inspired the American couple Kevin and Jackie Freiberg  to write the book 'Nanovation'.

India continues to make the impossible possible.  Can we make a recombinant DNA hepatitis-B vaccine available at a price that is 40 times lower with such a high quality that it captures 40% of the UNICEF market?  Can we make a cataract surgery available at a price that is 100 times lower with a quality that is better than what Royal College of Ophthalmic surgeons are able to achieve?  India has done it.  Chhotukool, a refrigerator costing $70, Akash, a computer tablet costing $35, etc. are clear game changers. 

In the decade ahead, India will become a leader in MLM, which will  be achieved through not only technological innovation (Nano) but also business process innovation (lowest cost mobile cell phone calls), workflow innovation (Aravind Eye Care) and so on.  And many other paradigm shifts will occur.

India has been good at creating products that are first to India, not first to the world. Nano was a first to the world product - and so innovative that there are 37 patents.  We will see more and more such 'first to the world' innovations.

India is doing well with process innovation - from Dabbawalas that reached the Harvard Business School to Devi Shetty's low cost heart surgeries that won this year's Economist Innovation prize. We will see now more science-based innovations.

Scientific research converts money into knowledge. It is innovation that converts knowledge into money. The Nobel prize winning Indian scientific breakthrough - the Raman effect - was monetised in the USA through the creation of Raman scanners, but not in India.  Ashok Jhunjhunwala's wireless local loop technology was deployed in Brazil and Madagascar first, not in India. All this will change.  Indian ideas will create wealth in India.

There are several signals to support this.  Our science leadership did not worry about protecting 'monetisable knowledge' through patents.  This is changing.  Prof. C.N. R. Rao, India's most decorated scientist, did not have a single patent to his name in five decades.  This year he has  filed his first ever US patent on a breakthrough on hydrogen storage in graphene, an advanced carbon material.

The Indian drug industry will move from copying new molecules to creating new molecules. Piramal Life Sciences' breakthrough in a new molecule for head and neck cancer is an example.

New models of innovation started elsewhere.  India simply copied them.  Not anymore.  CSIR's Open Source Drug Discovery is a workflow innovation using crowd sourcing for drug discovery, a true first. In just a couple of years it has 4500 participants from 135 countries! Conferences are being held in the USA now, discussing the Indian game changer OSDD in USA.

This Indian decade of innovation will see India taking the first definite steps towards a position of global innovation leadership with an emphasis on creating a better world - bringing the much sought after equity and sustainability to the table in a uniquely Indian way.

The author is National Research Professor at National Chemical Laboratory


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In the decade ahead, India will become a leader in MLM, which will be achieved through not only technological innovations such as Nano, but also business process innovation such as lowest cost mobile phone calls, workflow innovation such as by Aravind Eye Care, and so on. And many other paradigm shifts will occur. India has been good at creating products that are first to India, not first to the world. But Nano was a first-to-the-world product - and so innovative that there are 37 patents. We will see more and more such 'first-to-the-world' innovations. India is doing well with process innovation - from dabbawalas who reached Harvard Business School to Dr Devi Shetty's low-cost heart surgeries that won this year's Economist Innovation prize. We will see more sciencebased innovations now.

Scientific research converts money into knowledge. It is innovation that converts knowledge into money. The Nobel Prize winning Indian scientific breakthrough of the Raman Effect was monetised in the US through the creation of Raman scanners. But not in India. Ashok Jhunjhunwala's wireless local loop technology was deployed in Brazil and Madagascar first, not in India. All this will change. Indian ideas will create wealth in India.

There are several signals to support this. Our science leadership did not worry about protecting 'monetisable knowledge' through patents. This is changing. C.N.R. Rao, India's most decorated Mr Science, did not have a single patent to his name in five decades. This year he has filed his first ever US patent on a breakthrough on hydrogen storage in graphene, an advanced carbon material. The Indian drug industry will move from copying new molecules to creating new molecules. Piramal Life Sciences' breakthrough on a new molecule for head and neck cancer is an example.

New models of innovation started elsewhere. India simply copied them. Not any more. CSIR's Open Source Drug Discovery, or OSDD, is a workflow innovation using crowd sourcing for drug discovery, truly a first. In just a couple of years it has 4,500 participants from 135 countries! Conferences are being held in the US now, discussing the Indian game changer OSDD.

This Indian decade of innovation will see her taking the first definite steps towards a position of global innovation leadership with emphasis on creating a better world - bringing the much sought after equity and sustainability to the table in a unique Indian way.

The author is National Research Professor at National Chemical Laboratory
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