September 27, 2017
One of the great honours of having served as US Ambassador to India was visiting all 29 states and engaging with dynamic students, business and civil society leaders, and government officials.
Across the incredible diversity of landscapes and cultures, the enthusiasm for the promise of India’s future was palpable. Young people, in particular, brimmed with excitement about the opportunities available to them in a rising India. Experts say we are living in an ‘Asian century’. But my own view is that the 21st century will be defined by the rise and promise of India.
Big Opportunity Knock
Indeed, given the scale of the opportunity, there is no country more exciting than India, as it will soon have the world’s largest middle class and number of college graduates, with the third-largest economy and military.
Two-thirds of the India of 2030 is yet to be built. Investments that support India’s dramatic urbanisation will advance at an unprecedented pace and scale, as tens of millions of people migrate to India’s cities from its rural areas.
One of the cornerstones of India’s continued rise is its commitment to deploying advanced technologies and creating a robust and sustainable innovation ecosystem.
According to Cisco chairman John Chambers, the upcoming digital era is on pace to dwarf the current information age, generating some $19 trillion in economic value over the next decade, with some 500 billion devices connecting to the internet by 2030 alone. This is set to accelerate India’s own development.
India, like the US during the 20th century, has been on the vanguard of this technology revolution. A McKinsey study predicted that technology deployment in India will generate $1trillion in economic and social value, led by advances in energy, finance and education. Moreover, the initiatives to build 100 smart cities, deliver broadband to one billion people, and connect the most remote villages to the internet will have a huge developmental impact if successful.
I’m proud that the US has been a close partner with India in these and so many other efforts designed to harness the latest advances in technology for the good of humanity. In fact, US-India technology and innovation cooperation has become a pillar of our relationship. Dozens of dialogues and initiatives between our two countries have emphasised science, advanced technologies, cyber security and entrepreneurship. Their efforts are paying off.
I’ve witnessed first-hand how US and Indian scientists, students, engineers and innovators are collaborating together: constructing artificial limbs, creating drought-resistant seeds, deploying off-grid solar, helping artisans connect with global markets with just a mouse-click, reaching millions of India’s most vulnerable through new mobile health apps, and so much more.
And later this year in November, India will host in Hyderabad the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a joint US-India initiative designed to recognise and support entrepreneurs from across the region and the world. These examples only scratch the surface of what is happening in our partnership. We’ve made great progress together. But we can — and should — do more. Here are three possible areas where we should focus our efforts in the years ahead:
Don’t Fail to See
One, the US should continue to be a strong and close partner as India builds its innovation ecosystem. This means helping to recognise, train and skill young and talented innovators. They will need close mentoring, access to financing and, of course, the ability to fail, get back up and try again. If Steve Jobs had given up after being fired from Apple, who knows where we would all be today.
Two, both our governments need to ensure that public policies, regulations and laws should reflect the speed and innovations of this century, not the last one. That means a much more streamlined regulatory system, including the elimination of unnecessary or burdensome policies that stand in the way of new discoveries. This also requires ensuring a robust intellectual property regime, where Indian and American innovators have the confidence that their ideas and inventions will be properly protected.
Three, we should recognise that while governments play a key role, the real work and innovation will take place in the private sector and by individuals across the economic strata of our society. Governments need to encourage and support these efforts, and when necessary, remind business leaders in both countries of the public interests that can be served through private sector innovation.
Moreover, stronger people-to-people ties are critical to facilitating USIndia cooperation on technology and innovation. The millions of Indian-American diaspora will continue to serve as a critical bridge in this regard.
Obviously, our two countries will sometimes disagree — and we do need to find common ground on the immigration of skilled workers while addressing US concerns over job loss and the disruptions caused by globalisation and new technologies. But we need to stay focused and realise our two countries are stronger when we work together.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted that the great promise of the US-India relationship lies in “youth, technology and innovation — and the natural partnership of Indians and Americans in advancing human progress”. If we continue to make this one of our key focus areas, then the best days will be ahead of us as our two countries continue to rise together.