A passage to India
Last week, the Atlas of Ideas came full circle in India, when we presented the findings at a one-day conference in Delhi. The event, hosted by the National Institute for Science, Technology and Development Studies, brough together policy-makers and scientists from India, China, Korea and the UK to explore ways of increasing scientific collaboration.
Keynote speeches were given by the UK’s outgoing Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir David King and his Indian counterpart, Dr. R. Chidambaram. But the most inspiring intervention came from the new director-general of India’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Professor Samir Brahmachari. who made a passionate call for all the countries present to invest in an International Centre for Affordable Healthcare. Professor Bramachari declared his intention to pursue such models of ‘global science for global goals’ during his tenure as head of the CSIR.
The conference also heard presentations from Glaxo SmithKline and China’s ZTE about the changing dynamics of open innovation in corporate R&D. Most of the participants reacted warmly to the Atlas reports. Dr Jong Guk Song of Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute said ‘Demos has done an extraordinary job in describing the science and innovation system of Korea. I was enormously impressed.’
Two days earlier, we participated in a workshop at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. This event was organised and hosted by the indefatigable Professor Rajeev Gowda, as part of a UKIERI project, in partnership with the STEPS Centre at Sussex University. Its focus was less on government-led initiatives, and more on Bangalore’s local innovation environment. Entrepreneurs, multinational R&D managers, venture capitalists and IIM faculty exchanged ideas about how Bangalore can retain its status as a ‘super-region’ of innovation – especially as new competitors emerge elsewhere in India and further afield.
One of the speakers, Mukhund Thattai, gave us a powerful reminder of India’s potential. Dr Thattai is a fiercely bright new member of the faculty at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore. He works in the frontier field of synthetic biology, and recently led a team of Bangalore’s undergraduates to compete in MIT’s annual iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition. iGEM is hard-fought, with 56 teams from 20 countries taking part. But Bangalore triumphed – taking first prize for the best model, and only succumbing to Peking University in the battle for the Grand Prize.
We're very grateful to Rajeev Gowda, NISTADS and the British High Commission for all they did to arrange these two events. And we hope this will be the start of a fresh wave of Atlas research in India. We're particularly interested in exploring ‘hidden’ forms of innovation in India that don’t get picked up in conventional R&D indicators, building on NESTA's work in the UK.