Inclusion and Innovation to drive India’s Techade

Innovation, Inclusion for all, and empowering startups take center stage at Microsoft ExpertSpeak Season 4

New Delhi, March 15, 2021: Innovation, inclusive growth and empowering tech talent will be the key enablers for technology to truly shape India’s Techade. Speaking at Microsoft ExpertSpeak, a curated dialogue series with industry experts, Debjani Ghosh, President, NASSCOM, Abhishek Singh, President and CEO, NeGD and Dr. Rohini Srivathsa, National Technology Officer, Microsoft India, called out the foundational role technology will play in giving India a competitive advantage at the global stage. The discussion focused on the opportunity India has to transform the lives of a billion plus people with technology, driving economic, financial, healthcare and educational inclusion for all.

The speakers emphasized India’s opportunity to be a global innovation and tech talent hub, evident from the entrepreneurial momentum in the last few years. Startups, SMBs, and homegrown Indian companies are playing a key role in driving the next decade of growth and innovation for India with technology as the backbone. Digitally skilled talent will play a critical role in maintaining this growth trajectory for India and the experts underscored the importance of grassroots skilling to empower every part of India to leverage opportunities that technology creates as it shapes the country.

Excerpts from the discussion:

Tech for inclusive growth

Abhishek Singh: “When we talk of inclusive growth, especially in designing anything for the digital platform, we need to consider if it will it create a digital divide, if everybody will get equal access, or if it will create a realm of digital haves and digital have-nots. So, this consideration has been there right from the institutionalization of common service centers to building services with a mobile-first approach, given that about 90% Indians access services through mobile phones, making services available in vernacular languages and designing in a very simple, easy-to-use approach so that everybody can use it.”

Debjani Ghosh: ”As an industry we have to ensure that we apply the lens of inclusion when we are designing and scaling our technology. Inclusion and innovation go hand in hand, and I strongly believe that no other country has been able to demonstrate that as impactfully as India has in the last two years.

Partnerships will be important. It has to be about the industry, startups, government, academia, everyone coming together to make it happen. The design principles of the techade has to be human-centric innovation. It has to be security. It has to be inclusion, and it has to be scale, built into the start, built into the design of technology rather than an afterthought.”

Rohini Srivathsa: ”Access to information and opportunity is key for inclusion-whether it is jobs, knowledge, information, or education. The chatbot that we helped develop for MyGov was critical in giving people the information they needed, in time and in any language they wanted. And that’s what we see happening with languages, in Indian languages across the board, even text to speech and speech to text capabilities. You don’t have to be a literate. You can actually speak to the device and be able to access information. Microsoft’s language translation now supports more than 12 languages. These are all abilities that provide access to information and opportunity for everyone. The second piece on inclusion, which is very close to my heart, is that of the disability divide. India has one of the largest segments of people who are in various spectrum of disabilities. How do you use technology to build in accessibility by-design into products and services? How do you ensure that people with disabilities have the same access to information and opportunity that most of us take for granted? That will be critical for inclusion.”

India as an Innovation Hub:

Debjani Ghosh: “From an Innovation in India standpoint, first we have a cost advantage. We can never underestimate the importance of cost advantage, it is always going to be important and, in a while, we may not be the cheapest place, but definitely we have a strong cost advantage when you look at the overall ecosystem. Second, and very important, the talent advantage. For us talent advantage is not just the 1.6 million digitally skilled pool of talent available, which is by far the largest in the world, but also STEM talent. Third is the power of a connected ecosystem in India. Very few countries have the best of both worlds, where they have a very strong innovative local ecosystem-not just startups, but also local IT companies, local product companies doing very well. And then you have the GCC or the multinationals who have some of their leading R&D work happening in India. So, we have the best of both worlds. And the fourth is ease of doing business. I think the government beyond doubts has proved that we are for technology, we are for industry, we are for reforms, and we will be ready to work with you.”

Abhishek Singh: “When we look at driving innovation to solve problems that India has, in any sector; whether it’s agriculture, whether it’s healthcare, education, whether it’s Natural Language Processing, any solution that is deployed for India will naturally work for anywhere in the world. That is the advantage that we have and the scale we have. The challenge remains is that how do we ensure that we are able to nurture solutions, entrepreneurs and startups who are building such solutions. One way, in which we have been trying to do that at some level is to use hackathons and innovation challenges. How can we institutionally support them, by offering challenges for startups and entrepreneurs to work on? Number two, building a mechanism for procuring those services with the government mainly and number three, creating an ecosystem for ensuring financing and funding of startups and entrepreneurs. We will be able to nurture innovation that will help us in creating multi-billion-dollar companies not just unicorns, but companies which can dominate the tech space in the years to come, making this India’s Techade in the true sense”.

Rohini Srivathsa: “If you can innovate for India, you can innovate for the world. India really in that sense is an innovation laboratory. To try things that you would not even consider in in many parts of the world. Cost-wise, ruggedness, wise, just usability-wise, there are so many interesting challenges. We are working with a non-profit, SEEDS, to use AI for predicting cyclones and their intensity and to be able to help people evacuate on time. Now clearly, that’s a solution that is applicable across the world. But in India to be to be able to use AI and be able to use rooftops and be able to predict where dense populations are able to do it really creates a ruggedness that is very challenging and then an innovation for the world.”

Tech Talent Driving Entrepreneurship:

Debjani Ghosh: “We need to ensure that our education system is creating the mindset of an entrepreneur. While our education system has plus points when you look at the STEM talent that we create, we will need to move the focus a bit more, to creating character, to creating attitude. You know, education system should be all about building that curiosity, to learn to unlearn and to continue learning for your life rather than just learning a few skills. Curiosity is at the essence of it and the willingness and the passion to continue to learn because you know that you die the day you stop learning. If our education system can create that mindset, India becomes unstoppable in my mind.”

Rohini Srivathsa: “We have been the hub for a lot of the global capability centers and our tech industry has been the center but now we are really becoming the startup capital of the world with the third largest startup ecosystem in the world. And more and more companies are looking at India to really do innovation in deep tech. So, it’s not just about talent to volume, but quality of talent and the kind of deep tech talent that we are looking to and to me, that is super, super exciting.”

Abhishek Singh: “I foresee that in the next 3-5 years we will have scenarios in which the youth may be able to acquire skills and courses from multiple institutions; for example, one can do a few courses say from IIT, few courses from Delhi University and a few courses from Kolkata University. That will really expand opportunities and allow our youth to have a greater choice. The delivery of these courses cannot be only limited to tier-1 and tier-2 cities, it must go to the rural areas. How can we create skill development centers in rural areas? Can common service centers transform into centers where they deliver such courses, and can skilling be delivered in an online mode in almost every block of the country?”

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