Saturday, 6 May 2017

Lessons from Indian Innovations

India offers different innovation approaches that Singapore can learn from. Her grassroots and inclusive innovations are very unique and worth to consider.

As the Indian initiative heavily involves Information Technology, let’s begin the discussion on Indian Stack.      

[Indian Stack and Internet Access]

To make its IT network more secure, the Singapore government has begun a programme to restrict public servants’ internet access on workstations. It was announced by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore on 8 June 2016. By May 2017, public service officers across all Singapore government agencies, ministries and statutory boards will have internet access “separate” from their computers. (1)

In the name of internet security, we are willing to sacrifice productivity, perhaps, innovations and creativity too.  Is this a good solution?  

Let’s look at India.

India Stack is a complete set of API for developers and includes the Aadhaar for Authentication (Aadhaar already covers over 940 million people and will quickly cover the population of the entire nation), e-KYC documents (safe deposit locker for issue, storage and use of documents), e-Sign (digital signature acceptable under the laws), unified payment interface (for financial transactions) and privacy-protected data sharing within the stack of API. Together, the Indian Stack enables Apps that could open up many opportunities in financial services, healthcare and education sectors of the Indian economy. What this essentially means is that developers and tech startups can now build software and create businesses around the readily available infrastructure offered through India Stack, thus opening a huge potential to tap into the booming smartphone market in the country. Since the consumer market in India is very large, such startups could also hope for institutional funding and gain from the early mover advantage.(2)

Comparing our ‘Internet access restriction’ and Indian Stack, Singapore seems to approach the ‘IT for the people’ problem differently. Will security a concern to Indian Stack which within 5.5 years generate 1 billion users? Certainly, yes. Why are Indians not afraid of internet security issues? In fact, Indian Stack is the faster and cheaper way to reach out to the people. It is a Bottom-up approach. However, in Singapore, we are adopting a Top-down approach. We are worry about the top, the government information, but consider less for the grassroots and inclusiveness.   

[Strong co-operation, lack of understanding]  

Singapore and India had signed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in 2005.  The CECA eliminated tariff barriers, double taxation, duplicate processes and regulations and provided unhindered access and collaboration between the financial institutions of Singapore and India. The CECA also enhanced bilateral collaboration related to education, science and technology, intellectual property,aviation and relaxed visa regulations for Indian professionals in information technology, medicine, engineering and financial fields to emigrate and work in Singapore. Singapore has invested in projects to upgrade India's ports, airports and developing information technology parks and a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). India has become Singapore's 4th biggest tourist destination and more than 650,000 Indians visited Singapore in 2006. Both nations have worked to collaborate on aviation, aerospace engineering, space programmes, information technology, biotechnology and energy.(3)

Singapore wants to have more co-operations with India. Our Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam listed education, connectivity, smart cities as areas of further collaboration.

The Straits Times made the following report:

{"It frankly gives me confidence in India, not just based on what has been happening in the last few years of GDP growth above 7 per cent, but confidence that this is now a new journey that we in Singapore want to be part of, contribute to and want to benefit from at the same time," he said, listing financial connectivity, air connectivity, education and skills and smart cities as areas of further collaboration.} (4)

We are familiar with India since independence in 1965. India is one of the three major races here and Tamil is one of our four official languages.

Have we capitalised on this historical relationship? Yes. Perhaps, it only takes place in the G-to-G level and the Singapore government-linked companies. Our private sector and small businesses have not benefited from CECA. Again, this is due to the Top-down consideration, quite different from the Bottom-up approach of doing business in India.  

[Indian Innovations]

Singaporeans are too familiar with the government Top-down approach in solving problems. We are called a Singapore Inc. We do things in a very formal and corporate way. We ignore the grassroots and inclusive problems.

It is good to understand there are five types of Indian innovations: Grassroots, Inclusive, Frugal, Reverse and Invisible. For Singapore, we only look at who can afford to buy.  But India is a market that needs low-cost solutions to meet the poor-man demands.   

Here are the video links of the five Indian innovations:

[Top-down approach]

Before we touch on the Indian innovations, let’s look at our national innovation program.  In 2006, Singapore government established the National Research Foundation (NRF) and her vision is to develop ‘Singapore as a vibrant science & technology hub, with R&D contributing significantly to a knowledge-intensive, innovative and entrepreneurial economy.’ (5)

The NRF board of directors are key ministers, international academics and corporate leaders. This high-level council underscores the political commitment to and importance placed on the national R&D agenda.

It is clearly a top-down approach in R&D and innovations. And of course,  NRF is looking for solutions and breakthroughs for the rich and middle-class consumers.

While in India, they are using different approaches, both involving top-down and bottom-up R&D approaches, academic and non-academic personnel, inclusive rather than exclusive markets and audiences.

If we are serious about the Indian market, we need a mindset change. India is a disorganised market, emerging market with a lot of poor consumers. Our NRF is focusing only on rich market and neglects the unaffordable poor market. This will limit our innovation development and potential. And our businesses, if adopting the same attitude, may find no market in India.

We know India and we have many Indians, either citizens or residents, living here. But yet, we have not discovered India in a deeper sense. We only look at the rich Indians and forget the potential of poor Indians.  








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