Last week, Ministry of Defence announced best tableaus during 26 January Republic day Parade and our Ministry of Education’s tableau won the first prize for best concept and design. Our tableau showcased Narendra Modi government’s National Education Policy 2020, using theme ‘Vedas to Metaverse’. We showed that the NEP is deeply rooted in our culture and ethos, however, it is equally very progressive and will prepare our youngsters to offer innovative, cutting-edge solutions for some of the daunting challenges of the 21st century.
Undoubtedly, NEP has huge emphasis on innovation and already some articles are in public domain in this regard. Hence, NEP is not my topic of discussion today, but I just wish to take this opportunity to impress upon the readers that Modi government’s every policy and governance initiative has huge in-built innovation component. But unfortunately, this aspect continues to remain under-appreciated and sometimes even purposefully ignored.
Modiji is a great champion of innovation and out-of-the-box thought-process. This style of governance is remarkably innovative as compared to all his predecessors. As a result, he has been able to achieve such phenomenal impact in a short time-span. The list of Modiji’s innovative policies and governance initiatives is quite huge but let me first start by briefly quoting couple of well-known programmes to drive my point home and then I will discuss some of the initiatives which we have taken under his guidance at the Ministry of Education.
In 2014, after coming to power, Modiji conceptualised innovative JAM (Jandhan-Mobile-Aadhar) trinity approach for direct bank transfers, followed by a huge push to digital economy by introducing the most disruptive digital payment methodology UPI. Undoubtedly, UPI is one of the biggest fintech innovation across the globe. According to the recent data from the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), just in December 2021, 456 crore UPI transactions worth about Rs 8.27 lakh crore were performed.
The second initiative which needs major appreciation is the Startup-India programme which has given an unprecedented push to the startup ecosystem. Modiji really had to innovate to break heavy mesh of red-tapism by scrapping many old laws and brining new leaner norms, offering tax benefits, creating fund of funds, Invest India program, etc. so that startups could grow and flourish. As a result, just in 2021, India has produced more than 40 unicorns. Moreover, the time to emerge as Unicron has shrunken considerably, thanks to the ease of doing business and access to capital. According to the recent World Bank report on ‘Ease of Doing Business’, India is among the top 10 economies showing “the most notable improvement”. Now even TV programmes like Shark Tank are trending amongst youngsters, which was impossible to envisage before 2014.
Even management of Covid vaccination programme through ‘Cowin’ platform has great process innovation dimension and will write elaborately about it in subsequent articles. Other schemes like UDAN, Jal-Shakti, Gati-Shakti, Toy-story, Swatch Bharat, Atmanirbhar Bharat, Ujjwala Yojana, Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, etc. are equally innovative and will discuss them elaborately in days to come. Undoubtedly, in my humble opinion, all these initiatives are ‘Modivations’!
Even couple of months back, when Modiji visited Kashi to inaugurate newly constructed Kashi Viswanath corridor, he took three ‘vows (Sankalp)’; Innovation, AtmaNirbhar Bharat and Swatch Bharat. I have never seen any of our earlier prime ministers or any other head of State from across the globe emphasising so much on ideation, innovation, out-of-the-box thinking and creativity. Moreover, he routinely talks about emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning, Robotics, Blockchain, etc.
Undoubtedly, Modiji’s unrelenting focus on these concepts has resulted in their penetration at the grassroot level. Now, every forum discusses them and every institution is trying to inbuilt them within their systems. This is a phenomenal achievement as it is pushing our societies to emerge as problem solvers and thought-leaders and not just followers.
Now, let me further emphasise this point by highlighting our innovation related work at Ministry of Education and AICTE. In 2016, when we started working on the concept of national Hackathon under guidance of Modiji, hardly anyone else within the government could envisage the power of this concept. Modiji wanted us to have Hackathon at a national level, hence we launched Smart India Hackathon (SIH). Now Smart India Hackathon has emerged as world’s biggest hackathon and largest open innovation model. Moreover, India is the only country to organise hackathon as a national initiative with participation from 50+ government agencies, thousands of educational institutions, lakhs of professionals and students. Modiji believes that initiatives like Hackathons help connect youngsters directly with national development and unearth ideas which are exceptional and disruptive. Smart India Hackathon now has started the culture of Hackathons and now you see them happening in every nook and corner of our country.
Considering the success of SIH, in 2018, Ministry of Education established Innovation Cell and appointed ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ to give systematic push for innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem within our education institutions. Even today, many of the global organisations don’t have a ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ position but Modiji’s government created this position and appointed me on secondment from a private organisation, which is again an innovative step. Even Niti Aayog has Atal Innovation Mission which has now established ‘Tinkering Labs’ in more than 9,500 schools.
Considering the success of SIH, in 2018, Modiji felt that Hackathon concept can be of great relevance in international diplomacy. Hence, he proposed joint hackathon to Prime Minister of Singapore that allowed best young minds from both the countries to collaborate and solve real-life challenges. Another Modivation! India-Singapore Hackathon was huge success, so he immediately asked us to further broaden the vision and proposed organising ASEAN-India Hackathon last year. ASEAN-India Hackathon was an unprecedented initiative. Never ever in the world a similar initiative been organized. All the 10 ASEAN countries participated and majority of the countries thanked India for introducing this concept. Many participants expressed that it was the life-changing experience for them. Currently, we are working on UNESCO-India-Africa Hackathon and we already have confirmed participation from more than 25 African nations. India will help these African countries in building their innovation ecosystem.
As MoE’s Innovation Cell (MIC), we run multiple programmes with an aim to systematically establish innovation ecosystem in our education institutions. We released ‘National Innovation and Startup Policy for Faculty and Students’ which is again a very unique policy guiding framework. We have established Institution’s Innovation Councils (IIC) in more than 2,700 higher education institutions and through these IICs, till date, more than 35,000 innovation and entrepreneurship related initiatives have been organised, touching more than 1.0 crore students, faculty, professionals and citizen directly or indirectly. We have trained more than 10,000 faculty members as ‘Innovation Ambassadors’ and have organised Toycathon to crowdsource Toy ideas based on Indian ethos, culture and civilisation.
Modiji’s push for ideation, innovation, entrepreneurship and technology is simply unprecedented. As a result, India’s Ranking on ‘Global Innovation Index’ has improved considerably. In 2014, we ranked at 81st on GII and now, after 7 years of tireless efforts, we are at 46th position.
So, Indian and international intelligentsia has no option but to take note of these Modivations!
Dr. Abhay Jere is Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), Innovation Cell, Ministry of Education, Govt. of India. Views are personal.