It is an extraordinary story of triumph of pragmatic economic interests of both the countries overtaking long term historical problems and tensions. China has about $25 billion worth of trade surplus with India which Indian prime minister recently pleaded with Chinese leadership to reduce.
But if we were to calculate the knowledge exchange index as a measure of Global Innovation Learning index, then situation might become different. India has shared about 12,000 grassroots innovations and sustainable knowledge practices at its site with the world as against Chinese 3,000 GRIs.
Before I dwell upon the meaning of unilateral giving of innovations and exchange of knowledge public goods as new currencies of world economy, I must add that we need new metrices for evaluating our potential as well as capabilities.
The exchange of commodities determined the power of trade in the first phase of economy cycle. Once knowledge began to be deployed as value addition in the traded good, the share of knowledge based tradables began to increase. The countries which had huge reserves of primary commodities did not have any advantage any more. Of course Chinese dominance in some of the trace elements which are used in electronic industry does influence the way trade prospects are viewed in future.
The third phase has been of distributed and open source knowledge management. There are many trends whether in software or even some of the other knowledge-based industries which indicate that intellectual property seems to weigh a bit less than before in determining new benchmarks of efficiencies and global connectedness.
In this context, how do we see the role of open source, open innovation platform created by Honey Bee Network 24 years ago. To what extent the intellectual property protection has helped in leveraging the comparative advantages of different innovations (NIF has fielded more than 560 patents and trademarks and plant variety protection applications) and how has it taught communities across India and China, two civilisational societies about the merit of blending open source with closed bounded IP protected technologies.
Recently, two books have been brought out by SRISTI Innovations including case studies of Grassroots Innovations Across Himalayas and Crucible of Creativity: a sample of Indo-china cases. We learn that sometime same problem faced in both the countries have led to triggering similar solutions by common people. If only we had realised the need for continuing the exchange begun more than 2,000 years ago, we could have saved civilisational duplication of efforts. We don’t measure the lag of this kind in calculating innovation index. The policy and institutional lag thus continues.
I suggest that we calculate innovation indices afresh within and among countries with several modifications:
a) Has the unit cost come down in various sectors and spaces over last five years? Unfortunately, in most countries inflation is assumed as an inevitable feature of the economy and unit cost of various operations keep on increasing progressively. The top level of government should track the opposite.
b) How many ideas from the grassroots were learnt, analysed, abstracted and scaled up in different ministries?
c) How many programmes were stopped, modified or started on the basis of the feedback from the grassroots?
d) Were various barriers to innovations identified for institutionalising cost saving and effect enhancing innovations?
e) How many patentees were approached to either in-licence their innovations for improving public systems or to support their entrepreneurial ventures or to acquire their rights to make those technologies open source for MSME?
f) How many student teams were mobilised in different parts of the country to benchmark the energy, material, waste generation and recycling by MSME and what steps were taken to ameliorate the conditions?
g) How many grassroots innovators have received support from formal R&D, design and fabrication institutions?
h) How many products and services based on innovative efforts at grassroots level received product development and incubation support?
i) How many industries came forward to sign benefit-sharing agreements with the grassroots innovators and communities to scale up their ideas innovations?
j) How many traditional knowledge-holders signed up contracts with formal R&D institutions to develop extremely affordable and safe solutions for agricultural, livestock and human problems?
k) How many communities were supported for in situ conservation of biodiversity so as to keep the local supplies of knowledge based products intact?
l) How many trust funds were created to empower local communities to manage their knowledge systems dynamically and in a socially desirable manner?
m) How many women innovators got support to take their ideas forward in different sectors of the economy?
The author is a professor at IIMA.