Transforming development through Science, Technology and Innovation


Remarks by Y.S. Rajan during the opening session of the USAID Conference “TRANSFORMING DEVELOPMENT THROUGH SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION” held at Washington D.C. on 13th and 14th July 2010

Friends, Greetings.

Let me thank USAID, Dr. Rajiv Shah and his colleagues and the organizers for inviting and facilitating me to be here and to share my experience about DEVELOPMENT. I was thoughtful of Dr. Ticora Jones to send me the list of participants very late. I would have been unnerved, had I seen it before. I am humbled by the presence of so many experts and experienced persons and visionaries. I mean it truly. Let me share my ideas within these constraints.

The word development has many political, economic and other connotations. But the way it has been stated in the letters of the USAID Administrator and other papers that followed. I see a clear ray of hope. The way it has been focused in the background papers for the conference, this world DEVELOPMENT can really become a flood light of hope for billions people around the world, if we all do the actions well. The papers have dared to touch the real ground truths about poverty in current societies. Bulk of real poverty of the world today revolves around rural poverty of people who live in and depend on the incomes of poorly endowed lands. These lands yield little because of very low and uncertain availability of water which is life for crop plants, animals, birds and fish.

I have had first hand experience of consequences of poor agriculture. I was born at a time when India was reeling in a unprecedented famine infamously called “Bengal famine”, 3 years before our independence. There was severe rationing. Post my birth I was transported to Bombay. It was the beginning of severe rationing of food grains which continued decades later. After mother’s death at her young age 27 years, not uncommon in India then, I was transported to the village where I was born. I lived severe rationing all through my college days (1958-64).

The jinx was broken by the Green Revolution during later sixties. India no longer has famine or severe rationing now. But the Green Revolution spread only to less than 1/3rd of arable lands. Green Revolution did not transform itself to a prosperous rural India. The problem was because Green Revolution depended on high energy irrigation, while 2/3rd of Indian agriculture with 60% Indian people dependent on it, is still RAINFED whether it is in semi arid land or in a good land.

India still struggles with its rural poverty. Most of these people don’t have electricity. (About 600 million Indians do not have access to electricity). Naturally their income is very low. Only 6% of employed Indians are in the organized sector. Rest are in the informal sector. All the rural poor are a part of the informal sector. In Africa too the rural poverty predominates. SO CHALLENGE NUMBER ONE is to make the huge tracks of poorly endowed lands all over the continents in Africa, South Asia, South East Asia etc., to be able to access water, thus creating a virtuous cycle of agriculture, animal husbandry, poultry and fishing. This will in turn trigger better incomes, and therefore allied economic activities, more income, more jobs, better infrastructure etc...

We cannot create more rain nor built large dams. The STI challenge therefore is to use the available sources of water (fresh and used water) to provide just the right amount of water to the plants, animals etc., Rest of the better production has to be achieved through availability of better seeds, better fertilizers, better supply chain/marketing etc...

I am happy to note that the white paper and other notes that came to us as pre-conference notes, appear to converge on these crucial problems. But this action alone is not enough. The trio of better income, better health for all and economically oriented skills to all of them, needs to be enabled for all in order to create a virtuous cycle of development.

This TRIO will complete the process of DEVELOPMENT, make it sustained and growing. Naturally one would need some minimum quality and timely electricity locally available, in order to make the actions towards the TRIO to succeed. No electricity means no development.

Infrastructure issues require again innovative solutions – at least for a transition period of 15-20 years such as: Mobile heath care; rugged but low cost vehicles for maintaining the supply chain for agriculture; heavy use of ICT/satellites wireless etc., for education, skill development, interactions etc., as supplementary tools for reaching the poor people: etc., The above look simple. But they may require new R&D especially because they have to be low cost yet customized to the local situations. They have to work with minimum of electrical energy, minimum use of water and user friendly to be able to be operated by persons with little of school education or computer training. Thus, even while the applications will look very familiar or similar to what is being used in developed world or prosperous parts of the developing world, these boundary conditions may throw open new challenges which can be resolved only by the use of newer technology.

Some of them may be the use of high tech also. When NASA and ISRO embarked upon the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) during 1970’s highly complex part of the system was placed on the high power transponder and large deployable antenna on the satellite; this was done so that the end user in the village can easily watch TV with a locally assembled chicken mesh antenna. In a way, modern vaccines have highest degree of complexity in R&D and production but at the consumer at the end it is so simple. We should be alive to such solutions as well.

At the same time many solutions may come from technologies which are currently available in the public domain. They may be protected by IPR’s (Intellectual Property Rights) or some of them may be of the type whose IPR protection periods have expired.

All of these modes of use of technology should be acceptable to us. Our goal should be end-solutions, which are sustainable over a long period even after the initial demonstrations, initial launches etc... are completed.

This would require NEW FORMS of BUSINESS MODELS. Some as aid or grant s or philanthropies; some non-profit operations; and also for-profit ventures.

  • Realities of life in different parts of the globe dictate the following:
    • No single method: ENCOURAGE DIVERSITY
    • No Uniform solutions; CONTEXTUAL
    • Build in form the beginning possibilities of VIRTUOUS CYCLES.
    • (With due apologies to all the economists here and elsewhere) avoid the ETERNAL SEARCH OF THE ECONOMISTS FOR EMPIRICAL EVIDENCES, before start of actions. Let us do some analysis but depend more on the instincts of those experienced in actual applications.
    • Similarly avoid the EXTREMES OF SUPERSPECIALISTS, who find it difficult to accept other routes of solutions and also suffer from NIH (Not Invented Here) syndromes. (Again apologies to them. They are very important to finally execute many projects!)
  • THERE IS A NEED TO INCLUDE ALL THE STAKEHOLDERS OF THE SOCIETY. They are the following (in most societies):
    • The superrich persons who want to make more money with their investment and to get more fame with their philanthropy.
    • The enjoying and aspiring middles class persons who want to enjoy more and aspire to go up further in the ladder.
    • Bulk of the poor who live a fragile existence with each day or week or month bringing many challenges to their existence in terms of loss of job or scarcity of food or water or health problem or displacement etc...
    • If a poverty alleviation Programme is addresses only to the poor, it will be killed by the upper two very soon.
    • So let us devise methods where all of them GAIN.
  • I have an INVERTED WALMART model as a possible way to explore. Instead of procuring the cheapest good quality products from all over the world and supplying them through high tech retail shops, make a few critical high tech high volume products in the best companies (may be in the developed world or high tech company of developing world). For example may be a special titanium or surface engineered gear box for a bicycle may be done centrally and distributed all over the world for use in bicycles. Bicycles in rural areas may be assembled by many local companies to different contexts. In this example the crucial part may be the gear box. There could be electric or electronic products of such type.
    • Building up such business models spanning developed countries to the bulk of the developing world.


(The text is incomplete. But the essential items have been covered. The main idea is to break away from the then existing—unfortunately existing even now@2017--models of MNC led export economy models with limited domestic market capture, in developing countries. Overheads of MNC’s are high. Their international type standards cause additional costs. Hence Bulky Base of India can’t afford to buy them. Thus economy depends only on exports cheaply to the developed countries. To reach 1billion + population there has to be several local adaptations in many decentralized ways importing only critical technology intensive items from developed countries. Their business and profit will end there. Rest of production, domestic sales, export etc is the business of local businesses in developing countries, such as India. Actually the foreign MNC’s don’t lose profits because the local entities will expand their businesses to segments of BB and lower middle class persons on a scale unthinkable by MNC’s. And therefore orders on MNC’s will grow. Thus there is a WIN-WIN situation. I had suggested to USAID to adopt such an INVERTED WALLMART model and help build capacities in local entities in developing countries. In this ay developed countries will have high value jobs in their shores; and developing countries can create lot of locally adapted jobs and incomes in their countries and also expand consumer base –to use current phrase SABKA VIKAS.)

P.S. The reason I put it in now is because, it provides a business model that can create compatibility between Make in America and Make in India type aspirations. Also with Start Up culture being accepted, this will give immense opportunities to a large number of Indian entrepreneurs. It is not necessary for India to wait for USAID. A forward looking Big Business house can develop a business model and partner with a foreign partner from Japan, UK, Germany, S Korea, Israel, etc. If GOI helps to speed up approvals nothing like it!

Y. S. Rajan
02/05/ 2017