Dr. Mashelkar, Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was awarded the "For the Sake of Honour Award" by the Rotary Club of Madras East at a function at the Park Sheraton Hotel in Chennai on March 03, 2004. A friend of mine who was attending the function had asked me to come along and I was fortunate to listen to Dr. Mashelkar speak.
Here's a summary of what Dr. Mashelkar had to say (paraphrasing his words).
It is a great time to be an Indian and more importantly, to be in India. Not because of the $107 billion of foreign exchange reserves or the 8% growth rate, but because of the distinct changes that have taken place over the years. When I returned to India in 1976, my wife had to use a kerosene stove and wait over an year for a gas connection, I had to pay Rs. 3,500 for a Bajaj scooter and wait 7 years to get it, I had to wait 7 years to get a personal telephone and had to get a "not manufactured in India certificate" and clearance from the Director General of Trade and Development to buy a goniometer for my experiments. Today, we can get a gas connection or a telephone or buy a two wheeler over the counter or easily import scientific equipment required for research.
When I was interviewing candidates for the post of Chief Innovation Officer for the National Innovation Foundation, I came across a candidate who was an expert in branding, and asked him "Can you brand India for me?" Pat came the reply - India is a Land of Ideas. The US has been branded as the Land of Opportunity and it was this perception of opportunity that spurred the cream of the cream of Indian youth to migrate to the US in the past decades. But the process has begun reversing. According to NASSCOM, over 25,000 professionals have returned to India in the past two years.
India is now becoming a global research, design and development platform. There are 1600 researchers at GE's research centre in Bangalore (to go up top 2400 soon) of which 400 are Ph.D.s and 40% are young Indians who have opted to come back to India. When a biotech VC fund was set up by Sharat Daroo for APID, 60% of the applicaitons were from young Indians wanting to come back to India.
About a month ago, I was giving a talk at HCL and someone who graduated from IIT Chennai many years ago came up to me and told me that of the 142 people from his batch who left India after passing out of IIT, 78 have returned. The trickle that has started can become a torrent.
The youth are now beginning to look at India as the land of opportunity. Abid Hussain once said, "it is better to have brain drain than brain in the drain" and the brains that left are now starting to coming back.
It is not just the multinational companies in India that are investing in research design and development in India. The Indian pharma company, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, has doubled its R&D spend from 4% to 8% this year which is a huge investment in R&D.
India is moving from imitation towards innovation. From making the Ambassador (a british-designed car) in India, we have now come around to making the Rover (the Indica designed and manufactured in India by Tata Motors) and exporting it to Britain. The wheel has turned full circle.
Economic growth in different countries has been spurred by different factors. The infrastructure in the US, textiles in the UK, timbre in Sweden, milk in Denmark, oil in the Middle East etc. In India, in the 21st century, it is going to be the Indian mind that is going to spur economic growth. Our success in IT has brought our self-pride back.
Let me end with a sobering thought. Today only 50% of our children go to school, of which only 40% go up to 10th standard, of which only 30% actually pass. Effectively only 6% of our children are passing out of our schools, whereas the number is 68% in South Korea.
Today, only 0.06% of Indians are creating the export revenues. This is the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg. What about the submerged part of the iceberg?
Coming from a poor family myself, many years ago I couldn't afford going to college. A scholarship of 60 rupees a month for 6 years from the Dorab Tata Trust (quite a small sum for the trust) helped me and many others go to college. If all the 60+ Rotary clubs in Chennai alone can spend money to help educate our youth, we can create not just one but millions of Mashelkars.