High Commissioner Mr Sandhu’s Address at the second Annual International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship: Innovations in Social Enterprise for Development ICSE 2017

High Commissioner Mr Sandhu’s Address at the second Annual International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship: Innovations in Social Enterprise for Development ICSE 2017

Mr. Dian Gomes, Chairman, Colombo School of Business & Management,
Prof. Ranjith Bandara, Head of the Business School and Conference Co-Chair,
Dr. Faiz Shah, Director, Yunus Centre, Asian Institute of Technology and Conference Co-Chair,
H.E. Mr. Kinley Dorji, Secretary General, Colombo Plan
Mr. Channa De Silva, Chairman, Sarvodaya Development Finance Ltd.,
Distinguished leaders from the Industry,
Esteemed members of the faculty,
My colleagues, Ashok & Suja,
Dear students,
Conference Participants,
and distinguished guests,

I am delighted to be here at the Colombo School of Business and Management for the inaugural session of the second Annual Conference on Social Entrepreneurship. I thank the organizers, the Colombo School of Business and Management (CSBM) and its Conference partners, Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Bangkok and the Colombo Plan for giving me this opportunity to address young and thinking minds. 

I will start with some probing questions.

  • How do we ensure that nobody walks barefoot on this planet?
  • How do we ensure waste-to-wealth transformation at all levels?
  • How do we ensure that our urban spaces remain clean and green, while addressing our quest for development?
  • How do we incentivise people to take public transport in megacities?

 

I do not have answers for any of them, but I presume, you would have answers for some. You are social entrepreneurs. You think out of the box. You offer small solutions to big problems. You ideate. You breathe innovation. Simply, you create a better life around..

 As you are aware, innovation and entrepreneurship are critical for development. They enhance productivity by leaps and bounds. That’s not the only reason why it is important. They address social issues in a novel manner. They have the prowess to make societies more inclusive. They craft social empowerment. The theme of this year’s Conference, 'Building an Intellectual Economy to Foster Socially Innovative Enterprise Development' is apt in every sense.

In today’s day and age, technology is a great leveller. As Prime Minister Modi has said, today there is an "app" for filling every gap! A farmer can today find out the best farming methods, thanks to his mobile phone. A fisherman can tie up the best price for his day’s catch while still at sea. Students can access online courses from the best Institutes in the world, sitting in the comfort of their homes. Today, we see and speak with friends and relatives spread across continents almost daily, that too almost free. Behind all these sea changes, is not just technology, it is someone who found out the best use of technology to contribute to the society, a social entrepreneur who thinks differently.

As human life expectancy increases, we may not be able to survive with learning just one trade to last a lifetime. We need to learn multiple trades spread over our life cycle. We need to learn, unlearn and relearn. Some of the trades which were relevant perhaps till yesterday are no longer relevant today. Wikipedia replaced Encyclopaedia Britannica. A Smart phone has replaced calculator, camera, computer and what not! Disruptive innovations have forced us to rethink on existing strategies and business models. 

As you may be aware, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) which India co-hosted with the United States concluded just yesterday in our tech-capital, Hyderabad. The US delegation was led by Advisor to the US President, Ivanka Trump. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi spoke at the inaugural session. This was the first time GES was hosted in South Asia.  This year’s theme was “Women First, Prosperity for All”. The event highlighted India’s enabling environment for innovation and entrepreneurship. There have been participants from over 150 countries at the Conference, including Sri Lanka. Interestingly, over 31 percent of entrepreneurs at GES were 30 years old or younger. The youngest entrepreneur was just 13.

We have been able to create Brand India, known for its spirit of enterprise and innovation, thanks to our youth. The demographic profile is set to make India the world’s youngest country, with 64% of its population in the working age group. With Western Europe, the US, South Korea, Japan, Russia and even China all aging, this demographic profile offers India an unprecedented opportunity for growth. We are, of course, conscious that demography only provides the potential; it is in our hands to transform it into reality. 

The motto of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to reform, perform and transform. In fact, Prime Minister himself ‘crowdsources’ ideas for better governance. 

The Government of India has recently undertaken several initiatives and instituted policy measures to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the country. Flagship programmes, such as Digital India and Start Up India are aimed at creating virtuous cycles of innovation, economic development and social empowerment. 

India has currently the largest, financial inclusion programme (Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana), in the world.

Adhaar, the unique identification system, has become the largest and most successful IT project ever undertaken in the world. As of 2016, 1.1 billion people (95% of the population) has a digital proof of identity. To understand the scale of what India has achieved with Aadhaar, you have to understand that India accounts for 17.2% of the entire world’s population!

The JAM- Jan Dhan Aadhar Mobile- technology trinity- has enabled direct transfer of subsidies to intended beneficiaries and, therefore, has eliminated middlemen and leakages in the system, and checked corruption, touching upon the lives of millions of Indian citizens. 

We have launched 'AIMtoInnovate' with over 900 Atal Tinkering Labs to promote a culture of innovation among children. Numerous incubation centres have been set up in various universities in India to nurture innovative startup ventures. 

Our recent World Food India initiative, which also saw Ministerial participation from Sri Lanka, focussed on entrepreneurs in the food processing industry and agricultural waste sectors. 

Innovation, as we know of it today, may be novel in its approach and use. But, India’s culture of innovation is not new. I do not know if you are familiar with the Hindi word, “Jugaad”, sometimes used pejoratively though, which means finding low-cost solutions in an intelligent way, in an Indian way, if I may say so. 

India currently has the third-largest scientific and technical manpower in the world with 162 universities awarding over 4,000 doctorates degrees and 35,000 post graduate degrees annually. India is ranked as the 3rd largest tech-based start-up hub in the world. More than one-third of the top 1,000 global R&D spenders have centres in India. The Tech start ups in Bengaluru and Hyderabad have changed the face of modern India.

Sri Lanka also has a strong tradition of innovation. The magnificent rock fortress in Sigiriya is a stellar example of this tradition. The traditional irrigation systems in Sri Lanka are another example. Basawakkulama reservoir, which is used even now, was built as early as 5th century BC by King Pandukabaya. It is also interesting to note that futurists like Arthur C. Clarke made Sri Lanka their home. There is a lot that we can achieve from each other.

India and Sri Lanka have been jointly funding S&T research and innovation programmes. This has further strengthened innovation and techno-commercial partnerships.

In addition, India has been providing fully-funded training opportunities to Sri Lanka, under Indian Technical & Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme over the last several decades. A large number of ITEC slots are for entrepreneurship and innovation related subjects. 

Government of India also offers 700 scholarships annually to the Sri Lankan students. A number of these Scholarships are meant for undergraduate studies, Postgraduate studies etc. 

I urge you to make use of these opportunities. 

A long journey starts with a small step. All of us may not be social entrepreneurs; but we can be socially responsible in our own way.

When we switch off lights in our office and homes when not needed; when we use cloth and paper bags to buy grocery instead of new polythene bags every time we visit a supermarket; when we grow vegetables and fruits in our home garden; when we contribute to recycling and upcycling in our own way; when we realize that every small individual action counts in making a global change; we not only make the difference, we are the difference.

I wish you the very best in all your endeavours. Let us together build a better tomorrow..

Thank you…

 

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