Of late, the government’s “Make in India” programme, which intends to transform India into a global manufacturing hub, has led to considerable debate. To some, it intends to foster innovation and build the economy by attracting foreign investment to develop infrastructure in the manufacturing sector. To others, it focuses on domestically manufacturing products innovated by foreign firms. However, unless R&D is strengthened and the manufacturing ecosystem for homegrown entrepreneurs is developed, Make in India will not help the nation emerge as an innovation hub.
Make in India lacks systemic thinking, and does not have a human-centred approach, which are key tenets of design thinking. The programme also lacks granularity in terms of details and foresightedness towards building an innovation-driven nation. This is because the programme fails to address the following issues.
First, due to a lack of systems thinking, Make in India will not lead to the creation of a sustainable economy. The government’s target is for Make in India to contribute to 10% growth each year for the next 10 years. This push for growth is being interpreted as an opportunity for foreign corporations to set up manufacturing industries in India for sectors such as defence, automobiles, chemicals, IT, pharmaceuticals and textiles. Foreign companies will set up factories at preferential rates, hold rights to technology and intellectual property, create low-wage jobs for Indian workers and extract profits. This excludes the maintenance and repair rights. The Russian fighter jet MiG-21, which is manufactured in India, is a classic example. The entire product span costs us double to triple more than its purchase costs. This is because the jet’s repair, upgrade and maintenance rights are controlled by the foreign vendor. A systems thinking approach would allow policymakers to have a more holistic and cohesive approach to policy framing.
Second, due to a lack of empathy for domestic manufacturers and entrepreneurs, Make in India by itself will not foster domestic innovation. Considering the lack of infrastructure at present, the programme will definitely awaken the manufacturing units by creating blue-collar jobs and much-needed skilled labour (only 12% of India’s population is skilled). This may be a good starting point for employment generation. However, the policy seems to be biased towards foreign investment. The worry is whether the government will give equal priority to homegrown innovators and entrepreneurs, especially when these domestic innovators compete directly with foreign manufacturing units supported through Make in India.
Third, Make in India does not encourage inclusive growth. The lack of priority for R&D and upgrade of small scale manufacturers followed by a liberal FDI regime has led to quixotic consequences, such as people purchasing Ganesh idols, phulkari works, saris and kites that are made in China! By inviting those foreign manufacturers to make in India, is the government supporting inclusive growth so necessary for a developed country? After 68 years of independence, perhaps we should first define what, precisely, are the tenets of the “developed nation” that Make in India seeks to achieve.
Fourth, Make in India focuses on the economy, but misses on the socio-cultural and behavioural aspects of encouraging productivity. When the government talks of the “economy”, it does so in a way that is disconnected from the thought that eventually people and culture drive the economy. Innovation cannot thrive when our education system produces students programmed in rote learning that discourages them from working hands-on and solving real-life problems. Right from kindergarten to college education, students master linear thinking. Most Indian organizations do not nurture innovation because of frozen hierarchies and stiff formalism. People take great pride in not working by hand! Manual work is despised. With such a state of education and organizations, Make in India will not kindle innovation. Parallel to the programme, on the pretext of promoting innovation, large grants were sanctioned by the government to premiere institutes to establish innovation hubs. Giving large grants to support innovation is similar to providing subsidies for building toilets. Neither can address the core issues of innovation and sanitation that require an ecosystem leading to behavioural/cultural change in India. We need to change the way people relate to sanitation personally and publicly, and similarly, we need to change the culture in organizations and how policies are interwoven to support innovation.
What the government is missing in formulating Make in India is design thinking: a systemic problem-solving process that can visualize or shape tools, society, policies, products, businesses and environment by driving human-centred and context-sensitive innovations. Design thinking can bring about societal change, especially when injected into the education system from kindergarten all the way to training of administrative officers and civil servants. Design thinking can be applied to visualizing new policies as well as re-framing existing policies, to make them human-centric, cohesive and to include multiple stakeholder needs and views, thus increasing their adaptability and efficiency in implementation. The British, Dutch and Australian governments have been engaging with design specialists in this process to frame human-centred policies and bring about societal changes. Sadly, in India, the most common notion of design is still only linked with aesthetics.
A design thinking approach is essential to nurturing a culture of innovation. For Make in India to focus on inclusive growth through innovation, it must be clubbed with “Made in India”. It must focus on building a robust ecosystem and leading a cultural change that drives innovation encouraging entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. Innovative energy will drive the development of new products and services indigenously conceptualized and manufactured in India, thus gaining intellectual capital. Design thinking can facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the current needs for upgrading and reviving manufacturing units in different sectors. It is especially required for grooming innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises, and streamlining the framework to connect innovative ideas to existing utilities by installing knowledge-sharing mechanisms. By involving multi-stakeholder views and an iterative thinking cycle at the time of envisioning policy, granular details towards building up high quality R&D units and manufacturing to build an innovation ecosystem can be detailed out. Only then can Make in India bring about societal change, creating a new breed of thinkers and innovators who take pride in building high-quality products that are trusted for quality and that bear the imprint “conceived and manufactured in India”.
Ashis Jalote Parmar is assistant professor of design thinking in business policy area at IIMA. Ashis is a recipient of the Marie Curie Fellowship from European Union-FP6. The article presents the author’s personal views and should not be construed to represent the institute’s position on the subject.