Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad
Two years ago Edmund Phelps, 2006 Nobel Laureate in economics and Director of the Centre on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University in his much celebrated book ‘Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge and Change” argues for his new thesis that grassroots innovations were exclusively the source of mass flourishing in the past. The central argument of the book is somehow circumscribed to the opinion that home grown innovations helped create jobs, dynamism and vitality within the western economies and ultimately became the main source for nation’s prosperity and inequality. Phelps, while introducing the book argues that the economic prosperity visible in some nations was a product of pervasive indigenous innovations, possible through economic dynamism and the desire and the space to innovate. The book further reflects on the benefits of modern values coupled with risk taking and investment in uncertainties. He suggests that modern values play a critical role in dynamic economic growth because they help undergird what he terms ‘indigenous innovation’. While rejecting the theory, that all material advances in a country are driven by the forces of science and godlike entrepreneur figures, Phelphs contends that ‘scientism’, and ‘exogenous innovations’ could not have been the major driving force behind the explosion of economic knowledge in the 19th century. His point actually is that the historical art of credit giving to headline inventions of applied scientists is grossly erroneous. Because according to Phelps, most of the inventors including the headliners were not trained scientists nor were they particularly well educated.
Much similar are the arguments put across by another distinguished scholar Clifford D. Conner in People's History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and ‘Low Mechanicks’. Conner tries to demystify the ‘heroic and aristocratic narratives’ of the history of science. The author beautifully attempts to present the ‘people’s history of science’ which brings to light the contributions made by the ‘ordinary men and women’ (miners, midwives, and low mechanics) towards the development of science. The central aim of the book, according to the author, is to demonstrate much, much greater contributions to the production and propagation of scientific knowledge on the part of anonymous masses of humble people-the common people – than is generally recognised or acknowledged. As is evident from the title, the entire book orbits around identifying the contributions made by the unsung, anonymous, subaltern, invisible artisans, farmers, miners, midwives, etc. towards the expansion of science and maths. Conner contends that science as it exists today was created out of folk and artisanal sources; it became what it is by drawing heavily on those sources. He asserts that Isaac Newton’s ability to ‘see farther’ should not be attributed as he claimed, to his sitting ‘on the shoulders of giants’, but rather to his standing on the backs of untold thousands of illiterate artisans. He maintains that those who work with their hands have long been looked down upon as inferiors, less valuable, by those who make their livings without getting their hands dirty.
The point of bringing these two authors here is not in reality to review their work, but to juxtapose them with the circumstances popular in our part of the world with regard to knowledge, innovation and research. When we assess the research and innovation capabilities of our science led institutions then an undesirable profile is vivid. No matter which indicator we use; from papers, citations, patents, and collaborations to innovations none of our universities stand even in the top 12000 Universities around the world. Very few patents had been awarded to our public funded institutions. Despite spending millions on our universities not a single penny is realized in terms of royalty by these so called “elite” institutions. The reason is simple, time and resources are diverted for unproductive creations. Research and Development gets least preference. Compared to our formal structures of knowledge production some ingenuity is discernible within the informal economy. Recently during my visit to GIAN cell/EDC , Jammu and Kashmir, established at the University of Kashmir some years ago more than 84 indigenous technologies had been developed/fabricated in a very short span of time. The no of patents filled is plus 55. More than 1.25 crore of financial assistance has been provided to Kashmiri innovators both in the formal as well as informal sectors. Besides this more than 29 Entrepreneurship Awareness Camps (EACs’) had been organized and 6000 plus herbal practices had been scouted and sent for validation. However, unfortunately these ideas will not turn out to become “game changers” with reference to Kashmir economy or as is visualized by Schumpeter or Phelps that innovation will set the economy in motion. The reason is simple; innovations never happen in isolation, to turn an idea into a commodity needs lot of efforts and bundle of resources. Kashmir is full with ingenuity, creativity is pervasive, innovative ideas are visible everywhere, traditional practices are almost omnipresent. However the eyes and hands to unearth them and incubate them are off the track. Wittingly or unwittingly institutions, values and culture of innovations are not nurtured. If Kashmir has do well both economically and politically, then the culture of knowledge creation, innovation has to be re-energized. University of Kashmir, together with Jammu and Kashmir Bank can take a lead in this direction. As argued by Schumpeter, bankers know better where to invest; which innovative idea needs to be harvested and EDC /GIAN University of Kashmir know where the ideas are located. In tandem with Science and Technology Council Government of Jammu and Kashmir, JK Bank can help create an innovation centre / knowledge house in Kashmir out of their CSR resources. This I believe will be the greatest achievement towards the self sufficient, self reliant slogans raised by our politicians and policy makers alike. Relying on New Delhi and shifting the begging bowl to Mumbai from New Delhi will not help. Today’s economies are knowledge based economies; innovations, ideas provide the fuel modern day economies required. It will be good if a separate centre for innovation and knowledge creation is established in Kashmir. It will provide dividends back in a very less span of time.
Author is PhD Scholar at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy JNU, New Delhi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org