Address on Research Collaboration at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (Mumbai, India)
Mumbai, India, Friday, February 28, 2014
I am delighted to be in India to speak to you about the next generation of leaders, in this country as well as in Canada.
First, let me set the stage. As you may know, I was a university educator and administrator for most of my life. This, in fact, is not the first time I have been to India. As president of the University of Waterloo, I had many occasions to sign partnership agreements between the University and the Indian Institutes for Technology. In fact, this institution collaborates with many of our country’s finest schools.
In 2005, I had the opportunity to speak to members of the IIT alumni association in Canada.
Please forgive me for quoting myself, but I said: “The best form of technology transfer is a good pair of shoes. The intellectual property in the brain carried around by those shoes can do magnificent things.”
Here we are nearly ten years later, and I am in India, looking around at a room filled with a new generation of innovators and leaders, who are already accomplishing remarkable things, judging by what I have seen so far.
India has been a great leader in harnessing the great intellectual potential within its borders. What, then, is the next step?
How can Canada and India build on the fruitful relationships we already have to build a strong innovation ecosystem?
The answer, I believe, lies in collaboration. Let me tell you a story.
In 16th-century Europe, the invention of the printing press changed the course of Western civilization.
What is perhaps less well known is the extent to which the printing press was the result of close collaboration. The printing press would never have seen the light of day were it not for the cluster of innovators who came together to make it happen.
They were Johannes Gutenberg, Martin Luther, and Frederick the Elector of Saxony—John, Martin and Fred, I’ll call them—and they came together to transform a feudal society.
John invented the printing press—the technology—around 1450, and promptly went bankrupt. It took Martin’s translation of the Bible—the content, if you will—three quarters of a century later, as well as Fred to shield him from Rome, to truly bring the printing press to Western Europe’s attention by launching the Protestant Cultural Revolution.
Now, what is interesting is that Europe was in fact late in “inventing” the printing press. The Koreans had moveable type as early as the 3rd century AD, and Marco Polo saw printed books in China in 1215. But those civilizations had only John. They were lacking their Martins and their Freds. The point is that all three were necessary to bring forth the printing press, which led to the tradition of learning through reading, critical thinking and discussion, and to the transformation of the individual’s role in society.
What, you may ask, was the point of this story?
In short, creating a strong innovation culture requires us to communicate and work together closely. The printing press needed its John, Martin and Fred. Canada needs India to succeed, just as India needs Canada to succeed. Because when we do, we strengthen each other.
And I think that all of you are representative of one way in which we can collaborate better together—through education.
India has already distinguished itself in learning—this institution is evidence of that that. And back in Canada, I say with some experience, we have some of the world’s best universities and colleges, with a rich history of working co-operatively with others. We have over 400 agreements with India alone.
These agreements allow Canada and India to work together in unique ways, sharing knowledge across borders, participating in research projects, and exchanging both experts and students.
Indeed, many Indians have chosen Canada as their first destination for an international education. In 2012, more than 13 000 students came to Canada to study. Canadians, in turn, are taking advantage of schools in India.
But even if you choose only to study locally, many of you here, upon graduation, will spread out and make contributions not only to India, but also to the entire world. Perhaps some of you may even end up in Canada!
That is the direct result of living in a globalized world.
We learn and share across borders and disciplines, practising what I like to call the diplomacy of knowledge. And we can all be ambassadors and high commissioners of this type of diplomatic exchange.
We will not lose knowledge or talents across borders; rather, together we will circulate our innovations and creativity freely.
Here, you learn not only how to think critically, but also how to develop ideas to be economically viable and successful.
That knowledge can be applied elsewhere, and your expertise is already invaluable.
You are leaders in innovation and in entrepreneurship, and I hope that you share your ideas and your success with Canada, just as Canadians want to share our success and ingenuity with India.
Together, we can create a stronger, smarter, and more caring world.