he Prime Minister will be hailing the feats of the Silicon Valley titans and will profess the importance of technology for India and Indians. But can he challenge us to discuss the mindset and the enabling environment that are as important as the technology itself.
Silicon Valley (California): Silicon Valley has a culture that does not just stop at nodding at disruption but unabashedly applauds it. What aspects of this culture will the Prime Minister be intrigued by and what about it will he be able to take back with him to his motherland where he vows to bring big change on multiple fronts.The Valley is abuzz with talk of the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy showing up at its doorstep. It does not hurt that the largest democracy has an economy that is humming and continues to heat up while most other parts of the global economy appears to be cooling or not living up to the hype created about them.
Disruption is the genesis of cutting-edge technology. This technology is not conceived in a vacuum. An enabling environment and a supportive culture are intrinsic for any such technology to gain currency.
India feels the need for disruptive innovation in multiple areas. Gender equity, mainstreaming of the specially-abled, creating a level-playing field for those who are not in technology’s current orbit are just a few immediate examples. Can technology really make women safer? Can women in urban India be made to feel secure and can something be done to disrupt the shadow of fear that hangs over these otherwise bustling metros?
Then there is the looming question of access to technology. Technology has been a game-changer but only for those who can afford it and have access to it. What about the alienated peoples in the far flung areas of the country – those that are still laboring away in the country’s hinterland awaiting the positive change to one day come and make their lives better. Or the millions of those in the indigenous communities whose voice is like that of a tree falling in the woods.
Technology is most valuable when it empowers marginalized communities – when it gives voice to those that are voiceless. We hope that the Prime Minister while being swept off his feet by the strides in technology in the Silicon Valley will be thinking of the millions in India for whom technology still remains a knight in shining armor who is yet to arrive and rescue them.
A great democracy like India can be really proud of its democratic values when all her people can fully participate in decisions that impacts their lives, than just being mute spectators of change that they have no say in. Take the case of the specially-abled population. While there are exceptions, a majority of them still remain a hidden population in the country. Of the nearly 2% of the population being specially-abled, it is a staggering number in actual terms. What technological interventions have emerged to bring more of this population into the mainstream and have them contribute to the country’s future while giving them the choice to be independent if they wished to?
As Silicon Valley has shown the world, change is not a product of technology alone but comes from those who apply it effectively. Disruption does not happen with the newest gadget but requires a different mindset to finding solutions. Prime Minister Modi should embrace the technological leaps of the Silicon Valley but not miss the underlying culture that gives technology its heart and soul.
(Author Venkatesh Raghavendra is with the American India Foundation that is working to digitally empower millions of young people who had limited or no access to technology)