Sweden India for Innovation – co-creating for a sustainable future

The importance of science and innovation in achieving the 2030 Agenda for UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — to which most nations, including India, are committed — points towards a new opportunity for cross-border collaboration in...

The importance of science and innovation in achieving the 2030 Agenda for UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — to which most nations, including India, are committed — points towards a new opportunity for cross-border collaboration in scientific research and technology development. There is no doubt that science and innovation has become an ever more important force for intermediating global relations in recent decades.

No nation alone has the capacity, infrastructure, and human resources to address the massive challenges we face, threatening our very existence. The pandemic has given India a unique space to mainstream science and innovation in its domestic and foreign policies. In the last few years, India has signed strategic partnerships bearing substantial science and innovation components with countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan, Israel, Germany, the European Union, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, South Korea and Australia. It is evident that international collaboration in science and innovation is not merely cosmetic, but of strategic importance to countries’ economic development and future prosperity

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been categorical in placing science and innovation at the forefront of the country’s diplomatic engagement. The theme of innovation, R&D and start-ups remained an important agenda point in almost all the bilateral visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and in other diplomatic engagements. The line Ministries in India have also shown more visible alignment to international science and innovation cooperation. The Ministry of External Affairs too has seen a restructuring with a Cyber Diplomacy Division, an E-Governance & Information Technology Division and a New Emerging & Strategic Technologies Division to manage science and technology issues in the nation’s diplomatic matrix.

Reflecting on the recent developments, Deputy Head of Mission Gautam Bhattacharyya said:

“The world has faced some serious political and economic disruption during the past few years, including the Trump presidency, China’s ascendance and the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, science and innovation remain integrative and adhesive factors in international relations. Innovation ecosystems, global value chains and entrepreneurial networks are increasingly connected and continue to create significant value and prosperity for the global good. Signs of reverse globalization and attempts at de-linking economies increase the importance of science and innovation diplomacy, often regarded less sensitive and intrusive of national political choices, to build constructive international partnerships. If innovation is to lead to sustainable and equitable development in the long run, large democracies such as the EU, India, US and Japan need to jointly uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights and democratic norms. The successful partnership between Sweden and India is built on this very foundation, while tapping the many complementarities that exist between the two countries.”

Science as a tool for diplomacy has been used for several decades. It can be instrumental to achieve disruptive change and will most likely play a crucial role in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In 2018, India and Sweden signed a joint innovation partnership to deepen the collaboration between the two countries and contribute to sustainable growth. The partnership was signed during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Sweden. The Partnership aims to fully catalyze innovation and technology from both countries to address global challenges. That goal was back in the spotlight earlier this month on 5th March when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Stefan Löfven held wide ranging discussions during a Virtual Summit.

Photo courtsey: MEA Image gallery

In the meeting, the Prime Ministers agreed to deepen the Indo-Swedish cooperation within the successful Joint Innovation Partnership established by the two countries in 2018. The Prime Ministers noted that “Innovation for a more sustainable future” is at the core of the India-Sweden partnership.

The Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA) was launched by India a few years ago and has provided an enabling platform for frontline techno-economic alliances. Enterprises from India are tying up with their counterparts from partnering countries including Israel, Canada, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Spain, and the UK. This industry-led collaboration, with the government as an equal partner, is aimed at supporting the last phase of technology-based high-end, affordable product development — which can connect to both global and domestic markets.

The two Prime Ministers welcomed the launch of a second joint industrial R&D call on Smart and Sustainable Cities, Transport Systems, Clean Technologies and Digitalization and Internet of Things under India-Sweden Collaborative Industrial Research & Development Programme. They also welcomed the India-Sweden Collaborative Industrial Research & Development Programme on Smart Grids. On the Indian side, GITA is the implementing partner for both the calls, while on the Swedish side Vinnova, the Swedish Innovation Agency, is the lead agency for the joint call on Smart and Sustainable Cities and the Swedish Energy Agency is the lead agency for the call on Smart Grids

India-led International Solar Alliance (ISA), with more than 79 sunshine countries as signatories and nearly 121 prospective countries as partners, is another excellent example of modern-day science diplomacy. The vision and mission of the ISA is to provide a dedicated platform for cooperation among solar resource-rich countries. During the summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed Sweden’s decision to join the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and said that the country could contribute significantly to the alliance with its expertise in clean technologies.

The strategic importance of cooperating within science and innovation is well reflected in the dialogue between the two leaders. Recalling the inaugural High-Level Innovation Dialogue during the 2019 State Visit, the Prime Ministers noted the wide range of R&D projects co-funded by Swedish and Indian agencies. They confirmed the ambition to scale up bilateral research and innovation on Circular Economy, Health and Life Sciences and Waste to Wealth during 2021. The Prime Ministers also noted that hydrogen research and its possible applications within industry is of interest to both countries They also welcomed the progress made in identifying specific areas of scientific collaboration in polar research, such as joint research projects and participation in polar expeditions. The two leaders moreover encouraged Indian and Swedish space actors to identify specific areas for future collaboration and seek mutually beneficial partnerships between both public and private sector organizations.

Since the launch of the joint innovation partnership, Swedish funding agencies have committed more than SEK 160 million funding for joint research and innovation projects with India. This amount is match-funded by Indian funding agencies. At OSI-India, we play a key role in facilitating and enhancing the partnership. Together, both countries continue to form partnerships and collaborations in technology and innovation to solve a range of global issues like circular economy, digital health, clean energy and implementing high end technologies like AI, big data and blockchain. Stay tuned for more funding opportunities and exciting projects!

Meeting with Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Science and Technology, Minister of Health and Family Welfare and Minister of Earth Sciences, during the Swedish state visit to India in 2019.

This month, we also say goodbye to Innovation and Science Counsellor Dr Fanny von Heland. Summarizing her India stint, Fanny said:

“It has been so inspiring to work in India, learning from Indian partners and colleagues, and strengthening the relationship between India and Sweden within innovation, research and higher education. Cooperation between our countries presents so many exciting opportunities to strengthen our competitiveness and create prosperous societies. Since I joined the office in 2019, I have experienced first-hand the power of utilizing science and innovation diplomacy as a tool for addressing global challenges of climate change and creating solutions that can improve human well-being. I’m convinced the relation between Sweden and India will continue to grow and create positive impact beyond our national borders. To all our partners in Sweden and India, many thanks for your collaboration and support!

Thanks to Gautam Bhattacharyya for guest blogging with us. Signing off!

Fanny von Heland, Leena Kukreja and Mini Nair