Currently working as an innovation researcher at Zhejiang University - one of the top public universities in China, Dr. Sheikh Fayaz works on secondary innovations and regional development.
He holds his M. Phil and Ph. D from the Center for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. In 2021, he was called to speak at the second edition of the Science Summit of United Nations General Assembly-76. He will be moderating a session on ‘Alternative Innovation Models from China, India, and Pakistan’ at the same event in September 2022 in New York.
He began working as an innovation collaborator with the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) in 2007, assisting NIF and its sister organizations, such as GIAN, in identifying and documenting unaided informal sector innovations from Jammu and Kashmir's peripheries and rural areas. For his work on researching and highlighting the unparalleled contributions of the ‘Unsung innovators of Jammu and Kashmir’, Dr. Fayaz was awarded the third National-level prize by the National Innovation Foundation on 18 Nov 2009 at Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Pusa, New Delhi where the then President of India Pratibha Devisingh Patil was the chief guest.
In conversation with Rising Kashmir’s feature writer Insha Latief Khan, Dr. Fayaz talks about the unexplored areas of innovations and the important assets required in building up the ecosystem of innovations in Kashmir.
Tell us about secondary innovations and alternative innovations - the areas which you have been researching on.
Secondary Innovation (SI) is a nascent theoretical framework proposed by Prof. Xiaobo WU, a leading innovation and development expert based in China, to better understand the nuances and underpinnings of innovations and technological capabilities in latecomer firms in developing countries that face institutional voids, limited resources, and technological constraints. However, secondary innovation is a dynamic process rather than a static paradigm. It is concerned with the acquisition, upgrade, and transition of technological capabilities. It necessitates a great deal of learning and flexibility, as well as organizational transformation. SI is a four-stage process. It begins with a ‘basic assimilation’ process where a ‘foreign technology’ or blueprint is deconstructed. This phase is followed by ‘structural understanding’, which starts with localization of imported technologies. In Stage three of functional understanding, high-level design capabilities of localized technologies and new diversified markets and technologies are generated. The last stabilization phase of SIs, is labeled as ‘post-SI’. Here, firms can explore radically different innovation models or discover new markets. Similar to windows of opportunity, new models could emerge in the form of either radically disruptive market-creating innovations or as frugal or inclusive innovations.
For Global south countries, as well technologically laggard countries in the Global north, SI approach of building innovation and technological capability offers enormous hope.
Alternative innovation models are broadly defined as those models that strive to address critical human concerns and are based on compassion, empathy, equality, sustainability, and inclusivity, as well as those that are not motivated by individual profit goals and are pro-people. We know the current innovation and growth models have been exposed by the covid-19 epidemic. Top-down elitist innovation and growth models, inadequate incentive structures, and over-reliance on traditional approaches have produced an unanticipated global socioeconomic catastrophe. Inherent tensions accompanying the prevailing producer’s innovation paradigm have become especially pronounced. The ruling economic system of capitalism has also come under fire. Many argue that the COVID-19 outbreak has illuminated the cracks in capitalism as well as its flaws. This is the best time to explore the alternatives to growth and innovation models.
What are the thriving areas for innovations in Kashmir?
In terms of resources and capabilities, there is tremendous potential for innovations in Kashmir. We can build on our traditional industries and can reinvent the wheel of resource-based sector innovation. For instance, there have been no major breakthroughs in the forest industry. Finland, a small country, began its extraordinary innovation journey with forest industry inventions. China took advantage of its 'backwardness,' resulting in incredible technological 'breakthroughs.' Despite having abundant apple and walnut resources, we continue to consume apple juice produced outside of India and utilize walnut shell face washes. Water is a future industry. Except for the water bottles, what are we producing?
Although incremental attempts by individual inventors are commendable from a technology standpoint, I do not believe we will be able to create a technologically driven revolution in Kashmir by such efforts. Kashmir lacks the critical complementary assets required for a healthy innovation ecosystem.
What role should the innovation and incubation centers play?
Incubation and innovation centers are an excellent place to start small. Again, spending money to develop a large structure will not result in innovations unless you discover the right individuals to guide and coach you. Complete autonomy and financial stability should be added to it. Innovators should be treated with respect. They should not be regarded as marketable assets - you give them some cash and expect them to make major breakthroughs. We need to learn to appreciate failures.
These incubation and innovation centers, it is important to note, cannot work in isolation. We need to establish strong actor-sector partnerships. Also, we have to study successful models from all across the world. The ability to absorb information must be developed. All outstanding initiatives will be stifled by arrogance in policymaking.
Are we getting good ideas from Kashmir? Do those ideas reach the market?
'Creative destruction' is at the heart of innovation. Innovation is defined as anything new that disrupts the market in any way, either gradually or radially. It's not just about opening a coffee shop and serving the same old coffee. It's about inventing something completely new or destroying an existing market in order to produce fresh economic value, but there's a catch. It is possible to have incremental innovations as well. Railways, for example, were initially invented in England and then spread throughout the world. China upgraded existing technologies and built high-speed railways, which is yet another important incremental innovation.
Kashmir has had numerous different types of inventions throughout its history. Shawls and paper-mache are two excellent examples. In fact, during Covid, when the supply chain was disrupted, Kashmiri innovators have shown incredible innovative potential. However, the problem stems from the ecosystem's broken innovation links. All excellent ideas are devoured by flawed incentives, push-down innovation programmes, red tape, arrogant bureaucracy, and corruption.
Are Angel investors coming forward to invest in the ideas and innovations?
In Kashmir, we have people willing to invest in innovative ideas, but they, too, require security. Investors must select among ideas based on the infrastructure available for innovation. Who will risk his or her capital if the infrastructure is broken? The bureaucracy's inefficiency and arrogance must be addressed. To attract new investors, you need flexibility and a bottom-up strategy.
How much scope of innovations is in traditional industries like Shawl industry or Papier-mâché industry?
If the government and policymakers in Kashmir are serious about developing a vibrant innovation system, the only and best way to do so is to rethink old industries and creatively utilize local resources. The ideals of compassion, equality, sustainability, dignity, and inclusivity should guide this entire innovation process. Any faulty approach taken in the name of romanticizing innovation concepts might be counterproductive and harmful in the long run.
How important are the collaborations among innovation centers and universities?
Collaborations are essential. There is practically little interaction between universities and colleges. School children should be taken to colleges and universities to learn about research and the university environment. For a long-term innovation ecosystem, interaction between diverse knowledge sources is critical. We are living in small shells, and we must breach them by engaging in inter-societal knowledge exchanges. This exercise will broaden our perspectives on innovations and technology.