VTU convocation address by Sam Pitroda

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vtu sam pitroda The 13th convocation of the VTU was held on Tuesday in Belgaum.

Padma Bhushan Dr. Sam Pitroda, Founding Commissioner United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development made the following convocation speech –

Hon’ble Minister Mr. Deshpande, Mr. Vice Chancellor, various senior members of the academic Council, Faculty, Administrative members, Students, Families, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Afternoon!

It is indeed a very special privilege to be here with you to deliver address at this 11th convocation and I thank for organizers for giving me this opportunity. This is my first ever visit to Belgaum. I drove last night and parted this morning. I appreciate the beauty of the State of Karnataka. You are indeed blessed with great scenery, great source of natural resources, forests, great climate and I am happy that today I have an opportunity to witness another great resource, i.e., the talent of the people of Karnataka. First I have to congratulate all of the graduate students today, those who are here as well as those who are not hear, for their great success, hard work and significant accomplishment.

I cannot help but notice three main features of this convocation. One, there are lot many more girls getting gold medals than ever before. I confirms my belief in the fact that our girls are smarter, hard working, sincere and deserve lot many more opportunities in the future. From my work in the Government for last 30 years, I must tell you, I have great luck with all our female employees. They are very loyal, they are single objective to do what they are supposed to do and they indeed make significant contribution to our development. Second feature I noticed is that, in Ph.D. degree programme, there were lot many more senior people, which is really heartening to note that people do believe education is a lifelong activity. It is good to see many of our senior people going and working heard to get advanced degrees. It is good to see that they want to really experience, research and environment for their research students and so I am indeed proud for all our Ph.D students here and I really thank you for your efforts. Third feature I noticed is the amount of disciplines, specially when I heard about the gold medallists is phenomenal. It is not Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, There are lots of interesting areas that my generation never had an opportunity. So I hope that based on what you have seen today we have to feel proud of our students and I believe they can not only make a significant contribution to Karnataka, but also to the country and perhaps to the world. So I once again wish them lots of luck and I want to use this opportunity to talk about two things.

One, technology, because it is indeed an institute of technology, VTU. I am sure your founding father would have been proud with all that you have done. That I want to take you through a simple journey on what we are talking about technology and talking about my own journey in technology. The lessons I have learnt might help you in your journey going forward. Technology is a greatest special reveller second only to death. Technology brings you platform to create the quality. Technology is not about something exotic, fancy, urban and elite. Technology is all about problem solving. Some huge and some abuse technology. Technology is not about something fancy urban elite. Technology is all about problem solving. Technology has indeed a great deal for mankind, specially for the last 50 years. Mortality has decreased, transportation, telecom has improved, energy resources have increased and over all concept has improved all over the world and technology has been able to lift large number of people from poverty all over the world. Just in the last decade, almost billion people have been lifted out of poverty and thanks to technology as one of the key elements. Most of these people have lifted out of poverty in China and I believe the next decade is the challenge for India to lift 400 billion people out of poverty using technology. Technology is just an entry point to bring about generational change. On the one hand, technology has solved lot of problems and on the other hand, technology has not been able to solve problems related to hunger, environmental blunders, violence, wars, to some extent poverty and lot many more. Technology predominantly in the last 50 years has come from the U.S. Almost everything needed today that has mass appeal whether it is computer, software, DNA, Laser, Micro processors, Genetics, Biotech, Nanotech has roots in the U.S. But when I say this to my European and Japanese colleagues, they react. The fact still remains is really what was really invented anything substantially in the last 50 years. We can do add little value here and little value there. But the core has come from the U.S and it has roots in defence. As a result, lot of U.S. technology has not been able to benefit large number of people. I have been saying from last 25 years, that best brains in the world is solving problems of the rich. Problems of the poor people are not solved. As a result, problems of the poor really turn right kind of talent. We have largest number of poor in the world and we have huge amount of potential talent. The key challenge for us is to use this talent and really address the problem at the bottom of the economy and that requires whole different kind of thinking. It requires focus on the affordability, scalability, sustainability. We must create Indian model of development. We must create different cost structures, different applications, because our problems are different. As a result there is a great need to take technology to rural areas. There is a great need to use technology in everyday life to benefit people. When I look at last 65 years of development in India, essentially after independence, I seen five different technological development. One agriculture. The fact that last year we produce largest amount of food ever in the history of India, says that we have been able to increase productivity substantially. But at the same time, we have largest number of hunger in the world. It says that, there is large room to bring technology in every culture for logistic, storage and distribution to help eliminate hunger. Today we can feed 1.3 billion people and we have surplus food and credit goes to Indian technology in agriculture.

The second is automic energy, third space and fourth re-production and fifth telecom and IT. I had an opportunity of working at Teolecom and IT in early 80’s. Then we have two telegraphs and we chose to take 10 years to have telegraph connection. We used to have lightening call which has required 8 times than a normal call. In a short span of just about 20-25 years today, we have 900 millions phones. The credit goes to Rajiv Gandhi who provides political will for us to do all that. He has given all the support with new strategy of rural telecom indigeneous development local production, local industry and we created whole of the new models of STD, PCO that allowed us to privatize telecom in a different way. Very few people understands that it has to get from year to year. It has been a very interesting journey. In the process, we have an opportunity also to work in technology missions related to drinking water, immunization, edible oil, literacy and milk production. Today we have been able to eradicate polio from the root and the credit goes to Rajiv Gandhi and Gang, who focused on polio vaccine production. Thus, in 87 India did not produce any vaccine for polio. Today not only we have been able to eradicate polio, but we have been the larger producer of vaccine in the world. All these things takes long time to take it done. But when people says that nothing has been done, I feel sorry for that. The day the understanding of what is done and how long it takes to get it done is very poor and India has a great deal in technology. However we can do a lot more. Telecom is one example. Software is another example. Very few people knew about roots. In Rajiv Gandhi’s time, the Chairman of JE Electric has visited here and Jack wanted to sell us Engines. Rajiv called him and Jayaram Ramesh, Wanteck and I had meeting with Jack. We said Jack we went to sell software and Jack said I am not selling software, but I am selling Engines. Finally Jack said what we want to sell him. We have him presentation about software. And he gave me order for 10 million worth of software. We sharted organising meetings when Infosys had not more than 8 people, Wipro had not more than 15 people and TCS had 100-115 people. In a short span of 35 years today we produce 120 billons dollars software for export every year, year after year. That shows the talent in this country. If we put our mind to it, we can get it done. But it takes again 30 years. Lot of hard work, success is not a shored. I spared about 10 years working on telecom. There are heart attacks, I undergone bypass, Rajiv Gandhi was killed and I ran out of money. I decided to go back to US to feed my family. I restarted my life and with that point of time, I was 55 years old. I given up my US nationality, I go back to U.S. as tourist and working as tourist. I restarted my life and then decided to come back to and work in India because i was convinced that in India we will get substantial knowledge as it. On the one hand we have lots of people and on the other hand we cannot find the people we need. There are people who cannot find a job. We need carpenter, electrician, plumber, construction worker etc. People we graduate are many times are not employed. They cannot write well, they cannot read well, they cannot communicate. We need to really retrain them. It is in this kind of environment where we need to see education. We planned about 4-5 years planning, knowledge strategy in the country and National Knowledge Commission. Lot of these documents are already on the web. If we look at National Knowledge Commission, it will tell all about what kind of work we need to have been done in the next 20 years in India for knowledge. When comes a way interesting opportunity for all of us today is about internet, where internet has changed everything. It has changed products, processes, business models, it will change education, it will change health services, it will change environment. With internet the richness has increased. To be internet is the biggest happening in the mankind after fifteen thousand years. When language has invented, it would bring group of people together. Internet can bring the world community together. When we connected India, we brought everybody together. Internet bring the people together in a very different way. The main challenge now is to take this connectivity forward. We have really great broadband infrastructure to country by the next 10 years. That in turn will benefit the education, governance, employment, media and everything. Lots of colleges are already connected to the network. We are now building a network to connect 15,000 panchayats. At Panchayat lever everyone has excess to videos for training, education, health and lot more. We are creating platforms for ID, GIS, applications, we are computersing 32 million Court cases, police prisons and all of these required huge amount of investment. Government has put in 100 thousand crores in building these infrastructures for the future and for the future generation, very few people know about these things. It is these infrastructure which is going to lay design for the entire country in the next years. It is these infrastructures, that is going to give us new tools, new jobs. Today when people graduates from colleges, they are always looking for jobs. We want them to create jobs. We need to create more than 15 million new jobs every year after year and these jobs cannot be created by Government. These jobs will have to be created by local entrepreneurs. As a result, we need graduate students who create jobs and not graduate students who look for jobs. Everyone of you have potential to create 10-20 jobs. If you pay attention to it, what it means is to think differently and come decided at national levels to create institutions and infrastructure for innovation. We have National Innovation Council, every state has created State level Innovation Council and I need to state that Karnataka has very good State level Innovation Council. We have set council for Biotech, Nanotech, Materials, Diabetes and all that. We have experts to lay a plan for next 20 decades, we have created a big innovation fund, we are going into industrial clusters in schools to teach 7th graders and 8th graders about innovation and making lots of things like this. But again it takes a decade or two in a country of 1.3 billion people. Nothing happens very fast. It is process that is important. When I look at India I find three structures. One, disparity. Disparity between rich and poor, urban and rural, educated and uneducated. Two, unemployment. How we create jobs for them. How will we train them, give them nutrition, shelter to all of them. Because this is a work force for the world. Everywhere else population is decreasing and aging. In India population is increasing and young. Third is development. How do we expedite the possibility of development. Everything is happening in India, but perhaps development is not happening in the face we like. All these education has to ultimately address these three things. In everywhere we look around, we need expansion, more doctors, more nurses, more hospitals, more colleges, more jobs. Everywhere we need excellence, but quality of education is bad, quality of governance is bad, quality of health service is bad. In everywhere we need to worry about equity. We need to carry everybody with you. We need to make sure that the poorest of the poor can indeed get the best education possible. All these challenges really relate to what do we do with technology. How do we use technology in a very effective way. In my journey the lessons which I have learnt, which i think might help you look something like this. One you need political will. Without political will not much can be done at national level. You need that clarity, you need that commitment of technology and you need that kind of support in the community. You need domain experts and domain experts have given flexibility, economy to do what they need. Three we need to create institutions of policy, research like VTU. You need that kind of an instrument at all levels at states, districts and national level. To really intervene, the right kind of productivity to improve technology is improve efficiency, reduce cost and all that. When you need right kind of organizational structure, institutional frame work, biggest problem in India is we have great talent, but poor institutional infrastructure and organizational scheme to do two things. We have talented people, but you cannot get anything done, in a people who cannot get anything done in important positions. And you have mismatch. You are not focusing on redesigning organizational structures. You cannot believe technology as great organizational structure. You need disciplinary approach, you need to collaborate and we are not good collaborators. Indian don’t have orchestra we are solo players. We need orchestra. All modern work requires team work. All research today through collaboration requires great deal of speed and disciplinary approach. These processes are very complex. Technology is one piece of the puzzle. We don’t pay attention to the other piece of the puzzle, which is the most important piece. It is through these things that you make things happen. We don’t have the right organizational design. We don’t have the right structures to get things done. Everybody believes to address these issues because this requires generational change. It requires change in the power structure. It requires change in the delivery system. RND is just a beginning, it is the deployment that needs lot more attention. Today technology is required in India in water, sanitation, environment, food, energy, broadband, education, health, governance, transport, housing. I am very excited about 4-3 technologies. I think where internet through biotech, nanotech, materials, alternate energy. These are the huge opportunity for the mankind.

With these technology, we can solve problems very differently. We can think about generational change, because today these technologies offer different kind of solutions. I tell lot of my young colleagues that you will need to be 150-200 years guaranteed. Mainly because technology is going to make sure that we have solutions for every possible diseases. Ex. I am 72 years old. I undergone two surgical bypasses. Thanks to technology I am here.

We see technology which is going to right up piece automatically. We see whole different way of solving problems, whether it is health problem, education problem. Why does it take four years to take a degree. Learning is not a degree. Learning is going on the web and search for things. Learning is a self-discipline. I don’t need teacher today to deliver content and create content. I need teacher as a mentor. Most of the teachers are not paying to be mentors. With web, I can learn very differently. I see whole new world out there for young generation whether it is based on poverty or whether it is based on young talent. When I put these together I see great future in the mankind. Young talent are going to look at the problems very differently. I tell all the young people, there are two people you should never listen to. One, your parents and two your teachers. Because the bare world is so different from the world you are going to create. If I listen to my parents, I won’t be there where I am. Because they have no ideas. That was the asset. Ignorance is a great asset at times. My father had 4th grade education. He had no idea about what I studied. When he asked what you studied, I answered Physics. Never interfere with children. You leave them to explore. They want to map based on their experiences. Your experiences are going to be very different.

Finally I once again want to compliment you, congratulate all of you, wish you all the best of best in your journey forward and want to leave this message that technology is an entry point. It is not an end point. There are lots and lots of things that you want to learn in life besides technology to get something done. You can make friends and learn from other disciplines. We will have to learn psychology, philosophy, management. All of these things are very important to get your job done. Don’t sit there just focusing on what you do, because you are not able to do as much as you could be. But let me also tell you can do anything. If I can do what I did, when I have done with the kind of family background I have, I was born in Orissa, a tribal little place, you can do lot better. I encourage you to take risk, I encourage you to be an entrepreneur, I encourage you to use technology to solve the problems of yourself, your family, your community and your Country and the world.


1 thought on “VTU convocation address by Sam Pitroda”

  1. Today. I recieved Gold Medal for securing 1st Rank in MBA ( Credit System) in 13th Annual Convocation held at VTU, Belgaum. Privileged to recive it from Dr. Sam Pitroda. Really it was a wonderful Day and Moment for me.


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