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India: The ­Uneven Innovator

By Demos

July 6, 2009

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Guru Ganesan brandishes a copy of The San Jose Mercury News with the headline: 'The valley didn't die, it moved to Bangalore.' Ganesan runs the Indian research center of ARM, the U.K. designer of semiconductors. This lab is a carbon copy of a sister facility in Austin, Texas, and does research of an identical quality, according to its managing director.

All around Bangalore, recently renamed Bengalooru by the government, 'little Americas' are springing up, as they are in other fast-growing cities such as Hyderabad and Pune. Yet despite the media hyperbole, this at times chaotic south Indian city is a long way from becoming a Silicon Valley. The success of its software and service industries is still to make an impact on the lives of the 390 million people in India who live on less than $1 a day.

Macroeconomic trends do not convey the complex dynamics behind the rise of Indian science and innovation. The impact of the R&D centers that have been set up by multinational companies is still unfolding, as is the contribution of the thousands of Indians returning from abroad. India does not conform to the state-led model of economic development of the East Asian tiger economies in the 1970s and 1980s. Above all, India's rise as a source of innovation reveals its intense and sometimes troubled relationship with external ideas and influences.

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