21st November 2012 New Delhi, India

India is a country on the move

We have had a recent arrival in our New Delhi office; Dr Nafees Meah took over as Director, RCUK India. Nafees has been here for a few weeks now and we thought it would be nice to hear from him regarding his time here so far and what’s to come. So I will hand over to Nafees… (Lucie George)

Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India (guest blogger)
Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India (guest blogger)

Back in August, which seems a long time ago, I came with my family on an orientation visit to Delhi and that visit was a wonderful introduction not only to India but also to all the things that the RCUK team, and other research-related teams in the High Commission, have been doing over the past few years.

I couldn’t wait to come back.

It has been a bit of whirl these first couple of weeks or so in India since I took up the post of Director RCUK India in mid-October. I have spent my time meeting and greeting people with whom I will be working; officials from the various Indian departments with whom we jointly fund research programmes as well as my equivalents at the German, American, Canadian, French and Swedish embassies.

At some point very soon, I expect to get into the Guinness Book of Records for the highest pile of business cards ever acquired by an individual in the service of Queen and Country!

I am very pleased to be here. If, when you see me, I look as though I have a ‘Cheshire cat’ grin on my face it’s because I am leading a fantastic team who, working closely together with the Science and Innovation Network, have done an amazing job in strengthening and deepening the UK’s collaboration on research with India.

It has gone from a small beginning four years ago to a substantial portfolio of research which is addressing big challenges of food security, climate change and energy security. And I want to build on this success.

I am a firm believer in the appliance of science to tackle the big, global challenges that face us. The UK has some of the best scientists and scientific institutions in the world. In terms of ‘bang for buck’, we do better than even the US across a wide range of fields.

One of my motivations for a long time has been to ensure our excellent scientific base is contributing as fully as possible to addressing some of these big challenges. So for instance, until recently, I headed the science team in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) where we commissioned a number of major international research programmes on energy and climate change.

Indeed, a major project that my team ran on climate change adaptation and agriculture involving UK departments DECC and Department for International Development (DFID) and India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests finished a couple of months ago. A project that we funded under the AVOID programme between Imperial College and Indian academic partners on 2050 energy scenarios for India will be coming to an end shortly.

One important lesson that this experience taught me was that science and technology development has to go hand in hand with understanding individual behaviours, society and the drivers for social change.  Without that understanding and, importantly, application of that understanding, science and technology will fall on fallow ground.

Another big attraction of India is that it is a place that is on the move.  Despite the global downturn, there is vigour about the place.  There is a palpable sense of optimism – of looking forward – which I find a stimulating environment in which to be.

There is a massive programme to increase investment in science, technology and innovation planned by the Government of India. It is doing this because it, no doubt, believes that it is only through this kind of investment will India achieve prosperity and make lives better for millions of people.

Indeed, there seems to me to be a global consensus, after the financial crash of 2008, that investment in science, technology and innovation is a vital element of rebalancing economies towards more sustainable growth.

The opportunity is there for the UK and India to work even more closely in partnership for mutual benefit and the global public good. We are in a very good position, thanks to what has been achieved so far, to establish a sustainable, strategic partnership with India on science, technology and innovation (including social innovation) that demonstrates long term commitment – and I want to help make that happen.

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