India to set up Diaspora Knowledge Network

India to set up Diaspora Knowledge Network

Washington: Seeking a “strong and sustained" partnership with its diaspora, India said on 3 October it is planning to set up an electronic platform soon to transform the ideas, knowledge and skills of the overseas Indians into individual and community initiatives.

The “Diaspora Knowledge Network" will enable the 30- million-strong diaspora, spread across 130 countries, to work on projects in India without having to relocate themselves, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said at the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University in Boston.

The Ministry will also establish a “Global Indian Foundation" to channelize the philanthropic activities of the overseas Indian community to causes like education, health and rural development, the Minister added.

He spoke of four ideas for “raising" the level of engagement between India and its diaspora: the “Overseas Citizenship of India" scheme, similar to the Green Card of the US; establishment of the Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre, the diaspora’s window to invest in and benefit from India; the knowledge network and the proposed foundation.

“The time has come for a strong and sustained partnership between India and its diaspora. I have no doubt that together, India and the Indian diaspora, will keep our ‘tryst with destiny’," Ravi said.

The minister, addressing the audience on the contribution of the Indian diaspora to India, said the role of the diaspora to Indian economic growth has “somewhat" been “exaggerated".

“Overseas Indians worldwide who are our brand ambassadors produce an economic output of about $400 billion...Yes, the fact that every tenth Indian-American is a millionaire and every fifth start-up company in the Silicon Valley is owned by an Indian, has doubtless, enhanced the image of India," the Minister said.

“The fact that Overseas Indians comprise one of the largest, most diverse, best educated communities wherever they reside has added to India’s brand as a ‘knowledge economy’. Yet, India’s growth story so far has been driven primarily by the energy and enterprise and resources of domestic companies. The role of the Indian diaspora in India’s economic growth remains somewhat exaggerated," he maintained.

Ravi pointed to the financial crisis of 1991, stressing that at the time it was the remittances of the overseas Indian workers from the Gulf that helped India tide over the crisis.

“These remittances continue to play an important part as investible resources in India," he said.

“If you look at diaspora investments in India, the success is even lower. The cumulative foreign direct investment by overseas Indians is a modest $8 billion constituting lower than 5% of the total FDI in India. The bulk of the diaspora money is in portfolio investments of a short-term nature and the time horizon a mere three years."

Overseas Indians must, as the foreign direct investors are already doing, look at investing in India on a longer term basis and “develop stakes" in India’s growth story," he said.

“In the coming years, India will have to invest in considerable measure in social and human capital, in innovation and good governance," the minister said adding, “it is in this sphere of investment that the diaspora can contribute in substantial measure."

“Inward investment is not the only way in which the Overseas Indian can contribute to our country’s progress... Indian diaspora has an important role to play as overseas resource groups, facilitators of trade and investments with the home country, and transmitters of knowledge and skills."

Social entrepreneurship, a relatively new concept in India, has the potential to yield significant benefits, he said and added that the diaspora can bring to bear on the “best practices, innovations and good governance standards".

Ravi said the better part of India’s success story is the fact that the impressive growth has helped lift millions of people out of poverty and the government has been able to expand access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities to a vast majority.

“Yet this is but a work in progress and much remains to be done. As India turns sixty, the current buzz about India’s growth prospects must be seen with some degree of circumspection," the minister pointed out.

“The growth in agriculture is a cause for concern. With more than half the population directly dependent on this sector, low agricultural growth has implications for the ‘inclusiveness´ of growth. Agriculture is, therefore, at the heart of our growth effort. We have embarked on a national action plan to significantly raise the level of investment, technology and innovation in agriculture," he said.