In Conversation with India’s High Commissioner to Canada, Vikas Swarup

Well, absolutely delighted today to have
with us your excellency, welcome. We have the High
Commissioner of India to Canada here Mr. Vikas Swarup and absolutely, very
happy to have you join us. We’re looking forward to having a little bit of a
conversation sharing it with our community and share some thoughts and
maybe I will kick it off your excellency with a very general question. Can you
tell us a little bit about your interest and why you think Canadian
universities are particular importance or interests with respect to India? Yes
Thank You Mr. President. This is my first visit to the University of Guelph and I
spent the whole day at your fantastic institution, which has a history of more
than hundred fifty years and I have been completely bowled over by the amount of
research that is happening here, the kind of cutting-edge technologies that you
have in your laboratories and your Institutes and most of all by the
potential for partnership with India many of which are already happening and
many more I hope will happen as a result of my visit and the enormous interest
that I hope I will be able to now generate back home in India to partner
with the University of Guelph. So you asked me what is so special about
Canadian universities I think of all the countries in the world Canada has one of
the best educational systems particularly for higher education you
have 96 world-class universities all of which have a niche in some area or the
other. Guelph in particular has niches and areas of immediate interest to India
we are still largely agricultural country you in your expertise in
agriculture and agri-food is legendary then in bovine genetics also then now in
biodiversity with the fantastic new Institute that you have. I think in all
these areas, in veterinary medicine, I see that India can partner with the
University of Guelph and can benefit from the cutting-edge research that you
people are doing so I always like to say this the University of Guelph has its
motto – motto to “improve life” and in India you will see the maximum
potential for improving those life and that’s why I think the partnership
between the University of Guelph India fits in perfectly and it’s a
win-win partnership for both our countries.
What wonderful, wonderful thoughts there and you know one of the things that
we’re very proud of in Canada is actually the quality of our our public
universities all the universities in Canada are public and it’s interesting I
just came back from a universities Canada meeting which is the organization
that represents all 96 of those universities and you know Canada is a
large large territory with a relatively small population but it is it’s it’s a
country that is surprisingly strong in terms of its identity and the Canadian
identity and perhaps you could comment on that in relation to India today and
and the dynamic growth that it’s going through and the values
and the kind of identity that Canada represents how that are you see that
bridging with India? As you know Mr. President, India is now the fastest
growing major economy in the world our growth this first quarter was 8.2
percent for the next 20 years almost all major economists believe that India will
grow at a minimum of seven point five to seven point nine percent so that offers
the huge opportunities for Canadian businesses first and foremost secondly
India is a very young country sixty-five percent of our population is under the
age of 35 and we have a lot of requirement of young people getting a
quality education so currently a hundred and twenty-five thousand Indian students
study in Canada and just as you say that there is this strong Canadian identity
there is a strong Indian identity it’s an Indian identity which believes in
pluralism which believes in inclusiveness and in today’s day and age
when we see that the world is getting increasingly fragmented when narrow
domestic walls are being constructed to keep the other out when fences are being
built borders are being constructed India and Canada speak in the voice of a
united world we both believe that diversity is a strength not a weakness
we believe that everybody should be carried together and that is why I
personally believe that the partnership between India and Canada has the most
potential of any partnership in the twenty-first century.
You know when we think about two words diversity and inclusion
it’s the two of them together they’re important and I think India you know
symbolizes that but not just symbolizes actually walks the talk in a big way. It
not only speaks to diversity but actually speaks to inclusion. I heard an
interesting metaphor the other day that diversity is about being invited to the
dance inclusion is actually dancing together
and I think India is certainly represents that in and I would say that
Canada you know with its history of
multiculturalism particularly its recent recent history. So this is
something that I think we’re all very excited about the potential partnerships
that could emerge between our, India as a country and it’s much
more than a country it’s a concept as you said in your talk. And the and
the University of Guelph, perhaps you could say a little bit more about your
thoughts about the University of Guelph in particular and areas that you see as
representing real opportunities for us to work together because i can tell you
there’s a an enormous amount of excitement within our community here as
we think more and more about internationalism and India features
prominently in our thinking So Mr. President you yourself in your
tenure I think have given a much more international focus to University of
Guelph’s outreach efforts and in particular your focus on India and I
think you have chosen very wisely because India as I mentioned will be the
third largest economy in the world this is a country which is not only as I said
a very big leader now in terms of business but it’s also a country with a
very ancient tradition you know it’s the land of Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi so you
have the philosophical ideas of inclusiveness syrup theorem somehow
equal respect for all religions must have a quorum to come the entire world
is one family so you have that strand and then you have the modern India where
today India is now the third largest tech startup location globally after the
US and the UK the highest number of startups are now in India we are
expected to have no less than eleven thousand startups by 2020 now we can
benefit from the ecosystem that already exists and can
around startups for instance then when you talk about the university of guelph
you are a university which is focused on the needs of the local community you are
in a sense for the province of Ontario itself they research on for anything to
do with veterinary and with agri-food and that’s why these are the two areas
of immediate interest to us because we are still a relatively poor country in
terms of our per capita income and because a large percentage of our
population is still engaged in agriculture and because a large
percentage of that agriculture is still dependent on the monsoon I think we will
benefit enormously from AI based predictive technology on weather
forecasting we will benefit enormously from bovine genetics we will benefit
enormously from this new bio development center that you have created which is
using waste from farm to convert it into bio sustainable products which can rival
plastic so I think in all these areas I see enormous potential for collaboration
and what has also impressed me is the number of Indian students who are now
studying at wealth and the number of Indian faculty that you have now and
that gives me even more strength to believe that we will have those
partnerships because we have people in the university who are from India and
yet who are Canadians who know both countries who know both cultures and who
can be the best connectors between between our two great countries and you
yourself I think embody that idea of connections well you know one of the
things that really excites me about the linkages that you’re talking about from
both the Science and Technology point of you together in in in the context of
agriculture and related related areas like that is the different levels of
analysis you know India is such a heterogeneous country it’s there’s so
diverse it’s so variable in so many ways and I think about the opportunity that
are opportunities that are afforded both and for example the precision
agriculture high-technology area but also local solutions simple solutions
wherever you go in India now someone has a cell phone you know they may have a
limited education in some of those cases but they’ve got a they’ve got
when they have a device and to bring the power of that technology locally is is
is is very excited together with the the broader the the broader opportunities
with precision how your agriculture things like that question that I have
when I think about the entrepreneurial spirit in India which is it incredible I
think you mentioned your talk it’s in the DNA and and and you can see it and
it’s captured by just the the pace of change in how technology is evolving the
use of technologies voice so rapidly you know there was a time when we used to
talk about the sea of knowledge and the sea is a body of water now I think
really we’re in a time where it’s a fast flowing river of knowledge and
navigating a sea or a lake is very different from navigating a fast flowing
river and so I guess the question I have what are the challenges and the
opportunity we’ve talked a little bit about the opportunity but what are the
challenges of shifting from that that kind of navigational ability and you
know in India of course you’ve had long-standing ways of doing things that
it’s a civilization that goes back solo and and the rapidity of that change
which requires a different set of skills a different approach perhaps you could
call me yes I think there are a couple of points I’ll make first and foremost
the government itself is now using technology to leapfrog its development
goals so if you’ve heard of a project called Jam JM this is the linking of
jon-fen accounts which are you know bank accounts for the unbanked port 329
million of them have been open over the last four years they are being linked to
at heart which is a biometric identity program which now covers 1.15 billion
Indians and that is now being linked to mobile phones since almost every Indian
has a mobile phone and what we are doing this we are using this Jam program to
send aid and subsidies directly to the intended beneficiaries by cutting out
the middleman by cutting out corruption and already this has resulted in savings
of 13 billion dollars then the government has plans to link all of
India 600,000 villages by fiber optic cable to create a digital India where
you know the speed of information sharing can
much faster than interest today and the advantage of today’s technology is so
intuitive you know even a person who has no education can use a cell phone and
can use it to download stuff to use it to chat with with people and all the
challenge that we are going to face is that not only is technology changing the
economy itself is changing there is the old economy of manufacturing and blue
color jobs and now a new economy is coming which is of robotics which is
artificial intelligence cybernetics machine learning and you know all the
reports that I have read do say that many million jobs will be lost in the
world economy but many more will be created in the new economy the challenge
for us is how do we manage that transition how do we ensure that the
people who will lose the jobs in the old economy are able to find sustainable
jobs in the new economy and that’s where I think universities like wealth can
come in because you know you not only do research you do research with a human
dimension yes and if you can help us navigate this transition I think this is
so important you know what you said I mean I’m a big believer in the power of
transitions and therefore the care we have to take during transitions
technology will will unfold at the rate that it unfolds at but human beings for
the most part haven’t changed that much we still have the same emotions we have
the same fears the same hopes the same desires so how we deal with these
transitions and making sure that we do the best we can to smooth those
transitions even if they’re fast but to smooth and pay attention to those so I
really love your comment about you know thinking about the social sciences the
arts and how we bridge that with you know with the science and technology
that moves forward absolutely this next year we will celebrate 150th birth
anniversary of Martin Gandhi and Mahatma Gandhi was a great believer in the human
spirit and that is why he said half-half technological advancements have
industrialization but not at the expense of dehumanization so I think that human
element is very important in whatever technology we use your excellency I just
want to say how fortunate first of all Canada
to have you in the rolls our High Commissioner to India and how fortunate
the University of Guelph is to have you visiting today and sharing your thoughts
and we’re gonna have a wonderful dinner waiting for us downstairs we’ll be able
to continue our our discussion but in the meantime again thank you for
everything you’ve done thank your leadership and your foresight
Thank You mr. president let me say how fortunate we in India are to have a such
a strong partner in the form of the University of Guelph and to have such a
strong leader as you who’s leading the partnership with India and I’m sure
under your leadership the partnership is only going to get strengthened and we’ll
go from one level to the next wonderful thank you very much

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