In a series of Q&As, Centre CEO Tim Thomas reflects on recent travel to India.
You attended the B20 in New Delhi in August, as part of India’s hosting of the G20. What was your involvement in the Summit?
Each year, the B20 Summit brings together business leaders from across the G20 to generate ideas for economic growth. I joined the Australian B20 Delegation led by Senator the Hon Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing. I had in-depth conversations with a range of Australian and Indian stakeholders on the role of the Centre, and opportunities for driving stronger collaboration in our bilateral economic architecture. The Australian delegation included the Business Council of Australia, Australia India Business Council, Australia India Chamber of Commerce, Australian Industry Group, as well as key Australian businesses and universities. Indian counterparts I met included senior government officials, peak bodies and business leaders.
How does the Centre’s role differ from existing bodies in the trade and investment space?
One of the Centre’s roles is to nurture a greater awareness of the economic opportunities in India among the Australian business community and build confidence among Indian business to see Australia as a long-term partner.
There are many capable players working hard to promote trade and investment between Australia and India. The Centre is a unique platform, with a national remit, to complement and augment existing efforts. It will work closely with peak bodies and business chambers to convene the right players and help to demystify doing business in India. It will translate the policy settings around the bilateral relationship to Australian industry, which has not yet fully appreciated the array of bilateral initiatives now underway. And it will support Indian Australians to contribute to the relationship.
How do you suggest Indian Australians can support our economic engagement with India?
Whether they work in the corporate sector, in universities or in other sectors, Indian Australians that have the networks and know-how to navigate Indian markets can provide Australian organisations the confidence to seize new opportunities. There’s a lot of untapped potential and the Centre will provide a platform for these diaspora champions. Among the SME sector, many Indian Australian entrepreneurs have shown they are more comfortable with taking on risk in entering India than many larger companies. In the university sector, Indian Australian academics are often involved in catalysing research collaborations between the countries.
On the sidelines of the B20, I attended an eye-opening event, the Indiaspora G20 Forum, that delved into the potential of diaspora-focused connections, including for knowledge sharing, mentorship, and fostering the greater cultural understanding that is required to underpin mutually beneficial economic relationships. The Centre will draw on international best practice in engaging the Indian diaspora.
Through the Maitri Cultural Partnerships, the Centre is supporting six Australian creative organisations. What Indian partner organisations will be involved?
One of the Centre’s flagship programs I’m most excited about is the Maitri Cultural Partnerships program, under which the Centre will be funding new forms of creativity in the Australia-India relationship. I met two Bengaluru-based partners of our Australian grant recipients Bábbarra Women’s Centre and Raghav Handa.
Attakalari Centre for Movement Arts is a great example of the confluence of creative energy and technology in a city known for its IT and start-up ecosystem – for many years its artists have been experimenting with digital lighting and effects for their contemporary dance productions, and during COVID-19 the organisation pivoted to using videography to capture and share traditional and contemporary forms of Indian dance. From their studios in a converted call centre, the organisation is also training the next generation of dancers from across India and giving them the tools to make a career in performance or dance teaching.
While in Bengaluru, I also met artists from Tharangini Studio, the Indian partner of Bábbarra Women’s Centre in Maningrida from the Northern Territory. Tharangini Studio is reviving the artisan culture of wood block printed textiles and will work with Bábbarra Women’s Centre to transfer traditional motifs from linoleum to more durable wood blocks.
You visited three of India’s leading technology centres: GIFT City in Gujarat, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. What were your impressions of these cities?
The three cities illustrated to me the ambition, dynamism and scale of India’s tech and IT sectors.
GIFT City embodies the ambition of modern India – nothing says ambitious like building a whole new city on the green banks of the Sabarmati River! It was a pleasure to join the University of Wollongong as they launched their new India identity with brand ambassador and Centre Board member Adam Gilchrist. Very soon they will be joined by Deakin University in contributing to the local talent pipeline. Speaking to Australian and international companies based in GIFT City, it was clear they see real benefits from the long-term investment India has made in developing a purpose-built finance and tech city in a region with a large pool of talent.
The dynamism of Hyderabad’s IT and advanced manufacturing economy stood out to me – and in particular the local efforts to foster start-ups. I visited T-Hub, a start-up hub and incubator where more than 400 start-ups are housed in the largest innovation centre in the world. Next door is T-Works, India’s largest prototyping centre, where entrepreneurs can design and prototype products before connecting to the local manufacturing sector. And the inspiring leadership of We-HUB – a dedicated start-up hub for women entrepreneurs – underscored that purpose-driven leadership is often the most important ingredient to success, something India has no shortage of.
Finally, Bengaluru – India’s original tech city – brought home the scale of India’s tech credentials. Whether discussing the future of our bilateral cooperation with Australia India Youth Dialogue delegates on the sprawling Infosys campus or visiting the global innovation centres of some of Australia’s leading companies, I was reminded that Bengaluru is a world-leading centre of innovation and tech sector talent.
How can knowledge partnerships help to expand Australia-India ties?
There is strong interest from key Indian stakeholders, including across government and industry, to build knowledge partnerships with Australian universities and research institutions. There is also a lot that Australia can learn from India in the research commercialisation space. As part of its inaugural visit to India, the Centre’s Advisory Board visited the Indian Institute of Technology – Madras Research Park (IIT-M RP), a purpose-built research park now run on a self-sustaining basis that helps students and researchers from IIT-M turn bright ideas into businesses. I saw a range of innovations – from redesigned wheelchairs to improve mobility to 3-D printed rockets – with costs kept down through India’s signature ‘frugal innovation’. I returned to Australia more determined to grow the ambition in our bilateral collaboration and inspired by the rapid transformation that continues to take place in India.