What Chandrayaan-3 says about India’s entrepreneurial approach to space

It was a groundbreaking achievement on several levels. Last month, India became the fourth country to successfully land on the moon and the first to land and deploy a rover in the Antarctic region, a region of intense scientific interest. Tarun Khanna, director of the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute and the Jorge Paulo Lehmann Professor at Harvard Business School, has spent years researching and writing about India’s space program, and Professor Matt Weinziel He is also a member of the space research working group he leads. business school.

The Harvard Gazette spoke to Khanna, who has been working on entrepreneurial solutions to economic development problems for decades.

harvard university gazette: Why is the Chandrayaan-3 landing important?

Tarun Khanna: It is a part of the moon that has never been touched before by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). At one time, many organizations were interested in participating, including the Russians, Chinese, and NASA. Previous research has revealed that water is frozen on that part of the moon.

It’s really becoming inaccessible, but as you can imagine, if there’s a lot of water out there, there’s a lot of potential for it to eventually become some sort of habitat, and maybe even energy by breaking it down into its constituent parts. I don’t know. That’s very attractive. Just a few days ago, Russia attempted to land on the island, but it failed at the final stage. Therefore, this is a major advance in science and engineering.

“This will be critical as we work on climate change adaptation, an area that the Mittal Institute is deeply researching in collaboration with the Salata Institute.”

official gazette: What does this moon landing mean for India?

Kanna: The country is celebrating and the elation people are feeling is building. The moon landing is the culmination of decades of research by Indian scientists. Beyond space, India has become one of the largest producers of vaccines, which was of course relevant during the pandemic, and will become even more relevant as more such episodes occur in the future.

Similarly, India has been a pioneer in the creation of so-called digital public goods, based on a universal biometric identity initiative that no other country has been able to emulate. As an immigrant to the United States in the 1980s, physical highways and public libraries seemed to me to be the greatest form of public goods. Today, digital public goods have their modern equivalent.

Did you know that India uses more data per capita than any other country in the world? If you add up the per capita data consumption of the United States and China, India significantly exceeds it. This is because the use of data is the cheapest in India, thanks to the technical basis of the system.

We are still a very poor country. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that several scientists across several disciplines were able to compete and collaborate with the best scientists. This will be of great importance as we face adaptation to climate change, an area that the Mittal Institute is deeply researching in collaboration with the Salata Institute.

official gazette: What challenges did India face compared to programs like NASA and SpaceX?

Kanna: I would say that within much tighter budget constraints, India’s ISRO has done an incredible job. But what’s interesting is that the underlying attitude is similar to what we’ve seen over the past decade in the NASA and SpaceX ecosystems, and perhaps with some toys, although there’s a lot of experimentation going on. I mean, it’s not that different. [Elon] Mr. Musk needs to experiment.

“India spends less than 1 percent of its GDP on research and development, and in fact, this proportion has declined over time. In contrast, the United States allocates 2.5 percent of its GDP to research and development. ”

official gazette: How about that?

Kanna: Musk has worked with SpaceX to experiment with satellite launches and other space-related tasks authorized by NASA. And ISRO is doing the same, experimenting within its own constraints, including tight financial constraints. In that sense, progress is driven by the same underlying processes.

There is one major difference worth pointing out. NASA and SpaceX benefit from tens of billions of dollars in cumulative research and development spending in the United States over the past two decades. And that’s the ultimate public good: knowledge, right? In theory, anyone can access it.

Sadly, India does not invest enough in research and development. I wrote about the importance of research and development in economic development. India spends less than 1 percent of its GDP on research and development, and in fact, this proportion is decreasing over time. In contrast, the US allocates her 2.5% of GDP to research and development.

official gazette: This fall, you will once again be teaching a long-running general education course, “Modern Developing Countries: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Difficult Problems,” and your first HBS course, “Fast-Growing Emerging Markets: Management and Investment in India.” It will be. Will you bring this breakthrough to them?

Kanna: Both courses are about creativity and entrepreneurship, and bringing together diverse perspectives to solve complex and intractable problems in development.

Gen Ed courses are taught by doctors, architects, engineers, and artists. We accept about 100 students from different countries. The whole spirit of it is to recognize that if you want to accomplish something in the developing world that has proven very difficult in the past, it’s usually because there is no silver bullet solution. At the end of the day, it involves bringing together different perspectives, brainstorming, and experimenting to arrive at a solution. Rather than me coming in with not only a set of skills but also cognitive biases, I try to walk the talk, so to speak.

Over the years, I have successfully recruited like-minded faculty from all parts of the university. We work together to encourage students to apply this combination to the problems they choose to work on in teams. And we all come together for an intellectual jam session, like a jazz festival of ideas.

The other course is a new course and is a course in the business school’s elective curriculum. Focused on India, the lens focuses on creativity and entrepreneurship. India is poised to become the third largest economy in the world in the near future and MBA students feel they need to be exposed to it.

Going back to my graduate school days at Harvard University, HKS offered many valuable classes on economic development, including economics, political science, and HKS, but what I always missed was the person-centered perspective. In my current class, I put students in the moment intellectually, and instead of passively receiving the benefits of policy, I actively think about how they can become problem solvers while living within constraints. We encourage you to do so. Those of us who have the privilege of education owe this to the world.

This article was originally published in the Harvard Gazette. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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Image: iStockphoto/suman bhaumik

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