Aruna Sundararajan forecasts the future of Digital India
A Q&A with the Secretary of the Indian Department of Telecommunications during her Pacific Leadership Fellowship
Oct. 23, 2018 | By Rachel Hommel | GPS News
To date, we are in the most disruptive phrase of technology’s evolution. Hoping to use digital technology to change society for the better, Aruna Sundararajan is leading the vast expansion of India’s telecommunications services. With over three decades of experience, she was eager to share her expertise at the Center on Global Transformation at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS).
During her October Pacific Leadership Fellowship (PLF) residency, she visited San Diego’s leading telecommunications hubs, including Qualcomm and Viasat, as well as delivered a public talk on “Digital India: Opportunities and Challenges” to a standing room only audience at the Ida and Cecil Green Faculty Club held on Oct. 3.
“The Indian telecommunications market is going through enormous consolidation,” said Dean Peter Cowhey in welcoming her at the event. “Sundararajan is someone who has deep technical knowledge, good common sense and the willingness to deal with what is often the hottest regulatory disputes in the world.”
Sundararajan discussed aspects of India’s sharing economy and the public policy lessons that emerge from this engagement. With India having the largest Facebook and WhatsApp customer base, Sundararajan addressed the role of social media, the emergence of new digital leadership and the future of its regulation.
“Data and digital assets are going to be even more important than physical assets in the future,” said Sundararajan. “It would be important to understand the concept of digital property and have institutional mechanisms to deal with the challenges this would raise.”
Read below as Sundararajan shares her impressions about the fellowship, including how it inspired her own goals for India’s ongoing technological transformation.
What led you to GPS as a PLF Fellow and what has been your overall impression so far?
AS: I’ve actually known Professor Teevrat Garg for a long time. I know his family, so I was excited to be invited. I really like the format of the program. It allows you to have a set of conversations that broadly touch on public policy, giving you different insights and therefore, time to reflect. It’s something we hardly get to do in our busy official lives.
From conversations between neuroscience and public health professionals to experts that have shared the similarities and learning outcomes between Mexico, India and Brazil, I’ve been privy to a lot of cross-cultural insights. These kinds of free-flowing conversations are often the most meaningful and rewarding.
During your residency, your focus will be on telecommunications, e-solutions and SMART cities. What do you hope to learn at GPS and across campus?
AS: The conversations I had at GPS have been extremely interesting, engaging and relevant. I enjoyed meeting Ricardo Tavares, who is working on SMART cities and E-solutions in Brazil. A lot of his work and experience is directly relevant to what I’m doing.
One very important visit for me was to Qualcomm. I am in charge of telecommunications and Qualcomm is a global leader in wireless technologies. The Indian government is looking to see how we can work with Qualcomm to bring advanced communication technologies to India, such as 5G. To see the technological breakthroughs and frontier areas they are working on is hugely valuable.
For your talk, you will discuss aspects of India’s ongoing technological transformation and the public policy lessons that emerge from this engagement. Where do you see this transformation headed?
AS: With the rise of technology, governments are having to sit back and think much more about what kinds of technology we want, what kind of internet we want and what role do we want these to play in our lives. Looking to the past is not going to get us to the future. We have to manage this human-technology interface much more carefully and negotiate these spaces much more wisely.
Technology is like water – it just flows into every little crevice, its advance is relentless and it will fill up everything. We have to be careful, especially those of us who are in a position to shape public policy. India has much more at stake in digital technologies than any other country, simply because we have so many deficits in our infrastructure and services. Public policy will play a very key role, both in innovation and regulation.
As an expert and leader in telecommunications, what are the key public policies lessons we can learn and what role does social media play in the Digitization of India?
AS: Social media is incredibly large in India. A lot of social interaction has moved to social media. It’s really taking the place of media itself, and that might sound like an exaggeration but it’s happening. People would rather form opinions that way. It’s a big challenge. We have a much more vulnerable population with high levels of illiteracy and many believe everything they see.
The government is really taking a hard look at the role of social media. While it’s a hugely positive force, we are beginning to ask the hard questions about how to protect citizens and what is the role of social media. We will have to work closely at both the global and local level, the latter with a much wider set of stakeholders to make sure we get it right.
What’s been the most surprising visit or activity on the agenda so far during your stay?
AS: I liked the free-flowing format of the fellowship, that’s the best part. It was a pleasant surprise, I thought it would be more structured. It allows me time to ask questions and engage in interesting conversations that might not have had otherwise.
Do you have any parting career advice for students looking to get into this industry, particularly in the areas of economic development and IT investment?
AS: My hope is that universities and governments can figure out a way of interacting much more closely and collaboratively. I know any student here would add so much value to the work we do.
In terms of career advice, when we look at the number of challenges around us, any graduate from GPS will not have a shortage of career options. We are going to need a lot more good advice in the future than we did in the past.
View a photo gallery of Sundararajan’s visit.
- Working where science meets policy
- A day in the life of a Dean’s Fellow
- Progress Report on GPS's Commitment to Address Challenges of Advancing Anti-Racism in America
- Reimagining globalization through research
- ‘You can always go around the obstacles’
- A culture of encouraging diverse research pursuits
- A message on the new school year
- Three GPS professors named as Hellman Fellows
- From Thailand to the local passport agency, a student explores new horizons
- A focus on policymaking and social justice
- Democracy as a habit – in 10 minutes or less
- It’s time for San Diego to talk trash
- ‘A lot of experimentation’
- Science Policy Fellows use research to help shape well-informed policy options
- Ten things to know about our COVID-19 world
- Class of 2020 shines brightly in the face of adversity
- Students honored for academic achievements, contributions to GPS community
- Juneteenth and the GPS Community
- Statement on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery
- A day in the life of a remote student
- Ulrike Schaede and the business reinvention of Japan
- Robertson Fellows show commitment to public service
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Jessica Keegan MAS '16 of the International Republican Institute
- A rundown of binge-worthy shows and films
- Global connections foster global solutions
- Taking the reins at CGT
- A message from Dean Cowhey on COVID-19
- A gift to enhance U.S.-China relations
- Reflections of a harrowing journey through China's turbulent revolution
- A day in the life of a teaching assistant
- Ensuring diversity and inclusion
- Deploying mangroves to fight climate change
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Alisha Tomita-Yu ’16 of Oracle
- Student group puts focus on China
- Decoding the Hong Kong protests – and more
- Is the MPP the right degree for me?
- Through knowledge we gain understanding
- Mapping a cleaner San Diego
- A day in the life of a NCAA Woman of the Year Honoree
- Nirupama Rao defines the future of Indo-Pacific relations
- Winter reading for the bibliophile
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Booz Allen Hamilton consultant Maura Deignan
- Leading from the front
- Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies expands research on drug war and migrant crisis
- A marriage of policy and advocacy
- Decarbonizing the grid
- Sylff Fellows translate vision into reality
- Stanford study finds poor air quality responsible for one in five infant deaths in sub‑Saharan Africa
- Office hours: Associate Professor Jennifer Burney
- Class of 2018 graduates embody global citizenry and leadership
- Science Policy Fellows program nurtures effective interdisciplinary scholars
- Building cross-border relationships
- Geoengineering a greener future
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Adnan Saygili
- Celebrating academic excellence
- Painting the picture of an MPP student’s day
- Gregory Lee looks at the future of digital health and technology
- A sustainable seafood hero
- Pass the pen: Alumnae nominated spotlight
- Campus recognizes alumni as leaders and changemakers
- Innovation in mobile technology
- Ian Johnson chronicles the rise of religion in China
- Writing the book on China’s economic policy
- Broadening horizons through international experience at BCG
- Office hours: Professor Gordon McCord
- New evening option for working professionals
- China's infrastructure investment as a development strategy
- Rethinking the war on drugs in Mexico
- Creating theoretical frameworks
- Nurturing future leaders at TechPolis
- The future is female
- Jamal Russell Black on Veridian Analytics' entrepreneurial spirit
- Love is in the air
- A day in the life of an MCEPA student
- Health and human capital
- Eduardo Porter finds journalistic inspiration at GPS
- Technology assessment at the nexus of STEM and policy
- IGCC receives coveted UC research grant
- Battery storage at the center of energy policy
- Researching how humans and the environment interact
- Office hours: Professor Ulrike Schaede
- Fighting wildfires with web based imagery
- United we dream
- Our 2017-2018 Boren Fellows
- Applying game theory to study behaviors
- Students craft views on climate change at COP23
- Molding future technical experts
- Why GPS: A niche in life
- The art of entrepreneurship
- Solar energy and pursuing the policy dream
- Social entrepreneur and first time author Ken Davenport ’90 of “The Two Gates”
- Why GPS: Discovering a passion for all things math
- Our 2017-18 Dean’s Fellows
- A Living, Learning Laboratory
- A ‘Prep Program’ for success, before day one
- Office hours: Professor Gordon Hanson
- Adding to a truly interdisciplinary academic environment
- Why GPS: Apply now and figure it out later
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Noritoshi Kurokawa
- West Coast-Trained for a Washington, D.C. Think Tank
- Linked in Latin America
- Facilitating a ‘family affair’
- Nico Ravanilla retreats to Oxford for research
- 2016 alumni remember their first year in the real world
- Pioneering international excellence
- Research at the border: A living laboratory of transformation
- UC Policy School Deans’ Response to OMB Prohibition on Critical Race Theory Training