IIT Madras Alumni Assoc’s Sangam 2020 features a month-long virtual expo showcasing global innovations on ‘New Normal’ from startups with potential investors

Chennai: IIT Madras Alumni Association’s Annual Flagship Event ‘Sangam 2020 – Driving the New Normal’ is making major contributions in helping India discover new opportunities and successfully navigate this challenging period.

From a free ‘Masterclass’ Series to upskill Indian in the pandemic era, a survey to gauge attitudes of the public to Science and Technology to deliberations with policymakers, academia and the industry, the association is taking up multiple efforts.

Delivering an address on Science and Technology and the ‘New Normal,’ Prof. K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser, Government of India, said, “India has got an extraordinary history of successful vaccinations…India was extraordinary in putting forth vaccines which completely transformed our society and healthcare system. Other vaccinations like smallpox and others, they were administered without much discussion. Today, the world has changed and everyone, rightly, discusses and debates everything, as it should be. It is all the more reason for people in great places like IIT Madras and other institutions to communicate the nuances of vaccine administration and vaccination.”

Speaking on vaccines, Prof. K. VijayRaghavan added, “Vaccines are administered to healthy people. Therefore, the demand for trials and safety are enormous….A vaccine that is administered has to be safe, has to have an immune response that suggests it can deal with the infection and must actually be effective in the field. Therefore, all the vaccines that are in late-phase trials are subjected to very stringent tests. Typically, vaccines take ten years to develop and this has been done in one year.”

Further Prof. K. VijayRaghavan said, “There has been a huge amount of investment. The investment does not mean shortcuts. The investment comes by allowing what could otherwise have gone in series to now go in parallel. You stockpile and manufacture while the trials are going on but supposing the trials fail, the whole stockpile has to be dumped.”

Sangam 2020, being held from 1st to 6th December 2020, also features a month-long virtual showcase of global innovations from startups on the following topics:

Ø ‘Bharat in the New Normal,’

Ø ‘Healthcare and Therapeutics in the New Normal,’

Ø ‘Future of Work and Education in the New Normal,’ and

Ø ‘Deep-tech in the New Normal.’

It has an ‘e-lounge’ that enables potential investors and customers to speak with the startups in real-time. Mr. Sonam Wangchuk, Engineer and Innovator, launched the virtual expo, which has been titled ‘New Normal Showcase.’ It is being held from 5th to 31st December 2020. As many as 70 Startups from India and the U.S., besides other part of the world are taking part in this virtual expo.

Addressing the event virtually, Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Member of Parliament of India, said, “We have to convert this particular challenge into an opportunity. And in that context, I think the people have responded to the Government very positively. The people have, in general, taken whatever the discipline the government expected them to observe very seriously.”

Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe added, “There are three things which have become extremely critical as to how do we handle affairs in Governance, management and things like that on the one hand and how do we leverage technology for keeping the show going on, even in such unfavorable circumstances during the pandemic times. And also, it throws a big question mark as how do we cultivate or sustain a new relationship patterns. We need to come out with solutions.”

Further, Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe said, “In so far as the sociology of epidemiology (study of spread of diseases) is concerned, firstly the pandemic has given us an opportunity to evolve a deeper sense of responsibility. Because, world over today, the talk is about individualism. Whenever collectivism is mentioned, many eye brows are raised as if collectivism is a bad word. But I think the balancing between individualism and collectivism is something that we need to learn from the way we conduct ourselves during the pandemic times because if we do not follow the basic rules of putting up a mask and washing hands and maintaining personal distance, then it is going to impact on the society at large. While individualism, individual liberty and individual space, all these things are critical but equally important are things about social behavior, our conduct and the idea of collectivism.”

Highlighting how IIT Madras is defining a new normal in education and research, Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT Madras, said, “I do believe that the ‘New Normal’ we will retain many of the learnings that we have got from this experience, particularly we will retain our resilience. As far as IIT Madras goes, that has been the story. The discovery of our resilience. Starting from our online classes, we started without knowing where we are going once everything was in lockdown in India. Initial reactions of students was that 40 per cent of students said they could not join the classes. Now, we were able to make sure everybody was able to attend classes, barring a handful and those cases also have been resolved now.”

Further, Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi said, “Research was badly affected initially. Today, we have almost close to 1,000 research scholars back on campus. We have come to a situation where I would say research is pretty much back on track. We were able to able to go through our admissions for Masters and PhD students. The faculty feedback from PhD recruitment this time was that doing everything online got the institute a much better cohort. We were able to be much more inclusive. Students from across the country, from as far as Assam, Kashmir and Punjab who would probably not come down for a physical interview making their choices from the nearest couple of IITs…I do think that we have learned a lot, we are going to do a lot more things in a blended way, combining online methodologies with face to face and doing things betters.”

Mr. Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys, unveiled the Sangam 2020 New Normal Report, which was based on a Survey that IITMAA conducted in collaboration with the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India to understand public attitude to the state of new normal and to the role of science and technology. The entire survey report can be viewed here – https://iitmaa.org/f/Sangam-2020—Driving-the-New-Normal-Report-7102?source=view

IITMAA intends to conduct this Survey on an annual basis under the name ‘Bharat Public Attitude to Science Survey – Bharat PASS.’

Addressing Sangam 2020, Mr. Kris Gopalakrishnan, Co-founder, Infosys, said, “It is not surprising that 82 per cent of the respondents are fairly confident that we will drive the New Normal in the next few years. 80 per cent of the respondents believe that the current state of rapid digitization that we are experiencing now in our lives will become permanent. Our dependence and belief in Science and Technology to make our lives better is also reinforced by the report.”

Further, Mr. Kris Gopalakrishnan, said, “During the pandemic, it has been amazing to see the speed at which the science has moved, in terms of trying to understand the virus, trying to figure out cures, develop the vaccine in a record period of time. Three vaccines which are already at the stage of being used and probably another 5-6 vaccines are coming online soon, which is again unprecedented. Clearly, this Perception Study is very important. Resilience is what is coming through.”

The Association also announced that Prof. T. Pradeep, Institute Professor, IIT Madras, will lead the initiative to bring out a book on ‘India at 2030 and beyond, through the eyes of Scientists and Engineers.’ This has been made possible due to a generous grant from Mr. Kris Gopalakrishnan, Co-founder, Infosys. IITMAA has formed a 16-member team comprising some of the leading researchers and business leaders in India and outside and the book is expected to be published in first half of 2021.

Speaking on the significance of this book, Prof. T. Pradeep, Institute Professor, IIT Madras, said, “The objective of the project is to place before the nation, our thoughts as to what India should be from the eyes of practicing scientists and engineers. Reports about India’s future have been made. Several visionary documents have appeared in the past but none of them captured the vision by practicing engineers. In fact, we would like to capture that by the soldiers themselves. While this will be a book and it will be published, it will also be a living document so that it can be improved continuously.”

IIT Madras alumni congregated online from all over the world to participate in Sangam 2020 in order to deliberate the theme – ‘Driving the New Normal.’ The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the world’s most profound medical, economic and social crises of the century. Sangam 2020 explored ideas to convert this moment of crisis to an era of opportunities.

Dr. Subra Suresh, President, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, addressing the Sangam 2020 audience said, “The University-Industry collaboration is really important for any university, especially a technological university such as IIT Madras or NTU…While it is important for universities like IITs and NTU to collaborate with the industry, there is one thing that universities do that nobody else can do and that is to push the boundaries of human intellect, even if it has no commercial value or immediate monetary value.”

In a conversation with Prof. Mahesh Panchagnula, Dean, (Alumni and Corporate Relations), IIT Madras, Mr. Sridhar Vembu, Founder and CEO, Zoho, said, “The new normal is we have decided most of our jobs, we will create in rural centers, with the same pay scale as in Chennai. The reason is that even if 1 per cent or 2 per cent of the jobs are the kind of job we bring with globally competitive salaries, we can bring our rural economy in balance. From a village perspective, they ‘import’ a lot such as consumer goods, while ‘exporting’ only rice. These new jobs will help bring balance. This does not require any sophisticated economic theory to understand.”

Addressing the event, Ms. Shuba Kumar, President, IITMAA, said, “We decided to turn this challenge into an opportunity to do an event like never before. Sangam this year is spread over 6 days, where we have brought thought leaders from Tanjavur to Ladakh in India; and from Singapore to San Francisco, together with our global community to deliberate, collaborate and implement ideas for driving a new normal in India and the world.”

Other who addressed the event include Krishnan Narayanan, Vice President IITMAA and Coordinator, Sangam 2020 and Dr. Seeram Ramakrishna, FREng Distinguished Alumnus of IIT Madras, and Coordinator, Sangam 2020.