Design and innovation are the next big thing, says NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant at a confluence hosted by Pearl Academy


What’s Next – The Creative Spark, a two-day World Café confluence was held on February 22-23, 2019 at Hotel Novotel, Mumbai. The fifth edition of the conference brought together global design educators, industry experts, policymakers, international design professionals, thought leaders and students to discuss urgent social issues and the works of technological vanguards. “Design and innovation are the next big thing,” said NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant at the confluence hosted by Pearl Academy.

Design – the epicenter of conversations

With “Creative Spark” as the central theme, Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog, presented the keynote address highlighting how design, digitisation, the dynamic startup movement and frugal innovation across various sectors has and continues to be the defining feature of India’s success story. He further highlighted that India, with top-class entrepreneurship, digital technology and a vast market, will become a land of design and innovation, and a storehouse of data in the coming decade. Adding that the real value lies in design and innovation, Mr. Kant stressed that there is no reason to believe why Indians – armed with such creative and sparkling mind combined with top-class entrepreneurship – could not lead the world in the coming days.  

With these words, setting the stage for intellectually stimulating conversations, Mr. Kant officially launched the book titled ‘What’s Next – The Impact of Design Towards Nation Building’ encompassing insights shared by some of the best minds from across the world during the previous What’s Next confluence held in 2017 in New Delhi.

Focusing on themes – Urgent Matters, Edge of Imagination, Creative Leadership

This year’s What’s Next symposium was divided into three themes – Urgent Matters, Edge of our Imagination and Creative leaders of Tomorrow - covering a mélange of pertinent and pressing topics like social justice, Big Data and autonomous intelligence, re-thinking urbanisation, rediscovering the past, a sharing economy and collective responsibilities, parallel realities, digital humanity, disruptive education, economies of well-being, ways of seeing, a shared future and electric sheep (a distributed computing project for animating and evolving fractal flames). The confluence was intended to provoke creative minds to come up with solutions to complex problems. Industry veterans deliberated upon several issues to derive how creative intervention can help make a positive change in today’s world of technological innovation and initiate a socio-economic revolution.

Urgent Matters focused on issues like sustainability, climate change, equality, inclusivity, social justice, biodiversity, urban sustainability and other relevant global issues. Speakers stressed on education being the foundation for bringing social justice in society and the need for inclusivity to go beyond functionality or preferences based on gender, race, economic status, etc.

Edge of our imagination centered on newer technologies like AR and VR that are changing the definition of humanity, Big Data, digital humanity and new-age biomaterials. Speakers emphasised that technology is unstoppable; it was best if we adapted to it. Humans will always be at the center of all technological advancement; hence it is essential to treat technology as an enabler, as a tool to empower humans with better expertise and not see it as a competitor.

The session on Creative Leadership tried to decipher the role of education in preparing future leaders, positive leadership, economies of well-being and approaches towards a shared future. Speakers shared their thoughts on how creativity should be part of the education process right from the beginning and not a part of a higher education system. There was a consensus that in a rapidly changing environment, it is important to be human, to spread happiness around, and find a sense of purpose in the work we do.

Best insights from the industry

Prominent personalities and industry experts participated and shared their insights including Prof Anil Gupta, Founder, Honey Bee Networks; Dr. Indira Parikh, Former Founder-President, Flame University; Ashoke Chatterjee, Advisor, Centre for Heritage Management; Gitanjali JB, Academic Head, Himalayan Institute of Alternatives; Matias Enchanova, Urbanologist; Skye Morrison, Educator and Designer; Matthew Ward, HoD Design, Goldsmith University of London; Stefano Mirti, Designer, Iversity; Sanjay Sharma, Founder and CEO, Recommender Lab; Anand Gurnani, MD, Vamrr; Colin Renfrew, Former Director, Manchester Fashion Institute; Peter Lloyd, Dean – School of Art, Design and Fashion, Southampton Solent University; Claudio Moderini, Design Director Innovation by Design, LLC and Sharad Mehra, President, Creative Arts Education Society.

Commenting on the success of the confluence, Mr. Kant said, “My compliments to Pearl Academy for taking such a unique initiative. I think this will encourage creative thinking, a multi-disciplinary approach, break the silos and enable India to think forward. We need to disrupt minds, without which we will not be able to find solutions to our problems. There cannot be a Make in India without Design and Innovation in India. The real value lies in Design; it is the crux of what we do and that is what all advanced countries are doing in the world. My message to the students is - disrupt India in a manner in which it has never seen before and that can only happen with The Creative Spark.”

The search for the right creative spark

This year, for the first time Pearl Academy brought What's Next confluence to its campuses. The confluence was initiated at all four campuses of Pearl Academy – Delhi, Noida, Jaipur and Mumbai with over 50 workshops for more than 4,600 students and over 200 faculty members with industry stalwarts like Ashok Chatterjee, EX NID Director; Shammy Jacob, Design Thinker; Aparna Andhare, Museum Curator; Jinan KB, De Educator; Himanshu Khanna, Game Designer; Prof. IM Chishti, Architect, and many more. A few intriguing sessions deliberated on how can up and coming design professionals include XR in their design strategy and what are the new challenges and opportunities that XR offers to designers as a medium; insights about shopping behaviors leveraging social media; cultural learning and the design process which pushed the students' boundaries to think about materials and products from a different perspective and many more.

Initiators of disruption across India

Speaking about the success of this year’s What’s Next, Prof. Nandita Abraham, President, Pearl Academy, said, “It brings us immense pride to be the facilitator of conversations relevant not just for our industry but for society at large with such an intellectual and diverse set of experts. What’s Next has grown and evolved over these past five years to become a forum that encourages creative, innovative thinking and future prospects. This year’s success is a testimony to Pearl Academy’s efforts to become initiators of change and disruption across India.”


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