Skill Development: The ITEC Way

Manish Chand
Senior Editor, IANS, & Editor, Africa Quarterly

It is an act of faith, a journey into the heart of India’s home-grown enterprise, dovetailing inspired diplomacy, innovation and rural uplift.

In 2005, 34 women from far-flung villages in Ethiopia gathered at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, a small town near Ajmer in the desert state of Rajasthan. Many of them had barely ventured out of their villages earlier, but they flew thousands of miles to India. Their mission: to become amateur solar engineers. Six months later, when they returned to their villages, they brought with them a solar lantern to light up every hut.

Three years later, the project, initially sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was adopted by the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme in 2008.  

Transformation is, indeed, the guiding mantra of the ITEC that hinges on capacity building and skills transfer to hundreds of thousands of students, professionals, and mid-career diplomats in 160 countries across continents, including Africa, Asia, Latin America and East and Central Europe. The success of the solar engineering training would ensure that it will become a regular feature of the ITEC. Over the next three years,  more than 150 women would train to spread the light in their homelands, as it were. They were from different African countries, ranging from Sudan in the north to Namibia in the south and from Senegal in the west to Tanzania in the east.

The solar engineering plan is just one of the innovative ways in which the ITEC, launched on September 15, 1964, is not only imparting skills, but is also acting as a catalyst for enduring socio-economic transformation in the developing countries.

An expression of India’s unstinting commitment to South-South cooperation, the ITEC programme has disseminated expertise and shared India’s developmental experience with countries of the developing south. Started as a bilateral programme of assistance of the Indian Government, the ITEC, including its corollary SCAAP (Special Commonwealth Assistance for Africa Programme), has expanded to include some 220-odd courses ranging from IT, textile designing, foreign affairs to commerce, science and media. Students who are selected for ITEC courses — most of these courses last from two to six weeks — are sent to 48 institutions empanelled by India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

The ITEC has six components: training (civilian and defence) in India of nominees of ITEC partner countries; projects and project-related activities such as feasibility studies and consultancy services; deputation of Indian experts abroad; study tours; gifting/donation of equipment at the request of ITEC partner countries; and aid for disaster relief.

On an average, India spends about Rs.500 million ($10.8 million) on varied ITEC activities. Since 1964, India has provided nearly $2.5 billion worth of technical assistance to developing countries, including neighbouring countries. Over the years, India has spent around $1 billion over ITEC-related activities involving African countries.

Although the ITEC encompasses the entire global South, Africa looms large in the widening canvas of the programme. “Africa is a very special continent of focus, where ITEC courses have acquired great popularity,” India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told ITEC alumni at a gala party that is organised every year in the Indian capital to celebrate ITEC Day. “They have come to be seen as valued instruments for vocation training, upgradation of skills, capacity building and empowerment,” she said.

Against the backdrop of the burgeoning popularity of the ITEC programme in African countries, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced an additional 500 slots for African students at the maiden India-Africa Forum Summit held in New Delhi in April 2008. “We will enhance opportunities for African students to pursue higher studies in India. As an immediate measure we propose to double our long-term scholarships for undergraduates, postgraduates and higher courses and increase the number of training slots under our technical assistance programmes from 1,100 to 1,600 every year,” he said in the presence of African leaders.

In his speech outlining his vision of a vibrant partnership between a resurgent Africa and a rising India, Manmohan Singh encapsulated the ethos of the ITEC programme. “Both India and Africa are blessed with young populations. It is only by investing in the creative energies of our youth that the potential of our partnership will be fulfilled,” he said.

Besides empowering them with life-sustaining skills, the ITEC programme also gives students from different countries a taste of the multicultural and pluralistic ethos of India. “Networking and bonding is incredible among students. Many of them have tears in their eyes when the course ends and most of them retain their bonds forged during this short programme,” recalls Primrose Sharma, who handled ITEC in India’s foreign office a few years ago. The ITEC has also become a powerful instrument of projecting India’s soft power and its cultural diplomacy as most of these students retain a life-long association with India long after their brief stay in the country. The extended fraternity, as an ITEC alumnus said, carry a bit of India in their hearts wherever they go.

Many of the students, who attended ITEC courses, have risen to top positions in their respective fields, and some have gone on to become ministers. In Botswana, many officers in the defence establishment have been trained under this programme. In Tanzania, over 24 percent senior government officials have been through the ITEC experience.

“The course opened up participants to new ideas; we learnt to look at our markets differently,” wrote two Ugandan nominees from the Bank of Africa Uganda Ltd., who attended the Senior Management Development Programme for SMEs conducted jointly by Administrative Staff College of India and NIMSME (National Institute for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises), in their report to the Ministry of External Affairs.

“Although most of the concepts were not entirely new, the sharing of experiences from different parts of the developing world was uniquely enriching. The case studies and field visits provided a unique learning experience in a practical environment,” they wrote.

While ITEC is essentially bilateral in its outreach, its resources have been occasionally used for financing trilateral and regional programmes managed by the Economic Commission for Africa, UNIDO and the Group of 77. Today,  the ITEC’s activities have expanded to include training and project support to the African Union, Afro-Asian Rural Reconstruction Organisation, the Pan-African Parliament and the G-15.

Project assistance such as training accounts for 40 percent of the annual ITEC budget. Some of the key projects executed under the ITEC programme in Africa  include the computerisation of the office of the Prime Minister of Senegal and assistance in the transformation of the educational system of South Africa. Agriculture remains a major focus of ITEC’s project assistance. The programme has provided Ghana, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali equipment and expertise for enhancing agricultural productivity, and generated enormous goodwill for India among African countries. Vocational training in small-scale industry and entrepreneurship development are important areas of cooperation with Senegal and Zimbabwe. Such training enables young people to get jobs at comparatively low levels of capital intensity.

It is not just students from foreign countries that have benefited from ITEC programme. Several Indian public sector undertakings have also acquired a distinctive brand identity in developing countries, especially in Africa.

The National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC), Hindustan Machine Tools International Ltd. HMT (I), Water and Power Consultancy Services Ltd. (WAPCOS) and Rail India Technical & Economic Services (RITES) have capitalised on their ITEC association, and are now bidding for development projects in these countries on their own. With India emerging as a global power, its knowledge economy that is epitomised in the ITEC programme shines forth as an example of the country’s ethos of creating a more equitable and balanced world, based on a transfer of technology and skills among fellow developing countries of the south.

The ITEC spirit has touched a chord in African countries. “You really need some good friends who can capacitate you. India to us is such a friend. There is enormous scope for cooperation in ICT. We greatly value India’s expertise in capacity building,” says Tanzania’s Prime Minister Mizengo Kayanza Peter Pinda.

“India is very advanced in areas of education and science and technology. India’s developmental experience is very relevant for the African continent,” says Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, a former Prime Minister of Tanzania and a former Ambassador of Tanzania to India in the 1960s. In a similar vein, Togo’s Prime Minister Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, a former UN official, sees India as “the world’s most populous democracy and a leader in frontier areas of knowledge.” 

Houngbo rightly sees training and human resource development as the heart of Africa’s engagement with India. “What is very interesting and appealing is the Indian model of cooperation. India is a developing country but has achieved much. Africa can, therefore, learn from the trajectory of development in India and the Indian experience,” he told Africa Quarterly, an India-based journal that focuses on African affairs.

Above all, the ITEC programme exemplifies India’s unflinching commitment to South-South cooperation and forms an integral part of its broader diplomatic thrust to partner the people-rich African continent in its ongoing resurgence. “The 21st century is often described as the Asian century. India wishes to see the 21st century as the Century of Asia and Africa, with the people of the two continents working together to promote inclusive globalisation,” said Manmohan Singh at the India-Africa summit in 2008.

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