Lifechangers stand at the Entrepreneurship Fair in Thimpu

South Asia

The push for infrastructure development and industrialization is often taking place on a parallel path to research and development. Chronic underspending on research and development means that countries in South Asia (chapter 21) are largely a recipient of foreign scientific expertise and technology. 

Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all have explicit science, technology and innovation policies but a lack of adequate instruments is impeding implementation. Owing to the modest size of public research budgets and small research pool, there is also a risk of funds being spread too thinly across research centres operating in a wide range of areas.  

One priority is to foster technology transfer to small and medium-sized enterprises. In Sri Lanka, for instance, the National Policy Framework for the Development of SMEs (2016) is accompanied by a national technology development fund co-financed by the government and private sector. 

The pharmaceutical industries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka hold potential but remain reliant on imports of raw materials. In Bangladesh, the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients Industrial Park at Munshiganj is expected to be operational by 2023. The park will enable companies to produce the main chemical components of drugs themselves, thereby lowering the cost of domestic drugs and boosting their international competitiveness. 

In Sri Lanka, pharmaceutical exports had been stagnating since 2016 but, with the Covid-19 crisis having spurred demand, the government and private sector invested US$ 30 million in a new pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in 2020. 

Digital economies are emerging. For instance, Bhutan now has a FabLab for developers of digital projects and Pakistan is home to several ‘tech unicorns’ – start-ups valued at more than US$ 1 billion. This boom has led some governments to make plans for ‘smart’ infrastructure such as cities and schools. One challenge will be to ensure that these plans incorporate sustainability principles.  

In 2016, the rising cost of fossil fuel imports, coupled with declining rainfall that made hydropower an unsustainable option, inspired Sri Lanka to launch a community-based project (Soorya Bala Sangramaya, or Battle for Solar Energy) that promotes small rooftop solar power plants for households and businesses through public–private partnerships. 

  • Figure 21.1: Socio-economic trends in South Asia 
  • Figure 21.2: Trends in research expenditure and researchers in South Asia 
  • Figure 21.3: Number of IP5 patents granted to inventors from South Asia, 2015–2019 
  • Figure 21.4: Trends in scientific publishing in South Asia 
  • Figure 21.5: Trends in higher education in South Asia 
  • Box 21.5: Seven steps that could transform Pakistan’s pharmaceutical industry