Dr Sarah Pearson has had an illustrious career. Beginning with particle physics and later working in the field of cancer diagnosis, she is now the Chief Innovation Officer with Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Dr Sarah is now in India, visiting a few cities, hoping to bolster India-Australia ties. TNM caught up with her in Hyderabad, to speak about the startup ecosystem, the role of women in STEM and the future ahead.
"We got the double whammy of STEM and entrepreneurship; the participation of women is low in both fields,” Dr Sarah says.
According to her the gender gap in STEM is a huge issue. “75% of future high growth jobs need STEM, so we need people who understand STEM and we need people who do entrepreneurship. The two go hand in hand,” she adds.
Dr Sarah says that they have put together a plan for the next 10 years to get more women into STEM. And the idea is to ensure there is most than just participation. According to her, as a leader, women can drive strategy and hence drive change and telling women that they too can be leaders is the first set to show that something is changing.
She also insists that more women must get on boards of companies.
"Half of your customer base is female, so as a company, why would you not have women on your boards? It’s also been shown that diverse gender boards perform at a higher level. In some countries, it is women who determine the spending. So if you don't have women on your board, you're missing something," she adds.
Asked about the future of STEM and what jobs are going to look like in a decade or two, she responds, "There will be huge productivity and improvement in everything we do. Internet of Things will have a massive impact. I think that robotics would have advanced a huge amount in 10 to 15 years as well."
"For people who are afraid of AI taking away our jobs, what it would probably do, is augment our jobs, so there would be similar jobs available, but we'll be able to do them better. Interestingly, the bits that we'll be doing, are the ones which require us to be human. That's quite a nice thought," she adds.
Another crucial element of STEM, Dr Sarah says, would be to use it for poverty alleviation by reaching out to people who currently cannot access education, healthcare, finances and build businesses.
Speaking about collaborations between India and Australia, she says, "Having seen the Indian ecosystem and seeing the journey back home in Australia, we have great things to learn from one another. We can have exchanges of policy, entrepreneurs, building on what we have in terms of research cooperation. I would also like to see us investing in each other startups."
"We can draw entrepreneurs together to solve big challenges together that they cannot do on their own. And there are opportunities to access each other markets," she adds.
Speaking about her visit to India, she says, "It's fantastic. We have seen a lot of hubs and I have met some great start-ups. What I wasn't prepared for, was how good the government policies were. For instance, the NITI Aayog was talking about some programmes, which we can learn from back home in Australia. I think together, we can teach one another."
Another thing that Dr Sarah says she was impressed by, is the level of data available for future economists, and the large number of companies working in fields like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Deep Tech in India.
As part of her visit to Hyderabad, Dr Sarah visited the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT), besides start up incubators T-Hub and We-Hub.
"It was nice to see women in tech at We Hub as well. There were some really good ideas there," she says.
As part of the visit, Australian Consulate-General has chosen five women-led social entrepreneurs from WE Hub to support them through its ‘Community Slate’ Accelerator programme.
The entrepreneurs will be granted Rs 15 lakh in total under the Consulate-General’s Direct Aid Programme (DAP). The five startups to be selected are Scale Up Consultants, Oorvi, Adiro Labs, Cellerite, and CabDost.