A Dialogue with Dr G S Toteja, Chief Executive Officer, Jodhpur City Knowledge and Innovation Foundation
— Madhura Panse
Dr Toteja in his office at the Jodhpur City Knowledge and Innovation Foundation (JCKIF)
Image credits: JCKIF
The Jodhpur City Knowledge and Innovation Foundation (JCKIF) was launched in early 2021 as an initiative of the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) to the Government of India on the recommendation of the Prime Minister’s Science Technology and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC). Registered as a section 8 company under the Companies Act 2013, JCKIF has been conceptualised with a vision of creating self-sufficiency in the region through innovations in science and technology. It has IIT Jodhpur as its nodal agency.
To understand JCKIF better, we spoke to Dr G S Toteja, its CEO. Before becoming the CEO of JCKIF in April 2021, Dr Toteja was the Director of ICMR-NIIR-NCD in Jodhpur. Later, he served as the Additional Director General of ICMR for a year. In this interview, he took us through JCKIF’s journey, right from its conceptualisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and its major accomplishments so far to its long-term vision and missions. He also talked to us about how his experience is helping him steer this JCKIF towards achieving future goals.
Organisational Structure and Primary Focus Areas
Reminiscing about JCKIF’s early days and the development of its different focus areas, Dr Toteja said, “When I joined in April 2021, the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. So, it has been a difficult start. But this challenge has shaped what we do at the Cluster.” JCKIF started with four primary focus areas: water and environment, handlooms and handicrafts, medical technologies, and i-governance. Soon, on the advice of the Office of the PSA, it expanded and added two more verticals: artificial intelligence of things (AIOT), which acts mainly as a fabrication centre, and Thar DESIGNS.
The projects under these verticals are handled by an efficient core team composed of 11 people, including program managers, assistant program managers, and the CEO. The program managers are allocated projects based on their expertise areas. The larger team is composed of a Board of Directors and an Advisory Committee that includes experts from academia and industry in the medical, technical, engineering, agriculture, and political spheres.
Handloom and Handicrafts
Jodhpur is a major hub of handlooms and handicrafts, so this is one of the major verticals that JCKIF works on. “Jodhpur exports handicraft products worth almost 3000 crores rupees annually, contributing to a major chunk of the handloom export revenues in the country,” Dr Toteja said. “And this is just the data collected by the Export Council of India. A lot of local artisans and craftsmen directly contribute towards the handicrafts industry.” It was quite natural for JCKIF to contribute to the projects revolving around this industry.
The primary goal of these projects would be to help local artisans gain recognition and value for their work so that their economic condition can improve. One crucial project here is the automation of craft-making processes without compromising on the creativity and the signature elements of the craft itself. In this regard, Dr Toteja believes in “two P’s: Protecting the interests of the artisans and Preserving the Indian culture.”
JCKIF also regularly organises informative sessions with artisans from the unorganised sector of the handloom industry. These sessions aim to understand specific problems this sector faces and the ways they can be solved through right marketing and promotion.
Part of such promotion efforts in JCKIF’s regular exhibitions is meant to generate awareness among people regarding the value of locally manufactured handloom products and generate admiration for the work. JCKIF has also created a digital museum for this craft and their artisans and is developing e-commerce websites to reach customers worldwide.