THE BLOG

Governor General David Johnston On His Recent State Visit To India

03/12/2014 12:41 EDT | Updated 05/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Governor General David Johnston made a rare state visit to the Republic of India at the end of February. He shares with me the highlights of his historic trip as well as reflects on why a closer relationship between Canada and India is an important venture for both.

Your Excellency, you must have been excited with your recent state visit to India. What were some of the highlights?

We were so pleased to undertake this state visit to India. Sharon and I were accompanied by a talented and worthy Canadian delegation. There were many highlights. India and Canada share many of the same priorities. We had great discussions on learning and innovation including some key projects under the International Development and Research Centre (IDRC) on agriculture sciences. As well we had good dialogues on training the next generation of innovators and researchers.

We talked to innovators and government representatives on the theme of innovation and the role of government in catalyzing innovation through initiatives and addressing global health challenges. I also witnessed the signing of three agreements. An audiovisual co-production agreement that will enable Canadian and India producers to develop audiovisual co-production projects by combining their creative, technical and financial resources.

The other one was a programme of cooperation for India-Canada Grand Challenges Collaboration which formalizes existing partnerships between the organizations to develop a robust India-Canada collaboration dedicated to saving and improving lives through innovation. And the third is a Memorandum of Understanding between The Association of Canadian Community Colleges and India's National Skill Development Corporation. The MOU will encourage the promotion of skills development in India.

You were accompanied on this trip by your wife, Her Excellency Sharon Johnston.

A key theme for Sharon's visit was entrepreneurship, with a special focus on the contributions of women and girls. She met with many women entrepreneur. Sharon participated in a discussion with representatives from International Development Research Centre's (IDRC) current and past grantee organizations, researchers working in relevant fields, and women entrepreneurs to address the current challenges faced by and opportunities for women in India.

She also met with women entrepreneurs, known as Mompreneurs, involved in SmartMomz.com. This interactive platform created by YourStory allows mothers and other women entrepreneurs to share their success stories and the challenges they face in trying to keep their employment after maternity leave. Whether for financial or social return on investment, these women are having an incredible impact on their communities. They are showing the way for the development of their society through entrepreneurship.

Lastly, Sharon talked to representatives from an NGO that help female artisans and women from the most marginalized groups of society. Through fair payment means, the NGO ensures that handiwork traditions are not lost. It works with the silk artisans directly, eliminating the 'middle men', and helps them create designs that are contemporary while using traditional weaves.

The objective of the visit was, according to the Prime Minister, to"further develop the wide-ranging and multi-faceted relationship with India particularly in strategies promoting innovation, entrepreneurship and education". Please explain.

Well as you can see from the different types of agreements that were signed, and some of the discussions we were able to put forward the promotion of innovation, entrepreneurship and education. We held a round-table for example on furthering the collaboration between Canada and India for audio-visuals. It not only stimulates foreign investment but it also creates new business as well as share the innovation.

The last Canadian Governor General to visit India was the Right Honourable Romeo Leblanc in 1998. Prime Minister Stephen Harper also made a state visit in November 2012. Why is it important to have a closer relationship between Canada and India?

Canada and India have a longstanding bilateral relation build upon shared traditions of parliamentary democracy, pluralism and strong people-to-people ties with an India diaspora of more than 1.2 million in Canada. Approximately 30,000 Indian students studied in Canada in 2012 making India the second largest source for Canada's student population. There are over 400 formal agreements between India and Canadian Institutions for student and faculty exchanges, including delivery of joint programs. Canada has a lot of expertise to offer in education.

You were also able to address the Challenges Global Health Innovation Roundtable?

I was very impressed with the discussion that took place. We learned of many innovative health research projects that will not only help rural India but will also help urban India. I was so encouraged. There is a lot of talent.

On your recent visit, you were fortunate to visit NGO's that work with children affected by HIV and women empowerment initiatives. Why are these initiatives important to you and why should Canada support them?

Sharon had the opportunity to visit the Sneha Care Home and Shining Star School, a support and care center for pre-adolescent children with HIV and children orphaned or abandoned as a result of HIV/AIDS in their families. She was blown away by its residential program, which provides nutrition, hygiene and support to some 120 children. The program offers children the proper tools to better integrate themselves into society when they reach adulthood. She received a warm welcome by the children and was amazed by their strength, courage and determination to live a normal life.

Through her visit, Sharon wanted to give the children hope and let them know that they are not alone. Her message to them was to continue to support one another so that they can aspire to their dreams.

In this particular visit, you were able to inaugurate the BIL-Ryerson DMZ India Ltd, an initiative of the Bombay Stock Exchange Institute, Ryerson University and Simon Fraser University. As an academia, why is such an in initiative important to India?

Not only is the BIL-Ryerson DMZ an important initiative for India it is also an important project for Canada. This new initiative will accelerate start-up growth and be a focal point to connect entrepreneurs with mentors, investors and other technology start-ups. I also had the privilege to visit the Ryerson DMZ in Toronto last year and I was very impressed with the innovative spirit. You meet with some of the most innovative minds.

As a former university president, I truly believe that we must create opportunities for small and great ideas to flourish. This type of initiative is a springboard for new ideas.