Honorary degree recipient Sam Pitroda is recognized for his outstanding accomplishments in innovation, communication and social inclusiveness in India and the broader, global community (photo courtesy Sam Pitroda)

Honorary graduate Sam Pitroda

An innovator, entrepreneur and policy maker with more than four decades of leadership in information and communication technology, Sam Pitroda has done it all.

Widely acknowledged to have led India’s booming telecommunication revolution during the 1980s, Pitroda today advises the Prime Minister of India on public information infrastructure and innovation and was recently appointed founding Commissioner of the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

Pitroda receives a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from the University of Toronto June 10. (Watch the ceremony online.) He also gave a talk at the Rotman School of Management titled: India as an Innovation Nation: Implications for Canada and the World. You can watch it in it's entirety below.

Writer Gavin Au-Yeung spoke to Pitroda about his commitment to communications and the importance of connecting in today’s global society.

What went through your mind when you found out you were going to receive an honorary degree?
I was pleasantly surprised and delighted!

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I helped connect one billion people in India through telephone. And I consider that to be a privilege. For thousands of years, India was a country with a great deal of diversity, but not well connected.

And the key to your success?
I would say circumstance – the different opportunities that life created and the many chances I’ve had to work with the young.

I’ve been very lucky to work with a lot of young people. Young people bring with them a lot of energy, new ideas, an open mind, and the ability to explore new frontiers.

What advice do you have for new graduates?
I would say there is no substitute for hard work – you need clarity, commitment, concern for others, courage and passion. You need to be passionate at work; you won’t go anywhere if you don’t have passion in your work.

We all need to realize that because of the growth in communications, the world has, for the first time, truly become a global village. Boundaries don’t mean much anymore because most of the new technologies are borderless. There is one world that we all live in – and we breathe the same air.

I think the world has to be concerned for everybody, and important matters need to be everyone’s concern. It is not about what happens in India that matters, but also what happens in Canada that matters. The world has changed completely in the last 20 years. It has the feelings of one world, one community, one humanity, common concerns and borderless regions. Our problems are very similar; what affects Canadians also affects others.

What do you consider to be  the true value of a post-secondary degree?
A post-secondary education is a gateway for creating new things, new jobs, new opportunities and new businesses. Not just for yourself - more importantly for those who are less privileged.

What do you wish more people knew about U of T? 
People should know it’s a big school, it’s an old school, it has modern minds, and lively leadership – like David [Naylor] and others – and it focuses on research and development of innovation.


Sam Pitroda is an internationally respected development thinker, policy maker, telecom inventor and entrepreneur who has spent 48 years in information and communications technology (ICT) and related human and national developments.

Credited with having laid the foundation for and ushered in India’s technology and telecommunications revolution in the 1980s, Pitroda has been a leading campaigner to help bridge the global digital divide. During his tenure as advisor to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Pitroda led six technology missions related to telecommunications, water, literacy, immunization, dairy production, and oil seeds. He was also the founder and first Chair of India’s Telecom Commission. In these roles, he helped revolutionize India’s development policies and philosophies with a focus on access to technology as the key to social change.

Pitroda was recently Chair of India’s National Knowledge Commission (2005-2009), set up to provide a blueprint for reform of the knowledge-related institutions and infrastructure in the country. The Commission has offered a series of recommendations on various aspects of the knowledge paradigm to help India meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Currently, Pitroda is advisor to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovation, with the rank of a Cabinet Minister. He serves as the Chair of the Smart Grid Task Force Committee to reform public broadcasting, modernize railways, deliver e-governance, and other developmental activities. He is also a founding Commissioner of the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

Pitroda holds close to 100 worldwide patents and has published and lectured widely in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia.



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