Keynote by Anil K. Gupta, Professor, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A) on development and innovation in India, at the Shared Value Summit held recently in Gurgaon.
“We need to create innovation clubs, which do four things, search innovation, spread innovation, celebrate innovation, invite innovators to community meetings, corporate meetings, board meetings, classrooms etc.”
“Creative people should not remain anonymous. We should give them voice, visibility, and velocity so that the link between formal and informal science and technology and other institutions add value to each other.”
Half of the things in the world are done for two reasons, i.e. energy and empathy. Cynicism is infectious, optimism is not and optimism requires a significant effort. How do creative communities and hungry corporations (which are hungry for ideas, learning, innovations) connect with one another? Multinational corporations in the last few years have become hungrier to learn about frugal innovations than Indian corporations. Most Indian corporations do not have innovation in their scheme of things. They would only think of innovation in case a problem arises, but this is not a futuristic or realistic way of thinking and it should change. The good corporations, the wise ones, the agile ones don’t wait for a problem to arise to start thinking of solutions. A corporation should not wait for a bad time to come such that innovations become a prime concern for them.
We have 650,000 villages and we have 150,000 post offices. If we imagine putting a Bluetooth broadcaster in every single post office so that we can beam the open source local language content for school children in every single village; in one year we can remove the asymmetry between the kids studying in the government school and the kids studying in private school. The kids who studied in government schools are the ones who belong to the poorest families of our society and there is a big divide between the two. Even now the government schools attract the best teachers but they don’t have the best education. The average salary of the teachers in the government school is 3-4 times more than the private school teachers. So, we are producing two classes of citizens. There are possibilities by which we can reach the masses. We can make a quantum jump in our social reach, coverage and inclusion. We don’t have to make small incremental steps. It is possible to use the same resources that we have in CSR with much higher impact.
Unless people working in CSR become entrepreneurial themselves and take risk in their own career, they can’t promote risk-taking culture among the communities. A risk covered professional can never meet a risk covered individual. One of the first advise that we give to CSR teams of the corporation is to be more entrepreneurial, take more risk, publicize failures gloriously, publicly, share what has gone wrong, why it didn’t work and never invest the resources in solutions of yesterday. What is required are the futuristic ideas which will take off, which will involve risk, which will need lot of adaptive innovations, which will not need lot of incremental changes by the users and a lot of that will require tremendous experimentation.
So, there is a need for engagement. We work with the children and treat them as source of ideas. There’s a tremendous energy among the children. We organize workshop of the children to do research. We take them to different slums, privilege and less privilege go together, do research, come back, present their ideas and get those ideas can be converted into products. For example, children of 4th/ 5th/ 6th grade innovated a folding cart for the street vendors/urban poor wherein they could fold the cart and park it in their homes at night. Similarly, a small girl suggested that every lunch box should print “Wash your hands after you eat”. If this is adopted and a public order is issued that every manufacturer of lunch box will have to print this as a statutory advice to children, then the disease load can be reduced. This is the power of ideas.
We need to create innovation clubs, which do four things, search innovation, spread innovation, celebrate innovation, invite innovators to community meetings, corporate meetings, board meetings, classrooms etc. We need to map the unmet social need of each of the 650,000 villages and urban slums and find a systematic way of solving the problems. By doing this India will not only become a society which is inclusive but also the largest provider in the world of open source content and that’s what our aspiration should be. We should not just think of solving our problem but should be able to think of putting solutions in open source for large number of people in other countries to use. That is the real inclusive work and inclusive society.
Question and Answer with the Audience:
How can language and location barrier be overcome?
The Honey Bee network works on three principles. First is cross pollination which means we should share ideas of one region, one people, one community with another which can only take place in local languages. So Honey Bee newsletter comes in English, Tamil, Oriya, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati, and Hindi. Unless we use local languages, there is no cross pollination. Secondly, creative people should not remain anonymous. We should give them voice, visibility, and velocity so that the link between formal and informal science and technology and other institutions add value to each other. Thirdly, if we add any value and generate some returns either from consultancy, honorarium etc. then a share of the money should go back to the people whose income and ideas made that activity possible. So be it a commercial return, royalty on a product, a personal income, anything which has accrued because of using or building upon the knowledge that people have provided, must go back to them.
Should corporations work with established names like Ashoka fellows or Schwab entrepreneurs?
We need to draw our attention towards less known but creative people at the grass root level, among the children, farmers, artisans, students so that their ideas get traction and it will happen when one takes risks. Investing in people and investing in ideas that have not yet been proved worthy add value because you have encouraged some young person or a farmer or an artisan or elderly person to feel that his or her ideas matter, that’s the message we must create in our society. When they get translated into practice and product they matter even more. Further when they get available to people who can use them, they matter even more. So, these are three elements of supply chain, accessibility, affordability, and availability. The product created must be accessible and affordable. Unless products are converted, taken to value chain, they are of no consequence.
What are your views on overcoming cultural barriers that come in the way?
India has a very positive culture though it takes long time to evaluate the ideas. For example, 60% women are anemic in our country; only 20% belong to poor family. This is so because we have stopped using the iron vessels in our homes, which was used earlier that used to provide the necessary iron content. To disseminate idea we would have to use the channels that we have and make public domain, open source solutions accessible to large number of people. No bigger corporation would be willing to take on this as it is not profitable. Another example is 43% children are malnourished in Gujarat. The teacher asked the children to bring one handful of grain from their home. Everybody brought one handful of grains, he potted them, fed it back to children and malnourishment went away. So there are lots of practices, which don’t cost a penny but for disseminating them in a creative and interesting manner, we need to create multimedia solutions, small films on the phone, may be public address system, may be schools etc.