Open Innovation in India

Close on the heels of Shivam’s post on the open innovation tool, Innocentive, I am excited to write about the Open Innovation Portal, backed the Centre of Excellence in E-governance at Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi), along with Sun Microsystems and Knowledge Commons.

One very important point to note in the list of objectives on their site

An individual with an innovative idea or concept may want people to know about this idea. The idea may not even be scientific in nature and may be about a process improvement or even better usage of existing assets.

This is one point that I had stressed on in an earlier post on this blog – that innovation need not necessarily mean high technology. There are enough avenues to innovate in terms of processes or extend existing innovations and that “starting from scratch” is not always advisable. TC-I readers and potential users of the portal, do ensure that you read the Code of Conduct on the site.

PS: I already see 3 entries on the portal!

[TC-I Call to Action] BW’s special issue on entrepreneurship

[Story source: Businessworld]

Businessworld is a well read business weekly in India. They are planning for a special issue on “India’s Hottest Young Entrepreneurs”.They are calling for entries from entrepreneurs/organizations to feature in this issue. Click here to read more about it.

I do understand that this opportunity is not specific to social entrepreneurs. However, I see it as an opportunity for social entrepreneurs to get more people to understand and know about this field; to let more people read about working examples of organizations/concepts which socially focused and sustainable at the same time – right in India. The area of business they are looking for are:

  • A brand new niche or
  • A new business model in an established business or
  • An entirely new business

And social enterprises fit in at least one of the above criteria. Best of luck!

How do we go from here?

I read Atanu Dey’s take on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in India in response to a question put forward by Sramana Mitra on her blog Why is the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India not coming together as well as it needs to?

Atanu makes a strong pitch for leveraging existing solutions for development, reasoning that India has not yet reached a stage where we need “cutting edge research and development.” It is sufficient to implement known innovations, he conjectures. A compelling argument but I feel there are a lot of points that need to be bought out in this respect.

To start with, let us understand that we are talking about two things “Does India need (more) innovation?” and “Why does India not innovate as much as it needs to?” And, in my opinion, the answer to the latter does not lie in the former.

Coming to the first question, India does need more innovation, in fact it needs lots of that. Why? A few reasons:

1. India cannot simply follow the development process that US followed. It can take cues but trying to imitate exactly the same cycle will lead to half baked results. To be sure, innovation does not necessarily imply high technology. It also implies a technology/concept that apart from being “innovative” is implement-able too. We did not have to go through the “pager usage phase” to reach “cell phone mobility” even though we did try that. Lets take up rural innovation. We need to innovate and find out ways to increase yields on small land holdings. We need to innovate when it comes to connecting villages to the national mainstream using IT and Internet. Innovation not just in terms of technology but in terms of pricing, marketing, sales & distribution. Isn’t the Amul cooperative model innovative? Ecoflo from Bhinge Brothers[PDF] is one such innovation in rural technology.

2. India needs scale. Incidentally while attending a class at CSIM, Chennai on Saturday, I had stated the same point. India cannot blatantly import models of growth or innovation from developed countries because of its sheer size. Being a democracy makes the task even more challenging. Taking cues from countries like Brazil seems more pertinent especially when it comes to designing solutions for the masses. Dr K L Srivastava at CSIM Chennai made a point in the class, that scale is not always the case – citing disability related issues as an example. In my opinion, looking at absolute numbers the “niche” in India dwarfs similar numbers in US. Scalable solutions are really important.

3. India is a unique country. When I say this, my point is not to allude towards our rich culture and the related. I am trying to draw attention to myriad languages, populations, cultural differences, attitudes, motivations. Even solutions customized for India may not necessarily work for the entire country. Regional innovation is also important. To give you an example, an Internet based micro lending organization like Rang De faces a lot of initial skepticism from lenders because of the non-profitable NGO thinking that social development is generally associated with.

4. India needs to leverage the technology to create more technology. The “low hanging fruits” of existing innovation may have either gone bad or may not even suit my palate. But I can use the seeds of these fruits to create hybrid varieties which I may be able to consume.

Coming to Sramana’s question of why are we not as innovative as we need to, a lot of answers have already been put on her blog. However, innovation is an exponential function. And the required start has been made. Readers can read this blog to find out innovations being undertaken in the social development sector. Not to mention, the Indian solutions like Tata Ace and Nano, Bajaj’s experiment with fuel efficiency. Aravind Eye Care may be cited as an exception that proves the rule – innovation is to be expected from the youth. But, nevertheless, it does prove that innovation can come from any field/age. We have organizations like RIN (Rural Innovations Network) and SRISTI which are fostering and encouraging innovation. One field that is seeing considerable traction is financial inclusion and for the right reasons, of course. I am hoping to see more progress in this one field which in turn will be one of the catalysts for more innovation.

I have been amazed at the optimism we share at TC-I, but it should not be mistaken for foolhardiness. It may be because we have the right balance in terms of experience and intellect.

Books for the village – Granthayan

[Story Source: Livemint]

While browsing through a blog, The Better India, I came across this Livemint report about a bookstore on wheels. Started by Pankaj Kurulkar, the project has been kicked off in Maharashtra. Kurulkar expects to take it to more states. The article goes further and talks about the challenges that a project of this nature faces:

There could be several rough patches to negotiate. Only 59% of India’s rural population can read, according to the 2001 census, and reading material itself is limited outside the cities. Local languages have also had to face the growing popularity of English. “The situation is pathetic. People are migrating from vernacular language to English medium, and not at all passionate about reading Marathi,” says Kurulkar, who writes novels and short stories as well…

…Part of the problem, though, is that regional language literature itself is in short supply. “Printed work will have its own place, but a very small place, especially in the regional languages,” says Granthali’s Gangal, who points out that the first Marathi book was only published 200 years ago. “There was no written tradition, it is an oral tradition.”…

…Kurulkar cites labour as his biggest challenge. “Skilled manpower is too low,” he says, “those who are passionate about selling books. We are not getting quality staff.”

However, Granthayan has created a record of sorts by selling about 100,000 in first three months of its operation. The project also leverages in latest technologies like GPS to track routes of its trucks and the inventory.

Livemint, recently, also carried an article on new age reading libraries. Umesh Malhotra and his venture Hippocampus were one of the projects mentioned in that article. I had the opportunity to hear Umesh’s experiences while setting up and running Hippocampus at the International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship held in December.

Lack of proper public libraries has adversely affected the reading habits and culture in India especially in rural areas and among the urban poor. Access to good books is one of the many cogs in the wheels of society that help it raise its standard of living – not to mention instilling of scientific temper among its citizens.

Buses and trains have been widely used in India to reach to remote corners e.g. Lifeline Express, Science Express, Google Internet Bus Project. We hope to see more innovative ways of using buses and trains to reach the as yet unconnected populace.

IIT alumni plan social fund

[News Source: Business Standard]

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumni  plan to create a social fund aimed at supporting various projects that will create job opportunities for rural youth and transform India’s Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs).  PanIIT Alumni, which conducted the PanIIT 2008 Global Conference from 19-21 December, is working on three important projects in India – Indo-US collaboration for Engineering Education (IUCEE)IITians for ITIs, and Reach 4 India.

Quoting from the article about IITians for ITIs:

Ranjan Kumar, coordinator (India), IITians for ITIs project said the project was initiated by IIT alumni in association with Confederation of Indian Industry (CII’s) Southern Region and academia to push for sustainable excellence in technical/vocational training in India by creating institutions similar to the IITs, but focused on vocational education and highly-skilled workers.

As part of the phase I, over the next two years, around 40,000 students will be trained from around 300 government ITI institutes. It has also decided to set up a 24X7 call centre in one of the southern states to connect the workers with the experts and the industry.

This piece of news comes at a time when I have come across two interesting articles. One article published in Businessworld carried the byline “As IITians bring global glory, bright engineers from lesser-known institutes build the country.” Though the article was more about how engineers from “second-rung” colleges were the ones actually contributing to India’s infrastructure, it does bring questions related to contribution of IITians towards their nation’s growth. The second article is about a survey conducted by IIT alumni.

The brain drain has stemmed to a great extent, even leading to claims of reverse brain drain. I feel that the social entrepreneurship sector in India has just started gaining momentum and could benefit a lot by the entry of experienced IIT alumni and also of socially concious new passouts. In this context, I find initiatives like E4SI (Engineers For Social Impact) and MADD (Making A Difference Differently) trying to ensure that social development space gets the top talent it requires.

[TC-I Call to Action] Business Development Professionals at iDiscoveri Education

iDiscoveri is a social enterprise working towards ushering in change in society by reviving education in India. It is doing this by working at different levels of the education system. It is looking out Business Development Professionals. Read more about it below.

iDiscoveri – a social enterprise with a mission to renew education in India –  iDiscoveri seeks to demonstrate visible evidence of teaching and learning practices that deeply engage learners, nurture their mind, body and sprit, and forge meaningful connections with the world outside. iDiscoveri was founded in 1996 and is backed by a multi-disciplinary team  of 70+ passionate practitioners having expertise in curriculum design, pedagogy, teacher education, leadership development, and curriculum design . Educated in leading institutions such as Harvard, Cambridge, CIE, IIM, and IIT, our team have held teaching and leadership positions at the Shri Ram, Sanskriti, Aurobindo, Krishnamurthy, Montessori & IB schools amongst many others. Our website www.idiscoveri.com has more details about the team and the organization. We are working with over 60 schools across India to implement an innovative curriculum program called XSEED which provides the skills and tools for teachers to make learning more experiential, raise children’s understanding of core concepts and promote inquiry and application. This program has the potential to truly change the quality of learning and teaching in a large number of schools. Further details about the XSEED Program can be found at http://xseed.idiscoveri.com

We are looking for driven professionals to develop our business with schools across Tamil Nadu. iDiscoveri is an exciting place for people who bring a passion for education and have the drive to excel in a startup environment launching new products and services. The role we are recruiting for is:

Education Associate (EA) – (Chennai & Coimbatore) A thinking person, passionate about education, with excellent English and Tamil communication skills, extroverted personality and ability to generate business. MBA with 2-3 years experience in business development or a former teacher with a knack for business would be ideal – we are open to alternate profiles as well. Knowledge of the local geography, willingness to travel and establish contact with a large number of schools is required. He/She would be responsible for creating a database of schools in their territory, organize meetings and make presentations to school correspondents and principals and generate business opportunities.

Discoveri will generously rewards performers with competitive salary and performance-linked incentives. Exposure to cutting-edge learning methodologies, exceptionally competent team members and a high energy working environment are some of the other benefits we offer. This role requires extensive travel to cities and towns in your region. We are looking for associates in Chennai and Coimbatore. Interested candidates may send a resume and cover letter to Anustup Nayak (anustup@idiscoveri.com)

Intl. Conf. on Social Entrepreneurship in India – Day 2

Day 2

The second day started off by getting down to business immediately. Madhav Chavan of Pratham was the first speaker and his mandate was to enlighten the gathering on “How to scale up an organization?”. It really was a treat listening to him. During the course of his talk, he touched upon many other topics related to Social Entrepreneurship. Pratham, as Mr Chavan confessed, was a “monstrous” organization now, and there were special challenges that it faced in its functioning. He reminded us on how increase in scale led to decrease in quality and loss of efficiency. He also opined that scale is not necessarily something that every organization should aspire for. There are organizations that operate in niche sectors. The “one size fits all” policy cannot be applied when it comes to scaling up for social organizations because their scaling up depends on a number of factors that are unique to the organizations area and field of operations. Organizations need to mature by institutionalizing. However, this exercise should be followed without falling in the trap of bureaucracy.

Madhav Chavan photo credit Sonia Rai
Madhav Chavan photo credit Sonia Rai

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