Tracking makers of modern India: Grassroot Innovators & their Innovations

If you are a regular reader of Pluggd.in, you’d have seen the on-and-off coverage of Grassroots Innovation and Innovators, primarily from rural India. These innovators, with or without a formal education, are highly practical,  cost-efficient and are solving their own problems. From Mansukhbhai Jagani’s Bullet Santhi to Suprio Das’s Zimba Doser, all innovations that we featured were targeted at improving the lives of our fellow countrymen, especially, but not limited to, rural India.

Grassroots innovations are very different in India compared to that in developed nations, as Grassroots Innovations, a UK-based organization that presents the latest news and updates from a series of research projects on grassroots innovations, observes:

Obviously, the settings and purposes for grassroots innovations in India are profoundly different – most notably poorer communities using their knowledge, skills and capabilities to improve their immediate economic situation, compared to communities in the UK seeking more sustainable lifestyles and services. The consequences of set-backs [sic] and failures are clearly different too.

India can sustain its long-term economic growth by harnessing and encouraging the creativity of its grassroots entrepreneurs, especially in rural areas. This could be a beginning step towards bridging the technological gap between the two very different Indias: the urban and the rural. The biggest challenge with these innovations is that they don’t scale up, are limited to a local/regional market, and are not lucrative enough for commercial use. What is missing, is a mechanism to scale these bright ideas and spread these out to different regions and better the lives of 70% of the Indian population that resides in villages.

The good news is that the Government is taking steps towards encouraging indigenous innovations like these. The President of India had declared 2010-2020 as the Decade of Innovation, and the Prime Minister set up a National Innovation Council under the Chairmanship of Mr. Sam Pitroda, Advisor to the PM on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations to discuss, analyse and help implement strategies for inclusive innovation in India. NIC would be the first step in creating a cross cutting system which will provide mutually reinforcing policies, recommendations and methodologies to implement and boost innovation performance in the country.

There are quite a few organizations that are working towards empowering grassroots innovations through technical and business excellence. There is National Innovation Foundation (NIF), an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology, to provide institutional support for scouting, spawning, sustaining and scaling up the grassroots innovations. Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI) was formed in 1993 with the objective of empowering knowledge-rich economically-poor people. Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN) is a ‘technology business incubator for green grassroots innovations and outstanding traditional knowledge’. Rural Technology and Business Incubator (RTBI) in an incubation center at IIT Madras with a mission to design, pilot, and create successful businesses in the rural space, leveraging information and communication technologies.

As an initiative from our end, we can spread awareness and keep our readers abreast of the latest in the world of rural grassroots innovations. Apart from these, we will also feature startups that work especially towards solving problems faced in rural India and/or harnessing the untapped potential of rural India.

Starting today, we would be streamlining our on-and-off posts on grassroots innovations. We shall feature one such innovation and its innovator, or a startup on grassroots-innovation on Pluggd.in, every alternate Wednesday. Keep watching this space.

[The Grassroots Innovation column can be tracked using this link. (We’ve tagged the maverick posts that we did earlier too, so they’ll also be available using the same link)]

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