Excellence, relevance, frugality and empathy: Young Gandhian Innovators

Excellence, relevance, frugality and empathy: Young Gandhian Innovators

While appreciating the contributions of young technology students invited to showcase their innovations at the second Gandhian Young Technological Innovation Awards recently at IIMA, Ms. Ela Bhatt, Founder of SEWA expected the youth to spread the Gandhian philosophy through their action. A large number of innovations recognised on the occasion were empathetic in nature.  The problem of a line man worried about electrocution, challenges of a blind person, an unsafe woman, drudgery from scaling of fish, the need for a reminder system for pregnant women, a patient tracking system, energy from poultry waste, or a head load carrier, are just some of the triggers for innovative solutions shared by the student teams. There are many examples were students make a trade-off between career oriented projects and a socially relevant project. A new interpretation of Gandhian values is necessary and Elaben felt that the young boys and girls are imbued with the spirit of keeping solutions simple, frugal, socially relevant and sustainable. There are also solutions that push the technological edge.  Dr. Mashelkar was unequivocal in his appreciation of the students practicing the spirit of MLM [More from Less for Many]. Instead of value for money, he stressed that the challenge is to produce value for many.  Dr. Gopi Katragadda, MD, GE India Technology Centre appreciated the range of innovations explored by the students and particularly underlined the importance of medical devices and diagnostics. Students have developed silk fibre based bio material to solve the problem of lower back pain, a device to fix clubfoot orthosis, a device that provides vision for the blind using ultrasonic senses, nano finishing of freeform surfaces of prosthesis knee joint implants, prognosis of diabetes based on non-invasive estimation using infra-red thermography, instant vitamin B 12 diagnosis, electronic support for deaf and dumb, etc.  Many other technologies impressed for having solved a problem in an effective manner such as rubber-nano composites, an old saree cutting machine for weaving mats on handlooms, a robotic dredger for cleaning lakes, a memory aid for old people, a niosome based drug delivery system for tuberculosis, a self-cleaning functional molecular material, a semi-automatic rubber tapping machine, a high performance cooking stove, a cell phone for blind people, a laser ignited internal combustion engine, a cow dung based microbial fuel cell, a jute bag making machine, bamboo epoxy, a digital pen which can write on any surface except glossy surfaces, a filter for sub/micron particles from fluids, a device to estimate mineral composition of water through a portable spectrophotometer, and many other projects.

Ninety three young people comprising 21 awardee teams and 22 appreciated innovations from all over the country demonstrated how excellence could be combined with what Dr. Mashelkar underlined as relevance.

There is urgent need for a fund to take these ideas of the students forward.  The so-called India Inclusive Fund ignores all the early stages of nascent ideas of youth, professionals and of course the informal sector. Only in India, such an indifference can take place without causing any prick on the conscience of the planners. But, things will change. A young country cannot ignore the innovations by the youth too long. Hiranmay and his team of volunteers managed a very complex process of scouting, documentation, screening and logistics of participation in a joyful and collegial manner.  Prof. Ganesh and his students at IIT Bombay helped in the review process involving a very large number of institutions and experts in the public and private sector in India and abroad. The support from unnamed volunteers from all the institutions of the Honey Bee Network has made it possible for SRISTI to assure continued recognition to the young innovators. Dr. Akshai Aggarwal, Vice Chancellor, Gujarat Technical University, inducted 12 grassroots innovators from the state as visiting faculty of the university. Innovators felt highly empowered and charged that they can imbue the young generation with lessons of their lives about frugality and social connectedness. I hope other technical universities will take a cue and replicate this experience in respective states. We also hope that the young innovators will be mentored by the industry and academic leaders so that a conversion of innovation into enterprise takes place faster and more effectively. See more details at www.techpedia.in/award/

The Department of Science and Technology [DST] has demonstrated that with a small support, a significant transformation can be brought about.  My only hope is that the platform techpedia.in will blend the passion, purpose and performance of technological youth of the country to create a new benchmark of originality, social relevance and excellence.

Anil K Gupta