Making horses drink water: Let corporations learn
There is an old saying that you can take the horse to water but you can\’t make it drink. In the context of linkages between formal and informal sector, corporations and communities and even the state and society, it is not always easy that the larger and the stronger can always learn from smaller and the weaker. Twenty five years ago, we were very naïve. We thought that if Honey bee Network brings creative ideas to the corporations and other larger organisations, they will happily absorb, assimilate and augment them. We also thought that they will gladly reciprocate partly out of gratitude, partly because of the need to keep the two way street working and busy with the traffic. Now we realise that it is not easy. Let me take some examples.
Several years ago, representatives from Mahindras contacted me to understand how should they go about developing a small tractor to be able to meet the needs of small farmers. They were realising that with the increasing labour migration from rural to urban areas and shortening of turnaround time in agriculture, the need for farm machinery for small farm was increasing. My suggestion to them was that they should follow \’Mahindra Inside’ Approach. That means that they should develop good quality gearbox, differential and a few other components and let the local fabricators and farmer-innovators design location-specific traction devices around these. They did not follow the advice partly because it was free. They went ahead with a contract manufacturing of small tractor. They were easily out-competed by the growth and versatility of Santi based evolution of Sanedo. Recent research by SRISTI has shown that more than 10000 devices were sold during last six-seven years after the advent of Bt cotton with eight different models. Beginning with Mansukhbhai Jagani\’s Santi, the innovation has come a long way. Next month, March 15, 2013, Riya Sinha who has done her doctoral research and Chetan who has met more than 200 fabricators will share the findings of this model, where David has won over the Goliath. The question still remains. Will Mahindras learn from it and will they acknowledge, attribute and reciprocate if a collaborative open innovation model is made to work. Is it worth their while to make this partnership between them and innovators and fabricators successful.
The concept of technology commons evolved in this research implies that the people to people copying is to be not only allowed but also encouraged. But people to firm is through licensing. Whole bundle of improvements can be licensed to companies like Mahindra so that they can improve their design capabilities. Hopefully, they can also strengthen the design and fabrication competences of the local innovators. Time will tell if a collaborative design with open innovation framework will attract leadership of fast growing companies like Mahindras.
Anil K Gupta