Global Companies Must Create Global Innovation Public Goods


When international companies aspire for global presence and sometimes even domination, they don’t do so only in market place. They try to do so in social space too. Why do then most Indian companies not have similar aspirations. In general Indian companies lack hunger for seeking innovations from within and also from outside, but their diffidence in using CSR funds to promote inclusive innovations globally is difficult to understand.

Let me share an experience as a jury for Empowerment of People awards by Siemens foundation, Berlin. They received 800 entries from eighty eight countries and shortlisted 23 innovations. The top award of Euro 50,000 went to an Indian Ratul Narain, Stanford graduate. His innovation of a simple wearable Bempu Hypothermia Alert Bracelet ( first four months of the child, it  has saved hundreds of lives. When temperature goes down,  the child may not cry or mother may not know. Simple solution will be to hold the baby  so as to heat her by mother’s body temp. In some other cases, it gives you time to call doctor or visit hospital. Indeed a very good solution worthy of global attention.

Second prize was won by an Indonesian medico Gamal  Albinsaid who thought of a simple but beautiful idea. Every time a person brings renewable recyclable  and non renewable   waste, he gets for a given quantity, a clinical medical insurance cover. Imagine if India were to learn this lesson for Swachhta Mission, not only we will create a huge market for waste collection by poor who will also get health insurance. Lack of such insurance is single most important reason for liquidating savings of the poor or putting them in poverty ratchet and debt trap. Not only does it show the sensitivity towards health coverage of poor but it also achieves  the policy goal by linking it with sanitation and waste recycling.

The  third award went to a young entrepreneurial team comprising  Lennart Budelmann, Fred Henny and Pratap Thapa who have been working in several countries including Nepal on a zero head hydro-turbine  to  lift water from a river. The idea is not new and NIF has recognised several such turbines in Assam and elsewhere. But the execution was smart.  There still are areas of improvement to prevent debris coming with river water clogging the blades of turbines. They have installed thirty of these so far and are trying to sustain the enterprise through community based installations.

There were many more ideas which deserve attention and further modification or adaptation. Harvesting dew to grow tree sapling in drought prone regions was one such idea. The costly tub and top tray to drain the dew into the pot of plant can easily be made far more frugal through alternative materials. But the idea has merit and deserves to be further developed. A low cost windmill made of special Light aluminium alloy will generate one KW at a reasonable lost cost. One of the earlier finalist Catherine based in Ethiopia was also present. She made a backpack one cubic meter biomass gas bag easy to transport from place of generation to place of consumption. That gas is enough for cooking fir 3-4 hours. What a simple solution to the complex problems which led to failure of most biomass gas plants in India. Another awardee of previous year shared how the award helped him to provide one dollar spectacles to needy persons.

I will share more ideas in the next column. Those wanting more details can see in the meanwhile. I hope many more Indian companies will come forward to set up similar awards for innovations  in different categories and ensure that India becomes a hub for recognising, respecting and rewarding global inclusive social innovations.



Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place