innovation, investment and enterprise


31 MAR, 2011, 04.52AM IST, ANIL K GUPTA,
Innovation, investment & enterprise in India

When an individual, institution, network or a society learns to live with a problem unsolved indefinitely, it ceases to be a progressive and inclusive forward-looking community. Indian society is going through a transformation when the traditional inertia is giving way and innovations are being recognised slowly and slowly as instruments of empowerment and change.

After more than two decades, Honey Bee Network could succeed in persuading the government to institutionalise a regular support to NIF ( National Innovation Foundation )) as a part of Department of Science and Technology . The power of the network is apparent from the fact that almost 90% or more of the ideas, innovations and traditional knowledge practices at grassroots are scouted through volunteers.

I firmly believe that the current decade declared as ‘decade of innovation’ by the Prime Minister and the President signifies a transformative phase of India’s destiny. Many of us being very close to this situation may not realise how important this period would be in the history of the country after a few decades or a century. One of the major reasons is an aspirational revolution that is being experienced in different parts of the country.

There was creativity even in the past. There are numerous examples of outstanding excellence having been achieved in metallurgy, architecture, water management, health and food, which have stood the test of the time. But the fact remains that over a period of time, we internalised the constraints and generated a culture, which reinforced compromise, compliance and conformity rather than dissent, diversity and innovation.

This habit could survive because of an accompanying culture of chalta hai – everything is all right. However, the current young generation is refusing to put up with such an attitude. Even in the earlier generation, those who had fortitudinous ability as evident from their innovations and offbeat approach to life and its challenges, are beginning to be recognised.

Honey Bee Network implies basically four principles: Cross pollination of ideas in local languages, acknowledgement of individual and community creativity without making them anonymous, protecting their knowledge rights, and sharing the benefits in a fair and just manner accrued from value addition in the innovations or traditional knowledge.

Accordingly, about 1,40,000 ideas, innovations and traditional knowledge practices – not all unique – have been mobilised from 545 districts of India. There are primarily four strategies, which I will advocate to policymakers, NGOs and research institutions that believe in inclusive innovations. The private sector is willing to engage with knowledge rich, economically poor people can also contribute to these strategies in a viable manner.

Strengthening the technological and institutional basis of existing enterprises

Large number of existing enterprises instead of becoming more remunerative over time, start losing money. That is how we explain widespread poverty in agriculture and rural sector. When a vast majority generates a very small share of GDP and that too growing at a very small rate if at all, the marginalisation of their socio-economic system becomes evident. One of the ways in which these enterprises can be made viable is by looking at the viability of household portfolios rather than each enterprise separately.

Second way would be infusion of science and technology to improve productivity. Third approach can be improvement in the scope and scale of activities to make negotiating power of the producers felt in the market place. The fourth dimension of this process can be recalibrating the institutional framework so that the role of common property institutions, so critical for sustainability, can be appreciated.

Triggering innovation and knowledge-based new enterprises

The opportunities for generating livelihoods though knowledge and culture-based enterprises remains to be properly exploited. It is only in India that we can classify 250 million people as ‘unskilled’ under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP). There is nothing more dehumanising than devaluing the skills, knowledge and value in which poor people are rich.

If someone can sing very well or perform or make sculptures, drawing on the wall or excel in any other field of art, culture or crafts, or technology, should such a person be asked only to break stones and dig earth. One way in which we can create market for such people is to put small videos, audios of their skill on the web and create market opportunities for them.

Benchmarking the unsolved problems of society

Our generation betrayed the trust of the society by learning to live with a large number of problems unsolved, indefinitely. The way out is to benchmark all such problems during production process, post harvest, food processing, forest product collection and processing, transporting and treating drinking water, crafts, livestock management and other non-farm activities. While doing so, we might come across some innovations. But in many cases, our experience shows that women’s problems have often been neglected even by the male grassroots innovators.

Building value chain and horizontal supply chain to reinforce in-situ value addition

Value addition in local or external resources is important for improving efficiency of resource use, conservation, augmentation and dissemination of service or products to others. Formal research institutions perform this function within their mandates and try to expand the potential for value addition in different sectors to meet various social and industrial needs. This research and development process is not restricted to public or private sector only but can also be extended to cooperatives, labour and workers unions and informal associations of farmers, pastoralists, artisans.

(The author is professor, IIM Ahmedabad)

Anil K Gupta