Key initiatives for transforming national innovation systems from grassroots perspective:
- The old axiom, seeing is believing still holds true. Today, a large number of organisations have facilities for field trials and demonstrations. But the convergence is missing. In the mobile telephony, different channels such as television, internet, phone and other services like GPS, etc., are getting integrated. The results are visible. But, in agriculture, the extension centres of one public institution won’t let various other institutions to showcase innovative solutions to the farmers problems at their research and extension farm. There is a case for convergence in these facilities as well. The commitment should not be to the turf but to the delivery of solutions to people.
In each district, there should be a District Innovation Gallery or Forum where various innovations can be showcased. KVKs [Krishi Vigyan Kendra] can be the site of such exhibitions.
- Public media has almost given up showcasing the public interest innovations regularly. There ought to be regular slots on All India Radio and Door Darshan for sharing information on innovation so that in the regions where no other channel reaches, the message of Decade of Innovation declared by Hon’ble President reaches with a very practical and operational content.
A regular programme, if not every day, at least every week at prime time for sharing the information about innovative experiments being done around the country is necessary to create the right mindset and celebrate the Decade of Innovation.
- We should mobilize the support of one lac post offices and even larger number of postmen to scout and disseminate innovations in every nook and corner of the country by involving NIF and Honey Bee Network. This will help map the creative mind of the country and also create awareness about existing innovations.
Mobilising postal network for scouting and dissemination will create a foolproof presence of the National Innovation System in every village of the country.
- More than four crore people travel by Indian Railways every day. In the long distance train, there is an opportunity to offer courses for skill development and also reinforce the concept of life long learning. At the same time, dissemination of ideas about innovation and scouting of the same can also be done through idea boxes at various stations and in trains. In the short distance train, idea competitions can generate lot of interest and people can sms their solutions to various challenges and submit ideas for other innovations. The mindset has to be changed. We have to shed the habit of living with problems unsolved indefinitely.
Minds on move through Indian railways are likely to be more receptive for continuing education, skill development, scouting and dissemination of ideas, innovations and outstanding traditional knowledge practices. This will create traction for innovations on day to day basis and strategies will be dynamically positioned, retailored and delivered involving users/commuters in design and delivery.
- Reaching students in municipal and government schools to harness the creativity of young ideators and inventors. Within four years of IGNITE competition by NIF, the entries increased from a few hundred to over 2000 from 160 districts in 2010. However, most of these were from CBSE schools or Navodaya Vidyalayas. If Ministry of HRD is brought on board, one can involve municipal and government schools in a big way. The science exhibitions predominantly have demonstration of known concepts though there are always a few innovative ideas. Perhaps one can reach mass level students through state education boards and Navodaya Vidyalaya system.
Harnessing the ideas of young inventors, innovators and ideators from schools in each block of the country will lay the foundation for developing future leaders of innovation movement in the country.
- SRISTI’s initiative of pooling technology projects by over 350,000 final year technology students from over 500 colleges has led to the techpedia.in platform having over 100,000 projects. Gujarat Technical University in collaboration with this initiative has decided to create Navsarjan Sankul [Innovation Clusters] by mapping colleges to the MSME clusters. Ironically, minimum number of, say chemical engineering students are enrolled in colleges around heavy concentration of chemical industry. There is a great deal of rethinking required in linking higher education with the needs of small scale industry and grassroots communities. In the next three to six months, techpedia.in would have another 50,000 projects besides the top five from each college of Gujarat. There is a need to replicate this model in each state. Rajasthan Technical University has already written to us for similar linkage. Efforts are on in other states also. Scouting of projects and dissemination of innovations will also promote greater connectedness to the societal problems. The originality and innovation quotient of the technology projects may have inevitably and irreversibly gone up because doing something, which has already been done, is not going to be easy. The cost and speed at which innovations have started emerging is unimaginable. This is a good illustration of MLM and Gandhian engineering.
Scaling up the techpedia.in as a national portal through public-private and civil society partnership is inevitable to trigger a distributed inclusive model of innovations.
Testing/Calibration/Validation and Value addition:
- The support system for validation and value addition needs to be augmented by obliging every public R&D institution to set aside resources for testing, calibrating and value addition in the ideas and innovations of grassroots startups and innovators.
There should be a national fund for testing and validation of innovative technologies by individuals at public testing facilities. This will speed up the mind to market journey for innovations from formal and informal sectors.
- The ITI and Polytechnics besides other technical colleges should provide their facilities under a national programme for distributed innovation management under NInC [National Innovation Council] for fabrication and other value addition to the grassroots innovators and other individual innovators.
There should be establishment of, first in each district college or polytechnic and later in each block, a fab lab to promote decentralized community fabrication centres for prototyping innovative products and farm machinery. Similar facilities may have to be created for herbal extraction in tribal areas.
- There should be a dedicated young innovator fund at platforms like techpedia.in to encourage technology students in engineering, agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, biotechnology, etc., to set up at least 10,000 startups in 2012. We should double these numbers every year if we have to usher in knowledge and innovation based entrepreneurial revolution.
A need for dedicated startup promotion fund at techpedia.in or at any other platform to encourage students to set up innovative technology based enterprises.
- The students in technical institutions should be encouraged to join hands with the startups so that the initial costs of startups goes down and the students get real life experience. For the student startups, we should have at par placement opportunities for them upto two years so that if their enterprise does not take off, they can come back for their employment.
The tie up between startups and the students must be encouraged and in some cases engineered to nourish the eco system for innovation.
- Members of various science and technology academies should be encouraged to mentor the startups from technical point of view. Similarly, the industry associations should mentor such startups and students working with them or on their own ideas. SRISTI has taken an initiative to map the MSMEs with the engineering colleges in collaboration with technical universities. Once this takes off, the connect between the projects of more than 15 lac technology students and small-scale industry and informal sector will get cemented.
National Mentor Network to be strengthened for mentoring startups in different parts of the country for proprietary or open source social technologies.
- Incorporation of lessons on innovation journey of common people in the textbooks will go a long way in moulding the minds. It is ironic that there is not a single such lesson in any of the textbooks as yet.
NCERT, AICTE and UGC ought to be persuaded to accord due place to innovations in the existing textbooks if additional books are difficult to introduce to begin with. Online multi language, multimedia resources also should be generated for the purpose.
- The educational system in medical, pharmacy, agriculture, biotechnology and other fields of technology education in addition to engineering have to incorporate the project work on persistent unsolved problems of common people. Honey Bee Network has made a list of several such problems, which should be posed, to the students in different streams to challenge them for generating solutions.
Attractive challenge awards must be introduced to incentivise the engagement of bright minds with social problems. An inventory of pending social problems for different regions must be posed to regional technical institutions for a time bound resolution.
India is poised to become an inclusive society through social, technological, educational, cultural and institutional innovations. We have nothing much but only our conventional mindset to lose. Grassroots to Global ( g2G) will trigger a new role for India to spread the genius at grassroots for people in other developing countries as well.
Anil K Gupta