Kho-kho model of


Kho-kho model of

Given the diversity and plurality of Indian society, Indian models of innovations cannot but reflect its culture of resistance, redefining the context and rebuilding the connections among different streams of ideas.  King Akbar tried to synthesise the good practices of different religions in what he called as “deene ilahi” and he failed.  May be, if had tried to nurture the secular institutions of each sacred belief system, he might have succeeded. While designing models of innovations for distributed knowledge management, the Honey Bee Network has been very conscious of keeping identity of ideators intact.  And still, it has tried to forge cooperation and development of value chain around different idea streams.   After having scouted more than 150,000 ideas, innovations and traditional knowledge practices [not all unique or distinctive] from over 500 districts all over the country.  The first 5000 ideas took Honey Bee Network and SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) about six years.  The next 5000 took another three years.  And then, within next ten years, we reached the current number with the help of various Honey Bee Network collaborators and civil society members and NGI [non-governmental individuals] through NIF (National Innovation Foundation).   I would write more about what has happened since later but I want to share a new platform that SRISTI has developed through primarily its own resources viz.,

It has more than 100,000 projects done by 350,000 technology students [mainly final year engineering students] from over 500 institutions including IITs, NITs and many other colleges.   This could be done just in about a year.  The contribution of SRISTI team for the purpose led by Hiranmay is extraordinary.  If one were to search for all the projects of engineering students at Stanford and MIT, one would not be able to find.  But in India, disregarding the indifference of MHRD, AICTE or UGC, such a platform already exists.  What does it enable in terms of growth of ideas and innovations which would not have been possible without it?

It makes it very difficult for a student to do what has already been done. The innovation quotient thus has gone up and so has the originality quotient.

The search cost for the new students, MSME entrepreneurs, other companies looking for talent, ideas to invest in or join hands with, has gone down enormously.

The real life problems of the informal sector and that of the small entrepreneurs are posted at so that students can take them up for their project work.  The long felt disconnect between the needs of small entrepreneurs and the talent technological students and their guides is being overcome.

The innovations at grassroots level have also been posted under the window of “innovations waiting to be augmented” for those who wish to add value to existing ideas of farmers, artisans, roadside mechanics or others. Many Techfests at different technology institutions have begun to include such value addition as one of the contests to gauge groundedness of the Indian genius among technology youth.

It is obvious that not many projects will become products in a single cycle of six to nine months.  It is here that the kho-kho model has been put forward.  For example, four girls at Government Women Polytechnic developed a black box for automobile [something that no Indian car has yet, though insurance companies would sure love to have the black box data while settling claims], another group of students at an engineering college, Nagpur has taken it forward to add value by bringing several new concepts of information processing.  In a few cycles of kho-kho, it is likely to become a product with benefits being shared among all the contributors so that more and more collaborative innovations emerge through this platform.

Not many purveyors/scholars of innovations would have expected original ideas to emerge from polytechnics – one of the most neglected institutions. And yet, one finds so many interesting examples of applied technologies whether dealing with RFID, laser, sensor, etc., at such institutions.  New hotbeds of innovations in small towns and small institutions are emerging which planners can continue to neglect because of their myopia.

On laser and sensor applications, one would come across about 1800 projects from all over the country with both or one of these features.  The moment one looks at the name of the colleges which come up, a new breakthrough model of collaboration across time, space, and sectors and social segments starts  emerging.  It is this potential which is going to transform Indian story in the coming decades.  The fact that this story is unfolding without help of government or private sector so far shows that when it comes new ideas, the role of SRISTI in spawning new models and platforms such as NIF and Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN) will continue to remain pivotal.  However, the full potential cannot be realized without active involvement and ownership of the platform by the young technology leaders in different technical universities, MSME clusters, and other science and technology institutions. The future challenges will be shared in the next column. Till then, connect, collaborate and create new solutions through kho-kho and other match making options at

Part II

Connections, creativity and collaboration: next

If various technical universities continue to take interest as evident now, it won’t be difficult to imagine that such a platform may have more than a million projects and ideas in a few years time.  Gujarat Technical University has decided to set up Navsarjan Sankul [Innovation Clusters] in which different technical institutions have been mapped to different MSME industrial clusters.  It is well known that most jobs are generated by MSMEs and informal sector.  And if their ability to generate jobs has to be sustained and invigorated, then infusion and implosion of innovations is inevitable. There are several ways in which the innovation eco system can be made vibrant.  These alternatives are also challenges.  I hope that young students and cluster coordinators will join hands in creating a new momentum for inclusive growth in this Decade of Innovation.  The only thing that will become casualty is the inertia.  Let the skeptics celebrate their inertia while the entrepreneurs and young innovators will ignite fireflies of creativity as has been attempted by the Honey Bee Network for so long.

The first challenge is to map four aspects of technology – in – use at MSME clusters and in the neighbouring rural and urban communities.  The first aspect is benchmarking the current level of energy, material and technology youths in the enterprise.   Second, to identify any innovation that the MSME unit may have tried.  Third is to identify the unsolved problems.  And the fourth is to identify the policy bottlenecks which are coming in the way inrealizing fully the entrepreneurial potential.  GTU has provided three credits for identifying the problem at the end of the third year and four credits for solving it in the fourth year by every student.  Different universities can develop different models.  Punjab Technical University has not only found the idea worthwhile but also has offered to put some scholarships for outstanding projects besides awards for the successful completions. Rajasthan Technical University has also shown interest intaking the model forward in their own way.  Several other states are testing the idea and hopefully will join hands. It is expected that Ministry of Science and Technology and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises may also find this platform worthy of joining hands in due course.  In any case, the clusters have to have the hunger to engage with young minds in technology institutions.

The second challenge is to identify the existing projects which as such or by pooling several projects can solve the existing problem.  Since the academic-industrial linkage has not been very vibrant in most states, this identification will not happen automatically.  Workshops will have to be organized in each cluster to facilitate such an identification.

The third challenge is to identify mentors for specific individual, pooled orkho-kho, i.e., relay projects.  GTU has already identified about 100 Ph.D holding faculty members who may volunteer for the purpose.  In addition, they will also help in meeting the next challenge.

The fourth challenge is to review existing projects along different verticals such as solar-thermal, solar-pv, hybrid solar, solar-wind, etc.  These reviews will reveal the strengths, weaknesses, gaps and also the potential for pooling different ideas within a vertical or across domain specific verticals for exploiting full potential.

The fifth challenge is to motivate students to take up the unsolved problems of MSME but also informal sector.  For instance, development of devices for manual paddy transplantation or picking tea leaves so as to reduce the drudgery, improve the efficiency and thus the wages of millions of women who do this in a painstaking manner.

The sixth challenge is to facilitate conversion of ideas and innovations into enterprises either through open innovation model or through IP protection. The funds for both the purposes are scanty if at all.  One can easily aim at at least 2000 patents from each technical university every year.  That will transform the stagnancy and sluggishness in the patent filing rates of Indians in India.  One should think of either a utility patent system similar to Australian model or what we have called INSTAR.  The idea is to provide quick registration, short term protection, maximum five claims and low fees. If NIF can file several hundred patents for school or college dropouts with very limited resources, there is no reason why technology students cannot do it.  It is true that most of them lose interest in their projects after passing out.  But, the society has to have interest in their projects.

The seventh challenge is to get ready for India to become crucible of creativity for the whole world. Unlike the low tech IT outsourcing business,in future platform like would enable high tech outsourcing with the distributed management of knowledge and ideas with high degree of redundancy.   Imagine the cost of assigning same problem or different modules of same problem to hundreds and thousands of students.  The competition and collaboration among the students will generate not only new solutions but many more new heuristics which will spawn further ideas and innovations.  This model of collaborative and competitive problem solving will achieve results at an extremely low cost which is unimaginablein the current costing structure.  The frugal, affordable, accessible and accountable innovations will emerge from the mindfields of technical universities, colleges and labs in small towns as well as bigger metros.

The eighth challenge is to forge close partnership between tens of thousands of innovations and traditional knowledge practices in the NIF/Honey Bee database and the technological youth.  By offering attractive awards, prizes, risk capital, stakes and other incentives, the whole eco-system can be made vibrant and at the same time joyfully collegial and inclusive.

The ninth challenge is to link the strategic sectors of Indian economy with this platform and challenge the youth to submit synopsis for breakthrough ideas and innovations.  With planned failure of 90 per cent, the success of the remaining will inevitably follow.  We must accept that one of the greatest tragedy of modern India is not challenging the youth and other institutions intensively enough.  The rhetoric of India being a young country with practically no engagement of the policy makers with the technology and management youth shows the farce of the current polity.

The tenth challenge is to develop both empathetic and inverted innovation model.  The first implies developing solutions by internalizing the pain of others as one’s own, as reflected in the eternal ethos of our society viz.,samvedana.  The second implies a case where school children will ideate, college students will fabricate and the entrepreneurs and companies will commercialise or diffuse solutions socially as open source.    This is an inverted innovation model which has already been operationalised by NIF through IGNITE competitions.

Indian innovation eco-system is waiting to move vigorously, a small nudge here and a small prick there will make elephant dance and donkeys give way.

Anil K Gupta