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Ear To The Ground

The book touches on the need to move from a ‘Jugaad’ approach to something more struct- ured and sustainable

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Grassroots innovation: Minds On the Margin Are Not Marginal Minds by Anil Gupta, a professor at IIM Ahmedabad, is based on the rich learnings derived from his extensive and pioneering efforts to unearth unsung innovators. Professor Gupta is the founder of the Honey Bee Network (HBN), a volunteer network spread across 75 countries that focuses on developing a sustainable knowledge ecosystem. He is also the vice chairman of the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), a government of India body. Using the HBN, the NIF has documented over 2.25 lakh ideas, innovations and traditional practices across 585 districts in India.

This book operates at three levels. At one level, it is the story of Prof. Gupta and the evolution of the HBN, one ‘Shodhyatra’ (literally means research trip) at a time.

At another level, it is a compendium of some delightful grassroots innovations gleaned by volunteers after treading through remote areas and interacting with people during HBN’s ‘Shodhyatras’. Sample this idea which three schoolchildren submitted to encourage people to adopt the correct sitting posture: if sensors fitted at key points on the backrest are not pressed at the same time, the chair will start making noises or playing songs till you sit properly. A Class I student came up with the idea of shoes that work as vacuum cleaners so that his mother would not object if he walked around the house with his shoes on. Prof. Gupta comments on the impatience and energy that children bring to solving social problems. These attitudes diminish with age and need changes in our education system to preserve them. This also means that adults need to nurture their inner child who will ask fundamental questions and question fundamental beliefs. Finally, the book provides an analysis of why it is easy to overlook innovation from sources that we are not expecting it from, why it is important to listen to and learn from grassroots innovators and how we can ensure that their innovations are available to the wider public.

The reference in the book that perhaps best captures the innovation challenge is the description of India by a visitor as a ‘country of prototypes’. This ‘Mind to Markets’ gap needs to be bridged by going beyond an idea and providing support through funding, capacity building and market access. The book touches on the need to move onwards from a ‘jugaad’ approach, which is temporary and stop-gap in nature, to something more structured and sustainable.

An idea is not innovation; execution is. There are a number of urban officegoers passionately discussing their one big idea over drinks any given Friday night. Similarly, as night falls, ideas get discussed at tea shops and dhabas in many small villages and towns. Without a support network to turn these ideas into innovation, the urban officegoer returns to her office on Monday morning and the small town dweller also trudges back to work. The best solutions will come from those closest to the problems. An urban innovator will think really hard about how if taxis are available on demand he will not need to own a car while the rural innovator is busy wondering how to fix a motor to his bullock cart so that he has his own transport and doesn’t have to depend on the erratic local bus service.

Not many sources of funding exist for grassroots micro-ventures which have greater potential for generating jobs and increasing prosperity than microfinance. That’s something for financiers to sit back and think about, and if they slip to a poor posture then Professor Gupta just might have a solution for them!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Mohit Charnalia

Charnalia is the CEO of MandiBridge Microventure

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