Voices from the jury: A great deal more remains to be done

Professor Anil Gupta talks about grassroots innovations, the mobilisation of social and ethical capital and his role a s juror of the “empowering people. Award”

The National Innovation Foundation-India (NIF) started functioning in March 2000 as India’s national initiative to strengthen the grassroots technological innovations and outstanding traditional knowledge. Its mission is to help India become a creative and knowledge based society by expanding policy and institutional space for grassroots technological innovators. We spoke to Professor Anil Gupta, Executive Vice Chair of the NIF about the institution and his role in the “empowering people. Award 2015”.

Anil, the National Innovation Foundation-India (NIF) aims to strengthen grassroots technological innovations in the country. Why do you consider this so important?

There are social, sectoral and spatial niches in the socio-economic system of any country, which require specialized attention. The mass consumption solutions sometimes bypass these niches. Grassroots innovations help in closing the gap and meeting the needs of such niches. Some of the innovations in fact can scale up and provide extremely frugal solutions for mass application. Given the fact that these innovations emerge in a material resource-constrained environment, it is inevitable that they will maximize the input of knowledge. In the evolving knowledge economy, even large corporations and bigger public systems can learn from the heuristics underlying frugal grassroots innovations.

How can simple technological solutions influence economic development in developing regions?

More and more industries are becoming capital intensive. Generating new jobs is not only very costly but also does not happen so easily in the conventional economy. Grassroots innovations can help generate jobs and supportive ecosystem can be put in place. Grassroots innovations can easily be blended with modern science and technology to trigger extremely efficient and effective solutions without attendant environmental cost.

And it’s your job at the National Innovation Foundation to promote these technologies?

Yes, it is. NIF has several instruments such as Microventure Innovation Fund [MVIF] as distinct from micro finance. This Fund is a kind of risk capital provided under single signature and without collateral to the innovator to become entrepreneur. The National Innovation Foundation has filed around 800 patents in the name of innovators besides sharing thousands of open source ideas pooled by the Honey Bee Network and also the Society for Research and Initiatives for Technologies and Institutions [SRISTI].

The impact of working solutions can be maximized through replication and dissemination – how do you further this process?

The Foundation also acquires the licensing rights of some of the grassroots innovations and makes them available at no cost or low cost to small entrepreneurs. This is done under GTIAF [Grassroots Technological Innovation Acquisition Fund]. In addition, the Foundation disseminates innovation through mobile vans, participation in exhibitions, trade fairs and other such platforms.

Do you also work with partners?

Yes, we also join hands with the Society for Research and Initiatives for Technologies and Institutions during their biennial Shodhyatras (networking and dissemination programms) to share and learn from the creativity at grassroots. In fact it is sristi and Honey Bee Network which gave birth to NIF with the help of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

And of course, we partner with various companies, international organisations and other civil society initiatives to promote innovations. This is an area where a great deal more remains to be done.

You work closely with the Honey Bee Network. What is the Network’s role here?

The Honey Bee Network is the one that has brought together volunteers from different fields from all over the world to empower knowledge-rich, economically-poor people. The Network has created social and ethical capital which helps the Foundation and SRISTI to mobilise support from the formal sector at an extremely concessional rate or sometimes without any cost.

And this means…?

… that the Honey Bee Network has demonstrated how social and ethical capital can transform into enormous financial saving without which so many grassroots innovators could not have been served if they’d have had a very limited budget. For over 26 years, the Network has mobilised creativity and innovation in the field of education, technology, institutions and culture. While our Foundation deals with only technological innovations in the informal sector and by children, SRISTI deals with other subsets of the innovation ecosystem. If Foundation was to wait for innovators to reach it, it would have hardly received ten per cent of the 200,000 ideas, innovations and traditional knowledge practices, though they are not all unique. It is due to the contribution of the Honey Bee Network that grassroots innovators are able to showcase their work at the Festival of Innovation at the President of India’s house.

Anil, you are on the “empowering people. Award” jury. What is your motivation?

I have agreed to serve on the “empowering people. Award” jury so that I could help build linkages for some of the successful innovators and help them reach the niches where they are most needed.

Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta

Indian Institute of Management, National Innovation Foundation-India

Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta.Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta is a Professor at the Centre for Management in Agriculture at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and founder of the Honey Bee Network. With his Ph.D in management from Kurukshetra University, India, Professor Gupta’s mission is to expand the global as well as local space for innovations at grassroots level, link ideas in the informal and formal sector, ensure recognition, respect and reward for creative people; create knowledge networks for augmenting innovations and unfold creative potential in individuals, institutions and societies through frugal, flexible and friendly empathetic innovations.

Alongside supporting the Honey Bee Network as editor of the quarterly newsletter on grassroots green innovations, Professor Gupta’s positions include past  member of the National Innovation Council, President of SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions), Exec. Vice Chair, National Innovation Foundation, Secretary GIAN (Grassroots innovation Augmentation Network) and Professor at the Centre for Management in Agriculture at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. SRISTI has put tens of thousands of innovations and practices in open source and also pooled about 180,000 engineering projects at techpedia.sristi.org. He is member of International Steering committee for Global Innovation Center, UNICEF, New York.

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