In a country with a population of over a billion, over 60 percent of it is based in the interiors. However, in spite of a large public-funded science and technology infrastructure and a sizeable education base, the country has not been able to recognise its innovative potential in rural India. A reason for this is the fragmented innovation ecosystem.
Though the government has undertaken many initiatives to strengthen this ecosystem, there seem to be challenges one too many. Even new policies, though have helped create a major explosion of innovation-led growth in urban areas, they seem to have failed in coming to the rescue of the rural population.
The main issue is getting incubators and investors to pay attention to rural Innovation and start-ups. Inclusive innovation in rural India does have a lot of takers, although the fact also remains that these enterprising entrepreneurs are adversely hit because of a lack of financial support. Even with the formation of finance initiatives and Ecosystem support, they still don’t seem to attract most of the incubators.
One must remember that the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Act 2006 was enacted to facilitate promotion, development and enhancement of this sector. Unfortunately, it still has a long way to go with respect to rural India. The problem is not that the innovations cannot stand up to their peers, who focus on urban-centric innovations, but stems from the challenges faced by the incubators themselves.
Some of the problems they face include 1. A dearth of players, 2. Little or no support from State Governments, 3. Lack of awareness on their resourcefulness, 4. Need for creating better connectivity and awareness campaigns on the merits of working with an incubator.
One of the leading government initiatives working towards helping innovators across the country is the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), which has taken major steps to enhance the knowledge-rich but economically-poor people of the country. This is made worse by the fact that millions of ideas and innovators are waiting for assistance in terms of funds and technical and design support.
The complete lack of interest from incubators also has a lot to do with the thought process involved with the types of innovations that are urban- focused as against the rural pioneers. Those that have an urban focus seem to be more on the lines of the western thought processes and seem to generate more interest while the innovations with a rural focus, though very practical, seem very archaic to the common man. This diverts the interest of the incubators as well.
Organisations like the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) and initiatives like ‘Make in India’ are trying to change this mindset. However, we will need the involvement of the general public and the teachers of the nation, like Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, to get the word out to the world at large. It will usher in an all-round prosperity. (The writer is Director-General of NIRDPR)