Innovation: A way of life

Innovation: A way of life

While we need cutting edge technologies for rapid creation of world-class infrastructure and its maintenance, we also need solutions for including the excluded ones in the development process. As the democratic aspirations rise, we have to find new ways of reducing disparities. Many times, we cannot solve the problems by merely redoubling our efforts.

India’s economic performance over the last few decades has been commendable. Yet, we are confronted with enormous problems of poverty, inequality, unemployment, resource scarcity, and poor infrastructure.

While we need cutting edge technologies for rapid creation of world-class infrastructure and its maintenance, we also need solutions for including the excluded ones in the development process. As the democratic aspirations rise, we have to find new ways of reducing disparities. Many times, we cannot solve the problems by merely redoubling our efforts.

We need to change the approach, the design, the delivery method and the means. On account of our size, diversity and complexity, our circumstances are unique. Adopting global models for development can at best be of limited use. Our development model has to be linked to the aspirations of our people and must respond to their needs. Innovations must preserve our diversity and benefit the wider spectrum of the society.

Innovation has many facets. Some innovations are transformational in nature where the changes are disruptive. The digital revolution with its products impacting the daily lives of millions – from top to the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid - is one such example. Then there are ‘pro-inclusive’ innovations that by modifying an existing technology significantly lower the price of a product or a service making it affordable to middle and lower income groups.

It includes ‘frugal’ innovations that retain only the core functionalities of a product like a low-cost car or a low-cost airline. Another category is social innovations that are primarily aimed at providing socially useful services for which clients may not have the capacity to pay.

Yet another dimension of innovation is ‘grassroots’ innovation that is undertaken by local communities who close the gap between unmet social needs and inadequate delivery system by developing creative solutions themselves.

The idea of imagination, experimentation, innovation and entrepreneurship (IEIE) has to be instilled from childhood. The next question is how do we take the inclusive innovation movement forward? India may have lagged behind in some of high tech innovations but when it comes to developing solutions to everyday problems, we have made a difference. In my capacity as the Visitor of 117 central institutes of higher learning, I had given a call to these institutes to set up innovation clubs.

There are now over 85 such clubs, innovation incubators and hubs in central institutions of higher learning.I hope to see a developed India in my lifetime. Our collective dream will be fulfilled only when we build upon creative ideas of all citizens, by providing them pathway to persevere, sustain, and make a difference.

I suggest nine sutras to invigorate India’s march towards a more inclusive, diverse, sustainable and innovative society:One: we should not snub children when they ask questions to which we have no answer.

We should admit our ignorance, seek relevant information from those who may know and whet their curiosity. Unless our children learn to question, experiment, their imagination will not expand; and their innovative potential will not be realized.

Two: we should promote and reinforce a scientific temper by questioning our beliefs which are not compatible with scientific way of thinking.The futuristic societies build upon unconventional ideas. They are not afraid of failures; they take risks and forgive well intentioned mistakes.

Three: innovation clubs and tinkering labs should be set up in schools, colleges and research institutions. Youth must learn to search, spread, and celebrate inclusive innovations and sense the unmet social needs of communities in their hinterland.

I have seen paddy transplantation in my village when women work with their feet in water, back bent in painful posture for hours transplanting paddy.

Why cannot we improve and design affordable manual paddy transplanter? Why the pace of technological change is slow in the activities that women undertake? Let us commit ourselves to work towards addressing all these problems in a time bound manner. We should also become sensitivetowards the problems faced by working class, elderly, and specially-abled, of our country. Only then will compassionate creativity blossom.

Four: We should build viable and sustainable bridges between formal and informal knowledge systems. With climate change risks, and uncertainty looming large on the horizon, the knowledge of the communities which have lived with these uncertainties for millennia cannot be ignored.

As resources become scarce, we will have to learn to share more and more. The value system which promotes public and common good over individual interest should power individual entrepreneurship.

Five: We must give due recognition to cultural, technological and traditional skills while implementing our employment guarantee schemes and skill development programmes. Nobody is, truly speaking, unskilled.

A knowledge society has to harness unique strengths of each person. We should also encourage artists, performers, sculptors, etc., to teach their art to our children in schools, and nurture younger generation which may like to contribute towards cultural economy.

Six: I have been interacting with vice chancellors and directors of various institutions of higher learning during the last four years. I have impressed upon them to promote innovation in every subset of education so that younger generation grows with a creative and problem solving mindset. We should bring our educational system in line with contemporary societal expectations.

Seven: There are many simple problems that we face in our daily life but we learn to live with these problems rather than find systematic solutions.

We need to overcome the deeply-embedded inertia in our psyche and constantly ask ourselves: how can I solve this problem? Can I still try no matter if I fail a few times?Eight: We must develop a sense of immediacy.

Time and tide waits for none. In a fiercely competitive environment, to be in a hurry and have some impatience is a necessary virtue.Nine: We must not tolerate inefficiency, shabbiness and poor quality work. Our endeavor should be to achieve high standards of aesthetics and performance while providing goods and services.

There is a lot more that can be and should be done. The knowledge and culturally rich but economically poor deserve our support for a more dignified future. If we overcome some of our inertia, stop complaining always about what is wrong around us and instead focus on what is right, bright and creative, we can indeed change our work culture and the mindset.

Great nations need to reinvent their social mores, and redefine social aspirations to include the last in the line. Stay engaged with creative and compassionate forces in our society. That’s how India will become not only a developed but also a caring and sharing society.

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