Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Going Beyond the Wow Factor : The need for local innovation

The homepage of Rural Innovations Network, one of LRAMP's parent organizations, briefly describes the work it does as -

"Change starts with ideas. And when ideas become reality, they transform life.

Rural India teems with amazingly innovative ideas that can solve a huge variety of problems and create enduring prosperity. It is this potential that Rural Innovations Network (RIN) seeks to translate into reality.

RIN avidly identifies and incubates grassroots innovations, which can have a significant impact on rural lives and lie untapped, in spite of their potential to transform lives. RIN's incubation strives to make the difference between an idea that fails and one that sees the light of day."

My version of the work RIN does invariably includes additional words such as non-profit, social enterprise, rural development. The most common responses that I get to my description are "Wow," "This is Amazing!" It took me a long time to realise that people were actually reacting to a heady mix of the latest buzzwords (innovation, social enterprise, grassroots, non-profit etc) rather than appreciating RIN for the void it is trying to fill.

People seldom understand the power in RIN's mission of "enriching rural lives by enabling innovations to reach the market." This simple mission finds its roots in economic theory and is strongly backed by the history of developed nations. In his best-selling book "The End of Poverty," world renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs states "Lack of Innovation" as one of the reasons why countries fail to achieve economic growth. Sachs writes -

Rich countries have a big market, which increases the incentive for innovation, brings new technologies to market, further raises productivity and expands the size of the market, further raises productivity and expands the size of the market, and creates new incentives for innovation. This momentum creates in effect a chain reaction, which economists call endogenous growth. Innovation raises the size of the market; a larger market raises the incentives for innovation. Thus, economic growth and innovation proceed in a mutually reinforcing process.

Now consider the plight of an innovator/inventor in an impoverished or developing country? The innovators have hardly any resources at hand and when they do manage to come up with really useful products, the low purchasing power of the consumer limits sales. A dispersed population is another limiting factor to the sales of the product.

RIN is on the forefront of working with this under served community by providing a host of services (including recognition, mentoring, funding and networks) to innovators and enabling their innovations to reach the markets.

Efficient kerosene burners, insect traps, low-cost milking machines, pocket manuring sticks, rain guns, suncon cookers, low cost sanitary napkins, all represent the creative and innovative spirit that is waiting to be tapped. And going beyond the wow factor, the cycle of local innovation started by such innovations will one day lead India towards unprecedented economic growth!

No comments: