Searching for Innovation in Rural India

Innovation is hailed as a great modern tool that can lift rural communities out of poverty. However, innovative new start-ups are facing problems that include a lack of support– financial, material and even moral. Here, Kartikeya Rana discusses the importance of supporting innovation as a way to provide individuals and communities with long lasting benefits.

People are undertaking fascinating levels of innovation in communities around the world. An innovator in Bihar, a state of India, developed a coffee machine from a pressure cooker. This reduced costs for the coffee maker and also ensured that high quality coffee was provided to commuters quickly– making it a lucrative development for both the innovator and customers. Another exciting innovation has been a scooter, which can be used as a flour grinder and washing machine. This allowed the innovator, Sheikh Jahangir, to provide this technology at the customer’s doorsteps– creating a vast demand and also ensuring that his profits are maximised.

© Rakesh Soni/Creative Commons License

© Rakesh Soni/Creative Commons License

Although there are fascinating innovations being developed every day, the greater benefits of new form of technology remain untapped. Most innovative projects are relatively unknown and lack the exposure they need to turn from ideas into marketable products or services. NGOs often lack the resources to support such projects whilst the international community is largely unaware of such efforts due to a lack of local publicity. As a result, many good ideas are simply not realised. In addition, even where an innovation is recognised, the grass root innovator is rarely acknowledged or rewarded, thus distorting incentives for entrepreneurs to spread their invention beyond the scope of a limited market.

A good example of this is the amphibious bicycle developed by Sheikh Jahangir. This bicycle can be used both on land and in water. This allows it to have a wide variety of benefits from personal usage to disaster relief. It is particularly useful at times of floods when people have to travel through the water to complete their daily tasks. As a result, it would be useful for the fire brigade to have a number of these to provide relief in times of emergency. Due to a lack of support for this technology, however, it has been difficult to convince the fire department to implement this technology.

Development organisations should take steps to try and provide support to these innovating bodies and publicise existing successes. This can include targeted aid to innovators, which will result in funding being used more effectively. This can also incentivise other individuals within the community to innovate. In addition, volunteers can take steps to advise early innovators to develop their ideas.

With the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fast approaching, development organisations should start working towards supporting such causes. There are currently a small number of organisations that have started taking steps towards this goal such as SRISTI and the honeybee network. However, the support provided by such a small number of organisations is not enough to tap the unidentified potential within these communities.

© /Creative Commons License

© /Creative Commons License

The honeybee network is a network of people, from a range of backgrounds that can gain mutual benefit from a grassroot innovation.  The methodology of knowledge sharing used, however, allows the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of the grassroot innovator to be maintained. Ensuring that the knowledge provider is recognised on every stage of the knowledge sharing process maintains the IPR. This knowledge sharing process has led to the development of a number of beneficial value-added products.

This type of knowledge sharing methodology should be encouraged by NGOs, charities and other development organisations to complement financial support to new ideas. Encouraging the self-sustenance of marginalised groups can be useful in meeting the long-term goals of these organisations.

Organisations should also take steps to support unique innovations that have educational value. Poor communities are a hotbed of ideas and philosophies. If more people can learn from these ideas then they must be supported. For example, a number of rural communities have developed practices in medicine, which are useful in treating a range of ailments. If we can incorporate these practices into traditional medicine, then a number of diseases can be treated cheaply and effectively.

It is time that development organisations started working towards their own extinction. Education and innovation is the foundation of a successful society. The greater the level of innovation, the easier it is to meet the MDGs. As the saying goes– “Teach a man to fish and you can feed him for a lifetime”. The man in this case already knows how to fish. What he needs is a better rod and bait.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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