Recently, IT doyen N R Narayana Murthy stated that there has not been a single invention made in India over the last 60 years that had become a household name globally, nor has been any idea that led to any earth-shaking invention to delight global citizens. We may raise an objection that a leader of a large export-oriented services industry never bothered to nurture innovation in his own organization, he does present a thought provoking viewpoint on Indian innovation. Despite having well established research institutions, India lacks a culture of innovation that nurtures inventors to create path-breaking ideas.
While we get depressed by such statements that expose the harsh reality of India, there are people who are working hard to search for innovations happening across the country and promoting them to bring their inventions into reality. Today there is a sudden realization that we need to promote innovation at the national level, but it is surprising to know that a person began the search for innovations 25 years ago!
Way back in 1986, Professor Anil K Gupta laid the foundation of the Honey-Bee Network to create a commercial platform for innovations, when he became a professor at the Centre for Management in Agriculture at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Every year during his summer vacation at IIM-A, Prof Anil Gupta began his ‘GIAN Shodh Yatra’ walking around 6,000km across India in search of innovations.
Typically, rural innovators are considered copycats who create an ad hoc ingenuity frugally and swiftly to create a makeshift arrangement, which is called “Jugaad innovation”. However, there are some genuine inventors in the remote rural areas who never get any recognition or reward for their ideas. After many years of Shodh Yatra to find such innovators, Prof Anil Gupta realized that there is a need for a proper platform to recognize such innovators. Moreover, there was a danger of someone stealing the intellectual property of many of these innovations and creating copycat solutions.
In this endeavor, Prof Anil Gupta established the Honey Bee Network, which a network of voluntary organizations that promote rural innovation. This in turn led to the creation of the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) for providing institutional support to search and incubate grassroots innovations across India. Today, NIF has become an autonomous body of Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India, which is dedicated to build a repository of grassroots technological innovators and traditional knowledge.
NIF ensures that the innovations submitted are solely from the efforts of the knowledge holder without any professional support or advice. The vision of NIF is to help these innovators to upscale their innovations for a larger segment of people. The organization also files patents on behalf of the poor innovators. Since its inception in 2000, NIF has come a long way, recognizing 775 grassroots innovators and documenting nearly 2,10,000 examples of technological innovations and traditional practices.
Some of the major activities of National Innovation Foundation are as follows:
- Shodh Yatra for Scouting & Documentation – This is a nationwide campaign to discover and recognize grassroot innovations and traditional knowledge practices in both rural and urban areas. Grassroots technologies developed by farmers, artisans, mechanics and students are analyzed by experts in their respective fields. The innovations submitted are validated and their novelty is assessed by conducting prior market research, which is conducted to make sure that the innovation selected is a patentable idea and is commercially viable as well.
- National Biennial Competition for Innovations – NIF conducts a national-level competition to identify unaided green grassroots ideas, innovations and outstanding traditional knowledge. Individuals from the unorganized sectors of the society, who have achieved distinction by improving quality and productivity without the aid of formal institutions, are invited to participate in the competition. Ideas for innovative technologies which have not yet become products are also welcome.
- Micro Venture and Innovation Fund – Typically, venture capital firms do not consider supporting grassroots Jugaad innovators due to their limited fund requirement of a few thousand rupees or a few lakhs, while banks are not ready to take risk without proper documentation or collateral. Realizing the need of extending risk capital to grassroots innovators, NIF established a dedicated risk fund with the support of SIDBI in 2004. Support from MVIF is available to innovators and entrepreneurs who are associated with NIF for technology commercialization.
- Dr APJ Abdul Kalam IGNITE Award – This is a national competition is organized by NIF every year to promote creativity and originality among children. The award recognizes original ideas and technological innovations created by children up to the age of 17 years. Later, patents are applied for applicable cases for the students and engage fabricators to develop prototypes of the students’ idea.