“India has one of the highest breast cancer cases in the world. The worrying trend is over 50% breast cancer-affected women are under the age of 50 years, while the survival rate of patients is 50%. Just 1% women in India have access to cancer detection facilities. There is one radiologist per 120,000 people available in India, while the ratio is one radiologist per 4,000 people in the US. Late detection is the biggest cause for high rates of breast cancer deaths among rural and poor women in India.”
These harsh facts were revealed by NRI innovator Mihir Shah at the fourth National Conference on Social Innovation (NCSI) in Pune recently. He received the ‘Anjani Mashelkar Inclusive Innovation Award’, which was bestowed on him for his innovative breast cancer detection device, iBreastExam. It is a low-cost, hi-tech, portable, radiation-free and non-intervention diagnostic tool approved by the USFDA.
The NCSI meet was organized by the Pune International Centre (PIC), in collaboration with the National Innovation Foundation and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The Anjani Mashelkar award is instituted by PIC, which carries a citation and INR1 lakh cash prize. Dr Vikas Amte was the chief guest, while renowned scientist Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar presided over the award function.
Dr. Vikas Amte spoke passionately about the Anandvan rehabilitation centre for leprosy-affected people at Hemalkasa started by his father Dr Baba Amte in 1947. He stated, “I was born in 1947. The nation and Anandvan were also born in that year. I opened my eyes to leprosy patients. Hemalkasa was the dirtiest place on the earth. It was the social prison and Baba made me its jailor. My father used to say ‘Give them (the leprosy-affected) a chance, not a charity’. We stayed away from the limelight. We wanted to close Anandvan from day one.”
Dr Amte highlighted the fact that their rehabilitation centre is driven by leprosy-affected and every work is done by the inmates. The patients have built the biggest biogas plant in the country at Hemalkasa. He proudly stated that none of his family members have contracted the disease despite serving leprosy patients for three generations. Listing out various innovative programs done at the centre, Dr Amte stated, “We have established the world’s first orchestra by the leprosy-affected. It has performed at the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi and the team often gets invitations from abroad. However, the performers do not have passports!”
Delivering his speech, Raghunath Mashelkar said, “My mother used to say ‘Use your knowledge to do something for the poor’. I believe in giving without remembering and take without forgetting.” Praising Amte’s work, Mashelkar called it exemplar of social innovation. Speaking about the Anjani Mashelkar award, he stated there are three criteria for selection:
- Next practice (not the best practice)
- Affordable excellence,
- Hi-tech work for the poor and access equality
This year’s National Conference on Social Innovation had three social themes: urban, rural and tribal innovations. In total, 18 social innovations were presented at the meet, ranging from conservation of disease and drought-resistant, native rice, vegetable and fruit varieties to indigenous fish breeding techniques to eco-tourism to social innovation hubs. CSR representatives of Tata Consultancy Services, Forbes Marshall, Praj, Mahindra Vehicles expressed interest in utilizing these tribal and rural innovations.
The NCSI meet was organised by the PIC, which is a think tank founded by Mashelkar and Dr. Vijay Kelkar in 2011. The institution wants to be a platform for stimulating debates on various scientific, art and cultural issues by mobilizing intellectual resources in India and abroad. Since its inception, PIC has held over 100 quality sessions of lectures, round tables, conferences and film festivals.
An Indo-China Social Innovator Exchange Program has been launched jointly by the PIC and the Society for Research & Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (Sristi), Ahmedabad. Under this program, a Chinese innovator visits India while an Indian innovator goes to China. Xie Fang from the TUF University, China made a presentation on ‘Rural Cultural Heritage and Ways for Survival’, while Tulaji Bhavsar from Bhuj, who will visit China, was also present.