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Physical comfort is crucial. Day-to-day changes by innovation are of utmost value
TSI | Issue Dated: April 1, 2007
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Self Employed

Women’s Association Paradoxes in India have a perpetual life. One such paradox surrounds innovation. The private and public investments that we make in innovations do not bear large and many fruits, though some fruits are delicious, we must accept. And the innovations that our citizens make in their day-to-day life, on their own or with business or government support, do not attract investments to expand and benefit the nation.

I am a housewife. I have a house of two rooms. How can I make it more livable, more comfortable? Almost 60% housewives like me live in two-room homes. And most innovations – new taps, washbasins, thermal walls, touch-press switches – are for high income homes. Must most innovations be for costly homes? I am a speaker. The podium is not to my size. I have to stand on my toes to fit myself to the podium. Is it impossible to innovate podiums that self-adjust to the speaker?

There are Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) members who are junk-smiths, who would urge experts to help them innovate better tools for faster production. They say ‘we have to hit 15 times to make a hole in a tin sheet.’ The others say, “we shell groundnuts (the nation earns foreign exchange) with our teeth. Our lips and mouth get so sore that we cannot eat.” The cotton pod openers say, “when we shell cotton pods our fingers bleed.” The handcart puller complains, “we pull carts with 2,000 kg load and lose our unborn babies.” They to suffer such work because that is their life.

In times when Indian doctors can transplant hearts and kidneys, when Information Technology experts can innovate seamless connections, when biotechnologists can innovate better genetic coding, we are looking for a proper mask for a ragpicker, a pair of hard gloves for a street-sweeper, a footstool for a housewife and a hammer for a junk-smith. These are important manifestations of innovation and the way innovation is perceived in our country. Creativity, art, visual appeal, and rarity are centrestage to most innovation related discussions. Application of innovation is equally important but overlooked. Use of innovation is essential. Physical comfort is crucial. Day-to-day changes by innovation are valuable. The time has come when almost all information is about to become free. Once it is on the Internet, it is everywhere simultaneously. So the idea of owning an innovation and capitalising on it is becoming less possible. Innovative ideas must be realised into concrete, usable, measurable, and in many cases, marketable products or service. It seems it will matter less who had an innovative idea. What will matter is who delivered it, who turned it into reality. This shift, from origins to actualisation, is becoming more and more important, not only for the big corporate companies but also for small traders, tiny manufacturers and home-based producers.

A lot of innovation is happening at the local level. There is a need to strengthen the value chain of converting green grassroots innovations into enterprises. This will help generate jobs and provide a knowledge-based approach to poverty alleviation and environmental conservation. The National Innovation Foundation with whom SEWA women are involved has the mission of making India innovative. Yes, we can create a model not only for India but also for other developing countries. In the villages we have seen women drawing water from the well and have heard of accidents of their falling in the well along with the rope. They have been using a pulley designed centuries ago, which is physically very demanding. The lowering of the water table has further compounded the problem of drawing water from wells by means of a pulley. Despite being a very real problem, it was never taken up by a research and development department.

Fortunately, Amrutbhai Agrawat of Junagadh (in Gujarat) provided the simple solution of attaching a stopper on the pulley, which stops it from rolling back into the well. Based on feedback, three models were developed but the product is waiting to be manufactured and arrive in the village market. The pilot was conducted in the desert villages where SEWA is working. The results were most promising. Why can’t we decide to have such pulleys on half of India’s wells in five years?

To sum up, innovation is a complicated subject. It cuts across many sectors and time. Innovations have creative life. We have recognised it and nurtured it. But innovations also have a social and economic life, and it is time we started nurturing these lives of innovation in India.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017