Wednesday, 3 March 2010

How Does India Innovate?

This question came to my mind soon after I posted my experience with Digital Britain Testbed in my professional blog. Read it here: 

Innovation in India is individual based or company based, it seems. Well, it is true elsewhere as well. An idea strikes one individual, he/she risks almost-everything in his/her life to “make it” happen. There are numerous examples to quote. Similarly a business organization innovates. For example: Tata producing Nano.

There are several obstacles to innovation in India. The key question is “how far does an idea go?” Typical Indian response would be “well ... it is upto the individual. If he/she has the will and determination, it will go all the way. Look at NRN, look at Captain Gopinath, look at ... the list goes on”. Now ask a follow-up question: “Whose responsibility it is to drive innovation?” You will get multiple answers – ranging from “self” to “Government”. But I am sure that one answer will not come – “society” - does it even exist in India? I don’t even want to use the word “community” as it takes a whole new meaning in India.

I am not saying that there is no innovation in India. There are so many - in all possible areas – space, banking, services, agriculture etc. Innovation exists at all levels – homes, towns, villages and cities. They get publicised in magazines like Sudha, Taranga etc. I have seen so many. I go to Krishi Mela every year in Bangalore – to look at animals, agricultural vehicles and food products. I have seen so many new tools, methods, processes developed by enlightened villagers. Krishi Mela is one such vehicle to showcase innovation.

I believe that innovation needs to be facilitated. It is a team work. There should be a single window which is known to everybody, easy to approach, helpful, accommodative and encouraging. Going by the current trends, I know that someone immediately would suggest an online website to log your idea and wait for someone to help you take it forward. But it should be more personal than that. Someone should warmly welcome the innovator “Oh, you have an idea? Come in, have a seat, here is coffee, now tell me about it, let’s see how we can take it forward.”

Will the innovator open up in such a facility? This is the next question. He/she is afraid that the idea might get stolen! I remember my own case – not of a commercial innovation – but a linguistic innovation. Back in 1987 or 88, there was a competition for traffic slogans. I submitted my slogan “Speed Thrills but Kills” to the RTO. Today you see the slogan everywhere, I didn’t get acknowledged. Well. 

I am not the only one concerned about current state of innovation in India. Read this article In India, Anxiety Over the Slow Pace of Innovation. Also read this piece India’s Innovation Gap.

My experience with UK’s TSB (Technology Strategy Board) got me thinking. Here in UK, Government’s Technology Strategy is published. TSB holds competitions awarding money to innovative ideas. A test-bed is available for you to try out your ideas. An idea could go a long way here in UK. Is it better than USA, Germany and Israel? I don’t know. How well non-technical ideas addressed in UK? I will find out and let you know, if you ask me.

We, in India, have NIF – National Innovation Forum supporting Grass-Root innovation. Looks like a Government body. I couldn’t open its homepage either from my laptop or from my Iphone. From search engines I see that they seem to have something called Innovations Database. Will this body setup approachable means to Indian innovators?

I also found one more link – Innovative India. I realized that it is an IT service provider who got lucky with the URL.

I know that some of you might tell me that recently Narayan Murthy has sold his shares in Infosys to setup a venture capital firm. Will he take the line of UK’s Technology Strategy Board – announcing competitions to hand over seed capital? Or take the NIF route to promote grass root innovation? Or would he become yet another venture capitalist? It is interesting to see.

Keep me posted if you find out something in this area.