Innovating Solutions for India’s Challenges
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Last week, Kapil Sibal unveiled the prototype of a Rs 1,500 tablet pc aimed at providing an ultra-low-cost solution targeted towards making computer literacy accessible to those who are at the bottom of the pyramid. The minister believes that not only it is possible to see a commercial launch of this prototype as early as in 2011, but also a price-point which could eventually be as low as Rs 500.
A few months ago, Tata Group launched an ultra-low-cost water purifier (Swach) with the same admirable intention – to make clean drinking water available to the poorest of the poor. Similar efforts have been undertaken towards the development of low-cost, smokeless chulhas; low-cost, solar-powered or conventional battery-powered LED-based lighting solutions; low-cost housing solutions; and other such products for the very poor. And, of course, the world took note when Tata Motors launched the ultra-low-cost Nano for the masses.
Yet, while all these efforts are inspiring and laudable, most may not really make the impact that would have been anticipated when such projects were envisaged and taken up for research and development. The reasons could be many. However, perhaps the most fundamental flaw is that each of these initiatives, at some point in their development cycle, has become an academic exercise in meeting a single objective, namely “lowest cost”. The visionary (individual or the organisation) loses track of the fundamental objective, which is to find an affordable solution to a real problem faced by the masses, and finally comes up with products or solutions that end up being sub-optimal or even at a tangent to the fundamental objective. Hence, in the realm of transportation, India needs efficient, very low-cost mobility solution for the masses, but somewhere in the visualisation process, the objective became to produce a Rs 1-lakh car for a few individuals (even if the number of such individuals may be a few hundreds of tho usands) while hundreds of millions still end up using jugaads or hang perilously on rooftops of trains and buses.