Rob Katz

Rural Innovations Network and “Technology Outwards”

Thanksto Jamais Cascio and his excellent World Changing weblog, I recently learned about India?sRural Innovations Network (RIN).RIN is a non-profit organization that functions as ?part business incubator,part fabrication and market research facility;? through partnerships withventure capitalists, it also matches good ideas to funding. Rather thanapplying developed-world technologies to BOP problems, RIN takes a ?technologyoutward? approach. Jamais nicely summarizes for us:

[Rural] people intimately understand their environments and createthousands of innovations that have immense potential to improve the well beingof the rural population. What rural innovators don’t have though is access tothe skills, networks and other resources needed to take their innovations tothe market. […] RIN’s mission is to identify, nurture and sustain innovationsby enabling the management of commercially viable enterprises, thus leading toimproved economic, social and creative environments for the rural population.[…] While other organizations take technologies and products into ruralareas, RIN differs in taking technologies out from rural areas. RIN championsthis “technology outwards” approach because it believes innovatorsinnovate out of local need, and in many cases the same needs exist in otherrural areas.

Interestingly, this approach echoes ThomasFriedman’s postulate in today’s New York Times: ?Indian companies know thatif they can make money producing low-cost technology for poor Indians, it givesthem an incredible platform to then take these products global. (Imagine theprofit potential if they work in the West?) Chinais doing the exact same thing.?

The RIN is applying an emerging status-quo among BOP experts: innovate atthe local level, based on local needs, then match good ideas with top-notchfunding. So far, its innovations haven?t spread beyond India.If Friedman’s right (and he probably is), it’s only a matter of time.