Nitin Rao

Rural Innovators: Closer to the Ground

I take pleasure in introducing three gentlemen who exemplify the spirit of innovation in rural India. These innovators demonstrated their ideas at the Rural Innovators event at Engineer 2007 – the national level symposium of NITK Surathkal.

Annasaheb UdgaviAnnasaheb Udgavi is a farmer from Sadalga village in Karnataka. Aged 80, he hasn’t received any formal education and yet has a good grasp of basic science and engineering. He is highly enthusiastic and enjoys helping solve people’s problems through his ideas. His Chandraprabha Water Gun (Rain gun) is an innovative sprinkler, which washes away white flies and Aphids from the tobacco plant. The sprinkler system is also useful in irrigating sugarcane.Narasimha Bhandari, has only passed the SSLC exam (equivalent of X grade) and has worked in a hardware shop for several years. He now owns a small engineering outfit. His innovations include an areca nut dehusking machine, a tiller generator and an innovative wheel barrow for farmers. The innovator’s automatic areca nut dehusking machine is four times as efficient as proficient labor.

Balakrishna is a dynamic innovator. Despite his basic education, he manages to live and innovate in the fast paced tech savvy city of Bangalore. His most prominent work includes generating hydroelectricity from slow moving sewage water.

Why do these names feature on a BOP blog?

When MNCs started taking BOP markets seriously, it presented a new paradigm for doing business. Today, rural innovators like Annasaheb present an opportunity to all stakeholders in a fast changing environment.

I find it curiously interesting that often ideas which might not originate in large and well funded institutes of technology and R&D centers of excellence may well originate in the fields.

Prof. Anil K GuptaWhat makes them innovate? Is it a more pertinent, even if not formal education? Is it a better understanding of the challenges faced at the grassroots? Or it simply the desperation of trying circumstance – that drives one to look for new ideas? According to Anil Gupta, Professor at IIM, Ahmedabad and Executive Vice-Chair of National Innovation Foundation of India, what drives these innovators is being “closer to the ground”.

While nobody may be able to point their finger to the right reasons, one thought that emerges is that large organizations looking to serve the bottom of the pyramid would do well by engaging with these rural innovators. The rural innovators, in turn, are becoming more savvy, by filing for patents.

There are striking similarities in concept between these innovations and now famous Jaipur Foot, which was a case study in Prof. Prahalad’s The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. The difference–taking an idea to a commercially viable product.