The Optimist Citizen

How to innovate?

From a reflective, manufacturing, professional vantage point – or for that matter any social point of view – this question holds an omnipresent prominence. Companies, Industries, and nonprofits pump money and utilise thousands of hours of manpower to crack this enigma of a question. Many, over the years -across numerous sectors- have explored and established new methods to reinforce innovation, in their organisation and their offerings. And some have also looked beyond the internal outlook and augmented it on a larger scale by way of support and investment. The 3M-CII Young Innovators Challenge Awards Program is a monumental step in that direction that has given rise to more than 1000 ideas for a better India.

The wide diversity of this year’s winners, coupled with the impact they have created, and the prospective impact they intend to create, showcases a renewed step in this direction of innovation. Let’s throw a new spotlight on some of the winners from this year.

Take the example of Barefoot Science Laboratories. It was started by Mechatronics engineer, Prayag Ichangimath, to increase the ambit of accessible education to rural communities. It is an extension of the renowned Barefoot College and primarily works to provide practical exposure of theoretical concepts to rural students between 8-14 years of age. The teacher create the experiments using locally sourced materials and execute almost 35 activities a year in 9 schools across Rajasthan and intends to scale it to 35 schools.

Children at a centre of Barefoot Science Laboratories

Similarly, Saloni Sacheti utilised the fertile cultural hotspot to augment impact in her own right. Passionate about jewellery and art, Saloni Sacheti, an SBI Youth for India Fellow, is empowering the tribals of Dagadpada, in Dangs district of Gujarat, by engaging them in an alternative livelihood source of bamboo jewellery making. She started Baansuli – Bamboo Artisans Social and Economic Upliftment Initiative – which engages the tribals in production and marketing of hand-crafted bamboo jewellery that stands out for its quality. Baansuli have expanded their repertoire of jewellery to almost 200 designs and also clothing and home furnishing products.

Saloni Sacheti and rural artisans showcasing new designs of jewellary

Shalmali Ghaisas’s solution is a similar exemplar in the work of rural impact. While doing the SBI Youth for India Fellowship in the Balwadi cluster of villages in Madhya Pradesh, Shalmali witnessed the pertinent, widespread problem of malnutrition in every family. Along with the villagers, she started using Soy and its by-product Okara to produce Soy, milk, nuggets, and tofu. These not only provided the required protein intake for the farmers’ families but were also sold at urban markets sto generate adequate revenue for the farmers.  Shalmali has now collaborated with a local hospital to modify the idea of consumption of soy by malnourished tribal children. This hospital has a continuous malnutrition program where in tribal children who are malnourished along with their mothers are regularly admitted here, free of charge and treated with fortified foods for a minimum period of 8-10 days.

Shalmali Ghaisas raptly propagating the benefits of Soy to children

Annu Shree Tiwari, an SBI Youth for India Fellow, is changing the face of education in villages of South Gujarat by empowering the Panchayats to take ownership under her initiative Panchayat Shikshan Kendra. She has set up learning centres in 6 village Panchayats and has engaged many unemployed rural graduates as teachers. The Sarpanch, the village school principal, and a few parents make up the Panchayat Education Committee. Over the span of her work, till mid 2018, Annu Shree was able to setupp 6 centres employing 9 teachers and engaging 60 children in 6 Panchayats. Now Panchayats are showing interest and dropout rates have reduced. Pass out rates has improved in villages at high school level. Schools are supportive of the idea now. Libraries are functional and SMC members are now active and working towards improvement of schools and also understand their roles and responsibilities better.

Annu Shree Tiwari (centre) with the children at a school under the Panchayat Shikshan Kendra

There are winners who have also worked on innovations that are technological in nature and have the capability for spreading long-term widespread impact.

We can look at the ample technology involved in Ankita Gulati’s innovation. During her research, Ankita observed that special schools lacked adequate teaching aids for children with visual impairment. Steeply priced aids were bought in low numbers that never satiated the need for most children. So, she teamed up with Prof. Balakrishnan and ten other researchers from IIT Delhi and the team created Touch Vision. Comprising of a portable stand, a tactile book and a mobile app, the system uses finger recognition methodology, along with simultaneous audio, to inform an individual about the images that they are looking at.

Ankita Gulati engrossing a child with the product test of Touch Vision

In another example of simplicity deeply expressing a technological innovation was that of the Standing and Sitting Wheelchair. P.L. Ramalingam and M. Naveen Kumar witnessed a big challenge in the wheelchairs used for patients with spinal injuries. Patients often need to stand for physical therapy, requiring human assistance and intervention. To solve this problem, these young innovators have built a prototype of a wheelchair that morphs its shape to help the patient stand up and sit. Standing wheelchairs usually weigh around 120 kgs, but this innovation has drastically reduced it to 19 kgs.  

The evident diversity of all these innovations is knotted in a single knot of innovation – the ever looming question defining our modern, professional engines. But, the examples beget a larger answer to the ever ensuing debate. How do you innovate? And we believe that these innovations stand the test of that exercising question. They inherently prove that it is not often the billions of dollars and thousands of hours of manpower that define innovation. Often in small pockets of our nation, tiny groups of young people  – with bare minimum resources – can achieve massive turn arounds and initiate a new conversation of what we as call innovation. Let’s hope we have not heard the last of this conversation and opportunities like the ones presented by companies like 3M would give this trend, the new age trending it deserves.

FEATURED IMAGE SOURCE: Harvard Business Review

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