Friday, October 25, 2013

Social Innovation in India

Social Innovation:
The products, services, process or technology innovations that cater to the needs of the under privileged sections of society are termed Social Innovations.

The need:.

A. In Industry:

·       The Indian industrial sector is heavily dependent on imported technology. This makes it weak and vulnerable.

·       The cost associated with imported technology is much higher than that of a domestic, in-house technology. This additional cost is passed on to the consumer and makes it a luxurious unaffordable product to the low income groups.


1.     In the nuclear energy sector, we import expertise, reactors, auxiliary parts and spares from abroad. For example, The Light Water Reactor (LWR) technology employed at Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (Agreement between India and Russia signed in 1988) is a first of its kind in India. The NPCIL is completely dependent on Russia for the design, drawings and all the equipments necessary. The project failed to take off for the next decade, due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

2.     In transport sector, the Chennai Metro Project for example, imports train coaches from Brazil ( Company: Alstom ). This is despite the fact that one of India’s largest and oldest coach manufacturing facilities (The Integral Coach Factory, Perambur) is located within the Chennai Metropolitan area. This clearly indicates that though we are experts in manufacturing traditional, well-established products we lack expertise when it comes to new arenas as a direct consequence of lack of innovation especially innovation of the social kind.

B. For Inclusiveness of the under privileged:

          In a country with a large economic divide such as ours, social innovation is mandatory for the inclusive growth of all sections of society.

·       In India, only the middle and high income groups can afford proper housing while the low income groups depend on the government for housing. However, conventional construction methods are costly and time consuming, thus restricting the government’s ability to provide effective housing to all those in need and they end up living in cramped, potentially unsafe conditions with poor sanitation facilities such as slums.

·       At IIT Madras, technologists have constructed a two-storey apartment in 31 days at very low costs. If this is mentored and funded on an industrial scale, it could go a long way in eliminating slums in India.

C. For Bridging the Urban – Rural divide:
          Technological innovations are targeted majorly towards the urban population. This leaves the rural population backward and denies them several opportunities such as education, exposure and white-collared employment.

Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship:

·       Fostering and nurturing entrepreneurship is crucial for social innovations to take place.

·       Old, established institutions and industries find it difficult to adapt to new challenges and demands. They react to social innovations slowly and with caution because of the risks of failure. However, new enterprises and start-ups which are born from social innovations constantly work towards transforming their lab prototypes into successful market-ready wholesome products.

·       These start-up enterprises and the entrepreneurs driving them have to be mentored, supported with resources and insulated from the ill-effects of failure by the government.

·       The student community, especially the bright minds in our prestigious national technology institutions must be encouraged to become entrepreneurs because they show the maximum interest and capability towards entrepreneurship. 

Challenges Faced by Social Entrepreneurs:

·       Most talented minds go abroad for pursuing their research due to sub standard R&D facilities in India’s higher education institutions which is in turn, due to the lack of capital.

·       The target market is the low income group. Thus, the innovation must be of low cost and high quality and durability.

·       The actual transformation of a lab prototype into a marketable product is often associated with very high initial investments with no assurance of immediate profits.

·       A prototype that functions perfectly in a lab environment may fail completely in the real world or be rejected by the intended target market.

·       Lack of mentoring in skills and methods by industry persons.

·       Innovators lack clarity about Intellectual Property rights. The Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill, (PUPFIP) has been pending in Parliament since 2008.  If passed, it could help to leverage the best out of the intellectual properties of patents and enable innovators to earn more revenue from their innovations.

·       Alumni involvement in the governing boards of universities is non-existent in government institutes in India. The top 19 of the 20 universities of the U.S NEWS rankings are run predominantly by their alumni. Alumni involvement will ensure that the university’s interests are most supreme and everything else is secondary.

Measures taken to foster Social Innovation:

1.   Establishment of Research Parks at IIT (Madras):

a.     Research Parks are arenas where students and entrepreneurs can showcase their innovations to industry persons and interact with them.
b.    Industry persons can provide more information on the real world scenario and market trends which the entrepreneurs lack and can serve as “mentors
c.     Chances of winning sponsorships or funding from the industry for worthy innovations.

2.   The Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy, 2013:

a.     SRISHTI= Science, Research and innovation system for High technology led path for India.

b.    The Prime Minister launched this policy for faster, sustainable and inclusive growth.

c.     The policy envisages the following:

                                                             i.      Positioning India among the top 5 scientific powers by 2020
                                                           ii.      PPP (Public Private Partnership) to increase R&D spending upto 2% of GDP within 5 years.
                                                        iii.      Treating R&D in the private sector at par with public institutions for availing public funds.
                                                         iv.      Making careers in R&D and innovation more attractive to the talented minds and retaining them within the country.
                                                           v.      Establish large R&D facilities through PPP.
                                                         vi.      Provide new financing methods to entrepreneurs to encourage them.
                                                      vii.      Gender parity to be achieved by bringing in more women researchers.
                                                    viii.      Providing incentives to innovations focused on “Green Manufacturing” i.e Innovations that are environment-friendly.
                                                         ix.      The Science and Technology Boards / Councils in the States to be strengthened.
                 x.    Science Diplomacy forging strategic partnerships with other countries to develop state of the art research facilities.


·       Though concrete steps towards fostering social innovation such as the STI – 2013 policy are being taken by the government, the goals envisioned must be made measurable, time-bound, regulated and monitored.
·       Government must realize that bringing R&D facilities to global standards cannot be done overnight and must analyze and learn from the failures of the earlier policies.
·       Government must monitor whether the incentives it awards to private entities are not misused and whether the beneficiaries contribute actively towards development of social goods.

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