Second International Conference on Creativity and Innovation at Grassroots
December 2012, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India
Grassroots innovations evolve in response to local problems but not always the ones faced by the innovators themselves. Many times, third party problems inspire the innovators to attempt solutions. Thus, these unaided, self-triggered and self-inspired solutions underlie the pursuit of inclusive development by the Honey Bee Network during the last twenty-four years. The International Conference on Creativity and Innovation at Grassroots provided a platform to scholars, activists, teachers, innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and other stakeholders including policy makers both from India and abroad to identify specific milestones that the Network should pursue in the coming decades. The Tianjin Declaration in 2008 had stressed
Grassroots scientists and technologists have to be enabled to articulate their excellence, experimental and conservation ethics and educational pedagogies for achieving equitable, empathetic and efficient allocation of resources and opportunities in society. Incubation of grassroots innovations and outstanding traditional knowledge in a distributed, decentralised and social democratic manner provides an opportunity to address global concern for providing solutions to persistent social problems.
The concern for inclusive development has become stronger in the recent times, so has the need for open innovation platforms. Even the formal sector is recognising that new solutions cannot always emerge from within organisations. The need for recognising, respecting and rewarding creativity in the informal sector has been recognised much more in the last five years. Thus, incentivising various stakeholders such as youth and institutional scientists to engage with individual and community innovators in the informal sector was emphasised strongly in this conference. The willingness of innovators to share their knowledge generously and without the expectation of much reciprocity was also articulated equally strongly. The dialectics of generosity and unfair exchange as well as the need for reciprocity and a lack of attribution reverberated all through the conference. Scientists working on validation of and value addition in grassroots innovations must be encouraged to share the summary of their findings in an easily comprehensible manner with the innovators and knowledge providers in their local language. Several of the recommendations involve use of ICT infrastructure. However, given the digital divide, not many grassroots innovators may be able to use these facilities without some institutional help. The fact that many innovators solve problems without being aware of scientific concepts underlying their ideas means that the awareness about scientific temperament and methodology needs to be increased. Even otherwise, the knowledge about scientific approaches might make the innovative pursuits more efficient. However, without practising the ethical values underlying the philosophy of the Honey Bee Network, the efficiency of such pursuits will be short-lived.
The conference participants reached a consensus that future strategies for empowering grassroots innovators will have to be more entrepreneurial, collaborative and open in nature. To ensure that opportunities for technological, educational, cultural and institutional innovators at grassroots are expanded meaningfully, the Ahmedabad Declaration endorses the following:
- There are innovators who may not be interested in material rewards for themselves while sharing their ideas or innovations. But their children, if needed, could be assured access to good education as an incentive to promote generous spirit among innovators. Likewise support for community and conservation of ecosystems could be other ways of incentivising generous innovators.
- A contingent framework needs to be developed for a pay-as-you-wish model for accessing open source ideas, innovations and sustainable practices. For different kinds of users and different purposes of use, the preferred conditions for voluntary payments can be specified.
- Every country needs to set up GTIAF (Grassroots Technological Innovation Acquisition Fund) so that innovators don’t subsidise the societal cost of learning and accessing new ideas and innovations. State or some other agencies should pay for acquiring the IP rights of selected technologies to make them available at no or low cost.
- A model of advance payment in part or full for an innovation yet to be actualised may be tried so as to provide an incentive to innovators. The risk of product development, thus, is transferred from an innovator to one or many investors.
- The avenues for economic and/or social enterprise development have to be increased through the provision of risk capital, mentoring and other kinds of support such as an international platform for incubation of innovations.
- Grassroots innovations should be aligned with the newer and emerging concepts of natural resource management and their impact on climate change should be taken into consideration.
- Gamification can help in problematising inertia and spur people into creating solutions. New games need to be developed for encouraging collaborative problem-solving with built-in incentives for doing the same. Games can also be developed for exploring new applications of existing innovations.
- Software applications (mobile or online) could be developed which will help users to access content of innovation databases in various languages.
- A specialised search engine and/or a well annotated, hyperlinked database for innovations need to be developed in order to facilitate their access for lay people, children, innovators and others. It may also provide links to those who may have referred or used a particular innovation to develop other derivative innovations (akin to the publication search facilities where references in which a particular paper is cited are given alongside the paper). People using the search engine may be encouraged to upload their ideas, innovations and publications which may enrich the innovation ecosystem for which an innovation portal may also be developed (see point 20).
- Public broadcasters, particularly radio station managers, need to be persuaded to allocate regular slots for broadcasting information about innovations. Likewise mobile exhibitions and sms services could also be used to create wider awareness. A youtube channel can also help in promoting dissemination of innovations and underlying heuristics.
- The agricultural and industrial extension centres have to be mandated to provide space for demonstration/trials of grassroots innovations so that local communities can experience the innovations. If necessary, an appeal to Members of Parliament needs to be made so that they recognise the value of this suggestion for their own constituency development.
- School and college textbooks should include lessons on innovations so that youth can be inspired for trying things out and acquire the humility, empathy, compassion and collaborative spirit of grassroots innovators.
- Traditional cultural formats should be used to embed the stories of innovations for wider interest and involvement.
- The translation of the Honey Bee database in various languages would facilitate cross-cultural learning, experimentation and diffusion. In some cases it may lead to derivative innovations which may enrich the original innovation itself.
- The concept of Technology Commons needs to be institutionalised so that protection of intellectual property rights does not come in the way of people to people (p2p) copying, learning, sharing and at the same time firms are obliged to license the rights before use. The legitimisation of Technology Commons will require changes in the policy and implementation system for IPRs.
- A fast track system for IP protection for grassroots innovators needs to be developed compatible with the concept of Technology Commons.
- Translational research needs to be encouraged to validate and promote cross-domain and cross-cultural applications of innovations.
- Reduction in taxation of GRI based products may encourage their use and thus enhance dissemination.
3) Institution Building and Open Innovation
- An offline and online open source and open access platform facilitating integration of grassroots innovation with the formal sector needs to be created.
- Social and health security for herbal healers and other traditional knowledge holders are needed in order to ensure that their unique knowledge is kept alive for future generations. Institutions like a herbal healer academy may facilitate knowledge transfer to the younger generation.
- A database of challenges needs to be developed so that academic institutions can mobilise young scholars to address them through post-graduate or project research. Since most academic institutions may not have a very close contact with communities nearby, such a database will help them make indirect connections with the ground. Databases of mentors and subject experts should be created. A supporting database of materials, tools and protocols also needs to be developed to enable efficient value addition to people’s ideas.
- There is a need for experienced innovators to offer their expertise and incubation support to other innovators. An open source database of innovators with specific skills and expertise may be built, which would help other innovators and also possibly help in generating more income from skill/expertise specific assignments.
- A consortium of designers, fabricators and calibrators/testers is needed to provide low cost and flexible services for the innovators.
- Despite all the efforts by the Network the share of women innovators remains very small. New pedagogies have to be used to unfold the creative potential of women in all sectors of society. Entrepreneurial opportunities for women have to be expanded so as to trigger more innovations.
- Institutional innovations are extremely important for sustainable management of scarce resources often through commons. For replicating such innovations, instead of spreading the specific components or their sequence, one may have to disseminate the heuristics or the models of problem solving. Building capacity to abstract these models and apply them to location specific conditions requires considerable effort.
- Certification of skills, knowledge and innovations may require special facilities and policies so that grassroots innovators are not put at disadvantage while competing with the products and services of the formal sector.
- The Inverted Model of Innovation implying innovation by children, prototyping by technology students and other fabricators, commercialisation by companies and social diffusion by other agencies needs to be developed worldwide.
4) Youth and Education
- Platforms like techpedia.in should be created in every country to link academia with the problems of small industry and the informal sector. A database of social challenges should be provided at this platform to encourage students to take real life problems for research and projects. A kho kho/relay model can be developed for projects that have not yet led to product development to be taken up by students elsewhere.
- A distributed model for collaborative problem solving needs to be encouraged across disciplinary and institutional boundaries.
- The national social service scheme may be supplemented by a national innovation services scheme to motivate the youth to engage with unsolved problems of society.
- To strengthen the societal capacity to deal with climate change and other associated risks, the youth should be encouraged to document the survival strategies under stress such as use of uncultivated plants as foods. A database of such strategies can provide spur for empirical research and action to add value to community knowledge.
- Academic credit may be given to students who wish to put their complete project reports in the public domain. A registration system akin to the ISBN number may be followed for proper cataloguing of the projects.
5) Cultural Creativity
- Dissemination of cultural creativity may require recasting the employment generation programmes, media policy, educational pedagogy and other extension services. The role of cultural symbols in deepening the innovative spirit needs to be recognised in a greater manner. The linkage among these cultural facets of public policy has to be made comprehensible at different levels of society.
- Language, culture and local meanings and metaphors provide a context for communication to take place among communities. Without maintaining the synergy among these factors, the culture of creativity cannot be fostered.
- Distributed and interlinked platforms to unfold the entrepreneurial potential of local art and cultural forms will require institutional and technological innovations. Building capacity of creative people to access these platforms, however, requires new kinds of educational efforts and infrastructure, lacking in most societies.
- Community or sectoral brands may be developed to increase the market acceptance of related grassroots innovation based products. It may not be possible for individual innovators to create a similar identity in the minds of consumers. Investment in creating such brands is beyond the capacity of individual innovators. Hence, the need for public investment.
- There is a lack of risk funding and grants for grassroots innovations. Unlike the worldwide acceptance of micro finance as a vehicle for meeting capital needs of small enterprises, the concept of micro-venture innovation funds (MVIF) remains to be properly understood, accepted and amplified through policy and institutional support.
- To promote institutional, cultural, and educational innovation, there is a need for a social venture fund of at least Rs 1 crore per district.
- Successful innovator-entrepreneurs may contribute in an innovation fund created and managed by innovators to finance other regional innovators. Periodic training of innovators for improving their technical, accounting and other entrepreneurial skills is required as well.
- Appropriate means of funding should also be provided to cover the cost of failed, less or unproductive R&D considering wear & tear, breakage, loss of resources (material and financial), travel for procurement of right parts/components for prototyping etc.
- Instead of a uniform set of financing rules for all kinds of technologies, differentiated rules may be evolved to fund different kinds of sector specific or high impact technologies with high risk of failure but higher societal value. Moratoriums on interest/principal repayment may also be planned accordingly.
- Creating a global GIAN (Grassroots Innovation and Augmentation Network) as a foundation to support and incubate grassroots innovations having regional as well as worldwide relevance for inclusive development.
6) Horizontal Supply Chain and Logistics Management
- For a distributed, collaborative and open economy to work without creating monopolies, there is a need to develop a horizontal supply chain, i.e. different steps in the value chain are completed in different spatial units or villages. The idea of leveraging comparative advantage of different villages is inherent in this model. Mutual dependency will thus increase and alienation might decrease. Neighbourhood economies might evolve and vertically integrated structures may dissolve due to excessive transaction and management costs.
- Supply and distribution chains for cultural creativity are very important for maintaining autonomy and agency of each creative community. In many craft and artisanal occupations, supply chain problems have posed a threat to the very survival of creative and innovative traditions.
- Documenting and disseminating educational innovations may involve process improvements or use of different material ingredients for creative pedagogies. Organising supply chains for the ingredients thus becomes crucial for diffusion of innovations.
- A larger number of distributed school specific innovations has to be communicated among other school teachers to trigger further experimentation and innovation. Apart from legitimising the experimental ethic, there should be freedom for teachers to incorporate local material, content, metaphors, etc. in the curriculum.
- A multi-media, multi-lingual database of innovations by teachers needs to be created and disseminated globally to ensure that children get opportunities to fulfil their potential.
- Given the high probability of dropouts in the regions having high biodiversity or higher environmental or economic stress, the erosion of knowledge and resources may go hand in hand. Educational policies and programmes have to be tailored to the needs of such regions.
The Ahmedabad Declaration stresses the pivotal role of grassroots innovations for inclusive development. It also recognises the hurdles to be crossed for realising the potential of GRI. It is hoped that an urgent policy and institutional reform will follow. A network, within and among universities, educational institutes and research institutes, needs to be created to expand the space for grassroots innovations in the minds of the youth. There is a huge opportunity for expanding the meaning of open innovations by bringing the elements of reciprocity without impairing the prospects for people to people learning. It is hoped that the Honey Bee Network would continue to provide the largest source of open source solutions for global alleviation of poverty and conservation of the environment. The model of g2G (grassroots to Global) holds enormous promise for changing the terms of the discourse on globalisation. The time for distributed, diversified and decentralised problem solving through collaborative platforms has come. The Honey Bee Network is bound to revitalise the repertoire of educational, cultural, institutional and technological innovations at different levels of society.
The spiritual basis of the grassroots innovations movement is no less important than the utilitarian aspect. Empathy is the predominant feature of innovations in various sectors and social spaces. In a materialistic worldview it is difficult for many to understand why knowledge rich, economically poor people prefer to be so generous in sharing their knowledge widely. And yet, should they remain poor because they have superior ethics. The challenge is to create platforms for collaboration, compassion and co-optation among creative forces in the formal and informal sector. Frugal, flexible and friendly innovations would inevitably follow from the synergy across sectors.