Sustainability and Impact
Grassroots innovation: Barriers, opportunities and path forward
10 Apr 2020

What is needed to drive a strong innovation culture in our economy?

India is a country with unique challenges and opportunities. Living in Metros, we forget the real India – an India which exists in the Tier II/III towns. With a ~70% rural population, with an average farm size of 0.2M grassroots innovation applications over a period of 5 years. That is roughly 40k innovations each year. To make things more exciting, >100 of these innovations have transformed into successful product/technology licenses.


Prof. Anil Gupta, IIMA and founder of HBN (Honey Bee Network) has rightly said: “Grassroots innovation is alive and well in India, we just have to look for it”.

But with all this hearsay, why are we not breaking boundaries with grassroots innovation? Simple answer, it is tough. A more objective answer, it requires a coherent and holistic hand-holding ecosystem to be built around it for sustenance. >99.93% of these projects/ideas simply just fizzle out. And there are multiple reasons for the same. Some do not get the necessary technological mentoring, some do not receive any go to market and business insights, for some, it is impossible to scale to a large manufacturing facility and surprisingly, some play in highly IPR driven systems, where they are not able to acquire the necessary licenses and are simply crushed by the giants. What is needed, is a holistic hand-holding ecosystem, that supports these innovations until they grow to become a self-sustaining and growing business.


The interesting thing is, these grassroots innovations actually create a lot of economic value. Investments in these ventures have successfully driven returns of 12% and above, with some cases seeing up to 15%-18% net returns. In fact, Harvard not strongly believe in the concept of “Shared Value Creation”, where businesses actually drive economic growth through positive social impact. It is possible to create business value through social innovation.


There are two more interesting questions we want to pose with this discussion – 1) Are we walking the talk in terms of funding enough R&D as an economy and 2) What kind of policy framework should be created, in partnership with enterprise, that establishes a successful model for the growth of the system?


Authored by (at the time of writing):

Shishir Mankad, Leader, Sustainability and Impact Practice

Madhur Singhal, Leader, Sustainability and Impact Practice


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