Grassroots Innovation by Anil K. GuptaGrassroots Innovation by Prof Anil Gupta was something I was waiting to read for a long time. I have been following Prof Gupta’s work for a long time. Also had the privilege to visit one of his Innovation festivals at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, a few years back. I am also thankful to him for being one of the first readers of my book – The Mouse Charmers and lending his name with initial comments on the book. After reading the book, all I can say is that it leaves me wanting for me, as I know Prof Gupta has much more to share. Hope this is first in the series of books he writes on Grassroots Innovation.

Prof Gupta writes about his many journeys in this book. He talks about his life a bit and his motivation to work with innovators at the bottom of the pyramid. He talks about setting up the honeybee network that aims at documenting the innovations at grassroots, especially in remote villages. It aims to connect innovators so that they can benefit from each other’s work. It aims at helping them with technology and intellectual property know-how. He talks about finding the National Innovation Foundation and SRISHTI – some of the organizations taking care of various aspects of innovations in the country.

“What is routine for one person becomes disruptive knowledge for another”.

My favorite journeys of his and his team is Shodhyatra – a bi-annual exploratory walks that they do in remote villages in India to discover the innovations happening there. They meet the villagers, they talk to the school kids and they invite the innovators to showcase their work to the world. The yatra or walk is purely volunteer driven. The destination offers whatever it has to offer to the volunteers. The intent is to feel the pains and joys of people you are visiting.

As someone who has walked across cities, I can only imagine the wealth of knowledge gathered on the walks. Prof Gupta shares some of the Grassroots Innovations that they gathered on the way. He talks about the creativity of people in our villages, despite their limited resources and challenges in life. He shares examples that can be replicated. The author specifically talks about women innovators and how their contribution goes unacknowledged. He points out that Grassroots Innovators don’t hang a board outside their home declaring their innovations. So, he goes out looking for them on these Shodhyatras.

“If technology is a word, institutions are like grammar and culture is a thesaurus.”

 Most people do not read books on innovation. They are thought to be technical books meant only for people who work in this field. Let me tell you this book is for everyone because everyone has the potential to be an innovator. In fact, you may have already been an innovator and you may not know it – you might think your innovation is too small to talk about but it may have the potential to impact many lives.

“The wisdom of common people is often inaccessible to us because we don’t listen enough.”

If you are an innovator or someone who looks for solutions within your constraints – you should read this book to meet more people like yourself. For those in the organized corporate world, there are many lessons hidden in this book for you. It tells you where to find innovations, how to make sure you stay innovative , how to let people be innovative and how to let go of your own per-conceived notions about myths of Innovation.

“India is the only country where the head of state hosts an exhibition of Innovation.”

What I admire the most about Prof Gupta’s approach towards Innovation is that Grassroots Innovation is the values. He talks about the source of Innovation being ‘Samvedna’ that is roughly translated as compassion. Samvedna is your ability to feel the pain of others so that you realize the need for a solution and hence to work towards building a solution. He repeatedly talks about the relationship between knowing, feeling and doing. He brings in the value of limited consumption that was always a part of Indian ethos. Not consuming more than you need is still a part of ethos in rural India. Prof.Gupta challenges you to improve productivity by using knowledge more than the material inputs.The author talks about several other such values with examples.

He reverses the frame and asks you to look at poor people not just as consumers but as producers. He talks about child innovators as much as he talks about adult innovators in the villages and towns.

Prof Gupta strongly argues against calling Grassroots Innovation as Jugaad. With examples, he demonstrates how Grassroots Innovation takes cycles of prototyping, testing, reworking. He goes on to define what a jugaad is and where it is applicable.

The book gives you a lot of information on the organizations, institutions and programs that are working with Innovators. Innovators and potential innovators would find the information very useful. You can use this information to take advantage of the support system that Government has set up. You can use it to connect with fellow innovators.

Language is simple. Author has put in his own story as part of the whole story in the book. And that brings in a personal touch to the whole concept. He talks about people who joined him in his mission and made it succeed.

A highly recommended read.

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