On Sustainability: Inclusive Innovation

010-commotion-india-swFirst they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight with you, and then you win

Mahatma Gandhi

Inclusive innovation is a term I was recently introduced to during a breakfast talk on the future of inclusive innovation with Dr. Sam Pitroda, an Indian businessman and a policymaker . In a nutshell, inclusive innovation is ”achieving success through product innovation, co-creation, applying business models and establishing relationships in the value chain”. It translates into delivering high performance products and services or high experience at ultra-low cost to address the needs of the low-income or the base-of-the-pyramid (BoP) population. The needs of people whose needs, as a rule, are not being addressed. Recently it is has even been proclaimed as the solution to tackle the problems of people left at the margins of society.

However, can inclusive innovation can be the solution to alleviating some of the biggest challenges we are facing today, poverty, a strikingly severe one, among those?


Let us explore how did this particular type of innovation developed throughout history. The key to inclusive innovation fast spreading through grassroots initiatives and social movements lies in India, the country that had one of the biggest, thriving economies which provided high quality university education when it gained its independence from Britain in 1974.  The country that is considered to be the next university superpower has taught us that in order to solve grassroots problems we need affordability, scalability and sustainability, the trio widely known as inclusive innovation.

Everything we do today is obsolete; we have no other option but to innovate

bp32Consider the educational system. Does the university model of the future require buildings or classes? “Do you truly need to invest 4 years to get a certificate and a degree?” 1 teacher is generally needed for 8 students. And only in India the number of students is above 12 million with the government planning to increase the number to 30 mln. The solution? Substitute teachers with mentors. What you need is a cluster of students, 8 preferably, and places for them to gather, exchange ideas and constantly learn from each other.

Give people the facility and the guidance and there is no need to educate them or teach them how to do it – they will figure it out on their own

Inclusive innovation is about empowering people to make the changes they would like to see around them. But yet, it remains vague. While the questions it raises are many.

How can we refocus from innovation to social innovation?

How can we turn the brightest and most daring to include social in their vocabulary and most importantly, to implement it within their actions?

What is it that UK can learn from India?

natgeo1First, it is the willingness to think laterally. The fact is that “Boundaries make no sense, technology is borderless and it rules the world”. Typically, the hardships poor people have been through have made them much more innovative. However, what is needed is energy, ambition and the desire and ability to scale solutions –  young people with entrepreneurial spirit to want to use what other people can think of but have no intention of turning into a business, let alone scaling. That is what India’s inclusive Innovation Fund, created by the National Invocation Council, has set up to create – an ecosystem that will foster entrepreneurship and will promote innovative solutions focused on the lower end of the pyramid. It has gone beyond innovation by having and catalysing venture capital fund for innovations.

Second, it is to “take care of the poor”.

What is needed now is to improve the quality of people, not the quality of products.

The 6 sigma quality of people is much more important than the 6 sigma quality of products. It is a world in need of collaboration, in need of frugal and structured type of innovation.

food-safe-photo-699820-xlThe final words of Sam Pitroda during the breakfast talk were the following: “My vision is that who gives doesn’t have much to give, and those that can give do want to take a lot”. And here’s my personal vision – that might the current status quo with some considerable exceptions, him being one of them. But this is simple a mechanism that is the by default setup – once you find a way to disrupt the system what was once the “by default” can soon turn into the new obsolete. My take from that was that wherever you are and whatever you do you are most certainly not fully ready to fulfill your dreams of tackling some of the biggest issues our world faces today –  it might be that you are ignorant, unprepared or the challenges are too big to handle. Hence

the best time to start is just now

It is the “not fully prepared” mode that you are in which is the fertile ground you need to build on, scale up and achieve your personal vision of a better tomorrow.


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