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Africa: India’s Shift to Inclusive Innovation Is ‘A Model to Follow’

Business Standard

January 7, 2013

By Munyaradzi Makoni

More women are entering the field of science.
Photo: Zahur Ramji/AKD

Cape Town — A leading Indian scientist and policymaker is calling on developing countries to adopt an “emerging paradigm” of affordable, less complex and inclusive innovation to promote development and cut poverty.

Raghunath Mashelkar, former director-general of India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and now president of the Global Research Alliance, an organisation that promotes the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), says India has good models for innovation which are reducing complexity and the cost of goods, and which are leading to social inclusion and access to economic opportunities.

In a keynote presentation, he told the Conference on Innovation for Inclusion Development, organised alongside the 6th Conference on Micro Evidence on Innovation and Development (21-23 November) in Cape Town, South Africa, that the benefits of science must reach the poorest people as part of new thinking to help tackle poverty.

“Getting improved goods for less cost to more people while eliminating social disharmony is key to achieving the MDGs,” said Mashelkar, who also chairs India’s National Innovation Foundation.

He added that the paradigm shift must avoid technologically advanced products with many features, and instead focus on efficient, high-quality products that create livelihood opportunities for excluded populations.

An example he gave is 3nethra, an eye-testing device developed in India that can detect conditions such as cataracts, diabetes and glaucoma.

“If we provide a hepatitis B vaccine that is 40 times cheaper, cataract eye surgery 100 times cheaper, open-heart surgery 20 times cheaper and an artificial foot 300 times cheaper, wealth and health for all can be a reality,” said Mashelkar. All these are not dreams and have been done, he told the conference.

Parveen Arora, an advisor to India’s department of science and technology, said innovation that supports local enterprises with skills development and finance is critical to innovative products for low-income customers.

He noted India’s launch of the US$1 billion Inclusive Innovation Fund, aimed at researchers who consult poor citizens on innovations that could transform their lives. Aroraadded that putting inclusive innovation in educational and research training could be beneficial.

Anupam Khanna, chief economist at India’s National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), said that technology could transform his country’s ability to provide basic services to the poor, such as healthcare, education and banking.

For innovations to work, excluded people must be involved in their development, stressed Fernando Santiago, senior programme at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada.

“Rural people are smart and we do not engage them enough,” he said.

Esperanza Lasagabaster, manager of an innovation, technology and entrepreneurship global practice at the World Bank, added that although companies in large emerging markets are beginning to develop innovations for low-income markets, these are not yet aimed at the very poor.

She said research institutes should target the poor while encouraging more private sector investment in innovation programmes.

The conference was run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and South Africa’s department of science and technology