I got an opportunity to listen to Dr. Gururaj Desh Deshpande on “Can Social innovations and Technology innovations leverage off one another?” at the IIT Alumni Club Bangalore event held at Bangalore International Centre, Domlur, last morning. It was a fantastic talk. Here are a few of the insights Desh mentioned in his talk and during Q&A:
· Concurrent innovation: In a place like MIT where Desh is a Board member, there is no dearth of technology innovations. However, for the researcher or the faculty member working on the innovation, the primary interest could be elegance and publishability – criteria that matter for tenure and impressing peer group. The challenge is to create an atmosphere where innovations get connected with relevance to create an impact. This is what Desh calls concurrent innovation where innovators get connected to the real world up front as opposed to much later in the life cycle. Over the last 10 years MIT has funded 80 projects and a third of them have generated $100 M or more.
· The sandbox for social innovations: In social sector, the equation (innovation + relevance = impact) needs to be turned around. The real challenge is in understanding the problem. Then you bring in the ideas to solve the problem. We need to create an environment where this happens systematically. 6 years ago Deshpande Foundation created a sandbox in Hubli to do that. What is this sandbox? It encompasses 5 districts:
· Sustainability of social ventures: In many social ventures, the beneficiary does not have buying power (e.g. mid-day meal in state schools). Hence, there is a donor. Every time the donor wants to add value to the organization, he projects his risk tolerance on the project. Unfortunately, from his standard of living, he finds everything risky. Very quickly the product does not cater to the requirements. The idea is to take the performing assets, scale them and make them sustainable. i.e. find those interventions that are already working and scale them.
There are three ways a social venture becomes sustainable: (1) By becoming part of free market economy (2) By becoming part of Govt & (3) By supported through broad based charity as opposed to funded by a few rich people. Sometimes it is a combination of the three. For example, Akshaypatra combines (2) and (3).
· Role of value system in innovation: Entrepreneurship or innovation is just a tool. It allows you to do something faster and better. It quite doesn’t say whether it is for the good of the world or for the bad of the world. So you need a value system on top of it. That is a bigger issue we need to resolve. World economy is based on consumption. In the 70s there used to be a debate between capitalism and socialism. About 10 years ago, it looked like capitalism all the way. But now we are beginning to see cracks within capitalism. Consumption based economy means everybody has to consume more and more and more which will just rip apart this whole world. There will be nothing left. So the bigger challenge is to re-think on what winning means. Does winning include sustainability, goodness? Etc. In some area where we see this happening. For example, in energy, 10 years ago it was all about producing more energy. Now, people are realizing that the low-hanging fruits in energy are efficiency and savings and you could save up to 40-50%. Now there are 50 startups in
· Role of technology in education: Majority of school going kids in
Sources:Photo from thehindu.com