Wanted: More ‘Idiots’ to tackle grassroots innovation challenges!

Aspirations are common; solutions are not...Cartoon by R K Laxman

The late Ray Wijewardene was very fond of this cartoon, drawn decades ago by the outstanding Indian cartoonist, R K Laxman.

It epitomised, in Ray’s view, poor people’s aspirations for useful technology: machines or processes that provided relief from drudgery and put money in their pockets.

The bicycle used to be a common aspiration among many people. Among today’s generation, the mobile phone is another. (But most people who want a phone have already got one – for a variety of personal and utilitarian reasons).

Ironically in our age of technology, hundreds of millions of people — most of them poor, and a majority of women — are still toiling away in tasks where simple machines or devices could reduce their daily drudgery.

Few inventors have bothered with these — probably because the beneficiaries are on the margins of society. Their needs are not a priority for most research institutes or high tech laboratories.

This is the focus of my latest op-ed essay, published in The Sunday Times on 25 Dec 2011: Wanted: More ‘Idiots’ to tackle grassroots innovation challenges

It was inspired by, and mostly based on the inaugural Ray Wijewardene memorial lecture delivered by Dr Anil Kumar Gupta, India’s top innovation-spotter, in Colombo on 13 December 2011. He spoke on “Grassroots Innovation for Inclusive Development: From Rhetoric to Reality”

India’s Honey Bee Network, which Gupta founded in the mid 1980s, has documented
thousands of grassroots innovations and traditional knowledge practices for a quarter century. And yet, many everyday life problems remain unresolved. Ones, when tackled, can bring immediate relief to hundreds of millions of men and women from their daily drudgery.

Find out more – read the full article:
Wanted: More ‘Idiots’ to tackle grassroots innovation challenges

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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