Grassroots Innovation: Onion Transplanter
Grassroots Innovation: Onion Transplanter, Pandharinath More [Source :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0WYreYP-B0]
You play the hand you've been dealt. Not only is this a good piece of advice for someone in the middle of a high stakes poker game, but those of us in other pursuits can live by it as well. I've listened to many competent professionals in Global 2000 companies (including my own) complain that if they only had an even larger budget they could develop better products.
Yet you don't have to look too far beyond the walls of corporate labs to see examples of amazing innovations born out of necessity and delivered on the tightest - and sometimes non-existent - budgets. The stories below validate my belief that breakthrough innovations that bring immediate and meaningful impact on peoples' lives can be found everywhere on any scale.
Showcasing the best of grassroots innovation in the emerging markets shows why they are such an exciting place to be for innovators and investors alike. If someone can invent a brilliant product or service without a multimillion-dollar head start, he or she certainly deserves our attention.
Take the story of Pandharinath More, a resident of Maharasthra, India, who demonstrates that grassroots innovation remains alive and well. Pandharinath is a 66-year-old farmer. Every year, he makes the bulk of his income during the precious couple months between November and January when he cultivates onions. It's the only time of the year this cash crop will grow, so a farmer like him wants to achieve the longest season possible. The problem Pandharinath faced was how best to plant seedlings at the beginning of each growing season. It's the most labor-intensive part of the two-month process. So he got to work creating an onion transplanter. It took him 43 days to invent and build a piece of farm machinery at a whopping total cost of $725. Pandharinath's invention has made being an onion farmer in India a far more lucrative pursuit than it was even a year ago.
Another inspirational story of agricultural innovation comes from the Hussain brothers in the Darrang district of Assam. Mohammed and Mushtaq Hussain are rice farmers who became fed up with frequent power outages that interrupted their water pumps. Rice paddies fail pretty quickly without lots of irrigated water. Sure, you can turn to diesel pumps if the electricity is spotty in your area. But diesel fuel is expensive. After watching a kite fly high into the sky from a gust of wind, the Hussains got to work assembling a windmill that could power their irrigation pump. They searched for building materials that were abundant, cheap, and strong. Their prototype was a combination of bamboo, polypropylene, iron rods, and rubber from old tires. The rotation of the windmill cranks the handle up and down, creating a continuous flow of water for their farm. Better still is that they can dismantle the entire structure in under an hour and carry it to another farm.The Hussains eventually built a windmill out of fancier materials. Farmers who are using the lightweight, portable pumps say they've reduced operating expenses by 40 percent. Something tells me we should introduce the Hussain brothers to Pandharinath More and see what they can invent together!
Grassroots innovation isn't just about farming communities. Non-farmers inspire us with their inventions on a weekly basis. I will never forget Apurv Mishra, the teenager who invented what he calls the "Glabenator." The electronic device is part hat, part collar. It picks up the subtle movements in the face muscles of a paraplegic. The 14-year-old Mishra invented the device because he wanted his grandfather, who was bound to a wheelchair, to be able to communicate better with him.
Mishra became the youngest "Ted" fellow ever and is now studying for his master's degree at Cambridge University's Judge Business School. In fact, he's the president of the Venture Capital Club at Cambridge - a sign that Western VC firms are already trolling the emerging markets for inspirational examples of grassroots innovation.