The Bank of Ideas and Innovations is a Govt. of India-backed portal where you can submit your idea or innovation under seven thematic “innovation quests” each of which is aimed at a specific problem being faced by India’s poor. Applicants can simply log into the online platform at http://www.ruralinnovations.gov.in/index.htm and submit their ideas or innovations. The Bank will then review and reward these ideas with help from an expert panel, with a ‘promise’ that all help possible from the Government will be provided to scale these up.
In excruciating detail
I recently got the opportunity to attend the launch of the Bank of Ideas and Innovations (BII) on 14 Aug 2014 in New Delhi. Yes, the initiative is indeed as ambitious as it sounds. Spearheaded by three major ministries (Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Panchayati Raj and Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation), BII is probably one of the most interesting initiatives to have come from the Central Government in recent times.
The BII is a bold attempt to identify and support ideas, innovations and entrepreneurs that solve critical problems being faced by India’s rural poor. It borrows heavily from the success of the Bihar Innovation Forum, another ambitious initiative that was launched in 2007, with the second edition in 2013. CIIE is proud to have been associated with BIF-II as a partner.
There would be two innovation quests in a year, with the very first one being launched with the launch of BII. The following are the themes of the first quest:
- Improving governance at Gram Panchayats
- Affordable housing
- Non-farm livelihoods
- Open defecation-free villages
- Labour-intensive construction technologies for MGNREGS
- Solid & liquid waste management in villages
- Technologies for planning and monitoring
The website for the bank was unveiled at the launch – http://www.ruralinnovations.gov.in/index.htm I have to admit that this is one beautifully designed portal. Think of the times when government website were static, had fonts that seemed like they were from the middle ages, or were downright boring. Well, the times have changed! Look at this beauty.
Although I was quickly enamored by the website and its clean yet aesthetically appealing design, an actual innovator (who would be visiting the portal to drop in his/her idea) may not even care much about it. The simplicity seeps down even into the application forms. There are three forms on the site:
- Solved a problem: for innovations or solutions that have achieved some kind of wide traction/scale
- Out of the box: for ideas or prototypes that have not yet been widely implemented
- What we can do: for providing suggestion to the BII itself on how it can support the innovations that it receives
Do you ever remember filling up a government form that asks for your Twitter handle? I thought not. There are also plans to have the website in several Indian vernacular languages. Ladies and gentlemen, we have something big here.
The launch event itself was quite interesting. Originally scheduled for August 8, one day before the launch, it was postponed to August 14 (not surprising considering government initiatives in India). Fortunately, there was no further postponement. There were numerous luminaries who graced the event, including Mr. Nitin Gadkari, the new Union Minister in charge of the above three ministries, and Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India and the fabled man behind India’s space programme. A few other secretaries and high-ranking officials from the ministries were present as well; at one point, it seemed as though the stage would give away under the combined weight of all the guests on it! After Mr. Gadkari set the audience rolling in laughter with some well-crafted potshots at the misfortunes of being in politics in India, Dr. Kalam formally unveiled the portal, adding an idea of his own.
Dr. Kalam’s speech was inspiring, as always. (I had a chance to hear him in person twice before, and both times, I left with a sense of ‘new purpose’. If only that ‘purpose’ hadn’t died from my own laziness to act upon them!) There’s just something about a wise old man with silvery white hair. Every few lines later in his speech, there would be something quote-worthy.
Innovation comes through creativity, which in turn comes from beautiful minds, and beautiful minds can come from anywhere.
Whatever you do, seek ‘excellence.’ Excellence is a process by which an individual strives to improve himself/herself. It is a like a ‘performance evaluation’ for the self – compete with none other than yourself.
Despite being relatively simple statements, that we may already be well aware of, in some form or the other, there is something magical in Dr. Kalam’s words. Only a man of his stature can pull of something so simple, yet wise. Too hard to not be a fan.
The wit of Mr. Gadkari, and wisdom of Dr Kalam aside, one other impressive aspect of the event was that the organizers had actually brought together several grassroots innovators from across the country, seven of who got the chance to address the audience and share their stories. Only one of them could speak English – 3 spoke in Hindi, two in Telugu and 1 in Marathi – the latter three had translators who followed the speakers. More interesting was that there were more women than men (4 to 3). Yet, despite the differences in them, all innovators shared a common character – they were all super-excited to be there. One of the women – an organic farmer from Andhra Pradesh – nearly hyperventilated out of excitement! (Or I’m probably just exaggerating her mere joy at sharing the stage with two very powerful men from India’s political landscape.) It was heartwarming to see the innovations of these individuals, many of who had not even completed primary school, being recognized. If it was pure joy for me seeing them excitedly share their stories, I can only imagine how elated they must have been.
The rest of the day went into the familiar territory of panel discussions and workshops. The audience shared their thoughts, concerns and expectations from this ambitious initiative, with various Secretaries, high-ranking ministry officials and speakers representing diverse stakeholders. Tea and coffee added sufficient fuel to the engaging discussions that ensued.
One feeling was unanimous – for this ambitious initiative to fully take off, the entire ecosystem needs to be involved in it, right from incubators, impact investors, universities, NGOs, and most importantly the entrepreneurs and innovators that it seeks out to identify. It should not become one of those initiatives that was announced with huge fanfare and then just died a slow painful death – there are enough of these in the government’s kitty. In many ways, the success of this initiative relies on Dr. Kalam’s words:
Innovations will have true value only if they can find commercial applications. It may have been Faraday who invented electricity, but it was Edison who brought it true value, with his light bulb.
Got an idea that impacts India’s rural poor? Log on to http://www.ruralinnovations.gov.in/submit-an-idea.htm and apply right away!